“Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim et va’haeretz.”
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Ten words in English, seven in the original Hebrew form the first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1. But these words are more than just the first verse of the Bible aren’t they? They not only begin the book of Genesis and the five books of Moses, these words introduce us to the whole of the Bible. So, as we now begin our journey through the book of Genesis, it is fitting to linger on this first verse and all that it launches us out into.
Generally speaking, we could say Genesis is a book about origins. The origin of creation, the origin of mankind, the origin of the institutions by which civilization flourishes, and the origin of one special family God chose as His own to bless the world through. But if we stopped there we’d miss the main point. Transcending all these beginnings and origins is God Himself, who has no beginning or origin. Indeed if we possessed a Bible without the book of Genesis, we would be in a house with no foundation. We would have no proper doctrine of God if there’s no Genesis. We would have no doctrine of creation if there’s no Genesis. We would have no beginnings of the covenant God makes with man if there’s no Genesis. We would have no doctrine of man if there’s no Genesis. We would have no genealogy in Matthew or Luke if there’s no Genesis. We would have no Paul and his substantial use of Adam and Abraham if there’s no Genesis. And we would have no understanding of a future ‘better than Eden’ in Revelation if we don’t have the reality and images of the first Eden in Genesis. It would be like sitting down to watch Finding Nemo after missing the first 20 minutes of the movie. Nothing would make sense! Sadly, many Christians ignore Genesis and the rest of the OT, thinking it’s just a collection of old stories meant for Sunday school that has little meaning or practicality for the Church today. Yet, I would argue, as many others have done, that almost every doctrine in the Bible is present in Genesis in seed form.
Today here’s what I’d like to do as we begin Genesis. First, I’d like to give you information about this book to better understand it as we enter into it. And second, I’d like to introduce you to main character of this book, the God who is.
1) The Title – It was common in the ancient Near Eastern culture to name books after their first words, so in Hebrew the title for this book is simply bereshit, or ‘in the beginning.’ Once the Hebrew Scripture was translated into Greek the title chosen was genesis, taken from 2:4, where it says “These are the origins (or generations) of the heavens and the earth…” Well, that Greek title genesis was also used for title of the Latin translation as well, which is where we get the title we know today, our English word Genesis. So, from the title alone we learn this is a book about beginnings and origins.
2) The Author – Moses. There are a few reasons we believe this. First, all throughout Genesis-Deuteronomy we find it’s Moses in view. Moses being with God, Moses being told to write down what God told him, and Moses instructing the people of God. So we believe that to be the case, that what God told him to write down is what we have here in these first five books. Second, the rest of the OT believes Moses wrote these first five books. Every OT author after Moses points back to Law of God given through Moses as the rule and guide for all of life. And fourteen other OT authors refer to Moses by name and what he wrote down, and how Israel as a nation should turn back to his writing. Third, almost every NT author refers to Moses and what he wrote, with Jesus Himself being the primary example of this. Lastly, a case from history. That Moses wrote Genesis-Deuteronomy was a given until the dawn of the enlightenment when all thought (theology included) took a humanistic turn as people began denying all sorts of things longed believed. All and all, we believe Moses is the author of Genesis.
3) The Structure – How did Moses structure his writing in Genesis? Many of your study Bibles will tell you there are two sections in Genesis. Chapters 1-11, usually being called Primeval history where God created all humanity, and chapters 12-50 usually being called Patriarchal history, where God tells us about His one chosen family. I’m happy with this division and these labels, as long as we don’t see chapters 1-11 as fable and chapters 12-50 as factual. Many do this today, sadly. I disagree, and I think you should disagree too. There are no fables in Genesis, it is factual through and through.
Among the many other items regarding the structure of this book I think one more is worth mentioning. 10x in Genesis we find a repeated refrain. Toledoth in Hebrew, or, generations in English. This happens after creation in 2:4, 5:1 with Adam, 6:9 with Noah, 10:1 with the sons of Noah, 11:10 with Shem, 11:27 with Terah, 25:12 with Ishmael, 25:19 with Isaac, 36:9 with Esau, and 37:2 with Jacob. That God does this in Genesis shows us how He zooms in, slowly but surely as Genesis progresses, from all humanity down to the one chosen people and the main redemptive storyline He wants us to hear and heed.
4) The Purpose – Think Church, who did Moses write Genesis to? To Israel. What was Israel’s condition as Moses is writing? They’re a stubborn, sinful, wandering people, saved from Egypt but not yet safe in the Promise Land. A forgotten question many don’t ask as Genesis is studied is this: what did this mean to the Israelites at that time? I don’t think Moses wrote Genesis to tell them how long creation took, or to clue them in on how old the earth is, or to give them a kind of science book to help them interpret this world. Rather, Moses wrote to point them to God, the One who keeps His promises despite His people. Genesis shows us this. Tell me: where are God’s people (Adam and Eve) as the book begins? Safe in Eden. Where are God’s people (Israel) as the book ends? Safe in Egypt. What happened in between? Lots of sin. Lesson? Despite their sin, God keeps, leads, cares for, and provides for His people. As Israel once was safe in Egypt and is longing to be safe in the promise land even though they’re in a mess of their own making as they wander in the wilderness, the book of Genesis would’ve been a hefty encouragement, just as it is for us today.
5) Worldview – As we come closer to our text today I would say these opening chapters of Genesis are foundational for a Christian worldview. Genesis teaches that God is (vs. atheism), Genesis teaches that God is wholly other than this universe (vs. pantheism), Genesis teaches that God is the Creator of this universe (vs. secularism and naturalistic evolution), Genesis teaches that God is the only true God (vs. polytheism), Genesis teaches that God has made a covenant with His creation and upholds it (vs. deism), and Genesis teaches that God has made human beings in His image to manage the world on His behalf (vs. hedonism).
All in all, the book of Genesis provides the foundation for our faith, standing in bright and beautiful contrast against all the opposing worldviews out there competing for our hearts affection.
That’s all the information I think is needed to draw near the book of Genesis as a whole. You should know and be aware that I’ve only given you a tiny amount of all you could wade through and think about Genesis and how we approach it. If you’re satisfied, great. If you want more, great, come see me afterwards and we can expand on these things.
For now with the time we have remaining, let’s turn to Genesis 1:1 to see…
The God Who Is
I said earlier Genesis is a book all about beginnings and origins, yet transcending all these beginnings and origins is God, who has no beginning and no origin. In v1 we’re introduced to God, and the rest of chapter 1 displays God to be the main character, the main subject, the Person the whole book is about. God, Elohim, is repeated 35 times throughout chapter 1, which is so often that it should be obvious to see that God is main subject of this book and all that comes after.
So, I just want to ask one question here. From what we have in v1, or, since v1 is true, what kind of God must God be? I have many answers to this question. These are in no particular order, all of them are so important they could be first, so we’ll just go one at a time.
First, v1 assumes God is Eternal.
“In the beginning God…” This assumes God already exists, that God already is. It’s implied here in v1, but it’s explicit everywhere in Scripture. Psalm 102:25-27 says, “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but You are the same, and Your years have no end.” Psalm 90:1-2, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.” In Exodus 3 when God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush He said His name is, “I AM.” Meaning while you and I are subject to the process of change, ever becoming something other than what we are now for better or for worse, God simply ‘is’ and is not in process of becoming something other than He is now. He is, and He always will be as He is.
v1 assumes that God always has been, God always is, and God always will be. There will never be a time when God is not, for God created time, God stands outside of time, and therefore God is not subject to the limitations of time. He didn’t enter into the story of Genesis in v1, he pre-dates the story of Genesis because He planned it all before He laid the foundation of the world. That God is eternal means He never had a past, He doesn’t have a future, He was never created, He simply is, always.
This is some of what it means for God to be eternal.
Second, v1 assumes God is Independent.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” To say God is independent is to say God is not in need of something or someone or anything as if He were somehow insufficient or lacking in Himself. He is rather, fully sufficient, not lacking anything in Himself, and dependent on no one else for anything at any time. That God is independent might be a new idea to modern Christians, but this was a cherished reality about God in the early Church. They referred to using a Latin word aseity, which means God’s existence is a se, or from Himself. So, for God to be independent, means He is fully self-existent, and fully self-sufficient. You might remember Paul mentions this when he preaches in Athens saying, in Acts 17:24-25, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
You might wonder, what does God’s independence have to do with Genesis 1:1? Well, it matters because it effects how we answer the question ‘why did God create the world?’ If He truly is eternally independent, needing nothing outside Himself, and lacking nothing in Himself, why then did God create the world at all? The popular answers of today are as follows: God was lonely, God was needy, God was looking in creation for fulfillment which was lacking in Himself. Such a god wouldn’t be god at all if he were this needy and lonely. Why then did God create all things? Well, first we should understand that God didn’t have to create at all. He would’ve remained perfectly satisfied and content in Himself. But second, wonder of wonders, He did create, because He desires to display and He desires His creatures to enjoy, His glory. All creation then is the theater of God’s glory, all creatures can see His glory, none can give an excuse, God has chosen one family to reveal His glory to by His grace. No one forced God to do any of this. He did it all, He desired to do it all, and He delights in it all.
This is some of what it means for God to be independent.
Third, v1 assumes God is Triune.
The word used in v1 for God is the Hebrew word/name Elohim. This word is plural, referring to many, but Moses uses it for God, referring to One. And Moses uses this word 35 times in Genesis 1 to make much of God’s majestic power through His spoken Word as all creation comes into being. What do we make of this? From the first verse of the Bible we learn there is a plurality in the One God we’re introduced to. Of course, the rest of the OT and the NT will develop this plurality and unity, we call it the doctrine of the Trinity. We see it in seed form with the mention of the name Elohim.
This is some of what it means for God to be triune.
Fourth, v1 assumes God is an Omnipotent Creator.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Only a God with immeasurable in might, almighty in omnipotent power, and infinite in wisdom and imagination could be a God who creates. Romans 4:17 makes much of this as Paul describes God as One who “…gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Hebrews 11:3 also says it, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” The gods of the nations around Israel are only said to create from materials already at hand, or after a great battle with other gods. Not so for the God of the Bible, He creates all things ex nihilo, or from nothing.
I remember once teaching our boys about this at home. I gave them each a piece of paper and some crayons and asked them to draw a beautiful work of art. They did and each of them shared what they drew. Then I took the paper and the crayons away from them and asked them to do it again, to make something beautiful. They just looked at me like ‘Dad, we can’t. We don’t have anything to draw with or on.’
This is what it means for God to create from nothing. Only a God who is truly God could do this, and that God did this, in creating all things teaches us, first that there is a great difference between God the Creator and us His creatures. And second, that God is known by us not only in His nature but in His works as well.
This is some of what it means for God to be an omnipotent Creator.
So Church, here at beginning of Genesis, behold the God of Genesis 1:1, the God who is: eternal, independent, triune, and omnipotent. He is the Creator of all that is, for was before all things, He reigns over all things, is distinct from all things, and yet is intimately involved with all things. That God did this, that God is these things and will forever remain to be these things, and more, should leave our souls astounded and our mouths confessing that nothing is too hard for the Lord.
The summary statement of Genesis 1:1 is so monumental that Matthew and John both begin their gospel with Genesis 1 language to reveal the glory of the gospel. This God, as great and immeasurable as He is, should not only be known to us as Creator, but as Redeemer as well. For God shows His love to us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
 Victor P. Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, NICOT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1990), 2.
 Kenneth A. Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, NAC (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H, 1996), 22–23.
 Kevin DeYoung, In the Beginning God (sermon, 8.30.2020) accessed 8.3.2022.
 John D. Currid, Genesis 1:1-25:18, EP Study Commentary (Holywell, UK: Evangelical Press, 2015), 15–16.
 Ibid., 28–31.
 Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2007) 7.
 Derek Kidner, Genesis (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 47.
 I am indebted to Matthew Barrett’s book None Greater, and his insights on the attributes of God in this sermon.
 DeYoung, In the Beginning God, accessed 8.3.2022.
 Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2001), 58.
 Ibid., 59.
 Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, WBC (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987), 15.