In days one to three the creation, originally formless and void, was ordered for fruitfulness culminating in the sprouting of vegetation – both grasses and trees. Now it is populated to fulfill God’s purpose. Michael LeFebvre (The Liturgy of Creation) notes:
The God of creation is a being of wisdom, goodness, and beauty. But he is supremely a God of love. Having ordered the world with a capacity for fruitfulness, God next fills it with creatures whom he blessed to enjoy those fruits. (p. 167)
Day four: The sun and moon to govern time and seasons.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day. (v. 14-19)
Light is created on day one, plants appear on day three, but it is only on day four after three cycles of evening and morning that the sun and moon are placed in the expanse. Clearly the purpose of this passage is not a scientific recounting of the creation of the earth. This is not a conundrum revealed by modern science. Early Christians also found it rather confounding. LeFebvre notes the considerations of Augustine and Origen in their writings on Genesis. In the early 200’s AD, Origen wrote:
For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? … I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally. (from the Greek, p. 365, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 4)
In line with LeFebvre’s argument that the creation account in Genesis 1 is a calendar narrative, he notes that the emphasis in day four is the timekeeping role of the sun and moon. “It is the timekeeping role of the heavenly lights that is preeminent in this passage. Three times the sun and moon are said to “rule [memšālâ/māšal]” over the day and night … The Genesis narrative carefully affirms the time-regulating authority of the heavenly lights without deifying them.” (p. 170) In an agricultural society the seasons are of great importance. The seasons define work and worship.
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day. (v. 20-23)
God blesses the birds and sea creatures – he bestows privileges on them. LeFebvre emphasizes this blessing. Blessings are generally reserved for persons, but here it is bestowed on the first living creatures.
On day five, God reveals his blessing (his patronage) for the first living creatures, the birds and sea animals. He grants them inheritance in their respective realms and the authority to reproduce and fill (mālēʾ, to settle and possess) them. (p. 171-172)
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. (v. 24-25)
All kinds of living creatures populate the earth. Three categories are listed – the livestock so important to human existence, the wild animals that often pose a threat, and the creeping things including such as rodents and reptiles. The specification of livestock is a pointer to the context for this account. “These categories of animals also show the calendar’s design for a developed society that is domesticating and farming livestock.” (p. 173) Both the plants on day three and the animals on day six are described and ordered in the context of a agrarian culture.
And it was good. Day six isn’t over yet, but the stage is set for the culmination of the creation week. Human beings, created in the image of God are placed in the world to to work it and flourish there.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (v. 26-28)
Much can be said about the image of God in this passage. Much has been said in a number of posts over the years. LeFebvre notes that the image of God is a role rather than an attribute, but doesn’t go into a great deal of detail here (reasonable considering that whole chapters of books and indeed whole books have been written on the topic). He suggests however that the English word subdue – in fill the earth and subdue it – doesn’t really catch the right meaning. The earth isn’t to be beaten into submission as much as it is to nurtured and farmed.
The subduing of the earth here in view is essentially the work of tending the soil and fostering the other world- and culture-building vocations. The other animals enjoy the fruits of their realms, but they do not farm and uphold the order of the world (cf. Mt 6:26, 28). The command to subdue the earth is a calling to bring forth the God-given fruitfulness of the ground. (p. 178)
God’s blessing for his people culminates in the fruitfulness of the earth and the food that he provides (v. 29-30). And … God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. (v. 31)
The work week is complete – providing a model and purpose for human labor.
Which brings us to day seven …. in the next post.
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.
This post is also visible at Jesus Creed now at Christianity Today.
I welcome comments that enlighten us on the topic or ask questions. Expressions of disagreement, agreement, and elaboration are also welcome. Comments are moderated and comments that are excessively long, are abusive or aggressive, or are off-topic will not appear. Imagine that you are holding a conversation over coffee with a friend and you want to remain friends. Your first comment will be held for moderation – subsequent comments will usually appear automatically.
(The link above is a paid referral – try this one if you prefer: The Liturgy of Creation.)