Tuesday of week 5 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Gen 1:20–2:4

God completes the work of creation we were considering in yesterday’s reading.

On the fifth day he creates swarms of living creatures from the waters (rivers and seas, salt and fresh water are not distinguished) and the birds of the air. These include the great “sea monsters” and every other kind of creature to be found in the waters everywhere as well as every kind of “winged bird” (that is, everything that flies, including insects).

The Hebrew word for ‘create’ (bara’) is a verb whose only subject can be God. There are three objects of creation mentioned: the universe as a whole, sea monsters controlling the waters, and human beings, who control the land.

God saw that what he had made was good. He told both water creatures and birds to be fruitful and multiply on the earth.

Evening and morning, the fifth day.

On the sixth day it is the turn for land-based creatures – all kinds of domestic animals (cattle, sheep), creeping things (reptiles, snakes, insects and small animals), and wild animals. It was God who brought all these into being. And he saw that they were good.

Also on the sixth day he creates human beings. “Let us make Man in our likeness.” This certainly does not denote many gods but God taken together with the retinue of the divine court. The plural can also express the majesty and fullness of God’s being and the common name for God in Hebrew is elohim, a plural form. (It is within living memory that the pope and the British queen used the term ‘we’ in speaking of themselves.)

The word “man” in our reading is a collective noun for the whole human race, male and female, and so we read later in the sentence, “let them be masters…”. The NRSV is more accurate in using the term ‘humankind’ here. (The separate creation of man and then woman is in the second creation account.)

“In our image.” The human image in some paradoxical way resembles a God who has no visual image – perhaps in his speech, his intelligence and moral sense. We should note the opposite, namely, that the Bible does not hesitate to depict divine manifestations in human form. God is even presented with human feelings – sadness, disappointment, anger, vengeance… This close relationship with God distinguishes human beings from the animals; it also involves a distant sharing in God’s nature: intellect, will, dominion and authority. We are like God in our access to truth and wisdom, if on an infinitely lower level. We are like God in ability to love. All this paves the way for an even higher image: our sharing in the divine nature through the gift of grace (God’s love experienced and active in our lives).

Being in God’s image, humankind is given dominion over all other living things, including wild animals – in the sea, on land and in the air.

Now we have the first piece of poetry in the Bible, 40 per cent of which is poetry:

God created humankind (adam) in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.”

“Male and female God created them.” Both male and female are created equally in the image of God, who is beyond gender and inclusive of both. (Compare the later narrative of woman’s creation, cf. Thursday’s reading.)

They, too, are told to increase and multiply, to fill the earth and be responsible for it and for all the animals, birds and living things within it. And to both humans and all the fish, animals and birds are given the fruits and seeds of every tree and plant. It is a description of a golden – and vegetarian – age, when human beings and animals were at peace with each other, all having only plants for their food. That will change with the coming of Noah (Gen 9:3).

Finally, “God saw everything that he had made and it was very good.”

Evening and morning the sixth day.

The work of creation of both heavens and earth is now finished, completed in the six days when work was allowed. With his work completed, God rested on the seventh day. And in this way God blessed the seventh day and made it “holy”, because on that day he had rested from his work of creation. In future, his people would work on six days but would, in imitation of Yahweh, “keep holy the Sabbath day”. It would be a day of prayer and worship and of rest from all kinds of work.

The Sabbath (shabbat) is of divine institution, for on that day God himself rested. The word shabbat is avoided here since, according to the Priestly author, the Sabbath was not imposed until the giving of the law on Sinai, when it then became the sign of the covenant (Exod 31:12-17). Even at the creation, however, God set an example which was to be followed.

“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” This brings to a close one of the creation stories in Genesis, but the sentence can also be read as the beginning of the next section. The word ‘account’ occurs ten times in Genesis, introducing each main section.

Reflecting on today’s reading we cannot be unaware that our responsibility to be stewards of God’s creation has frequently led to serious abuse of our environment at all levels and is a major concern today. We have mistaken stewardship for domination and control rather than good management.

The whole of creation is put into our hands to supply our needs. But we realise more and more that we ourselves are part of that creation, that there is an essential symbiosis, a mutual interdependence.

From mighty galaxies to sub-atomic particles there is a seamless robe of being into which we must fit in a way that benefits all.

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