The Bible begins with a fascinating account of God creating the world. In Gen. 1, God forms the earth and fills it with animals and humans. Yet in Gen. 2-3, things take a strange turn as God tells a pair of naked humans to refrain from eating the fruit of a tree, and they get ejected from their garden after disobeying God because they listened to a talking serpent. If readers aren’t careful, they might get caught up thinking this is a simple origins tale or the first of many ancient stories in the Old Testament that is meant to teach a moral lesson. However, the first few chapters of Genesis have several elements that are repeated in the biblical narrative and give readers more insight into the events of the Old and New Testaments.
In my first post, I mentioned that I want to explore the biblical themes of creation, covenant, God’s presence, and seed conflict to give readers a good idea of the main plot of the Bible. After explaining God’s purpose for creating in my last post, I now want to begin unpacking these themes, and in particular, to begin with the theme of creation. When the theme of creation is found in the narrative, it is usually followed by the themes of fall, judgment, and promise of redemption. So, in what follows, I will emphasize the theme of creation (and briefly mention the other themes as they occur) in relation to the Garden of Eden, the post-flood world, the nation of Israel, the Church, and the New Heavens and New Earth.
The Garden of Eden
The theme of creation is hard to miss in Gen. 1-3, but there are some important elements of these chapters that need emphasizing.1 Before God forms the earth to make it habitable, the Spirit (Heb. rûah) of God is seen hovering over dark and chaotic waters (Gen. 1:2). The waters are separated (presumably by the Spirit of God2), and the dry land appears (Gen. 1:9). The pre-flood world is completed, and God rests (Gen. 2:1-2).
The narrative next focuses on Adam, who was commanded to “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). This is a major part of the creation narrative that shows God’s plan for His creation and humanity. Since God created the world to glorify Himself (i.e., to communicate His goodness and love to rational beings), He creates humans in His image (Gen. 1:26) and commands them to cover the earth and rule it according to His good will.
Adam is also supposed to work and watch over the Garden (Gen. 2:15). However, Adam disobeys God and eats some forbidden fruit, which results in his shameful nakedness (Gen. 3:7). More results of Adam’s sin are curses on his descendants and exile from God’s presence in the Garden (Gen. 3:15, 23-24). Adam eventually dies away from God’s presence in exile (Gen. 5:5).
Despite the curses, God promises Eve that one of her descendants will destroy the serpent and remove the curses (Gen. 3:15). Yet, after Adam and Eve are exiled, humanity reaches a level of depravity worthy of destruction. So, God judges the pre-flood earth and wipes out all living things except for Noah’s family and the animals on the ark (Gen. 7:23).
The Post-Flood World
Aspects of the pre-flood creation are seen in the post-flood world. The post-flood world is made habitable when God sends a wind (Heb. rûah) to dry the waters and make dry land appear (Gen. 8:1-3). After the post-flood world is complete, Noah offers sacrifices of rest to God (Gen. 8:21).3
The narrative next focuses on Noah in a similar way as it did Adam. Noah and his sons are commanded to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” and God places the animals under their authority (Gen. 9:1-2). This part of the recreation narrative shows that God’s plan for His creation and humanity are still in effect. God reminds Noah and his sons that humans are made in God’s image, and Noah and his sons are to cover the earth and rule it according to His good will (Gen. 9:1-6).
Noah builds an altar and pleases God with his sacrifices (Gen. 8:20-21). However, Noah begins working and keeping a vineyard and gets drunk on wine, which results in his shameful nakedness (Gen. 9:20-21). The result of Noah’s sin is a curse on some of his descendants (Gen. 9:24-25). Noah eventually dies in a post-flood world without the possibility of being in God’s presence as was possible in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 9:29).
This time, God promises that He won’t curse or destroy the earth again with a flood (Gen. 8:20-21). However, the curses that resulted from Adam’s sin are still very much in effect.4 The narrative shows that Noah’s descendants quickly reach pre-flood-like levels of depravity as they refuse God’s command to spread across the earth and try to build a tower to bring glory to themselves (Gen. 11:4). Their sinful project results in judgment from God, and He confuses their language resulting in a world made of many nations instead of only one (Gen. 11:6-9). Yet, there is still hope for humanity as God promises Abraham that a nation will come from him that will bless all nations (Gen. 12:1-3).
The Nation of Israel
Since God did not de-create the earth as He did with the flood, readers might assume that the creation theme is over after it repeated with Noah. But this is not the case as we see the creation theme repeat itself at least two more times. Although God has not destroyed the earth with a flood, it is still apparent that God needs to reappear in the story because humanity under Noah failed its mission similar to humanity under Adam. And so God does reappear once again.
Specifically, God appears to a number of patriarchs and promises to create a nation of priests that will bless and show His glory to all nations (see Gen. 12:1-3, 26:2-5, 28:13-15). After reconfirming His promises to several patriarchs, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel and tells him, “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation, indeed an assembly of nations, will come from you, and kings will descend from you” (Gen. 35:11).
Once again, God’s plan for His creation and humanity are shown to be in effect still (see Ps. 110:1, 8, 11, 17-19). Eventually, God gives the Israelites the land of Canaan and authority over its inhabitants (Ex. 23:20, 23, 31). The Israelites are commanded to drive out the Canaanites and subdue the land (see Num. 32:20-22). Not only are the Israelites to subdue and rule over the land of Canaan, but it is said a king from Israel will one day subdue and rule over the entire earth (see Ps. 2:8, 72:8, 110:2, 6).
The Israelites follow God’s command to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 47:27; Ex. 1:7), but they are slaves in Egypt. So, they are not the nation God promised they would be until God redeems them and brings them out of slavery. To bring Israel out of Egypt, God sends a strong wind (Heb. rûah) to part the Red Sea and turns the bottom of the sea into dry land (Ex. 14:21-22). All during this process, the pillar of cloud and fire hovers over the Israelites (see Ex. 14:19-20; Deut. 32:11).
After leaving Egypt, Moses is told that Israel will be God’s “kingdom of priests” while in God’s presence on Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:5-6). Yet, although the Israelites witnessed God’s power and glory as they were saved from bondage, they quickly break God’s commandments by fashioning a god out of the gold God provided for them (Ex. 32:1-4); moreover, as they enter the promised land, they are deceived by the Gibeonites (Josh. 9: 3-15) and never completely subdue the land (Josh. 9:27, 13:13). The nation Israel’s continuous idolatry eventually results in its removal from God’s presence as the Israelites are deported to Assyria (2 Kg. 17:6) and the people of Judah are deported to Babylon (2 Kg. 24:12-14).
Despite God’s judgment on the nation of Israel, there is still hope for them. God promises David that David’s house and kingdom will endure forever (2 Sam. 7:16). Also, through some of His prophets, God promises the nation Israel that He will one day bring them back into His presence and make it possible for them to know, love, and obey Him (see Jer. 31:31-34, 32:40; Ezek. 16:60-62, 34:25-31, 37:26-28).
Moving into the New Testament, the theme of creation is repeated one more time. The Church is created on Pentecost when a violent wind comes from heaven, and the Holy Spirit fills believers (Acts 2:2-4). Each member of the Church emerges from the waters of baptism (1 Pet. 3:21).
The New Testament gospels focus on Jesus, who was given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). Jesus commands the Church to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). God’s plan for His creation and humanity continues as the Church seeks to fulfill its commission and teach all nations to observe Jesus’ commands (Matt. 28:20).
When Jesus is baptized, the Spirit of God descends upon Him like a dove (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22). After this, Jesus goes to the wilderness (among the animals [Mark 1:13]) and is tempted by Satan. However, Jesus does not fall as did Adam, Noah, and Israel. He not only rebukes Satan, but goes on to live a sinless life full of love for God and humanity (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 3:5). Instead of sinning, Jesus becomes sin and is hung naked on a cross (2 Cor. 5:20-21). Jesus dies but not for long; He is raised from the grave and ascends to God’s presence in heaven (see John 7:33, 16:28).
Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and the work of the Holy Spirit make it possible for the Church to exist and carry out its mission. However, the curses and the seed of the serpent remain on the earth. In spite of these, Jesus promises the Church that He will return and judge everyone on the earth (Matt. 25:1-11, 31-46; Rev. 20:11-13). He will destroy the serpent and the demons and followers of the serpent (Rev. 20:9-10, 14-15).
The New Heavens and New Earth
The theme of creation is not repeated but is consummated with the New Heavens and New Earth. God will create the New Heavens and New Earth by passing the old earth through fire (2 Pet. 3:7, 10-13) and joining the new earth with heaven (Rev. 21:2). God’s curses will be lifted as Jesus, the promised descendant of Eve, casts Satan into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10). The promises made to Abraham, David, the nation of Israel, and the Church will be fulfilled as Jesus will reign from the New Jerusalem forever (Rev. 22:3-5). The creation will be just as God always intended for it to be as God will dwell among a people who know and love Him, and His glory will pervade throughout all His creation (Rev. 21:3, 23).
While many things in the biblical narrative might seem strange, like naked people wrongfully eating fruit in a garden with a serpent, a careful look at the theme of creation helps explain why the biblical authors focused on specific themes. In particular, the theme of creation throughout the Bible helps readers follow the repeated failing of humanity in its mission from God and how Jesus Christ finally brings this mission to its fulfillment. Adam, Noah, and the nation of Israel failed to spread God’s glory across the world, but Jesus will not.
To clarify this biblical epic even further, in my next post, I plan on discussing the covenants that God made throughout the Bible. These covenants include the Adamic, Noahic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants. Exploring these will not only help shed more light on God’s plans for humanity, but will also help shed more light on God’s loving, just, and sovereign will.
For visual learners, here is another great video regarding the biblical themes of creation/fall/exile/redemption created by Timothy Mackie and Jonathan Collins of The Bible Project:
- Most of this information regarding the theme of creation comes from Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 292-296. See also Warren A. Gage, The Gospel of Genesis: Studies in Protology and Eschatology (Winona Lake: Carpenter, 1984), 10-14.
Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 292.
Gage, The Gospel of Genesis, 16.
Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26 (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1996), 394.
*The featured image of Shem warning about the coming flood is from The Kingstone Bible, vol. 1, p. 39. Image used with permission: © 2014 Kingstone Comics.