The Lost World of Genesis One-Session 6 (a)
Days Four to Six Installing Functionaries
Days Four to Six in Genesis 1 Install Functionaries
IN THE ACCOUNT OF DAYS FOUR THROUGH six we see a shift in the focus. While a functional orientation is still obvious, God is not setting up functions as much as he is installing functionaries. In some cases the functionaries will be involved in carrying out the functions (especially the role of the celestial bodies in marking periods of time), but in most cases the functionaries simply carry out their own functions in the spheres delineated in the first three days (time, cosmic space, terrestrial space). The assignment of functionaries to their tasks and realms is equally an act of creation. Days four through six are literarily parallel to days one through three, as has long been recognized, but the literary structure is secondary (see chapter 13).
In the report of this day the functional orientation can be clearly seen. The text offers no indication of the material nature of the celestial bodies, and all that it says of their material placement is that they are in the firmament/expanse. This is, of course, problematic if one is trying to understand the text scientifically. On the functional side of the equation, we find that they separate day and night (thus the link to day one), that they provide light and that they serve for “signs, seasons, days and years.” Finally we are told that their function is to govern the day and night—the closest the text comes to personification.
Again we point out that these are not scientific functions but human-oriented functions. In this regard it should be noted that the fourfold description of functions (signs, seasons, days, years) are pertinent only to humans. The one that may seem not to belong is “seasons”—but here we must not think of seasons like summer and winter. The Hebrew word when it is used elsewhere designates the festival celebrations that are associated with the sowing season, the harvesting season and so on.
Days four to six continue to be driven by the spoken word. This spoken word can easily be understood in connection to the establishment of functions. In the ancient Near East the cosmos is organized by the decrees of deity (reflected in the importance of the Tablet of Destiny). Genesis 1 also emphasizes the spoken decrees of the Creator, and these decrees initiate the functions and give the functionaries their roles. Such spoken decrees are also acts of creation. In ancient Mesopotamia the establishment of control attributes (Sumerian me) by decree and the functional aspects of the celestial bodies are combined in texts such as the Great Astrological Treatise:
When An, Enlil, and Enki, the great gods,
In their infallible counsel,
Among the great laws [me] of heaven and earth.
Had established the crescent of the moon,
Which brought forth day, established the months
and furnished the omens
drawn from heaven and earth,
This crescent shone in heaven,
And one saw the stars shining in the highest heaven!
Similar interests and perspectives are attested throughout the ancient Near East.
Moving through day four, we should pause here a moment to comment on another verb associated with creative activity, ʿāśâ. This verb had been used in verse 7 (“God made the expanse”), and it is used again in day four, verse 16 (“God made two great lights”). It will be used again in day six for both animals (v. 25) and people (v. 26). It also shows up in some of the summary statements (Gen 2:2–4, variably as “made” or “done”) and in Exodus 20:11 as a summary statement of the work of the seven days. While some may insist that this verb, at least, expresses a material perspective, we must be careful before jumping to such a conclusion. Any Hebrew lexicon will indicate that this verb covers the whole range, not only of “making” but also of “doing.” Even in the summary statements in Genesis 2:2–4 the verb covers all the activities of the seven days, many of which clearly involve only doing, not making. It is true that this verb can be used for a material process, but it does not inherently refer to a material process. In Exodus 20, the discussion of the sabbath uses the same verb across verses 9–11. The phrases show a pattern: “In six days you shall do all your work … on the seventh … you shall not do any work … for in six days the Lord did the heavens and the earth [his work].” What does doing his work entail? If creation is his work, and creation is function oriented, then doing his work was accomplished by establishing functions. This coincides with Genesis 2:2, which reports that God finished all the work he had been doing and rested from all the work of creating that he had done—all using the same verb.
On day four, God began with a decree (v. 14) that identified the functions of these celestial functionaries. Unlike the situation in the rest of the ancient Near East, these functionaries are non-personal entities. The text at least tacitly makes this point by referring to them as “lights” rather than by their names which coincided with the names of deities in the rest of the ancient Near East. Then he did the work so that they would govern as intended (v. 16). And finally he appointed them to their stations (v. 17). The conclusion is the familiar, “It was good” which, as we discussed last chapter, indicates that they are all prepared to function for the human beings that are soon going to be installed in their place.
In contrast to day four, where the functionaries were helping to accomplish the functions associated with the sphere which they inhabited, in day five the functionaries simply carry out their own functions in the cosmic space that they inhabit. The text addresses what they do (teem, fly) rather than the role they serve. But in the blessing God also gives them a function: to be fruitful and multiply. God created them capable of doing so, and it is their function to fill their respective realms.
Of particular interest is the specific attention paid to the “great creatures of the sea” in verse 21. Here the author returns to the verb he has not used since verse 1, bārāʾ, and which will only be used again in this chapter in verse 27. This use raises the significance of these creatures. In the ancient world the cosmic seas were populated with creatures that operated against the ordered system. Whether antithesis or enemy, they were viewed as threats to order, as they inhabited the region that was itself outside of the ordered system. This is the very reason why the author of Genesis would single them out for comment. Since there is no cosmic warfare or conquest in Genesis as is sometimes part of the ancient Near Eastern picture, the text indicates that these creatures are simply part of the ordered system, not enemies that had to be defeated and kept in check. In Genesis these creatures are fully under God’s control.
As with the creatures inhabiting cosmic space in day five, the animals inhabiting terrestrial space in day six are not functionaries that carry out the functions indicated in day three. Instead they carry out their own functions in that space. The text indicates their functions relative to their kind rather than functions relative to other inhabitants. They are viewed in their categories, and they reproduce after their own kind as part of the blessing of God. Their function is to reproduce and to fill the earth—this is what God made them to do. It is the wonder of creation that new generations of the same kinds of creatures are born from parent creatures. This is the same sort of marvel as the system that allows the plants to grow from seed.
One of the more intriguing elements in these verses is the subject and verb in verse 24 (“Let the land produce living creatures”). This is clearly not a scientific mode of expression, and the interpreter should not attempt to read in it scientific concepts. What would it refer to in an ancient Near Eastern context? As already mentioned, ancient Near Eastern texts do not often speak of the creation of animals, and when they do, it is generally a brief comment in passing. The closest statement to this one in Genesis comes from a work entitled The Exploits of Ninurta:
Let its meadows produce herbs for you. Let its slopes produce honey and wine for you. Let its hillsides grow cedars, cypress, juniper and box for you. Let it make abundant for you ripe fruits, as a garden. Let the mountain supply you richly with divine perfumes.… Let the mountains make wild animals teem for you. Let the mountain increase the fecundity of quadrupeds for you.
The role of the land or the mountains in producing animals does not give us material information as if this were some sort of spontaneous regeneration or a subtle indication of an evolutionary process. Rather the land and mountain are locations of origin. This is where animal life comes from, not what it is produced from. It is similar to a child today asking where babies come from. Rather than needing a description of sperm and egg in fertilization and conception, the child only needs to be told that babies come from hospitals or from their mothers.
The difference when we get to the creation of people is that even as they function to populate the world (like fish, birds and animals), they also have a function relative to the rest of God’s creatures, to subdue and rule. Not only that, but they have a function relative to God as they are in his image. They also have a function relative to each other as they are designated male and female. All of these show the functional orientation with no reference to the material at all. It could be claimed that the material aspect is picked up in Genesis 2, and we will discuss that in a separate section at the end of this chapter.
Among all of the functional elements referred to in Genesis 1:26–30, the image of God is the most important and is the focus of the section. All of the rest of creation functions in relationship to humankind, and humankind serves the rest of creation as God’s vice regent. Among the many things that the image of God may signify and imply, one of them, and probably the main one, is that people are delegated a godlike role (function) in the world where he places them.
It has already been mentioned that whereas in the rest of the ancient world creation was set up to serve the gods, a theocentric view, in Genesis, creation is not set up for the benefit of God but for the benefit of humanity—an anthropocentric view. Thus we can say that humanity is the climax of the creation account. Another contrast between Genesis and the rest of the ancient Near East is that in the ancient Near East people are created to serve the gods by supplying their needs. That is, the role of people is to bring all of creation to deity—the focus is from inside creation out to the gods. In Genesis people represent God to the rest of creation. So the focus moves from the divine realm, through people, to the world around them. It would be like the difference between the employees in the plant who serve the company in the manufacturing process (like people in the ancient Near East) and the employees engaged in sales and marketing who represent the company to the outside world (like people in Genesis).
MATERIALS FOR HUMANITY
Even though Genesis 1 mentions none of the materials or material processes for human origins, Genesis 2 appears to offer just such a description. Therefore we will step briefly out of our focus on Genesis 1 to address this issue.
Ancient Near Eastern texts contain numerous references to humans being created out of a variety of materials, and we find a great deal of continuity between those reports and the biblical text. This again tells us that Genesis is working within the normal conceptual framework of the ancient Near East rather than forging new scientific trails.
The materials or ingredients that are attested in the ancient Near East are tears of a god (Egypt), blood of a god (Atrahasis), and the most common, clay (both Egypt and Mesopotamia). These ingredients are offered as common to all of humanity since the ancient Near Eastern texts only deal with the mass of humanity being created rather than an individual or a couple as in Genesis. This is an important difference as Adam and Eve are treated as individuals in chapters 4 and 5. This individual identity, however, does not change the significance of the reference to the materials in Genesis 2. The fact that the ancient Near East uses the same sorts of materials to describe all of humanity indicates that the materials have archetypal significance. Unlike a prototype (which is an original item that serves as a model for later production), an archetype serves as a representative for all others in the class and defines the class. So when the ancient Near Eastern texts speak of people being created from clay or the blood of a slain deity, they are not talking about just one individual, but are addressing the nature of all humanity.
This archetypal understanding applies also to Genesis 2. An individual named Adam is not the only human being made of the dust of the earth, for as Genesis 3:19 indicates, “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” This is true of all humans, men and women. It is an archetypal feature that describes us all. It is not a statement of chemical composition nor is it describing a material process by which each and every human being is made. The dust is an archetypal feature and therefore cannot be viewed as a material ingredient. It is indicative of human destiny and mortality, and therefore is a functional comment, not a material one.
The situation is no different with the creation of woman. Being drawn from the side of man has an archetypal significance, not an anatomical one. This is the very aspect that the text draws out when it identifies the significance of the detail: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). This is true of all mankind and all womankind. Womankind is archetypally made from the side of mankind. Again we can see that this is a functional discussion, not a material one. After chapter five of Genesis, Adam and Eve are never again mentioned in the Old Testament except in the opening genealogy in Chronicles. In the New Testament, the authors regularly treat Adam and Eve in archetypal terms.
Given these observations, we might conclude that Genesis does not have the same level of interest in the material origins of the first humans as we do. It focuses its attention on the archetypal origins of humanity, mankind and womankind. This interest is part of functional origins. Humankind is connected to the ground from which we are drawn. Womankind is connected to mankind from whom she is drawn. In both male and female forms, humankind is connected to God in whose image all are made. As such they have the privilege of procreation, the role of subduing and ruling, and a status in the garden serving sacred space (Gen 2:15). All of these, even the last, were designed to be true of all human beings. Neither the materials nor the roles are descriptive only of the first individuals. This creation account gives people their identity and specifies their connectivity to everything around them.
In days four to six the functionaries of the cosmos are installed in their appropriate positions and given their appropriate roles. Using the company analogy, they are assigned their offices (cubicles), told to whom they will report, and thus given an idea of their place in the company. Their workday is determined by the clock, and they are expected to be productive. Foremen have been put in place, and the plant is now ready for operation. But before the company is ready to operate, the owner is going to arrive and move into his office.
14 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, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 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. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.