let us open the book of Genesis. The first place in it is occupied
by the origin of the world. Moses, the seer of God, speaks briefly about the
creation of the world. His account occupies about one page of the Bible. But at
the same time he took in everything with a single glance. This brevity displays
profound wisdom, for what loquacity could embrace the greatness of God's work?
In essence this page is an entire book, which required great spiritual stature
on the part of the sacred author and enlightenment from above. It is not
without reason that Moses concludes his account of the creation as if he were
concluding a large and long work: This is the book of the generations of the
heavens and the earth, when they were made, in the day in which the Lord God
made the heavens and the earth (Gen. 2:4).
This was a mighty task — to speak of how the world
and all that is in the world came to be. A large enterprise in the realm of
thought requires a correspondingly large store of means of expression, a
technical and philosophical vocabulary. But what did Moses have? At his disposal
was an almost primitive language, the entire vocabulary of which numbered only
several hundred words. This language had almost none of those abstract concepts
which now make it much easier for us to express our thoughts. The thinking of
antiquity is almost entirely expressed in images, and all its words denote what
the eyes and ears perceive of the visible world. Because of this, Moses uses
the words of his time with care, so as not to immerse the idea of God in the
crudeness of purely earthly perceptions. He has to say "God made,"
"God took," "God saw," "God said," and even —
"God walked;" but the first words of Genesis, In the beginning God
made, and then, The Spirit of Godmoved over the water,
already speak clearly of God as a spirit, and consequently of the metaphorical
nature of the anthropomorphic expressions we quoted above. In a later book, the
Psalter, when the metaphorical nature of such expressions about the Spirit
became generally understood, we encounter many more such expressions, and ones
which are more vivid. In it we read about God's face, about the hands, eyes,
steps, shoulders of God, of God's belly. Take hold of weapon and shield, and
arise unto my help (Ps. 35:2), the psalmist appeals to God. In his homilies
on the book of Genesis, commenting on the words, And they heard the voice of
the Lord Godwalking in the garden in the afternoon, Saint John
"Let us not,
beloved, inattentively pass over what is said by Divine Scripture, and let us
not stumble over the words, but reflect that such simple words are used because
of our infirmity, and everything is accomplished fittingly for our salvation.
Indeed, tell me, if we wish to accept the words in their literal meaning, and
will not understand what we are told at the very beginning of the present
reading. And they heard, it is said, the voice of the Lord God walking in
the garden in the afternoon. What are you saying? God walks? Surely we are
not ascribing feet to Him? And shall we not understand anything higher by this?
No, God does not walk — quite the contrary! How, in fact, can He Who is
everywhere and fills all things, Whose throne is heaven and the earth His
footstool, really walk in paradise? What foolish man will say this? What then
does it mean, They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in
the afternoon? He wanted to awaken in them such a feeling (of His
nearness), that it would cast them into anxiety, which is what actually
happened: they felt this, trying to hide themselves from God Who was approaching
them. Sin happened — and the crime — and shame fell upon them. The impartial
judge, the conscience, rose up, cried out with a loud voice, reproached them,
exposed them and, as it were, exhibited before their eyes, the seriousness of
the crimes. In the beginning, the Master created man and placed the conscience
in him, as an inexorable accuser, which cannot be deceived or flattered
In our era of geological and paleontological
research and discoveries, the world of the past is depicted on an immeasurably
vast time scale; the appearance of humanity itself is ascribed to immensely
distant millennia. In questions of the origin and development of the world,
science follows its own path, but it is not essential for us to make efforts to
bring the Biblical account into congruence and harmony in all points with the
voice of contemporary science. We have no need to plunge ourselves into geology
and paleontology to support the Biblical account. In principle we are convinced
that the words of the Bible and scientific data will not prove to be in
contradiction, even if at any given time their agreement in one respect or
another is still not clear to us. In some cases scientific data can show us how
we should understand the facts in the Bible. In some respects these two fields
are not comparable; they have different purposes, to the extent that they have
contrasting points of view from which they see the world.
Moses' task was not the study of the physical
world. However, we agree in recognizing and honoring Moses for giving mankind
the first elementary natural history; for being the first person in the world
to give the history of early humanity; and, finally, for giving a beginning to
the history of nations in the book of Genesis. All this only emphasizes his greatness.
He presents the creation of the world and its history, in the small space of a
single page of the Bible; hence it is already clear, from this brevity, why he
does not draw the thread of the world's history through the deep abyss of the
past, but rather presents it simply as one general picture. Moses' immediate
aim in the account of the creation was to instill basic religious truths into
his people and, through them, into other peoples.
The principal truth is that God is the one
spiritual Being independent of the world. This truth was preserved in that
branch of humanity which the fifth and sixth chapters of the book of Genesis
call the "sons of God," and from them faith in the one God was passed
on to Abraham and his descendants. By the time of Moses, the other peoples had
already lost this truth for some time. It was even becoming darkened among the
Hebrew people, surrounded as they were by polytheistic nations, and threatened
to die out during their captivity in Egypt. For Moses himself the greatness of the one, divine Spirit
was revealed by the unconsumed, burning bush in the wilderness. He asked in
perplexity: Behold, I shall go forth to the children of Israel, and shall say to them, "The God of our fathers has
sent me to you" — and they will ask of me, "What is His name?"
What shall I say to them? Then, Moses heard a mystical voice give the name of
the very essence of God: And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am the Being. Thus
shall ye say to the children of Israel, the Being has sent me to you (Ex. -14).
Such is the lofty conception of God that Moses is
expounding in the first words of the book of Genesis: In the beginning God
made the heaven and the earth. Even when nothing material existed, there
was the one Spirit, God, Who transcends time, transcends space, Whose existence
is not limited to heaven, since heaven was made together with time and the
earth. In the first line of the book of Genesis the name of God is given
without any definitions or limitations: for the only thing that can be said
about God is that He is, that He is the one, true, eternal Being, the Source of
all being, He is the Being.
A series of other truths about God, the world, and
man, are bound up with this truth and follow directly from the account of the
creation. These are:
• God did not separate a
part of Himself, was in no way diminished, nor was He augmented in creating the
• God created the world
of His free will, and was not compelled by any necessity.
• The world does not, of
itself, have a divine nature; it is neither the offspring of the Deity, nor
part of Him, nor the body of the Deity.
• The world manifests
the wisdom, power, and goodness of God.
• The world which is
visible to us was formed gradually, in order, from the lower to the higher and
• In the created world
"everything was very good"; the world in its entirety is harmonious,
excellent, wisely and bountifully ordered.
• Man is an earthly
being, made from earth, and appointed to be the crown of earthly creation.
• Man is made after the
image and likeness of God, and bears in himself the breath of life from God.
From these truths the logical conclusion follows
that man is obliged to strive towards moral purity and excellence, so as not to
deface and lose the image of God in himself, that he might be worthy to stand
at the head of earthly creation.
Of course, the revelation about the creation of
the world supplanted in the minds of the Hebrews all the tales they had heard
from the peoples surrounding them. These fables told of imaginary gods and
goddesses, who a) are themselves dependent on the existence of the world and
are in essence, impotent, b) who are replete with weaknesses, passions and
enmity, bringing and spreading evil, and therefore, c) even if they did exist
would be incapable of elevating mankind ethically. The history of the creation
of the world, which has its own independent value as a divinely revealed truth,
deals, as we see, a blow to the pagan, polytheistic, mythological religions.
The Old Testament concept of God is expressed with
vivid imagery in the book of the Wisdom of Solomon: For the whole world
before Thee is as a little grain in the balance yea, as a drop of the morning
dew that falleth down upon the earth! (Wis. 11:22). The book of Genesis confesses pure, unadulterated
monotheism. Yet Christianity brings out a higher truth in the Old Testament
accounts: the truth of the unity of God in a Trinity of Persons. We read: Let
us make man according to our image; Adam is become as one of us; and later,
God appeared to Abraham in the form of three strangers.
Such is the significance of this short account. If
the whole book of Genesis consisted only of the first page of the account of
the world and mankind, it would still be a great work, a magnificent expression
of God's revelation, of the divine illumination of human thought.