When we open up our Bibles to the Book of Genesis we are immediately introduced to the the Ancient Near Eastern culture (*think – ancient Sumer, Mespotamia, etc). By examining Genesis chapter 1 we can gain an understanding of “spirituality” and ultimately reinforce our spirituality which is established in and through Jesus Christ as “authentic”. Take a minute to read through Genesis 1:1-31.
What you just read is the Genesis creation account. The phrase “formless and void” which can be found in Genesis 1:2 highlights that the creation at that time (“earth”) was comparable to a dry, useless desert wilderness with no possibility to sustain life (as expressed in the Hebrew -“tohu wabohu”). As we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, the darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters (Genesis 1:1-2)”. Unfortunately, many have failed to note that “heaven and earth” is a covenant phrase used all throughout the Scriptures to refer to God’s old covenant people (Israel), as well as their covenant with Him (the Temple was referred to as “heaven and earth”) in contrast to earth simply being all of creation. This unfortunate failure to understand the covenantal aspect of these details has led to a distorted understanding regarding what is happening at the beginning and throughout the Bible. Far too many people think the phrase “heaven and earth” means the sky and the terra firma we are standing upon and that the beginning of the Bible is trying to explain the beginning of that. That is simply not the case.
(“Heaven and Earth” as used through the Old Testament cf. Leviticus 26:14-20; Deuteronomy 30:19; Deuteronomy 31:30-32:1; Isaiah 1:1-2; Isaiah 13:1-13; Isaiah 24:3-6, 19-20; Isaiah 34:3-5; Isaiah 51:16; Jeremiah 4:28)
As we “study to show ourselves approved, rightly dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)”, we should be gaining a narrative understanding of what is being detailed from Genesis to Revelation. In step with gaining a narrative understanding, we should we learning the historical context and scene of the details we are reading, and picking up a familiarity with words and phrases that are used. Doing so will enable for a more beautiful, worthwhile, and wholesome understanding of God’s truth.
In Genesis 1:2, as mentioned above, there are quite a few covenant features. For example, “darkness” hints at confusion all throughout the Scriptures, and the “deep” or the waters, symbolize the mass of people outside of the covenant people (“Heaven and Earth”) all throughout the Old Testament. Also, the mention of the Spirit of God hovering over the chaotic waters should provoke the image of God initiating something within His creation. The big question is – what was God doing?
Again I mention that it is truly lamentable how far off people have gone in trying to gain understanding of what is happening in Genesis chapter 1. If confusion takes place at the start of reading the Bible, we end up going through the rest of the Biblical details with a bit of confusion. This speaks to to the rather weak and divided nature of Christ’s Church today, summarized by a failure to apply humility and understanding regarding the details of Scripture, and the various historical contexts through which they were revealed.
If and when we begin to understand Genesis as an ANE text and take in to account the historical context, we open up the door to gaining a radical (rooted) spirituality. Instead of Genesis 1 speaking to our contemporary concerns about God’s creation of the physical things we see – heaven and earth – the historical context speaks to the rampant idolatry and confusion that characterized the ancient near east. Surely God has created all things (cf. Colossians 1:16), however Genesis 1 is understood to be an ancient near eastern “temple text” aimed at establishing the sovereignty of the One True God covenanting with His creation. He establishes the “heaven and earth” (His covenant people) in a formless and void society all with the intention to begin a work (“hovering”) among the mass of people. In a more contemporary fashion we might say, “He was bringing light to darkness”, or clarity to confusion, which is exactly the first creative act highlighted in Genesis 1:3. Genesis chapter 1 is all about God establishing His covenant people to have an affect on the nations around them (“the waters”). This truth of how God worked with and among His people is conveyed through Moses’s song in Deuteronomy chapter 32.
“He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions. The Lord alone guided him, and their was no foreign god with him. (Duet. 32:10-12)”.
Remember the “big question” I mentioned above? What was God doing?
In order to make it explicitly clear that God was bringing forth judgment upon an idolatrous culture in Genesis chapter 1, and ultimately declaring His sovereignty and covenant among His people (“heaven and earth”) through what is known as“temple text”, I want to take us to a passage that uses similar language. Let’s read Jeremiah 4:22-28.
“For my people are foolish. They know me not; they are stupid children and have no understanding. They are shrewd to do evil, but to do good they do not know. I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and the hills moved to and fro. I looked and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens had fled. I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a wilderness, and all its cities were pulled down before the Lord, before His fierce anger. For thus says the Lord, “The whole land shall be a desolation, yet I will not execute a complete destruction. For this the earth shall mourn and the heavens above be dark, because I have spoken, I have purposed, and will not change my mind, nor will I turn from it”.
Exactly what we read in Genesis chapter 1, right? The prophet Jeremiah is prophesying to Israel the coming judgment at the hands of Babylonians which occurred in 586 BC. Jeremiah is using powerful imagery to declare this judgment showing that God’s people, as well as the surrounding nations would be confounded. The prophets continually bring to the forefront the reality that all of God’s creation yearn for His glory to be manifest – the creation and His creation. However, that glory is revealed through His creation, and due to carnality His creation seemingly stumbles again and again. Jeremiah uses rather powerful language to convey what we might call a “conceptual reality”.
A conceptual reality is the formation of thoughts pertaining to the natural environment that are understood as more real, more defining than the reality itself. This is in contrast to an abstract reality which is understood as otherworldly, and sadly enough this is how most people view things of the Spirit. Not so much the Hebrew people though. Many people view spirituality and what is often referred to as the “spirit realm” as mysterious and far away, where as the Hebrew people understood God as near and present to them, being understood through their concept of covenant. Instead of spirituality being understood as an otherworldly phenomenon that wooden images could only mysteriously convey, the Hebrew people saw themselves as the image of God to the nations through their elevated understanding (i.e. their understanding of Spirituality) of His covenanting among them.
It is exactly that, Israel being the image of God to the nations, which is a conceptual reality finding its beginning in Genesis chapter 1 and flowing through the rest of the Scriptures. God creating “heaven and earth” and “hovering over the surface of the deep” was illustrated through the calling out of Adam from the “formless and void” creation of Genesis 1:1 – all a picture of God establishing covenant among His people (Adam being the progenitor of that covenant). The spirituality (or understanding that comes from outside of man, beyond, elevated above) that flows from that “conceptual reality” is that Israel was to obey Torah knowing the sovereignty of the One True God who was manifest in, through, and among them.
Possessing an “authentic spirituality” requires a proper understanding of spirituality that was manifest from God covenanting among His people, as well as an understanding of what authentic means. The carnal manifestations of man’s logic and reasoning, ultimately leaning upon his own misunderstanding is characterizes by confusion and chaos, rather than a clear and clarifying (dare I say elevated/ spiritual) reality which was offered by God through covenant – first through His natural covenant with Israel (Torah) and today through the eternal spiritual covenant established in and through Jesus Christ.
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining Spiritual thoughts with Spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised… For who has known the mind of the Lord, that we will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:12-14,16)”.
In this blog I have offered an honest look at the historical context and details of Genesis chapter 1 in an effort to establish an “authentic spirituality”. We noted that instead of detailing the creation of physical things, we know Genesis 1 to be a ANE temple text highlighting the One True God covenanting with His creation (which would later become Israel). Understanding that allows for an “authentic spirituality” (those who have eyes to see and ears to hear) in regards to the conceptual reality being highlighted in Genesis chapter 1.
What many are defining and trusting as “spiritual” is actually a stronghold delivering them right into the hand of the enemy (the carnal mind – The Satan). What many understand the details of Genesis 1 to be about is also leading many into the hands of the enemy through skepticism, doubt, and confusion. The work of the Satan is the be an adversary to God’s truth and lead us to lean upon our own misunderstandings. Christ was manifest to destroy the devil (1 John 3:8), to give the Church victory over him,(“crush him under their feet” cf. Romans 16:20), and allow for the true knowledge of God to be established among His people (cf. Revelation 21:22-26). Let’s continue to walk as children of the Light offering clarity where there is confusion.
- I am looking to publish a new book, Wicked, in March 2017. Wicked will deal with much of what was mentioned in this blog in regards to the Biblical narrative, covenant, spirituality, and more.
To God be the Glory!