Genesis Chapter 1 – An Overview

Genesis Chapter 1 – An Overview December 16, 2023

We are going to discover God through the book of Genesis. Through the many stories we will encounter, we will meet the God that makes our eyes open wide in amazement and our jaws drop in wonder. We live in an age in which we need to rediscover this astounding God.

The book opens with the creation account. This does not read like a science textbook—it’s much more beautiful than that. Science seeks only to explain only so much—it attempts to be descriptive, explaining the “what” and “how” of what is around us. Genesis is concerned with something more profound: it is prescriptive, answering the questions of “who” and “why,” and “what ought to be.” Genesis expert Bruce Waltke was correct when he wrote,
“The narrator of the creation account is not particularly concerned with the questions a scientists asks; rather, he wants to provide answers to the questions science cannot answer—who has created this world and for what purpose?”

So, since the first rule of proper biblical interpretation is to always determine the purpose of the original writer for the original hearers, we won’t go into all the modern sidetracks concerning what Genesis says about how old the earth is, or whether or not Darwinistic Evolution is right or wrong, etc. etc. When we focus on all that, we miss the point of this story. That is not the primary purpose of why this account was written.

The purpose is this: We are to watch in astonishment as God creates the world. And as we watch, we must be sure to pay careful attention to the process and the progress. We can learn who God is by paying attention to the details of the
process of creation, and learn what is very important to him by observing the progress of creation. And as we are attentive to these things, we will discover the things that are really important to know about God, about humankind, and about how humankind is related to this creator-God.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

This is the summary statement of all that is coming in the story. And when you stop and think about what it is saying, it is a bold claim: It is God, and only God, who created everything. In the age and place in which this was written, there were a lot of adherents to the idea that there are a number of gods (what is called polytheism), each with dominion over different things. They also believed that all matter was eternal. In light of that, Genesis boldly states that there was a time when everything did not exist, but that there was a time when this God created it all. In our age, we have a lot of adherents to the idea that God is actually a part of the heavens and the earth, that God is in all and is all (what is called pantheism). This verse is bold in its statement in regard to this as well: God created everything. In some way, he is separate and above that which has been created—not merely a part of the creation.

And here in the first verse of the Bible, we get our first glimpse into the personality of God. He is the God who creates! Before we skip on to the next verses, let’s pause at that thought. God is creative! He has an inexhaustible imagination; He has made everything, from the hummingbird clothed in iridescent colors, flapping its wings 22 to 78 times per second, to the planet Saturn with its 100,000 magnificent rings. Anybody who has ever created anything—a painting, a sculpture, a poem, a song, a garden, a table, even something out of your kid’s Leggos—knows the joy of making something that you can look at and know that nobody else could have created that. When you go to the Art Gallery, you are in awe of the creations there. People walk into the room in which Rembrandt’s self-portrait is displayed in the National Art Gallery in hushed tones. There is a reverence as people look upon the painting. There is the face of Rembrandt there in the painting; when you look at his creation, you get a glimpse of the creator. When I go for a walk, and look up at the clouds turning fuchsia as the sun goes down, as I look at the intricate details inside the petals of a flower, as I gaze up at mountains or down into the Grand Canyon, I am looking at God’s Art Gallery. And he has painted himself into each work of art—I can see him in what he has created. And it makes me say, “Whoa! Wow!” And I worship.

At this point, we are whisked into our private screening room, where we can actually watch the artist at work. Imagine getting to watch your favorite artist as he or she composes his or her greatest masterpiece. I love VH1’s “Behind the Music” documentaries—you get to actually watch the artist in the studio, creating that which you have always enjoyed. Here we go: “God, Behind the Music.”

Day One:
“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”
(Genesis 1:2-5)

As we watch this creation happen, we should pay careful attention to the process. God speaks, “And God said…” and there it is. When God says, “Let there be…,” that is exactly what there is! What God says, goes! In each of these days, God creates through his verbal expressed will. In other words, God creates through his Word, and God’s Word is irresistible. God’s Word has immense power—to bring into existence that which was not in existence before.

We previously looked in-depth at the Gospel of John, and it is no coincidence that John’s Gospel begins the way it does. Look again at the opening verses of John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-5, 14)


The New Testament reveals that the Creative Word of God is Jesus Christ! Through the Word, “all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” God’s Word is irresistible. When we meet Jesus, he draws us to himself with irresistible love, and when he proclaims “Let there be a new creation…,” making you a child born from above of God through salvation, that is exactly what there is going to be!

If you are struggling with doubts about your personal salvation, know this: What Jesus says is so, is so. Your being made a new creation is not through your own power—it is through the power of God. When we think about it, it is silly for the creation to think it had any power to make itself—we are completely dependent on the creator. Your being made new by God is not your doing—and you can take comfort in that, for if it is not of your own doing, it is not of your own undoing. What God has made he has made, and nothing can change that. So when you are wondering if you have slipped too far out of God’s grace, know that you were created by God, and then re-created by God through salvation in Christ. And it is not the subject of faith, in other words, the amount of faith you have that determines if you are saved, it is the object of faith that determines if you are saved—and the object of faith is Jesus Christ.

As we work through the creation account, we notice that each creation event is marked off by the words,
“And there was evening, and there was morning” and then the number of the “day.” While there has been a lot of speculation about whether these are either 24-hour days or extended ages, I will not get bogged down in these arguments here. That, once again, takes us off the main point of why this account in here in our Bibles. What we do learn from these words is that God wants us to understand something about himself here: that when he created everything, he did it in an orderly way. The successive days are there to teach us something theologically, not just scientifically. God did not need to take six days, he could have created everything instantaneously—he is, after all, God! But he takes it one step at a time—in order for us to watch the process and the progress.

So the process of day one is this:
God speaks—God’s Word is the means of creation.
God evaluates—He says light is good. Light symbolizes purity and life and blessing.
God brings order—He separates light from the darkness. What does not belong together, God puts in there proper place. God is the God of order, and when we creatures seek to collapse the order that God has put into place through our disobedience, is it any wonder that the results or catastrophic?
God names—the only one who can name something or someone is the being that has dominion over that object being named. God is the King of both the light and the darkness, which means that even when we are scared to death of what dark things could harm us in this world, be it Cancer, or terrorists, or the stock market, God is still over it all, and we can find some measure of comfort in that.

As you watch the rest of the creation days, watch for this process to repeat itself—God speaking, God pronouncing his evaluation, God bringing order by separating things, God naming things to show he is their Lord. We will discover the progress as we move along the days.

Day two:
“And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse ‘sky.’ And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.” (Genesis 1:6-8)

Again, God speaks, and there it is!
On the second day, we see the creation of the “expanse between the waters.” In other words, up to this point, there was one mass of wateriness, and God
separates again—creating order. The water that he forms below is the planet covered with water; the water above is the clouds.
God again
shows his dominion over this by naming the expanse “sky.”
Interestingly, God does not say that it is “good” here; Waltke jokes, “Even God did not say that Mondays are good!” It is not good yet, it will serve for the good when rain can fall onto land, but land isn’t made yet.

Day three:
“And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear. And it was so. God called the dry ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters he called ‘seas.’ And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.”
(Genesis 1:9-13)

In day three, we hear God speak TWICE!
The first time, God produces the dry ground by gathering all the water on the planet into what he names “seas.” The dry ground he names “land.”  God calls this good. Why? Because that land is going to be the place where what he speaks into existence next will live: the vegetation that will sustain life. It is good because life is good.

The Bible reveals to us what we need to know above all else, or our understanding of the world and ourselves in it is severely warped. Without getting this basic foundation of how we view everything, we are lost even before we start our journey to try to discover spiritual reality. Just like we cannot read without first understanding the alphabet, just like we cannot move on to Calculus without first learning how to add and subtract, this is the first thing we must get into our heads:
God is the One who created everything. 

You might be thinking, “Uh, yea, we got it, Bob. That’s pretty basic.” But more and more, many do not get it! Watch a nature documentary, and the glory of the creation is given to…the creation itself! Go for a walk, and talk with someone about the beauty around you and you find yourself in awe of the creation without a thought to the creator. Day 3 makes us stop and realize that when we deify nature by giving it the glory of creative power in and of itself (like when we say, without really thinking, “Isn’t Mother Nature amazing?”), we are giving the created the glory that only the creator should receive. It would be like looking at the Rembrandt painting and talking to those around us about the painting, but never giving the credit to Rembrandt himself. The painting just didn’t pop into existence and hang itself there in the Art Gallery. Somebody created that! When we are struck with awe at some sort of art—a poem, a painting, music, architecture—we are often driven to find out about the artist. We buy biographies; we watch the “Behind the Music” documentaries. We are intrigued by the creator. Day 3 tells us who the creator of all this incredible beauty around us is. And here in the Bible, we have his biography. Our love of the art should drive us to want to know the artist!

“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse 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 expanse 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.”
(Genesis 1:14-19)

God had a purpose in creating the world and having it recorded in this orderly way. He is building a case for himself as the one true God. He is helping us to weigh our preconceptions of God against whom he is saying he is. In the ancient world, the primary gods were those of the sun and the moon. God is clear here, isn’t he! “They are not gods; I have created all these things!” They are not even named! Just nameless lights, designed by God not to be worshiped by human beings, but to serve human beings—by marking off the seasons and days and years. Barely mentioned in passing are the stars. In an age in which our astrological horoscopes are still seen as legitimate (“What sign are you?”), God says, “The stars do not direct your destiny, I do.”

Now, are starting to see the progress of creation? In day 1, God created light. In day 4, God created the specific “lights” that will separate day and night. Let’s see what God does next!

Day Five:
“And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.’ So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, 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.” (Genesis 1:20-23)

In day 5, we watch as God fills the seas and sky that he created on day 2 with living creatures. And as we watch this, we realize that water does not have the power in and of itself for the spontaneous generation of life. It produced life only when God spoke life into existence. The Word of God is the source of life; let there be no doubt what the Bible is proclaiming here!

God created the great creatures of the sea and every winged bird. Today, we see people on boats waving signs that read “Save the Whales!” and other conservation groups seeking to protect certain endangered species and the delicate ecosystems of our planet from us humans, and some of us scoff at them as crazy radicals. But in reality, the whales and all the creatures of the sea and the air and the land are God’s precious creatures, and we should not let our selfishness run them into extinction. That would be
dishonoring to the artist!

Day Six:
“And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and 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.” (Genesis 1:24-25)

So, the progress of creation is now coming to its climax. On day 6, God fills the land that he created on day 3. Do you see the pattern?
Day 1—Light                                                Day 4—The lights
Day 2—The sea and the sky                      Day 5—The sea and sky creatures
Day 3—The land and vegetation               Day 6—The land creatures and humans

The first three days God creates three static places. Nothing is moving; it is the stage that is set for the next three days. On the next three days, there is movement, the sun, moon, and all the living creatures. The inhabitants of the second three days rule over their corresponding places in the first three days. The progress becomes more complex as well. On days 1 and 4, we have one creative act. On days 2 and 5, we have one creative act with two aspects to it. On days 3 and 6, we have 2 separate creative acts.

As we move along the creation account, we notice that the action escalates. Here on day 6, we have a whole lot of action! The amount of ink given something reflects it importance. In fact, day 6 has more ink than days 1-3 combined! So, what is so important about day 6? Look at verse 26!

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
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 of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’
Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.”
(Genesis 1:25-31)

Notice, first of all, that God says, “Let us…” It is not until humans are created that God speaks in this interpersonal way (instead of “Let there be…”). Who is God talking to? Let us? I believe that this is, in the very first chapter of our Bible, evidence of the Trinity. God is called “Elohim” in this chapter—which is actually a plural (the “im” at the end of a Hebrew word is like our “s,” designating plural). This is certainly one God—but the plurality of this God is actually spelled into his name! We have already seen in verse 2 that
“the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” We have seen that, according to John, the “Word” of God that created the world is in some mysterious way Jesus Christ. One God in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—right there in Genesis 1!

God says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” 
Notice that all the other creatures are created “according to their kinds;” it is only the humans that are created in the image and likeness of God. This has tremendous things to say to anyone today that sees no difference between humans and the other wonderful creatures on earth. Though we share a lot with the other creatures, there is this huge difference! Yes, those creatures to be given the honor due them as God’s creative work, but when we elevate any other creature to equality of superiority to humans, we are no longer honoring God—for humans alone are created in the image and likeness of God.

We should not treat the other creatures poorly, for we are in charge of their well-being. Look again at verse 26:
“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
There has been a lot of speculation as to what the Bible means by humans being created in the image and likeness of God. It certainly does not mean a physical resemblance, for God is spirit. There are a number of facets that this image of God entails. One of the major discoveries scholars have made in documents from the Ancient Near East is that when a king of Egypt or Babylon was placed in charge of his dominion, a god would give him his “image.” In other words, to be “in the image of god” meant that the king rules over that kingdom as God’s representative. And that is exactly what we see here in verse 26. So, far from not caring for the welfare of our planet’s ecosystems, rain forests, and endangered species, we humans have been given the awesome responsibility to rule over and care for this dominion. This is an amazing thing—this rulership was warped by other religions to be reserved only for kings, but God wants us to know that we
all are the rulers and caretakers of the earth.

Now, if we are right that God is speaking to the members of the Trinity (“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness”) then he must be saying that humans are like them in their ability for relationship as well! Being made in God’s image allows us to be relational creatures, just like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are relational with each other. This is why only human beings have the ability to relate to God in a special way. Certainly all creatures are relational in some sense and God relates to all his creation in special ways—he relates to flowers differently than he does blue whales than he does your pet dog. But we humans are unique—we are capable of actually communicating with each other and with God in more sophisticated ways than any other creature. We are the only ones that can actually read this Bible! We are the only ones that Jesus walked with and talked with. We are the only ones that pray with words back to God. Just as God communicates with the other members of the Trinity here in Genesis, we, being made in the image and likeness of the Trinity, can also communicate with those members of the Trinity.

We also love in more sophisticated ways than any other creature. In verse 27, we read the very first love poem: God says:
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”

We are created in the image of the loving relationship within the Trinity. Just like there is unity in the Trinity, there is meant to be unity in our relationships as human beings. “Man” is created in the image of God—this word “Man” encompasses all of humanity, not just the male of the species. Or as the
New Living Translation renders this:
“So God created people in his own image;
God patterned them after himself;
male and female he created them.”

But let’s be clear what this is saying: We are created in the image and likeness of God. God did not create a bunch of little gods to populate the planet. An image, like a painting, only expresses God as a representation, not as an exact duplicate. In fact, God clearly says, he created humans “in our likeness”—we are like God in a number of ways, but we are not God; we are distinct from God. There are a number of passages in the Bible where we say that God is being portrayed anthropomorphically (that is, like a human). Waltke points out, “More accurately, a human being is theomorphic, made like God so that God can communicate himself to people. He gave people ears to show that he hears the cry of the afflicted and eyes to show that he sees the plight of the pitiful.”

So, what does this have to say to us in our everyday life here and now?

When we understand the progression of these six days, we realize that all the other days are pointing towards the climax of creation here in day 6. When we realize that all the other creation accounts in the ancient world saw humans as being created as an after-thought as slaves to supply food for the gods, we see how radical Genesis was and still is. Humanity is the climax of creation, and instead of humans providing the gods with food, God provides the food for the humans!

When all is finished, when human beings are finally created, God looks at all that has been made and evaluates it with the superlative:
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

What this is telling us is quite profound. Many of us, at one time or another, some more than others, struggle with finding significance. We go to the secular therapist who can offer us some comfort; but in the end, this therapist’s world view is that we are nothing more than another animal with passionate appetites and desires that are no different than the other animals—only a little more sophisticated. He cannot offer us a worldview that can give us ultimate significance.

But God does so. He says, “You are my ultimate creation. You are made in our image and likeness. You are not just an animal, helpless to your base urges and instincts. You are more.”

We certainly have passionate appetites and desires—all creatures do. In fact, that is the root meaning of the Hebrew word “creature” there in Genesis 1. It is also translated “soul” in other parts of the Bible. The literal Hebrew definition is creatures with souls that have passionate appetites and desires. And like all the rest of the creatures, human beings have drives and appetites for food and sex. But we are so much more! What distinguishes humanity from the animals is that our souls have been created in the image of God. And since we are created in the image of God, our soul’s appetite and desire is for something even more profound than the baser urges of the souls of the animals.

Since we are created in God’s image and likeness, we have God stamped on our soul. And our soul’s passionate appetite and desire is for God!

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.”
(Psalm 42:1)

“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
(Psalm 63:1)

That is what Genesis has to say to us today! We need significance! We need to have our soul’s desire quenched! This is the heart’s cry of every soul alive in the 21st Century, just as it was in the day when Genesis was first presented to God’s people!

Do you know that you are the pinnacle of God’s creation? That is God’s message for you today!

Do you know that your soul yearns for God? That is your soul’s ultimate passion!

Genesis 1 should help me worship the creator of heaven and earth. It should also help me to thank him for creating me—and for loving me. No wonder he has gone to such great lengths to redeem the height of his creation through the saving work of Jesus Christ! If humanity is his crowning achievement, of course he would go to great lengths to bring these humans back into the beauty that he intended for them. He would even go so far as to…die for them.

On the cross.

He would go the greatest length to make that which was once his perfect and beautiful and pure artistic masterpiece perfect and beautiful and pure once again.


1. Do you enjoy nature? What are your favorite things to do outdoors?

2. Have you ever felt like you were closer to God when you have been able to commune with him in nature? Explain what happened.

3. How does realizing that humanity is the climax of creation help us understand our significance and the significance of others? How should that change how we treat others?

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