Thursday, May 01, 2008

Drulogion's Hexameron - The Fifth Day

We now turn to the fifth day in our series on the first creation account in Genesis.

[20] And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." [21] So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. [22] God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." [23] And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

As with all the latter days in the creation story, parallels must be noted with the former days. The parallel here is quite straightforward: the waters and skies that God separated on the second day are populated by the fish and birds that God creates on the fifth day. On the second day God creates the setting; on the fifth day God creates the characters. Let's ask how God creates and engages with these characters in order to ascertain the good news of the fifth day of creation.

How does God create?

God blesses.

A new theme is introduced on the fifth day. For the first time, God blesses what he creates. On the previous days God created by speaking and separating. God names what he creates and sees that it is good. On the fifth day, God does some of these things too, but now adds a blessing: to be fruitful and multiply. God shows his favor on them and their future.

Now, we've seen fruitfulness before, in the plant kingdom that emerged on the third day. But there was no blessing on that day, no promise and command to be fruitful. The reproduction of plants seems to be simply given along with their existence. But animals in their autonomy need the direction given by God's blessing, God's promise and command to be fruitful. They must not merely swim and fly about, but must also be guided by God's blessing to reproduce and fill their God-given space. With this special direction these living creatures are brought into a special relationship with God, as those who are blessed by God. The first explicit signs of God's covenantal history with his creation can be glimpsed here. God not only has a place for his living creatures, but also has a plan for them. And so, with this plan in mind, God blesses them.

What does God create?

God blesses the great creatures of the sea.

On the third day, God creates the first members of the animal kingdom. These first animals can be divided into two large groups: sky animals and sea animals. The sea animals can be further divided into two sub-groups: the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems. The distinct reference to the great creatures of the sea intrigues me. Furthermore, it is interesting that they are mentioned first among the animals created on the fifth day. Why mention these in addition and even prior to the more general mention of living things in the sea?

There are good reasons to think that the creation story has in mind great creatures such as the Leviathan, mentioned throughout the Psalms and featured prominently in Job 41. In the Bible, the great creatures of the sea are images of terror and fright. They are the particular animate form of the more general threat of the chaotic waters. The many wiggly fishes with which the waters teem are innocuous. But the great creatures of the sea are the occasion for fear.

The good news of the fifth day of creation is that God is the creator not only of the innocuous fishes and reeds, but also is the creator of the great creatures of the sea. Even the Leviathan is God's creature. The great sea creatures may be a threat to us, but God has made them and they are his. And not only are they made by God, but God blesses them. The terrifying great creatures of the sea are the object divine blessing. God has given them a future in his great plan.

Why does God create?

God blesses the great creatures of the sea so that we may have courage.

What does this mean for us? What does it tell us about God and his covenantal dealings with us that God blesses even the great creatures of the sea? The fifth day of creation serves to cast out fear. Repeatedly when the angel of the Lord appears, he says "Do not be afraid." This always kind of humors me, because fear is not so easily gotten rid of by a simply command. But the repeated message reminds us that God does not primarily intend to strike fear in our hearts, but to give us courage in the face of an often-frightening world. The message of the angel "do not be afraid" is already being spoken on the fifth day of creation, when God speaks a blessing onto his great creatures of the sea. Their blessing is our blessing too. Because God is the blessed creator of a blessed creation, we shall not fear.

Any thoughts?

  • Are there any other parallels between the second and fifth days I've missed?
  • Is the connection to the Leviathan in Biblical tradition appropriate and does it help illumine the passage?
  • I have focused on the blessing of the great sea creatures; what thoughts can you add concerning the teeming things and the birds?

Next Week: The Sixth Day


Bob MacDonald said...

I think you are missing an important distinction: the living nature of the sea and the earth is varied. The waters teem, the fowl fly - but of the great sea creatures, they are 'created' - va-yibra elohim is used only of these creatures and of the human and of 'the heavens and the earth'. The verb for create is once at the beginning, once here, three times around the human, and twice at the very end (2:3-4) - a total of 7 times.

JohnLDrury said...

Thanks. That's a helpful list. There is something unique about the creation of the living creatures as up against the fashioning of the sky, waters, and land. And I can see how the different verb signals that.

Justin Richter said...

Have you noticed how there is an atnach under the great creatures? The Masoretes are disconnecting them from rest of the creatures that God saw that were good. They obviously saw them as not good in some ways.