Genesis 1:20-1:23 Commentary


Genesis 1:20

And God said, “Let the waters teem with [swarms of] creatures that have life, and [let the waters bring forth abundantly] birds that fly above the earth in the open firmament of the heaven.”

Literally: And God said, “Let the waters swarm a swarm of living creatures and birds that [may] fly above the earth in the open firmament of the heaven.”

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים יִשְׁרְצ֣וּ הַמַּ֔יִם שֶׁ֖רֶץ נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֑ה וְעֹוף֙ יְעֹופֵ֣ף עַל־הָאָ֔רֶץ עַל־פְּנֵ֖י רְקִ֥יעַ הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃

way-yō-mer ’ĕ-lō-hîm, yiš-rə-ṣū ham-ma-yim, še-reṣ ne-p̄eš ḥay-yāh;

wə-‘ō-wp̄ yə-‘ō-w-p̄êp̄ ‘al-hā-’ā-reṣ, ‘al-pə-nê rə-qî-a‘haš-šā-mā-yim.

And God said, “Let the waters teem… How much soever we may be amazed by the vastness and versatility of all the matter and energy in the universe, the least of all creatures that has life is still more amazing. The pattern, as we have seen before, is that of escalation. The first week moved with progress from lesser glory to greater glory, from less complex to more complex, and from less potential to greater potential. Plants, being non-living structures, have only the capacity to carry out the programming in their cells. On the fifth day, however, God created the first living beings. He created birds and fish from the water, for they both are designed to travel through fluids (air and water, respectively) and not primarily on land. He saved the creation of land animals for the sixth day because that was when man, who lives on land, was created. What an image to behold this creation in the waters was! The waters produced the fish and birds so abundantly that the waters were teeming with different creatures. If a thousand fishermen were to loose their nets all at once, the cascade of fish splashing into the water might resemble what happened on the fifth day.

The Earth was created to be inhabited and on the fifth day God was working to fill it. Men cannot fly or swim in the depths so God first created the creatures that would. Whereas God created only one man and one woman, He made a great swarm of creatures. The animals were not meant to descend from one pair because they do not have the capacity for sin–all men must needs have descended from Adam in order to have a common heritage and a common curse, viz., the sin nature.

…with creatures that have life… The word for “creature,” נפשׁ (ne-p̄eš), is derived from a root meaning “to breathe” or “have breath.” Recall from the commentary on Genesis 1:11 that the two requirements for life are blood and breath. Because breath is required for life, it comes to denote life, hence “living creature.” This breath denotes the living requirement not only in man but also in beast.

…and birds that fly above the earth in the open firmament of the heaven.” All types of birds were meant here. Whether it must include all flying things, such as insects and bats, is not stated here, but at least for flying insects it is almost a certainty. The Hebrew word for insects, שָׁ֫רֶץ (sherets), is descended from the word שָׁרַץ (sharats), meaning “swarms.” And this verse conjures an image of swarms of creatures buzzing about the water’s surface. Crawling insects were probably created on the sixth day and the flying insects on the fifth day.

Genesis 1:21

And God created great sea creatures and every living creature which moveth, which the waters brought forth teeming, after their kind; and every winged bird after their kind; and God saw that it was good.

וַיִּבְרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֔ים אֶת־הַתַּנִּינִ֖ם הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים וְאֵ֣ת כָּל־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַֽחַיָּ֣ה ׀ הָֽרֹמֶ֡שֶׂת אֲשֶׁר֩ שָׁרְצ֨וּ הַמַּ֜יִם לְמִֽינֵהֶ֗ם וְאֵ֨ת כָּל־עֹ֤וף כָּנָף֙ לְמִינֵ֔הוּ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֹֽוב׃

way·yiḇ·rā ’ĕ-lō-hîm, ’eṯ-hat-tan-nî-nim hag-gə-ḏō-lîm; wə-’êṯ kāl-ne-p̄eš ha-ḥay-yāh hā-rō-me-śeṯ ’ă-šer šā-rə-ṣū ham-ma-yim lə-mî-nê-hem,

wə-’êṯ kāl-‘ō-wp̄ kā-nāp̄ lə-mî-nê-hū, way-yar ’ĕ-lō-hîm kî-ṭō-wḇ.

So God created them (וַיִּבְרָ֣א). The use of the verb וַיִּבְרָ֣א is only the second occurrence in this chapter, with the first one being in Genesis 1:1. In 1:7 and 1:16 the verb used is עָשָׂה (“accomplished” or “made”). Although וַיִּבְרָ֣א would seem to suggest that God created them out of nothing, we know this to not be the case since they were made out of water. Rather, וַיִּבְרָ֣א signifies that these are living creatures and are more than just “made.” Plants and stars were manufactured, but to create life is much more than just building a thing. It involves imbuing the creature with living breath which cannot simply be manufactured (if it could, we should surely have animal factories where we turn petroleum into creatures of our own liking). Even though the creatures’ bodies were not created from nothing, their metaphysical aspect (i.e. mind or soul) was. The use of a different word here also has a narrative purpose, since using the same word over and over again can get tiring. In Genesis 5:1, both וַיִּבְרָ֣א and עָשָׂה are used to describe the same action. This use of verbal variety happens in every language. Although the Bible was written by divine inspiration, it was meant for human readers. Verbal variety gives us greater pleasure in reading it.

The great sea creatures תַּנִּין (tanninim) were the first of the two classes into which the sheretzim of the previous verse were divided (the other being “every creature that moveth.”) תַּנִּין includes whales, sea serpents, squid, sharks, and all other great monsters of the deep. The other creatures include all moving creatures of the deep–all fish, crustaceans, and amphibians. He also created the birds after each of their own many kinds: hawks, crows, eagles, and all other winged thing.

Genesis 1:22

And God blessed them, saying, “Produce offspring and become many, and fill the waters in the seas and let the birds become many on the earth.”

וַיְבָ֧רֶךְ אֹתָ֛ם אֱלֹהִ֖ים לֵאמֹ֑ר פְּר֣וּ וּרְב֗וּ וּמִלְא֤וּ אֶת־הַמַּ֙יִם֙ בַּיַּמִּ֔ים וְהָעֹ֖וף יִ֥רֶב בָּאָֽרֶץ׃

way-ḇā-reḵ ’ō-ṯām ’ĕ-lō-hîm lê-mōr; pə-rū ū-rə-ḇū,

ū-mil-’ū ’eṯ-ham-ma-yim bay-yam-mîm, wə-hā-‘ō-wp̄ yi-reḇ bā-’ā-reṣ.

And God blessed them, saying,… For the first time God directly addressed His creation. It was only now, on the fifth day, that the creations (angels notwithstanding) could hear His words. Animals, being endowed with some measure of emotion and intellect, had now the honor of receiving divine favor.21 Animals, of course, cannot understand speech as well as humans, but they do have the capacity to hear, listen, and learn (especially if God is speaking–He knows how to speak in a way they can understand). God, for the first time, blessed what He had made. And what a powerful gift this was! For God does not, after the manner of men, pray that we may be blessed; but, by the intimation of his purpose, puts into effect what men seek by petition.

…“Produce offspring and become many… Or in the vernacular English, “Be fruitful and multiply.” This paronomastic combination became a longstanding instruction and promise from God (see also Genesis 1:2, Gen. 35:11Gen. 48:4Deuter. 7:13Psalm 128:4). Different animals breed at different rates, but they all have a desire woven into their very nature to increase in number. John Calvin wrote that the “force of the Divine word was not meant to be transient, but, being infused into their natures, to take root and constantly bear fruit.”

Many persons and groups of persons have their own opinions about what the word “fruitful” means here, but there is only one correct answer when talking about living creatures: and that is to bear children. The Hebrew word פָּרָה (parah) when applied to men and beasts means to have children, or when applied to vines means to bear literal fruit such as grapes. No matter how many misinterpretations there may be about God’s statement, the duty of the Christian remains to be loyal to God’s actual word and not some corruption of it. Beware those who tell you that “be fruitful” means here “to mature.” Such persons are either ignorant of the Hebrew or are deliberately misleading you.

With the gift of fecundity God had ensured that the Earth and its inhabitants could not ever cease, but would propagate until the end of the world. By this ability God allowed creation (that is to say, not the Creation week itself, which ended after the first seven days, but rather the concept or act of creation) to continue endlessly. Plants, along with the help of bees and birds, may replicate and pass along their genes, but this is mechanical in its nature. Animals have the ability to pass on something more than just DNA. Many animals have been observed passing on traditions and cultural traits across generations.22 The essence of the animal extends beyond the physical. Howsoever limited the animal mind may be, it is a mind–more than just a conglomeration of atoms and energy, God gives the animal the potential to be more than the sum of its parts.

Angels are intelligent beings and possessing great strength (see Psalm 103:20) but lack the ability to reproduce (see Matthew 22:30). Every angel who exists now was created in the beginning–heaven contains no spirit babies. Laughable is the notion of the Mormons that women may become pregnant in heaven and bear celestial children.23 Reproduction is a special ability reserved for the beings of Earth. It promises a whole new level of creation, as it involves the production of something new, something that was not created in the original six-day period. Thus God ceased from His original creation on the seventh day and ever since then creation has been carried out through the device He empowered us with.

…and fill the waters in the seas and let the birds become many on the earth.” And reproduction was not meant to just be a half-hearted enterprise, but was meant to make many offspring of great numbers. The Earth is an extremely large place (the fact that the Earth only looks like a dot compared to the Milky Way doesn’t mean that the Earth is small–it means that the Earth is huge and the Milky Way is even huger; and the universe is even huger still.) and God meant for it to be filled. Remember that the progression of the creation week was from the less glorious to the more glorious, and even the smallest creature that has life is greater in God’s eyes than a whole planet devoid of life. And if one creature is glorious, a planet full of creatures is more glorious still. Any lover of animals knows that a single kitten is dear but a litter of kittens is extremely dear. A world filled with purring kittens would be a joyous place indeed.

God wanted to have a full house–the planet He made had room to accommodate everyone. Now, it is not known how God would have prevented eventual overpopulation if Adam and Eve had not sinned. After thousands of years of reproduction without death, all the animals and their progeny would become exceedingly great in number. It is possible that the amount of carbon and/or oxygen on Earth would place a natural limit on the number of organisms, and once the Earth had been filled as God commanded then there would be no need for further reproduction. Many guesses and theories may be made about this, but as it stands, Adam and Eve did sin and the animals did die, so their ability to reproduce meant that life would not fade away on the Earth, but could continue unto this very day.

We must not forget that God has always been in control and everything that has happened has been a part of His will. (See Psalm 33:11, Isaiah 46:10, Ephesians 1:11; see also Proverbs 19:21, Proverbs 21:30, Isaiah 14:27Isaiah 55:11, Lamentations 3:3738, Matthew 6:10, Acts 2:23, James 4:13-15) God planned for Adam and Eve to fall and reproduction served a very important purpose in preserving life, as mentioned above. God did not want anyone to die, but it was a part of His plan and so it happened. Life carries on, and so well does it carry on that few types of creatures have gone extinct. The estimation that over 99% of species have gone extinct is based on an atheistic viewpoint of biology, in which there are millions and millions of different species instead of a few thousand different basic kinds. Overzealous biologists split animals into species based upon even the smallest of differences. Pictured below is the last male Northern White Rhino, photographed in the year 2015. After the Northern White Rhino goes extinct, there will still be tens of thousands of rhinoceroses in the world; and hundreds of years from now the Northern White variety may exist once again, either from natural breeding or human-led selective breeding.

God so ingrained the command to be prodigious in all living things that their populations have always been resilient. There were only two rhinos on Noah’s ark. There is always hope for the future.

 

Bibliography/Footnotes:

21 “To bless” means to grant favor or give goodness to, to wish well upon, to sanctify, to extol, or to protect.

22 Nelson, Bryan. “7 Cultured Animals That Share Knowledge.” MNN – Mother Nature Network, 9 May 2011. Web.

23 Mormon doctrine teaches that in the afterlife, celestially married men and women “will live eternally in the family unit and have spirit children, thus becoming Eternal Fathers and Eternal Mothers.” Mormon men must beget as many children with as many wives as possible, for “their glory (in heaven) is in proportion to the number of their wives and children.”

Snowden, James H. The Truth About Mormonism. New York, George H. Doran Co., 1926. Pg. 141

Genesis 1:23

And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר יֹ֥ום חֲמִישִֽׁי׃ פ

way-hî-‘e-reḇ way-hî-ḇō-qer yō-wm ḥă-mî-šî.

This was the penultimate day in creation. The Earth itself had been fully prepared and all the creatures of the sea and air were made. At the end of the fifth day the only part of Earth left uninhabited was the land–the domain of man. The land was still untouched and unspoiled, ready to receive its greatest creation, incomparable in its value to anything that had hitherto been made.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply, Win Candy! (not really)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s