Follow the Plot

The creation week of Genesis 1-2:3 is a culturally situated historical calendar narrative designed to lead God’s people in God’s ways. So argues Michael LeFevre in his recent book, The Liturgy of Creation. Many people, both Christians and Jews, have noticed and commented on the structure of Genesis 1 (including 2:1-3). The six days of creation have a parallel structure 3+3 followed by a day of rest. LeFebvre writes this form as an equation (3+3)+1=7.

The six days of creation followed by the sabbath day of rest shape Genesis 1. Exodus 20:8-11 makes this explicit.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. … For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

While it is common to view the reference in Exodus 20 as a recounting of Genesis 1, LeFebvre suggests that it isn’t this simple. Genesis 1 is a calendar narrative setting a rhythm for human for human stewardship of God’s creation as his image bearers. “Everything revealed about the wisdom and beauty of God in his labors during those six workdays is a model for human stewardship of the created order.” (p. 137)  The seventh day is “a holy day for the image bearers to commune with the creator.” (p. 137)

Genesis 1 recounts the historical reality that God is creator of all, that he created it for a purpose, and that he placed humankind into it as his image bearers. But is places this reality in the rhythm of daily life. The telling is awe inspiring and liturgical. It is not journalistic or scientific.

The work week of the first six days has a parallel structure. The first three days prepare the  realm for its occupants taking that which was formless and void and culminating in the sprouting of vegetation. “Let the earth sprout vegetation… and it was so.” (v. 11) The spaces are prepared – but the culmination is not an empty space, but fruitfulness.

The second three days moves along in the preparation of the world for humans. The sun, moon and stars are placed in the sky to give light, but more importantly to “serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years.” (v. 14) They give to light and dark a cyclical rhythm and function in human culture. Birds and fish, land animals, and finally humans are placed into creation. Birds, fish, and animals fill the sky, sea, and land.  Humankind is the culmination of fruitfulness in this filling of creation, placed into creation to be the very image of God And it was very good.

And finally… “the sabbath follows as the crowning day of the week (Gen. 2:2-3). The sabbath draws humanity – with each weeks bounty …- to “rest” (implicitly with feasting) before God.” (p. 144) The rhythm of the week calls the people to remembrance … “as stewards of the land ordered and allotted to them by their heavenly king.” (p. 145)

In his wisdom, God created a world suited to his creatures and calls them to remembrance of this. It is God’s wisdom, rather than his might and power, we are called to recognize and commemorate in Genesis 1.

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This post is also visible at Jesus Creed now at Christianity Today.

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