According to the first chapter of Genesis, the initial creative process spans seven days: six for God’s acts of creation, and a final day on which the Lord rests from all that work. This seven-day period is more significant than most modern Bible readers may realize. While contemporary debates tend to focus on when these days occurred or whether they constitute 24-hour periods, the ancient Israelites would have understood the timespan in a much different way; namely, as the traditional period in which temples were constructed. The outset of Genesis uses the seven days to suggest that God’s creation of the world is a temple-building project; whereas other gods erect their temples in seven days, the God of Israel fashions the entire world as a divine temple. 

In ancient literature of Israel’s neighbors, narratives exist that present temple construction projects that last seven days. For example, the so-called Baal Cycle (an ancient text found in the ancient city of Ugarit in northern Syria) describes the temple of Baal being established in a week’s time: “Of cedars [Baal’s] house is to be built, of bricks is his palace to be erected…. Behold, a day and a second, the fire eats into the house, the flame into the palace. A fifth, and sixth day, the fire eats into the house, the flame into the palace. Behold, on the seventh day, the fire departs from the house, the flame from the palace…. Baal rejoices, ‘My house I have built of silver; my palace I have made of gold.’” (KTU 1.4 VII). In this case, the chief Canaanite deity seven days to set up his temple. Yet, the biblical God rests “on the seventh day” (ביום השביעי; bayom hashvi’i) from all the work of creation. This number is no accident; in the literature of the Ancient Near East—including Israel’s Scriptures—seven is the number that symbolizes completeness or perfection. 

When the God of Israel fashions the world, the priestly writer of Genesis 1 frames that creation within a seven-day framework to suggest that everything we see around us is part of the Lord’s temple. An ancient polemic is imbedded into this imagery: whereas gods like Baal take seven days to create a single temple in a single city of Mesopotamia, Israel’s God takes the same amount of time to establish the entire earth. While other gods may have dominion over their limited sacred spaces, the God of Israel holds sway over the entire created order. It is in the context of this theological claim that Isaiah has a divine vision in the temple as seraphim sing of God, “Holy, holy, holy, the whole earth (כל־הארץ; kol ha’arets) is full of his glory” (Isa 6:3). In Genesis, the precise temporal parameters of the seven days are not the main point; instead, Scripture is concerned with the Lord’s superiority over other deities and the view of our world as the sacred abode of God.

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

24 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent insights. Does this mean that the account is largely metaphorical? To me, it doesn't diminish the authority of Scripture, but it makes me wonder at what point, in Genesis in particular, do we look for literal historical accounts and how do we know that?
    • Thanks for your question, William. The narrative of Genesis One is a theological narrative (about how God organizes the world and relates to humans therein) and a polemical narrative (showing how the God of Israel is superior to other gods). Theology and polemic are the primary purposes of the chapter; concepts like "biology" or "materiality" or "historical chronology" are not the controlling ideas of the narrative. Still, it's not "metaphor" either -- Genesis doesn't use "word pictures" or "figures of speech" to indicate "non-literal" phenomena. Instead, the writer uses plain words with readily identifiable meanings that describe (literally) God making the world functional and organized for the benefit of the human-divine relationship. See my Israelite Creation course for more on this topic: https://israelbiblecenter.com/courses/israelite-creation-in-context/
  2. The Lord Jesus Christ is the messiah. He is back. Gunna fix the joint. That's his mission. DON'T flay his back. Binthere dunthat. I greet the Lord Jesus, and welcome him.
    • That's partially what the text says, Irene. Here's the full citation: "For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night" (Psalm 90:4). Since God lives eternally, one thousand years in human time is the equivalent of a day or even a portion of hours in a day (a watch of the night). 2 Peter expands the Psalm, saying, "With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). That is, in the heavenly realm, time does not exist in the same way it does in the earthly realm.

      + More answers (1)
    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!
  3. My question is this: Do you think the earth is as old as evolution theorizes, or is it a young earth, 6-10 thousand years old? Thank you
    • Thanks for your question, BJ. There's no reason to disbelieve scientific approximations of the earth's age based on Genesis. The creation described in Genesis 1 has nothing to do with material or biological emergence, which is what evolutionary theory attempts to elucidate. Rather, Genesis 1 is concerned with how God organizes the world into a function space. For more on this, see my course: https://israelbiblecenter.com/courses/israelite-creation-in-context/
    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
  4. Thank you Dr. Very Insightful.
    The Canaanites and people of Mesopotamia had other deity(s). The question that has always puzzled me is this:- The Canaanites being descendants of Adam, and Adam and later offspring having known the TRUE God, how come Adam's descendants down the line quickly forgot the God of their fathers and began worshipping idols?. Does it mean the knowledge of one true God faded so fast? What could be the single reason for this departure? Where did the knowledge of idols came from?
    • Thanks for your questions, Charles. People are constantly forgetting God and turning to idols throughout the biblical narrative (see, e.g., Judges 3:7). If this could happen with the nation of Israel, whom God chose as a special people, then it is all the more likely with the descendants of Adam before Israel was chosen. Long before the Bible was written, people were making statues of their gods for the purposes of their ritual and worship (what the Bible calls "idols").

      + More answers (1)
  5. A very interesting theological interpretation of Gen 1 but in cold fact it's an astonishingly accurate account of of the physical creation and development of our planet, its continents, and its lifeforms - science, rather than theology, but I cannot explain in 50 words (but "yom" doesn't just mean "day").
    • In the context of Genesis 1, yom means a regular day made up of evening and morning -- what moderns would call a 24-hour timespan.
    • God created everything and that includes the science. Genesis speaks to all generations including the majority of our time on earth when the fine details of science could not be examined. A definition of day which covers all possibilities is "a defined period of time"
  6. Very interesting way of seeing it. Thanks for the insight. While it is undeniable that God took 6 days to create the initial world, His acts of creation are still miraculously continuing. New life is continously brought forth to replace death. He is amazing.
Load more comments

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your name here
Words left: 50
Please enter your comment!