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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Gen. 1:1–2:3]

IN the beginning God created heaven and earth. The earth was void and empty; darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said: “Be light made!” and light was made. This was the first day.

On the second day God said: “Let there be a firmament made amidst the waters; and let it divide the waters from the waters.” And it was so. God called the firmament heaven.

On the third day God said: “Let the waters that are under the heaven be gathered into one place; and let the dry land appear.” And it was so done. God called the dry land earth; and the gathered waters, seas. He also said: “Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as may seed, and the fruit-tree yielding fruit after its kind.” And it was so done.

The fourth day God said: “Let there be lights1 made in the firmament of heaven, to divide the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years.” And it was so done. God made the sun, moon, and countless stars, and set them in the firmament of heaven, to shine upon the earth, and to rule the day and the night.

The fifth day God said: “Let the waters bring forth the creeping creatures having life, and the fowl that may fly over the earth under the firmament of heaven.” And God created fish and birds of every kind, and He blessed them saying: “Increase and multiply.”

On the sixth day God said: “Let the earth bring forth the living creature in its kind: cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so done. At last God created man, and gave him dominion over all the rest. And God saw all the works that He had made, and they were very good.

The seventh day God rested, and He blessed that day and made it holy.

The beautiful Order of Creation. The very manner and order in which the sacred writer relates the creation, serves to bring out the order and mutual relation of things created. God had already created light on the first day, but this light was not the light of the sun. It was on the fourth day that God made the sun, to be the giver of light to the earth. God made light first, because without light and without warmth, which is connected with it, there could be no growth, no life, no order in nature.

God made the atmosphere on the second day, because neither plants, nor animals, nor men can live without air? Sound also is impossible without air, so that without it there could have been neither speech nor hearing.

On the third day God made the earth to be dry, and plants to grow on it. But plants, to live and thrive, require something besides light and air? Therefore it was that God had already on the second day caused part of the water to remain in the air, to supply the plants with moisture from above, either by means of dew or rain.

The works of the first three days, and those of the last three, are thus related to each other as the general to the particular, or as the place and its furniture.

1st day. The light.

2nd day. The atmosphere which divided the waters.

3rd day. The dry land.

4th day. The bodies of light.

5th day. The inhabitants of the air and water: the birds and fishes.

6th day. The inhabitants of the dry land: the beasts and man.

Time began with the world. Once nothing existed but the Eternal God alone. “Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world was formed, from eternity and to eternity Thou art, God” (Ps. 89:2). Why does not the Psalmist say, ‘Thou wast, God’, instead of ‘Thou art, God?’ Because God is Eternal. He is not subject to the changes of time, for with God there is no past, no future, nothing but an everlasting present. “I am who am”, God said to Moses (Exod. 3:14). God exists of and by Himself. Everything else is made by God.

God is Almighty. God created the whole world, visible and invisible, material and spiritual, out of nothing by His almighty will. His almighty power is manifested to us in creation. By His word, that is, by His will, He called into existence the earth, moon, and the whole, to us immeasurable universe, with its millions and millions of heavenly bodies. “God spoke, and they were made; He commanded, and they were created” (Ps. 32:9).

God works unceasingly. What then do the words, ‘He rested on the seventh day’, mean? They mean that God rested from this particular work, i. e. from creating, because the universe was finished and complete; but God does not cease from the work of conservation and of natural and supernatural providence. Our Lord says: “My Father works till now and I work” (New Test. XXVI). God is continually working for the good of His creatures, for only He who called the world into existence can sustain and govern it. If Almighty God were to withdraw His hand from the world, at that moment it would collapse and fall into ruin. Every day, every hour of life is a gift of Almighty God.

The Sabbath. With the creation of man, God’s plan of creation was completed, and the great work of His creative love was crowned; for man is the most perfect of visible creatures. Then God rested, and appointed the seventh day for man’s rest in Him. On the Sabbath, man was to contemplate the wonders of creation, and the preservation and government of the world, and to praise and thank God. On this account the seventh day is also called “the Lord’s day”, i. e. the day set apart for the service and worship of God. On this day we ought to put aside all worldly business, and think only of our souls and their welfare, for in God alone can our souls find peace and rest. The commandment to keep holy the Sabbath is the oldest commandment that there is. Ever since the world has stood as it is, this commandment has stood with it. The very fact that the sacred writer represents God as working a week, makes Him our pattern and example, and implies a commandment for us to do the same. The law was thus given by God at the creation of the world, and hence it is that among all, even heathen nations we find one day of rest observed in the week. It is a great impiety to desecrate God’s day.

The Nature of God. God is described as a Spirit, existing from all eternity, having life in Himself and being the cause of all created life; an omnipotent Spirit who by the sole act of His will gives existence and life to His creatures. God the Creator of heaven and earth is one God, not two or three. In the Old Testament it was above all necessary to inculcate this unity of God. The people of Israel were not yet ripe to learn the full truth of one God in three persons. But, all the same, in several passages of the Old Testament it is, as it were, hinted that there are more persons than one in God, e. g. in the first part of the history of the creation: “The Spirit of God moved over the waters.”

The Wisdom of God. Holy Scripture, or, in other words, the Holy Ghost, says explicitly that all that God made was very good. Shortsighted man should not, therefore, be audacious enough to criticise God’s work. Almighty God made everything to fulfil the end for which He destined it. The whole of creation testifies to the wisdom of God, but I will call your attention only to one or two instances. Rivers and streams, many of which are of considerable breadth, are ceaselessly flowing into the sea, carrying into it, even in one single day, a tremendous volume of water. This goes on all the year round, and has been going on for thousands of years, and yet the sea does not overflow! How is this? God has so made it that as much water is incessantly rising into the air from the sea as is being poured into it. But how is it, then, that the streams and rivers do not dry up? Whence comes that volume of water which they are continuously pouring into the sea? The mists and clouds which rise from the sea are driven over the land by the wind, and fall back on the earth in the form of either dew, fog, rain or snow. This moisture collects in the ground and forms springs. These springs feed the streams and rivers which carry the water back again to the sea. It is owing to this continuous circulation of water that the sea does not overflow, or the rivers dry up. Moreover, those damp exhalations supply the air with that moisture which is necessary to the life of men and beasts, and to the growth of plants. One thing more. You know that water turns foul when it remains for some time without being stirred. How is it that though it is shut in one place, the water of the sea never turns foul? The goodness of God has provided against this by the constant motion of the sea. Twice every day the water flows from the centre of the sea towards the shore, and back again. Besides this, from time to time God sends winds and storms which stir the sea to its very depths. Such phenomena as these show us the wonderful wisdom manifested in the creation and preservation of the world. In like manner all other creatures bear witness to the wisdom of God. Bees, ants, ears of corn, leaves of the trees—in a word, all things teach us to admire His wisdom. Whether we contemplate nature in its greater or lesser aspects, we must exclaim with David: “How great, are Thy works, O Lord! Thou hast made all things in wisdom. The earth is filled with Thy riches” (Ps. 103:24).

The infinite Greatness and Majesty of God are also revealed to us by creation. Think how enormous this earth is! It is 24,899 miles in circumference; the total area of its surface covers 197,000,000 of square miles, the corresponding volume is 260,000 millions of cubic miles. Enormous as this seems, the sun is 1,400,000 times as large as the earth, though it is not so dense. The number of stars, most of which can be seen only through a telescope, amounts to millions, though their number cannot be accurately fixed by man. The nearest fixed star is about twenty billions of miles away from us. If, then, the universe is so great, how much greater must He be who called all these spheres into existence, and who keeps and sustains them in space, pointing out its path to each one! He “telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and great is His power, and of His wisdom there is no number” (Ps. 146:4, 5). Full of awe and reverence we ought to pray in some such words as these: “Great God, we praise Thee! We praise Thy power, O Lord! The earth bows down before Thee in wonder at Thy works! Even as Thou wast in all time, so wilt Thou be to all eternity. Heaven and earth, sky and sea are full of Thy glory. All things are Thine!”

APPLICATION. God being so infinitely great and wise, we ought to be filled with the deepest reverence for His divine majesty. He is, indeed, the Eternal, the Most High, the Creator and Lord of the whole universe. And yet how little reverence you have borne Him hitherto! Have you not often prayed to Him carelessly? Have you never dishonoured His holy name? Have you not often transgressed His commandments? Firmly resolve, then, that you will for the future honour the Lord your God more, and serve Him more zealously. We pay honour to God by often thinking about Him and by adoring Him with reverence and devotion. St Patrick used to worship God on his knees three hundred times every day. Think more about your Lord and Creator, both to-day and for the future, and pray to Him devoutly and from your heart. Let everything you look at impel you to say thus to yourself: “I praise Thee, O great God, and worship Thy power and wisdom. As many stars as there are in the heavens, as many flowers as grow in the field, as many leaves as there are on the trees, as many drops as there are in the ocean, so many times may God be praised and magnified!”

God made the earth to be the dwelling-place of man, and has adorned it for him with divine prodigality. He has given us much more than is necessary for our existence. Are the numberless flowers which grow, necessary for life? Could we not live without the many sorts of fruit that there are? Take to heart, then, how good and generous God is towards us. Thank Him heartily for His gifts, and resolve that you will from this day forward say your grace before and after meals very devoutly.

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