This first chapter oversees the creation of many binaries—heaven and earth, light and darkness, morning and evening, moon and sun, etc. There is an overarching sense of progressive division—one becomes two. Even so, with the creation of division comes the creation of binaries, and we all know the problem with binaries. (They are sometimes arbitrary, and one side always ends up being the “better” one.)
Anyway, it’s fascinating to connect this sense of division and growth to a more scientific mindset of growth and beginnings: one cell divides to become two. We even use the same word “genesis” to describe any kind of beginning. But this isn’t just a beginning: this is the beginning.
The first four words of Genesis 1:1 say, “In the beginning God…” You could almost end the sentence right there, and it would answer that. From the syntax of the first four words, it’s clear the Bible has no questions or speculation about where God came from. God just was, and is. In the beginning, God. The repetition of “let there be” when God is creating also emphasizes his power: he says, and it happens. For me, this repetition creates an image of an artist talking to himself as he creates—“and here I’ll put some trees…and then some animals…and some people, too.”
I also love the line “darkness was upon the face of the deep” (1:2). Actually, the whole of 1:2 is pretty fantastic:
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
The imagery of that line captures the deep mystery and abstraction of what the world may have been like before “the world as we know it” was created. Later on in the passage, we have more repetition and technical details: God made this, God made that, it was good, etc., which parallels the increasingly concrete state of the universe.
We also see a gradual shift towards capitalization, like from “heaven” to “Heaven” and “earth” to “Earth,” matching the theme of increasing concretization. Note that the name “God” is always capitalized (as the one and only), but there is no capitalization of “he” when talking about God. This is quite interesting—I thought that capitalizing “He” when talking about God was par for the course, but apparently not. (I’m not sure if this is the KJB standard or what, but I will also not be capitalizing “he” to fit with the text I am studying.)
After God creates living creatures, he tells them to “be fruitful, and multiply” (1:22). Presumably, God could have created all the animals the world would ever need and made them immortal, without bothering with the whole reproduction thing, or he could just create more animals when humans ate too many of them. However, he specifically gave living things the freedom to “multiply” themselves—and therefore free will.
On that note, I can certainly see where a deist would use this to argue that particular philosophy: a God gives the wheel of life an initial push, then trusts it to run smoothly and “multiply” on its own after that without interference. In addition, there’s also a very strong word choice when God gives humans (or “man”—more on this later) “dominion” over everything (1:28). Absolutely no question as to who’s the top animal. And there goes the neighborhood…
Okay, on to the fun stuff. One of my favorite unexpected things about this chapter was that whales get a special mention: “And God created great whales” (1:21). Besides humans, they are the only animals to be mentioned specifically. (Not only that, they are the first living things to be created, if we’re going by order of mention.) But why? Perhaps because they are so big? I mean, by the time this was written, I’m sure humans had pretty much figured out that whales were the biggest animals on the planet.
Anyway, I’ve never had the good fortune to see a whale in person, but I hope to someday. They are quite impressive. Need proof? God gave humans “dominion…over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (1:28)…but not the sea? The whales rule the sea, I guess. GO WHALES.
Okay, I’ll shut up about whales now, I promise.