And God said, "Let there be a firmament between the waters to separate water from water."  So God made the firmament and separated the waters under the firmament from the waters above it. And it was so.  God called the firmament "heaven." And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.How does God create?
God creates by separating. The chaotic waters over which the spirit of God was hovering prior to the first day (v. 2) are separated into two bodies: the upper waters and lower waters. These chaotic waters return as the doors of heaven are opened in the story of the flood (Gen 6-8). However, the point is not to dwell on the threat of these upper waters, but rather on God's gracious act of speaking into existence a firmament -- a hard translucent surface -- between the upper waters and the lower waters. God has created a mediating space which holds at bay the powers of chaos in this world. God has said No to that which could overwhelm his creation. In so doing, God has said Yes to creation.
This is not the only mention of separating in the creation account. God also separated light from the darkness on the first day. Parallel to this, on the fourth day God creates the sun, moon and stars to separate day and night. On the third day, God gathers the waters in order to separate them from the land. God creates by separating. God does not just create an undifferentiated blob. There is no monism here, where good and evil and everything else are folded into one system of nature. Rather, God creates with definite intentions which require discriminating judgments. God separates the good from evil, and differentiates between goods.
This motif of separation does not end with the establishment of the created order, but persists in God's covenant history, as God separates his people from among the nations. God calls his people to be separate as he is separate. God re-creates by separating a people to be like him and to serve him so that his creation will be with him.
What does God create?
God separates the waters.
Now there are really two things in view in the passage: the heavens and the seas. This is confirmed when on the parallel day (the fifth day), God creates the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. And in the strictest sense, God creates only the firmament/heaven on the second day, for the waters are already around (cf. v. 2). So the object of God's act of making is the firmament.
But we are focusing here on God's act of separating, the object of which is the waters. God separates the waters. The separation of the waters is the function of the firmament. And so the separation of the waters is the outcome of the second day. The good news of the second day is that God brings the waters into the scope of his creative will. There is a sense in which the waters -- in all their chaos and danger -- are not created by God. They are opposed to everything that God is for in creation. And yet by separating them and giving them a place, God identifies himself as the sovereign creator over them. God treats the chaotic waters as a creature, a creature with a place in his ordered creation.
When God creates and when God re-creates, water is involved. God makes that which threatens his creation part of his creative purpose. In Jesus Christ, God takes sin and death to himself in order to bring about righteousness and life. Those who are baptized into his death are given the promise of also sharing in his resurrection. The waters of Genesis 1 are not necessarily a type of the waters of baptism. But they are at least a sign of God's creative use of anti-creative forces -- God's use of death to bring about life.
Why does God create?
God separates the waters so that we may live.
We have already been hinting at the purpose of God's separation of the waters: the protect his good creation from chaotic forces. God separates the waters so that we may live. Before creating birds or fish or land animals or breathing the breath of life into Adam, God is making a world safe for life. The waters and the heavens which separate them are the conditions for life.
We often think of water as signifying cleansing. And it does. But water only cleanses because it is threatens. Water is dangerous. It floods, it drowns, it destroys. Yes, we are washed ... but in the blood of the Lamb! God's re-creation of us in Christ is not just a matter of cleansing; it is a matter of life and death. God cleanses us, makes us new, re-creates us, by putting us to death. This would be bad news, if it were not the creator we are dealing with here -- the one who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not though they were (Rom 4:17).
- Is it right to treat the waters as threatening?
- What other instances of God separating come to your mind? What do they teach us?
- What other theological themes emerge from the motif of water?
Next Week: The Second Day