1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. – Genesis 1:1-3 ESV
Another way to translate the first three words of the book of Genesis is “when God created….” While God was “in the beginning,” this statement does not infer that He came into being at that moment in time. God is eternal and has always existed. His transcendent nature allows Him to operate free from the constraints of time and space. The “beginning” mentioned in the opening line of Genesis has to do with His creation of “the heavens and the earth.” According to His own divine prerogative, God made the executive decision to bring into existence that which had never existed before. And the opening chapters of Genesis record the amazing details of that epic and unprecedented event.
The opening two verses provide a summary statement of all that Moses describes in the verses that follow. Speaking of Moses, while there has been much debate as to the authorship of Genesis, I will be operating under the assumption that Jesus was right when He designated Moses as the one responsible for this book.
“But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” – Luke 20:37 ESV
Jesus repeatedly referred to Moses in association with the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. And it seems that Jesus shared the view of His Jewish contemporaries who believed Moses to have been the author of all five books.
As we shall see, Moses plays a key role in the evolving narrative of the Hebrew people. And his record of this seminal moment in humanity’s history will eventually reveal his decidedly Hebraic bias. While his creation record provides an explanation for the “beginnings” of all mankind, Moses was attempting to explain the unique relationship shared between the Creator-God and a particular group of human beings that would later become known as the people of Israel. The books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, commonly referred to as the Torah, form the first part of the Tanakh, the Hebrew term for their Scriptures. And throughout the pages of the Tanakh, the historical evolution of God’s chosen people is revealed in vivid and, sometimes, disturbing detail.
The book of Genesis, as its name implies, provides the genesis or beginning of the nation of Israel. Moses wrote this book to provide his own people with an explanation of their origins and to reveal to them the unique and unparalleled plan that God for them as a nation. The story of their birth as a nation was unlike any other. And while they shared a common heritage with the rest of humanity that dated back to the creation account, they enjoyed a privileged position as God’s chosen people. The question was, how had they acquired their unprecedented relationship with the God who made the heavens and the earth? What had they done to deserve such a favored position that set them apart from all the other nations of the earth?
The book of Genesis provides the answers to those questions and many more. It does so by returning its readers to the primordial darkness of the pre-creation age, long before anything existed including man.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. – Genesis 1:2 ESV
This verse appears to describe God’s work of creation in mid-process. It is a summary verse that reveals that the earth had been created but was not yet fully formed or organized according to God’s well-designed plan. Moses paints a rather bleak picture, describing the a pervading and foreboding darkness “over the face of the deep.” The Hebrew word for deep is תְּהוֹם (tᵊhôm), and it means “the depths” or “a surging mass of water.” It was typically used to refer to the oceans. But in this case, it seems to be a reference to the earth itself, which, according to verses 9-10, was covered with water.
And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:9-10 ESV
Up until that moment, the earth had been an undefined and uninhabitable mass, completely submerged under an impenetrable layer of water. But there’s hope in the midst of all the chaos and confusion: “…the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:3 ESV). The imagery is that of a mother bird brooding over her eggs as she waits for them to hatch. While the earth was “without form and void,” Moses describes the Spirit of God as lovingly brooding over this shapeless and humanly hostile environment. God had begun the creative process but was not yet finished. He had a divine plan in place that, when complete, would transform the earth into a literal garden of Eden.
It’s almost as if Moses is telegraphing a message to his people in an attempt to remind them that they worship a God of order, not confusion. And their God has a plan for their future. While there might be times when everything around them appeared dark and confusing, they could trust that God was not done. Hundreds of years after Moses wrote the book of Genesis, the prophet Jeremiah would record the following words from God. They were a reminder that, even after 70 years of forced captivity in Babylon, God would do something remarkable that would suddenly dispel the darkness of their current condition and replace it with light.
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 20:10-11 ESV
Verse 2 of the opening chapter of Genesis conveys the same sense of hope. God’s creation plan had only just begun. The image of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters was meant to convey a sense of eager anticipation. Something incredible was about to take place that would escalate and expand to such a degree that the as-yet-unformed world would never be the same again.
And at this point in the narrative, Moses discloses, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3 ESV). The opening verses paint the picture of darkness and gloom but that depressing imagery is quickly replaced by the sudden appearance of light. But what is remarkable about this light is that it comes from an as-yet-undisclosed source. If we fast-forward to verses 14-18, we see that God has not yet created the sun, moon, or stars, so the source of the light mentioned in verse 3 cannot be cosmic in nature.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. – Genesis 1:14-18 ESV
So, what was the source of this light? If it didn’t emanate from the sun, what could be the explanation for its sudden presence? God seems to have spoken it into existence but that does not necessarily mean the light had not existed up until that point. God simply said, “Let there be light…” and, as Moses states, there was light. It appeared. The former darkness and its concomitant chaos were suddenly penetrated and completely eliminated by the illuminating presence of this light from God. And it is essential that we recognize the undeniable fact that God was the source of the light.
Referring to God, the prophet Daniel stated that “light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:22 ESV). The apostle John would later declare, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). And John would ascribe that same attribute of illuminating glory to the Son of God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV
As this passage illustrates, light and the Godhead go hand-in-hand. In both the Old and New Testament Scriptures, light was used as a metaphor for such concepts as salvation, joy, knowledge, righteousness, and life. As John stated, Jesus was life and that life was the light of men. With His incarnation, He began the process of bringing true light and life to sinful men and women. His appearance brought the light of God into the spiritual darkness that permeated the world. As the light of the world, Jesus made salvation possible, joy accessible, the knowledge of God available, righteousness achievable, and eternal life attainable.
What is fascinating to consider is how John references Jesus’ role in the creation account. He states that all things were made through Him. In fact, he goes on to declare that “the world was made through him.”
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him… – John 1:9-10 ESV
The apostle Paul adds further details that explain Jesus’ role in creation.
…for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. – Colossians 1:16 NLT
And it’s no coincidence that Moses records God the Father declaring, “Let there be light…” and the light appeared. At the very beginning of the creation process God brings His “light” to bear. It would not be a reach to suggest that God called on His Son to join Him in the next phase of creation. And with His entrance into the scene, Jesus brought His light to bear as He “created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth” (Colossians 1:16 NLT).
One of the keys to understanding the source of this light that illuminated and eliminated the darkness can be found in the book of Revelation. There, the apostle John once again describes “the light of the world,” but this time this divine light source will illuminate the future Kingdom of God.
And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:5 ESV
Creation began with the light. Salvation was made possible by the light. And the light will be the source of illumination in the eternal state. As John put it so well, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4 ESV).
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.