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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Genesis 1



Verse 1

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

In the beginning God. The Hebrew word [ 'Elohiym (Hebrew #430)], from its derivation and use, signifies 'strong,' 'mighty;' and hence, though other names are applied in the Pentateuch to the Supreme Being, this appellation is used exclusively in the narrative of the first chapter, as expressive of the powers displayed in the work of creation. It is equivalent to the English word, Deity, the great object of awe and reverence "whom no man hath seen at any time;" and its adoption in this opening portion of Scripture was peculiarly appropriate, as infolding all the august attributes of God as the Creator of the universe. A remarkable peculiarity, however, distinguishes this word, because it is a plural noun accompanied with a singular verb, which is the construction maintained for the most part throughout the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, though it is also found in various passages associated with plural adjuncts, and in such a connection it irresistibly suggests the idea of more objects than one. This interchange of singular and plural forms, as well as the frequent combination of both in the same sentence, constitutes a peculiar idiom unparalleled in any other language, and it demands particular attention from the occurrence of the term in the latter state in the first verse of the Bible. The use of it originated in no imperative necessity. It arose from no grammatical defect, because the word existed in the singular form, though it occurs but rarely, and that only in the poetical parts of Scripture, and in later Hebrew. Nor was it occasioned by any poverty of language, because the Hebrew vocabulary is richer and more copious in names for the Deity than any other cultivated language, whether in ancient or modern times.

And even had none of these various appellations been sufficiently descriptive of the Divine Majesty as manifested in the stupendous work of creation, the Spirit of inspiration could, as on another occasion (Exodus 3:14), have invented a new name which would have exactly corresponded with the tenor and circumstances of this narrative. The choice of 'Elohiym (Hebrew #430), therefore, in preference to all other names for the Divine Being, must have been dictated by some special reason of great utility and importance. Applied as it commonly was to false deities, and liable, from that constant and familiar use, to suggest or foster polytheistic ideas, the introduction of such a term as the designation of the true God into a book which was designed to give a death-blow to idolatry, and written primarily for the instruction of a people who were not only called into national existence to preserve a knowledge of the Divine Unity in the world, but whose laws, institutions, and minutest observances were framed with jealous care to prevent their departure from that faith, seems altogether unaccountable except upon the ground that it was conducive to the promotion of the same high end; and therefore we are led to conclude that by its use here in the plural form is obscurely taught, at the opening of the Bible, a doctrine clearly revealed in the later portions of it-namely, that though God is one, there is a plurality of persons in the Godhead, who were engaged in the creative work (Proverbs 8:27; John 1:3-10; Ephesians 3:9; Hebrews 1:2; Job 28:13).

Created. The Hebrew word baaraa' (Hebrew #1254), which signifies 'to carve,' 'plane,' or 'polish,' is used in the Qal in the sense of 'to create;' and, though it sometimes denotes merely restoration in another and improved form (Isaiah 43:1-15; Isaiah 65:18), yet it always conveys the idea of something new (Numbers 16:30; Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 65:17; Jeremiah 31:22).

That a production entirely new, a really creative act, is related in this verse, and not merely a renovation or reconstruction of old and previously existing materials, is evident, not only from the whole of the subsequent context, but from the summary of the processes described in the subsequent portions of this narrative, where a different word is used, denoting 'made,' 'reconstituted,' 'arranged' (cf. Genesis 2:3 with Exodus 20:11). The first term signifies to bring into being, the other points only to a new collocation of matter already in existence. [Moreover, baaraa' (Hebrew #1254) differs from two other synonymous words, `aasaah (Hebrew #6213) and yaatsar (Hebrew #3334), which also occur in this narrative, (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 2:7; Genesis 2:19); while the latter are frequently used with reference to the labours of men, the former is exclusively applied to the works of God.] On these grounds we are warranted in considering the sacred historian to have selected the term he has employed for the special purpose of intimating an actual creation; and since he has contented himself with a declaration of the simple fact, without saying anything as to the mode in which the Divine Will and Energy operated, he obviously meant the conclusion to be drawn that the creation was effected out of nothing. This is an inference in accordance with the soundest principles of philosophy, and one which we cannot resist without doing violence to the fundamental principles of human belief. For since we are led by the natural constitution of our minds to trace every effect to an adequate cause, the existence of the material universe necessarily implies a previous state of nothingness from which it was called into being.

The heaven and the earth , [ 'eet (Hebrew #853) hashaamayim (Hebrew #8064) w

Verse 2

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And the earth was without form, and void. The relation of this to the preceding verse has been the subject of much discussion; some considering that there is but a very loose and remote connection between them, while others maintain that the two verses cannot be separated, because they both refer to the pre-Adamite earth-the former asserting that it owed its origin, in common with all things else in the universe, to the fiat of Almighty power, and the latter declaring what was its condition prior to the establishment of the present terrestrial order of things. But, whether the connection between the two first verses be immediate and close, or loose and remote-whether the statements contained in the second verse refer to events directly continuous, or that did not take place until a period long subsequent to those described in the preceding one-it is allowed on all hands that the two sentences are merely introductory to the narrative which follows; and this view is corroborated by the fact that the division of the text into verses is a modern arrangement, unknown in ancient MSS. and versions. Moreover, in many Hebrew MSS. there is the usual mark of a pause. In some old editions of the English Bible, where there is no division into verses, a break is actually found at what is now the second verse; and in Luther's Bible (Wittemburg, 1557) there is, in addition, the figure 1 placed against the third verse, as being the beginning of the account of the first day's creative work (Buckland's 'Bridge. Treat.')

Opinions as to the import of this second verse are no less diverse than in regard to the degree of relation which it bears to the first, because, according to one class of expositors, it describes the primordial state of the earth when newly emanating from the hands of the Creator; while another class consider it as pointing to a great physical catastrophe which at some subsequent period befell the earth, and from the extensive derangements occasioned by which it gradually emerged when the present mundane system began to be introduced. Since these different conclusions are supported on grounds of philology as well as geology, it is necessary in our exposition to follow a similar course; and, therefore, we shall endeavour first to ascertain by a minute exegesis the precise meaning of the terms employed, after which we shall compare the Mosaic cosmogony with the ascertained facts or prevailing theories of science.

The Hebrew particle [ w

Verse 3

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Let there be light , [ Y

Verse 4-5

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 6-8

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

Let there be a firmament , [ raaqiya` (Hebrew #7549)] - expansion. Our version, following the Septuagint and Vulgate, uses the word "firmament," which gives an erroneous view of the meaning of the Hebrew term, which comes from a root that signifies to 'beat,' to 'spread out.' If the Hebrew word, in the primary sense of 'a thing beat out,' did point, as many allege, to a metallic plate, it was, like the Greek stereooma (Greek #4733), or the Latin firmamentum, to express the idea of stability and of splendour, not at all of a solid arch, and was used to designate the blue ethereal vault above us, corresponding with a common, familiar use of the word 'heaven.' Any expressions that are found in Scripture conveying the idea of a solid, permanent dome are used only in the poetical books (Job 26:11; Job 37:18; Ps. 28:23 ), or in the language of daily life (Genesis 7:11), the lively imagination of the Hebrews comparing the heaven above us-according to the aspect in which they viewed it-sometimes to a curtain or tent spread out (Psalms 104:2; Isaiah 40:22), and at other times to a molten looking-glass. But such figurative terms no more expressed their real conceptions of the visible heavens than modern travelers in Palestine, who often describe it as 'molten lead,' or ourselves, who speak of is as a canopy, thereby indicate our views of its true nature.

God made the firmament. The verb [ `aasaah (Hebrew #6213)] being used here which means to make, prepare, arrange, etc. (Proverbs 8:27-29), shows that the atmosphere was not now for the first time brought into existence by the will of God; but that it was cleared of the dense mists which, previous to the second day, had surrounded the globe.

Divided the waters under the firmament from the waters above the firmament. "The waters under the Divided the waters under the firmament from the waters above the firmament. "The waters under the firmament" are understood to be those mentioned in Genesis 1:10, and by "the waters above the firmament," a reference must be made to those which, in the form of clouds and vapour, are known to lodge in the atmosphere (Judges 5:4; Job 26:8; Job 38:34; Psalms 18:11; Psalms 104:3; Jeremiah 10:13), and were then formed. There is a remarkable precision in the language employed, when it is borne in mind that the command, "Let it divide the waters from the waters," was given previous to the appearance of dry land. The expansion by heat of a dark and turbid atmosphere would produce the effect, that while the larger and heavier mass of the vast deep which covered the surface of the earth would remain below, the more volatile portion of the waters would fly off into the upper regions, and thus "divide the waters from the waters." That the Hebrews were acquainted with the natural process of evaporation by which "the waters above the firmament" were supplied, is abundantly evident from Genesis 11:6; 1 Kings 18:44; so that there is not a shadow of reason for the cavil about their gross ignorance in conceiving the existence of a celestial ocean which was supported on the solid vault of heaven.

Previous to the dawn of this day (the atmosphere being saturated with an excess of humidity), the watery vapours fell so low as to press upon or come in contact with the surface of the earth. There was no boundary line; the one appeared to merge into the other. Now God "made," i:e., 'prepared,' the firmament by the expansive influence of heat, so that it carried up the lighter parts of the waters which overspread the earth's surface, and kept them suspended in the visible heavens. The command was, "Let it divide" - literally, 'Let it be dividing,' or continue to divide. The separation between the waters on the earth, and the clouds, which are the bearers of moisture in the sky, was to be a complete and permanent one.

Called the firmament Heaven. In the highest sense of the term this word denotes the place of the divine residence; but it is frequently and familiarly applied to designate that aerial canopy that surmounts the earth.

Verses 9-13

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

Let the waters under the heaven ... i:e., which extended far and wide under the whole heavens.

Unto one place , [ maaqowm (Hebrew #4725)] - position, station, receptacle. The import of the clause is, not that the terrestrial waters were to form one vast unbroken expanse of ocean-for they were to be gathered together in such a manner as to form many "seas," - but that the sea should occupy one place, and the dry land another; each should have its respective domain assigned to it.

And let the dry land appear - literally, be seen. The world was to be rendered a terraqueous globe. A comparison of this passage with Job 38:8, which seems to contain a poetical allusion to the separation of the waters from the dry land, conveys an impression that the change was effected, not by a slow and gradual process, but with the violent impetuosity of an overwhelming torrent; in fact, done rapidly, and in a manner poetically described by the forcible shutting of a door. How this was effected, according to the views of modern science, will be shown afterward; but in the meantime it may be remarked that the language of the Palmist (Psalms 104:6-9) seems to point to a volcanic convulsion by which great changes were worked on the earth's surface;-the upheaving of some parts, the depression of others, and the consequent formation of vast hollows, into which the waters impetuously rushed. Called he seas. God, it appears, called the light "day," the darkness "night," the firmament "heaven," the dry land, "earth," and the mass of terrestrial waters "seas." Since man was not yet created, the inspired historian must be considered as speaking proleptically, or by way of anticipation, in the mention of those names. But the very prominent place which the bestowment of such names occupies in a narrative so brief and general-especially the circumstance of God himself assigning them, while the work of originating appropriate names to things after his creation was devolved upon Adam-affords a strong presumptive argument in favour of the opinion that God gave these names among the elementary lessons taught to man, who, instead of being left to invent language by the slow and unaided exercise of his natural powers, had the important gift imparted to him from the start, and was thus enabled to hold communion with his Maker.

Let the earth bring forth grass. "The earth," or "the dry land," which had been separated from the waters, was as yet only bare soil, but it was about to be stocked with vegetable life; and it is noticeable that the trees, plants, and grasses-the three great divisions of the vegetable kingdom here mentioned-were not called into existence in the same way as the light and the air: they were made to grow, and they grew, as they do still, out of the ground; not, however, by the self-developing powers of the earth, but through the energy of creative power, without rain, dew, or any process of labour or cultivation. But nothing further is said and whether they were created in full maturity or the seeds were deposited in the soil, the quickening virtue was imparted to them by the command, 'Let the earth bring forth, young tenderness, grass, deshe' (Hebrew #1877)' the blade of which is the choice food of beasts (Job 6:5). [ `eeseb (Hebrew #6212), an herb growing up and setting, such as the cereals and pulse, the seed of which is the valuable part.]

And the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself. [ '

Verses 14-19

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven , [ m

Verse 20

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life , [ Yishr

Verse 21

And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Every living thing that moveth. [ Remes (Hebrew #7431) is applied to all small animals that crawl, or appear to crawl, the ground, whether without feet they glide or drag themselves along, as reptiles, or with short legs and claws, like mice and crabs. Sherets (Hebrew #8318) is applied generally to aquatic or amphibious animals; while remes (Hebrew #7431) is limited in its use to a particular class that move on the ground (Genesis 6:7; Genesis 7:14; Genesis 9:2; Lev. 9:44 ), although in one instance it denotes all orders of land animals (Genesis 9:3).] And fowl that may fly. The marginal reading, 'and let fowl fly,' is more in accordance with the original, and at the same time removes the apparent discrepancy between this passage and Genesis 2:19.

The Hebrew `owp (Hebrew #5775) denotes every description of flying animals, from fowls to birds (Deuteronomy 4:17; Job 5:7; Proverbs 23:5), bats, locusts (Nahum 3:16), and even seraphim (Isaiah 6:6).

And God created great whales , [ hataniynim (Hebrew #8577) hag

Verse 22-23

And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 24-25

And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind. On the sixth day a further advance was made by the creation of terrestrial animals, all the various species which are, according to the Hebrew style, comprehended in three classes-namely, cattle, the herbivorous kind capable of labour or domestication; the creeping thing, the serpents and different genre of reptiles, and smaller mammalia; and beasts of the earth-wild beasts. They are all terrigenous-sprung from the earth; they pass their lives upon its surface, and are maintained by its produce. No information is given as to the mode by which the Creator brought them into being; and although the phrase "bring forth" is now applied to describe the ordinary way in which, according to the natural laws of animal production, the various orders of creatures have ever since entered the world, it must not be considered as giving any indication as to the particular mode in which the first animals were formed. The living creature. The singular is used collectively, to embrace the entire order, and the passage may properly be rendered, 'Let the earth bring forth all living creatures after their kind.

Verses 26-29

And 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Let us make man. The last stage in the progress of creation being now reached, God said, "Let us make man" [ na`

Verse 30

And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

I have given you every herb ... and every tree ... for meat. They were to be sustained on the products of the ground alone, because not the slightest hint is given of a grant of animal food: on the contrary, it seems to be expressly excluded by the terms of this passage; and vegetables and fruit-bearing trees are specified, to distinguish "for meat" to man from "every green herb" [ kaal (Hebrew #3605) yereq (Hebrew #3418) `eeseb (Hebrew #6212)] - all the greenness of vegetation - i:e., the various kinds of herbage. The "beasts of the earth" is a Scripture name for wild beasts, which we know had been created (Genesis 1:25); and since these are by nature carnivorous creatures, the peculiar form of their teeth and of their stomach unfitting them for living upon grass, there does seem some ground for the opinion of Dr. Pye Smith, who says, 'I venture to think that the Mosaic description in this part extends not to all animal and vegetable species, but to those only which would be suitable to the region under its various conditions, would have a beneficial connection with man, and would, by their forms, habits, and instincts, be subject to his dominion' ('Scripture and Geology').

Verse 31

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Saw that it was very good. In the simple anthromorphic style of this history, the Creator is represented as an artist, and in all the successive stages of the creative work as pausing to survey its progress, which He pronounced to be "good." But on the completion of it by the creation of man, he declared it to be "very good;" not only each separate part, but as a whole, adapted to be the habitation of a race of intelligent and moral creatures, the scene of all the various plans and operations which were to be developed under that economy of providence which he was about to commence.

The sixth day , [ yowm (Hebrew #3117) hashishiy (Hebrew #8345)]. This is the only one of all the numerals used in this chapter which has the article prefixed; and the insertion of it was evidently intended to stamp special honour on the sixth day, as the day on which the creative work was brought to a completion.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 1:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

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