The Bible is, first and foremost, the revelation of God. With this post, we’re starting at the beginning to hear its message about the kingdom of God. It begins with the God of the kingdom.
God is ruler of two realms that derive their existence from him: the heavens (his world) and the earth (our world). Our world lacked shape and significance until
he declared how things were to be (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29). When he named things, they started to function (1:5, 8, 10). When he separated things, he brought order to his realm (1:3, 6, 7, 14, 18). Everything is shaped by the sovereign’s word and operates out of the power it receives from his decrees.
Our culture conceives of God as a spiritual entity, so religion is treated as a personal category. The revealed God is Lord at all levels: political oversight, resource management, societal justice, as well as personal responsibility. He cannot be constrained to the category of religion. He is Lord of all of life, sovereign over all of history, king over all kings. To help transcend our restricted perception of God, we will regularly speak of him as our sovereign or ruler. Like this:
Gen 1:1-2 (paraphrased)
It all started with our divine ruler setting up two realms: his world (the heavens) and our world (the earth). Our world was a dark abyss, without shape or significance, until our sovereign’s breath moved across its watery surface.
A blog is much too limited to address all topics, so we are constraining ourselves to kingdom aspects. We cannot argue about creation versus evolution here. We are looking for those parts of the story that deal with rule or reign. We see a picture of our sovereign issuing edicts regarding how his kingdom is to function. We hear how his earthly realm—initially unordered and unstructured (“formless and void”)—become ordered and structured as a result of his pronouncements.
Gen 1: 3-13 (summarized)
With the command of his mouth, God ordered our world by separating things from each other: light from darkness, land from water, day from night. He planted life, empowering seeds with the ability to reproduce fruitfully.
After this comes the first explicit reference to reign. We’ve heard that God created two realms, the heavens (his realm) and the earth (our realm). Now we are told of the relationship between these two realms. The two great lights in the sky are signs that earth is under divine rule, that heaven rules earth. These markers-in-the-sky regulate our lives: they define the rhythms of our lives—our days, months, seasons and years. They provide the energy for our existence, the light for our daily lives. They signify the providence of our heavenly sovereign. They are reminders—day and night—that our lives operate under the reign of heaven, that earth is the kingdom of the one who rules the heavens:
Gen 1:14-18 (paraphrased)
He designed our world to operate as his kingdom, under his reign. That’s why the sun rules our realm by day and the moon by night, regulating the days, months, seasons, and years of our lives. These great lights in the sky are signs—reminders that earth lives under the governance of the one who reigns in the heavens.
When you see the sun rise in the morning, remember that our sovereign has given us this day. When you see the moon at night, recall that God rules even while we sleep.
That’s who God is: sovereign over heaven and earth. In our next post, we’ll consider who we are.
What others are saying
John H. Walton, Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2011):
pp.45–46 In our modern, material ontology, we are inclined to think of the cosmos as a machine—often with no one running it (that is, the modern perspective is dysteleological). When we moderns think about the ancient world (including the Bible), it is most natural for us to imagine that ancient peoples simply thought of the world as a machine with Someone running it, rather than seeing that they did not in any respect conceive of the world as a machine. In the ancient functional ontology, the cosmos is more like a business. In this metaphor, it is clear that a business only functions in relationship to people, both the company’s employees and its customers.
Thus, I must observe that, in like manner, the functions of the cosmos and culture are all in relation to people (and at times in relation to the gods, insofar as they share the world with people). R. Clifford draws a similar conclusion when he observes that ancient cosmology accounts are interested in the emergence of a particular society rather than in the emergence of the physical cosmos. As a result, they show how the world became an adequate place in which people could live: “And God saw that it was good.”
p.194 The most important question answered by every ancient cosmology is: Who is in charge? Divine rule in the cosmos is the primary answer.
Read Genesis 1:1-19.