The use of creation in the Old Testament
Published: 10 September 2013 (GMT+10)
Most Christians would affirm that God is the same in the Old Testament as in the New Testament, but sometimes that fails to inform how we read Scripture. We tend to think that God is different in the New Testament compared to the Old Testament. However, the basic, traditional Christian understanding is that God relates to humanity differently in the New Testament because Jesus died to bring believers back into a right relationship with Him. God has not changed, but our relationship with Him has. What God revealed about Himself in the Old Testament is still important for believers today, and, as we will see, it serves as the basis for many statements about God in the New Testament.
Previous articles have established that the New Testament used Creation and the Fall to establish critical elements of Christian doctrine, and that the Old Testament view of Yahweh1 was based on His work of creation. But the actual process of creation is also theologically important in the Old Testament. This is because the way God acts reflects on His character: a God who intentionally speaks the universe into being out of nothing over six days is substantially different from a God who creates over billions of years via a happenstance evolutionary process.
Understanding what the Old Testament says about God’s creative activity will result in an appreciation of the importance of creation, and how it ties the whole Bible together, from Genesis to Revelation. The following verses are only some of the places where the Old Testament testifies to the historical events recorded in Genesis.
The Bible is clear that God created the universe and everything in it by His word. God’s creation is a sign of His power—He simply speaks and it comes into being. It is also a reason for His creation to worship Him:
By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host … For he spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast (Psalm 33:6, 9).
You are Yahweh, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you (Nehemiah 9:6).
God could have created in any way He wanted, over whatever period of time He wanted. So why did He create over six days? And why did He rest on the seventh, when the Bible is clear that God does not tire? One reason seemed to be so it could be a model for the Sabbath in the Mosaic covenant:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8–11).
Exodus is a historical Old Testament book, but there are other genres of writing for us to consider. God is also praised for His creative activity on the various days in the poetic books. Incidentally, the following is proof that a poetic passage can contain a straightforward description of historical events in elevated language. It also contrasts with the narrative Genesis account:
Day 1, God created Day and Night:
He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary point between light and darkness (Job 26:10).
Day 3, God gathered the water in one place so that dry land could appear:
He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap (Psalm 33:7).
Or who shut the sea with doors when it burst from the womb, when I made thick clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far you shall come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? (Job 38:8–11).
Day 3: Vegetation:
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
And vegetation for the labor of man,
So that he may bring forth food from the earth,
And wine which makes a man’s heart glad
So that he may make his face glisten with oil
And food which sustains man’s heart (Psalm 104:14–15).
Day 4, God created the sun, moon, and stars:
To him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136:7–9).
Thus says Yahweh, who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
Yahweh of hosts is his name (Jeremiah 31:35).
Days 5 and 6, creation of sea and land animals:
O Yahweh, how many are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
The earth is full of your possessions.
There is the sea, great and broad,
In which there are swarms without number,
Animals both small and great.
There the ships move along,
And Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it (Psalm 104:24–26).
Of course, if Yahweh is the creator, He has the right to judge His creation. And in places, His judgment is so severe that it is presented as a sort of ‘uncreation’, a dismantling of the order which He put in place:
I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and behold, there was no man,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins,
before Yahweh, before his fierce anger (Jeremiah 4:23–26).
These references affirm the events of Creation Week in Genesis 1, and that has implications for how we see God. If the universe came into existence over billions of years via an evolutionary process, not only does Genesis lie, but so do these other Scriptures, and we lose the basis for the doctrine that God is Creator.
The creation of Man
The way God created man sets up our understanding of who man is, his relationship to God, and his relationship to the rest of creation. God created man (that is, men and women) in His own image (Gen 1:27). He also created Adam from the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7); whenever this fact is recalled in the rest of the Old Testament, it is to recall the frailty of man, as in Job:
Remember that you made me like clay, and will you return me to the dust? (Job 9:9).
When David contemplated God’s creation of man, as a steward over His creation, he was astounded at the position He gave man:
What is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than God2
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over all the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet;
all sheep and oxen; and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas (Psalm 8:4–8, see also 114:1–6).
Malachi affirms that God created all people:
Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously with each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers? (Malachi 2:10).
When Malachi criticizes the rampant divorce in his culture, he affirms that creation is the foundation of marriage:
Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? (Malachi 2:15).
One of the major implications of evolution is that humans are just another sort of animal. But reasoning from Genesis, the Old Testament affirms both the extraordinary frailty and the high position of mankind in the created order.
Eden and the Fall
Eden was a garden of extraordinary beauty; in Ezekiel, the great empire of Assyria was compared to it:
The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
nor the fir trees equal its boughs;
neither were the plane trees like its branches;
no tree in the garden of God was its equal in beauty.
I made it beautiful in the mass of its branches,
And all the trees of Eden envied it that were in the garden of God (Ezekiel 31:8–9).
The same passage talks about the King of Tyre, and his arrogance. But then the imagery moves and seems to speak about Satan, comparing to the King of Tyre in a typological sense:
You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering (Ezekiel 28:13).
Interestingly, this Assyria passage, when it predicts Assyria’s fall, seems to indicate that Eden has been buried (and of course, the global Flood would be a prime event for burying it):
To which among the trees of Eden are you thus equal in glory and greatness? Yet you will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the earth beneath (Ezekiel 31:18).
And when God is telling Isaiah about a future state, it is an Eden-like environment, where even carnivorous animals eat plants and dwell peacefully with their former prey:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Yahweh
as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6–9).
For behold, I create a new heavens and a new earth,
And the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind (Isaiah 65:17).
The Old Testament also affirms that humanity fell when Adam disobeyed God:
Your first father sinned, and your mediators transgressed against me (Isaiah 43:27).
But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me (Hosea 6:7).
Often, Genesis 1–11 is treated by scholars as non-historical ‘prehistory’, to allow for modern theories about human evolution that contradict the Bible. However, 1 Chronicles 1 lists the entire Genesis genealogy through the lines of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, treating it as completely historical, before moving on to other genealogies from biblical and extra-biblical sources.
The Bible also treats the Flood and the events surrounding it as completely historical. When the Israelite spies gave their lying report about Canaan, they said:
And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them (Numbers 13:33).
They were lying; there weren’t any Nephilim; they all died in the global Flood (See Who were the ‘sons of God’ in Genesis 6?). When Israel invades the land 40 years later, the Bible never records there being actual Nephilim in Canaan at any point. There were giants, like Goliath, but these large men did not seem superior in any other respect to the Israelites (c.f. 2 Samuel 21:15-22). But the Israelites knew about the pre-flood Nephilim, enough that the spies knew that reporting their presence in Canaan would make the Israelites fearful to invade. The only other Old Testament mention of Nephilim is in the context of the sons of God and daughters of men having sons together before the Flood (Genesis 6:1–6).
The global flood was God’s greatest judgment on the earth, and the Bible refers to it in several places:
Behold, he restrains the waters, and they dry up; and he sends them out, and they inundate the earth (Job 12:15).
You covered [the earth] with the deep as a garment;
The waters were standing above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled,
At the sound of your thunder they hurried away.
The mountains rose; the valleys sank down
To the place you established for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass over,
So that they will not return to cover the earth (Psalm 104:6–9).
When God was giving Isaiah promises for Israel, he said that they were as sure as His promise to Noah not to flood the entire earth again; it becomes a prime example of a promise God will never break:
This is like the days of Noah to me:
as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you
and will not rebuke you (Isaiah 54:9).
Interestingly, the Psalms may include a reference to another idea from Genesis—declining life spans after the Flood.
For our days have declined in Your fury;
We have finished our years like a sigh.
As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
Or if due to their strength, eighty years,
Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away (Psalm 90:9–10).
The biblical doctrine of Creation
If Creation were only limited to a few incidental references sprinkled in a few places in Scripture, it might be possible to reinterpret Genesis to fit with evolution without much theological fallout. But when practically every book of the Bible and a whole range of doctrines are tied in with Creation, the Fall, and the global flood, interpreting Genesis as non-historical changes all of those other things as well, which assume the historicity of Genesis.
Only the biblical doctrine of a 6-day creation, a historical Adam, his falling into sin, and a global Flood explains the hundreds of creation references throughout the Old and New Testaments. Over and over, God inspired His prophets and apostles to link creation inextricably with how His people should see Him and His works. And because Jesus is our Creator (c.f. John 1) as well as our Savior, our doctrine of creation also affects how we see Him.
References and notes
- The covenant name of God is often translated ‘Lord’ in English translations, but the verses given in this article will use ‘Yahweh’ to emphasize the presence of God’s covenant name in these verses. Return to text.
- The translation of this word varies; some say “angels” or “heavenly beings”. Return to text.