Genesis begins with “in the beginning God.” This is the main idea of the creation account. Unlike the pagan mythologies, Yahweh has no beginning, according to the Bible. Yahweh merely states that He was and is and that He created everything. The fact is that His kingdom has always existed (Ps. 29:10; 74:12; 93:1-2). The main idea is not about how Yahweh created the world in a detailed, scientific way but that, unlike the pagan gods, He was the only one responsible for creation and created it in a very different way from what they claimed to be the origin of creation. The Hebrew word for God in Gen.1:1 is “Elohim,” which has the idea of a sovereign king ruling over his kingdom. In this way the creation account is a polemic against the gods just as much as the plagues of Egypt and Elijah’s battle at Mount Carmel were polemics.

There are six major differences between the pagan gods and their creation accounts and Yahweh and His creation account.

  1. The pagan gods are portrayed as having a beginning, therefore they can have an end. In contrast, Yahweh is portrayed as an eternal God who existed before time began and will continue on for all eternity.
  2. The pagan gods are portrayed as immoral, selfish beings who are just as sinful as humanity and so are not trusted nor respected by humanity but rather feared. In contrast, Yahweh is not only seen as a morally righteous being who is unlike any other in creation but also is the standard of all righteousness.
  3. The pagan gods are portrayed as creating the world out of already existent, chaotic, and evil matter. They often create in the midst of some violent cosmic battle among the gods, sometimes using the corpse of a god for the foundation of creation. In contrast, Yahweh is seen as creating, out of nothing, something that is fresh and new. There is no chaos or violence, and each day is pronounced as “good.”
  4. The pagan gods are responsible for the creation of one or two elements but sometimes none at all. In contrast, Yahweh is seen as creating all things in creation on every day of the creation week.
  5. The pagan gods are thus limited in power and control over one or two elements and are also portrayed as being limited in power over only certain regions/nations. In contrast, Yahweh is sovereign over all things in creation because He created all things.
  6. The pagan gods created humanity to serve them as slaves and to be pawns for the gods. In contrast, Yahweh not only created humanity in order to have a loving relationship with them but also to represent Him and to share responsibility over His creation.

For someone living in the ancient Near East, reading the Bible’s creation account would have been revolutionary and refreshing. Consider the fact that Abraham was worshiping the gods of Babylon when Yahweh came and spoke to him, offering a mutual relationship. Yahweh’s unique nature and character are why Abraham immediately abandoned his gods and followed Yahweh.

The Creation Week

Gen. 1:2a states that in the beginning the creation was formless and empty, covered in darkness, and a watery abyss (see Yahweh’s Conflict with the Leviathan and Sea article). These are three negative descriptions that needed to be undone in order for Yahweh’s creation to sustain life and be declared “good.” Yahweh changes these states to something good in the reverse order in which they were mentioned.

In Gen. 1:2b the Spirit of Yahweh hovers over the surface of the waters. This Hebrew word for hovering is used elsewhere of a mother eagle hovering over her young in care and protection (Deut. 32:11; Ps. 18; Hos. 4:19). The Hebrew word for water used here is no longer the chaotic watery abyss but the calm waters of peace and life. This is the same word used throughout the Bible of eternal life and the Holy Spirit.

In Gen. 1:3 Yahweh says, “Let there be light,” thus replacing the darkness with the light of His own being.

In Gen. 1:3-31 Yahweh is forming and filling what was formless and empty. On the first three creation days, Yahweh formed the light, sky, waters, and land. On the following three creation days, He filled that which He had created in the first three days with the sun, moon, and stars, and the creatures of the air, the waters, and the land.

creation week chart

Notice in the phrase “there was evening and there was morning” that evening comes before morning. Originally in the Hebrew, the words “evening” and “morning” meant “unorderly” and “orderly.” Thus Yahweh was moving the creation from chaos to order on each day. As chaos became associated with darkness and as order was associated with light, these words came to be understood to mean evening and morning. This is why the Jewish day begins in the evening.

Throughout the creation week Yahweh pronounced the days as “good,” emphasizing the fact that His creation is good and orderly unlike the pagan gods’ creation accounts.

The seventh day (Gen. 2:1-3) breaks the “it was good” pattern and brings a ceasing, blessing, and sanctifying of the creation. The word for “rest” actually means, “cease” and describes the enjoyment of accomplishment and completion. It also carries the idea that one is content and satisfied with life; thus, they can enjoy life to the fullest because they are free from any need to work, from worries, and from the burden of broken relationships. This becomes the basis for the Sabbath in the Levitical law.

It is important to realize that the creation week is seven days long, not six (the number seven is symbolic for completion). The language being used here to describe the garden is temple language. The garden is a closed-in place, like the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, with a hedge that goes around it. Here, Yahweh entered the garden on the seventh day and rested or dwelt in the garden with humanity. When the people of the ancient Near East built their temples, the ceremony would last six days; on the seventh day they believed that the spirit of their god entered the temple to dwell. The point is that Yahweh has created creation, placed His temple in creation, and placed humanity in the temple; then He enters it to rest with them in a covenantal relationship that is good. Creation is now complete because He has entered into a rest with humanity, which is the only reason that creation even exists to begin with.

The most important idea communicated in the creation account is that Yahweh brought creation into existence through His Word (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 11:3; 2 Pet. 3:5-7). Yahweh chose to bring into existence and relate to His creation through His Word or speech, which communicates intimacy. Yahweh shows that from the very beginning He is intimately and relationally involved in His creation.

The Image of God

The creation week reaches its climax in Gen. 1:26-28 with the creation of humanity. Notice that the author spends more time on the creation of humanity than on any other thing and also emphasizes humanity being made in the image of Yahweh. This shows that humanity was the apex of all creation.

  • Gen. 1:26—Yahweh states that the purpose of creating man in His image is to rule and subdue.
  • Gen. 1:27—Yahweh creates mankind in His image, both male and female.
  • Gen. 1:28—Yahweh commands man and woman to rule and subdue the creation as His image.

It is clear from these verses that a large part of what it means to be made in the image of Yahweh is ruling and subduing the creation. The idea of image and likeness communicates the idea of reflection and representation. Thus humanity was to rule over creation as the representatives of Yahweh and subdue or conform the creation to the will of Yahweh. And since Adam and Eve were placed in the garden (temple) of Yahweh, they were seen not only as king and queen but also as priests who had an intimate relationship with Yahweh.

This is exactly what is being restored back to believers as we are made Christ-like (image) through the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. We are called to go out and make disciples (rule and subdue) and to join Yahweh in the redemption of creation (Jn. 3:16; 2 Cor. 3:7-8; Rev. 21:1-4). However, Christ has called us to do this through love and servant-hood, not through power and coercion as the world does.

It is clear that the garden did not cover the entire planet because later Adam and Eve would be cast out of it (Gen. 3:23). It is also clear that being outside the garden was not good because their being cast out was a judgment for their sin. Yet Yahweh told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, which means that they were eventually going to outgrow the garden. Adam and Eve were also commanded to work and till the garden (Gen. 2:15), though it did not seem to need to be worked and tilled since the garden freely produced whatever they needed. The implication is that the working and tilling was the expansion of the garden across the planet, which they were to fill with Yahweh’s image. Yahweh had created a creation and a garden and then gave Adam and Eve the unique privilege of joining Him in expanding His garden/temple/kingdom across the planet as fellow creative rulers and subduers.

The two infinitives “to serve” and “to keep” are used throughout the Torah to refer to the spiritual service of the priests, but only “serve” describes the worship and service of Yahweh, the highest privilege a person could have. “Keep” has the connotations of guarding and protecting from dangers that would threaten the garden (such as the serpent). These words do not have the idea of working the land. Notice that humans have a responsibility of working even before the fall, which gives them purpose.

Adam and Eve

Gen. 1-2 makes it clear that Adam and Eve were equals and two parts of the whole as rulers and subduers over the creation. First in Gen. 1:27 Yahweh created both male and female in the image of Yahweh. Second, the fact that a bone was taken from Adam’s side to create Eve suggests that Eve was to stand alongside him as his counterpart, as his equal. She was not taken from his head to rule over him, nor from his feet to be trod upon. Third Yahweh declared that in their union, Adam and Eve were to become “one flesh,” the same being in their union (equals). Fourth Yahweh made it clear that man alone was not a good thing. This is the only time that Yahweh declares something as “not good” before the fall of humanity and creation. And Fifth Eve was created to be Adam’s helper. The term “helper” is not a demeaning term, for it is also used of Yahweh when He is called man’s helper in Ps. 10:14; 54:4. Likewise, to need a helper suggests that you are incapable of doing something on your own; Adam needed Eve.

Gen. 2:25 states that Adam and Eve were naked before each other and without shame. Their naked condition refers to the physical, psychological, and emotional oneness and transparency that existed in their relationship. What makes this unique is that they are completely exposed and vulnerable before each other in every way and yet feel no fear of rejection or shame about who they are.

Yet Genesis also makes it clear that Adam had headship over creation and Eve. First Adam was created before Eve and named the animals without her shows that he had a unique authority that she did not have. In the ancient Near East naming something gives you authority over it. Yahweh endows Adam with rulership over His creation by allowing Him to name the animals. Second Adam was also responsible for naming Eve, which gave him authority over her.

The reason that Adam has to have headship is so that there would be order in the creation. If two people disagree about how to rule in a certain situation, there has to be some kind of headship (tiebreaker) in order to maintain order. However, because Adam and Eve were one with each other and naked before each other, Adam did not abuse his headship. Later in Eph. 5:22-33 and 1 Pet. 3:1-7 the husband is called to love, build up, serve, and sacrifice everything for his wife in the same way Christ did for the Church.

Finally, Adam and Eve were commanded to be fruitful and multiply. They were to multiply the image of Yahweh in order to rule and subdue the creation in His name. Thus one sees an earthly reflection of the trinity in the makeup of the family. Father (father), Son (mother), and Holy Spirit (children). Just as the members of the trinity are equal and unified, so must the family be. And just as there is hierarchy within the trinity without subjugation or devaluing, so there is to be within the family.

The Adamic Covenant

Yahweh expressed His desire to have a unique and intimate relationship with humanity by establishing a covenant relationship with them. Through the Adamic Covenant Yahweh reveals the kind of kingdom that He wants. This kingdom would be a relational one. By endowing Adam and Eve with His image He demonstrated His desire to be humanities Father and give them responsibilities over His creation. In this covenant relationship were expectations for both sides to fulfill. The fact that this covenant could be broken if one of the parties did not meet the requirements made the covenant a conditional covenant. There were both requirements and blessings for Adam and Eve.

The Requirements

  • Be fruitful and multiply
  • Expand (work and till) the garden
  • Do not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil

The Blessings

  • They would be allowed to rule and subdue the creation.
  • They would dwell in the full presence of Yahweh.

By commanding Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, Yahweh was commanding them to fill the earth with His image. This is the purpose of being made in the image of God.

The sign of this covenant was the Tree of Life. Every time they partook of the Tree of Life, they would be reminded of their covenant relationship with Yahweh, which brought the blessings of eternal life in His presence.

However, if they disobeyed Yahweh and ate from the Tree of Knowledge, then they would surely die (Gen. 2:17). The idea here of death is not of the end of something, rather of separation. The covenant was a relational covenant, and so the consequence for breaking it was a relational consequence. Death here meant to be separated from Yahweh.

There are three kinds of death in the Bible. The first is physical death, which is the separation of body and soul at the time of a human’s death. The second is spiritual death, which is humanity’s separation from Yahweh. This is what Adam and Eve experienced immediately after they ate from the tree of knowledge, and all humans are born into it. The third is eternal death, which is spiritual death for all eternity. This happens when someone is still spiritually dead when they die physically. In other words, they have not received the Holy Spirit.

The Tree of Knowledge of God and Evil

The knowledge of good and evil was not a bad thing for Adam and Eve to desire. The knowledge of good and evil is the same thing as wisdom and discernment, and the Bible makes it clear that we are to have wisdom (Gen. 3:22; Prov. 12:16, 23; 13:16; 14:8, 15, 18; 22:3; 27:12). The fact that Adam and Eve knew they were not allowed to eat from the tree of knowledge was, in fact, knowledge of good and evil concerning the tree. So, why did Yahweh place a tree in the garden that offered something good and then forbid eating from it?

Yahweh placed the tree in the garden to provide a choice. Without choice there can be no free will, and thus there can be no true love. If there were no option to disobey Yahweh because everything in creation was permissible, then there would be no freewill choice to love Him. Their love would then be meaningless because there would be no other option. For example, if a man was faithful to a woman only because she was the only woman who existed, it would not be as meaningful or real as the man who was faithful to a woman despite all the other women who existed.

The tree of knowledge provided an option for Adam and Eve to obtain wisdom from source other than Yahweh. By choosing it over Yahweh, they demonstrated their desire to follow a different path from the one Yahweh desired for them, therefore following after a different “god.” The tree did not offer them knowledge; rather, the experience of disobeying Yahweh through the action of eating from the tree offered them knowledge of good and evil outside Yahweh’s will.

What makes eating from the tree of knowledge a sin is that taking from it expresses the desire to seize knowledge immediately in a way contrary to Yahweh’s will. It is the choice to take what is good outside of a relationship with Yahweh that is wrong.

Yahweh allowed Satan into the garden to provide a real test of their will. They were called to be rulers of Yahweh’s creation, which meant there would be great responsibilities and difficult choices. Therefore they needed to be tried and tested to prove that they could handle it. This is true for any leader who needs to prove himself through difficult situations before moving up in leadership. Satan provided the pressure to make the choice for Yahweh more real. A man proves his love to his wife more when other women show interest and pursue him yet stays faithful than the man who has no temptation at all.

Satan’s presence in the garden presented the first real threat to their kingdom. As rulers over Yahweh’s creation, they should have seen the threat that Satan presented and should have defeated and removed him from the creation, temple, and kingdom of Yahweh in order to maintain its goodness. They were meant to rescue the serpent, who had been taken over by the evil of the devil. They were to be redeemers of Yahweh’s creation, not traitors to His kingdom.