Yahweh the Creator God of Israel
Published: 27 August 2013 (GMT+10)
Most people think that the topic of creation is limited to the first couple of chapters of Genesis and perhaps a few isolated texts in the rest of Scripture. A previous article established the importance of the doctrine of Creation in the New Testament, but creation is also important throughout the Old Testament. No less than 52 passages in the Old Testament give us important insights into God’s character and attributes based on His creation.
Some Christians may feel that studying the Old Testament isn’t relevant to us as Christians, because the Old Testament was written to Jews. But while Jews were the primary audience for the Old Testament, all of Scripture is for Christians to use. God is the same now as He was during the time the Old Testament was written, so these passages establish a theology of Yahweh, as well as His relationship with His creation and humanity in particular.
Let’s take a look at how these attributes of God’s character are reflected through His creation. This is only a brief overview of the various ways the Old Testament uses creation, but it has profound implications. Not only did the Old Testament writers believe in the Genesis account of creation, but they used it to clearly teach us many important aspects about God’s nature.
Furthermore, recognizing these uses brings out some of the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament, because both use Genesis in the same way. Jesus in the New Testament refers to the Bible as the totally authoritative Word of God—e.g. His repeated use of “it is written” and “have you not read?”.
Yahweh: the Creator
The Genesis account of Creation calls God Elohim, a more generic name, but Genesis 2:4 introduces the covenant name, Yahweh.1 Here, this is combined with Elohim—YHWH-Elohim—to show that the covenant God of Israel is none other than the creator of the universe. Other places in the Old Testament use God’s covenant name, Yahweh, when they describe His creative work; for instance:
Yahweh who made the earth, Yahweh who formed it to establish it—Yahweh is his name (Jeremiah 33:2).
This is a primary identifier of the true God. When Jonah wants to identify himself and his God, he tells the men on the ship, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear Yahweh, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9). And this knowledge was not limited to the Hebrews: Hiram the king of Tyre in Solomon’s day recognized that Israel’s God was the Creator: “Blessed is Yahweh God of Israel, who made heaven and earth” (2 Chronicles 2:12).
When Scripture wants to emphasize the authority of Yahweh’s words, the prophets often appeal to God’s creative power:
Thus says Yahweh, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—Yahweh of hosts is his name (Jeremiah 31:35; see also Zechariah 12:1).
Because God created the world, He has the authority and the power to make sure that His word is fulfilled—so we should listen to Him!
Yahweh: the only God
Yahweh is repeatedly asserted to have created the heavens and earth alone, demonstrating that He is God alone:
Thus says Yahweh, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: ‘I am Yahweh, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself’ (Isaiah 44:24, see also Isaiah 45:18, Job 9:8–9).
God’s creative activity is a major basis for praising Yahweh:
Praise Yahweh! Praise Yahweh from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights … Let them praise the name of Yahweh, for He commanded and they were created (Psalm 148:1–5).
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).
Scripture is clear that God’s creative activity, which brought everything into existence, and His sustaining power, without which none of us would continue to exist, are both major reasons to worship God.
Yahweh: the transcendent God
God could not have created heaven and earth if He were contained inside or limited to it. So it follows that God preceded and is outside of the created heavens and earth.
Of old you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. Even they will perish, but you endure; and all of them will wear out like a garment; like clothing you will change them and they will be changed (Psalm 102:25–26).
Even though God had a temple in Jerusalem, it was clear that unlike temples for false gods which were filled with lifeless idols, it was not a place for Israel’s God to actually live:
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27; see also 2 Chronicles 2:5–6; 6:18).
God is also beyond human understanding:
Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things (Ecclesiastes 11:5).
Because God is so far above the earth and its inhabitants, it is awe-inspiring that He concerns Himself with human beings:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:3–4).
Yahweh: the ruler and judge of the earth
It follows logically that since Yahweh created the heavens and earth, they belong to Him:
The earth is Yahweh’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the rivers (Psalm 24:1–2; see also 89:11–12; Deuteronomy 10:14).
When we offer things to God, whether sacrifices in the Old Testament covenant, or time, talents or monetary offerings today, we are only giving back to God what already belongs to Him. David prays:
But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own we have given you (1 Chronicles 29:14).
Because God owns the world, He also rules it:
For Yahweh is a great God and a great King above all gods in whose hand are the depths of the earth; the peaks of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for it was he who made it, and his hands formed the dry land (Psalm 95:3–5).
Because Yahweh is our Creator, Scripture indicates that we lack the standing to bring a case even accusing God of being unjust, because we belong to Him, and anything He could ever give us or deprive us of belongs to Him; whether existence or health or material goods, it is His.
Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it; ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? (Isaiah 45:9).
For example, if anyone had a reason to bring a complaint against God, it would seem (humanly speaking) that no one could have a better case than Job. Job faithfully served God, but lost his riches, children, and health in rapid succession. At first he had a righteous response: “Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away; blessed be the name of Yahweh” (Job 1:21). But then when his friends argued that Job must have committed some sin that caused his calamity, he said, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me. There an upright man could argue with him, and I would be acquitted forever by my judge.” (Job 23:2–7).
Job gets his wish, but instead God challenges Job:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
Or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:2–7)
God’s challenge to Job reveals that Job’s knowledge and wisdom are so far below his Creator’s that Job simply doesn’t have the standing or the perspective to even bring an accusation before God. In fact, the book of Job tells us what was going on ‘behind the scenes’ which caused God to allow this intense, but ultimately temporary, suffering in Job’s life.
Yahweh: the all-powerful God
God’s creation of the universe is the first and greatest demonstration of his power. As Jeremiah said:
Ah, Lord Yahweh! It is you who have made the heavens and earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you (Jeremiah 32:17).
He is able to do anything:
Whatever Yahweh pleases, He does, in heaven and earth, in the seas and all deeps (Psalm 135:6).
This leads to several conclusions in Scripture. First, when He reveals Himself, the enemies of God are terrified. Rahab tells the Israelite spies, “And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for Yahweh your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11).
Second, those who trust in God can utterly rely on Him:
How blessed is he whose help in is in the God of Jacob, whose hope is in Yahweh his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them (Psalm 146:5–6, see also 121:2; 124:8).
In Isaiah, God says,
I, I am he who comforts you;
who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
of the son of man who is made like grass,
and have forgotten your Maker;
who stretched out the heavens,
and laid the foundations of the earth? (Isaiah 51:12–13)
One powerful example is when Sennacherib’s armies were threatening Judah. The Rabshakeh (a vizier for the king) sent this message to Hezekiah:
Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah? (2 Kings 19:10–13).
Hezekiah, however, trusted in the Lord: he prayed:
O Yahweh, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. … Truly, O Yahweh, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed (2 Kings 19:15, 17–18, see also Isaiah 37:16–20).
The reason Hezekiah trusted that his God, unlike the gods of other nations, would not fail is because Yahweh alone is the Creator.
Yahweh: superior to idols
God often claims the right to exclusive worship:
I am Yahweh; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols (Isaiah 42:8).
The Old Testament is full of anti-idol polemics, invoking Yahweh’s creatorship in contrast to the idols: 1 Chronicles 16:26 says “all the gods of the peoples are idols, but Yahweh made the heavens” (see also Psalm 96:4–5). Isaiah 40–43 has some quite developed arguments against idols:
To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.
Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing.
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness (40:18–23).
God also promises the destruction of all idols that did not create, unlike Yahweh:
Thus you shall say to them: ‘The gods who did not make the heavens and earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens’ (Jeremiah 10:11).
Only the Creator deserves to be called God, because everything else is only created and finite.
Yahweh: our wise and loving Creator
The above attributes would be terrifying if we were not also assured of God’s love. Scripture indicates that creation is also a demonstration of God’s love:
To him who alone does wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
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 136:4–9).
Scripture also indicates creation is a great indication of His wisdom: “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens” (Jeremiah 10:16). In Proverbs, the divine attribute of wisdom is personified as God’s companion at creation:
Yahweh possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
From everlasting I was established,
From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills I was brought forth;
While he had not yet made the earth and the fields,
Nor the first dust of the world.
When He established the heavens, I was there,
When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When the springs of the deep became fixed,
When He set for the sea its boundary
So that the water would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth;
Then I was beside him, as a master workman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him.
Rejoicing in the world, His earth.
And having my delight in the sons of men (Proverbs 8:22–31).
Jesus: our Creator and Saviour
All of the above demonstrates that Scripture uses God’s creation of the heavens and earth as the basis for asserting His attributes. But of course, we also believe that the entire Old Testament points forward to salvation in Christ. Psalm 33:6 says:
By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.
John asserts that this Word is God the Son, who became incarnate as Jesus Christ:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him nothing was made that was made (John 1:1–3).
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16–18).
Because Jesus is the agent of God’s creation, everything creation says about Yahweh also applies to Jesus. So it is important for us to understand the creation basis for asserting Yahweh’s attributes, because they’re also Jesus’ attributes.
Because creation is so intertwined with how the rest of Scripture sees Yahweh and Jesus, and because their creative work is used as the basis for so many doctrines, it’s problematic when various compromising creation theories attempt to reinterpret Genesis to fit with secular ideas about origins that leave no room for a supernatural Creator. Not only is it unnecessary, but it removes the foundation for these statements about the nature of God and His relationship with creation.
- Most English translations translate God’s covenant name, YHWH, as “the Lord”, but this article will translate it as Yahweh, to emphasize the presence of God’s covenant name in these verses. Yahweh is thought to be pronounced ‘Yahvay’, but this is not certain as there has been a long tradition amongst Jews of not saying aloud the holy name of God, and the Hebrew writing does not indicate the vowels, only the consonants. Return to text.