Lesson 3: “The Creation”
Purpose: To help class members feel gratitude that God created all things for our benefit and that we are created in his image.
Scripture Discussion and Application
[1. Moses sees a vision of God’s creations.
2. Moses learns that God created all things.
3. Moses learns that men and women are created in God’s image.]
Today we begin at the beginning – “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” We have multiple accounts of the creation of heaven and earth – where is the story of Creation told? [Genesis, Moses, Abraham, the temple] There are variations among these accounts – differing details, differing emphases – but they fit well enough together that there is no serious argument among them.
None of the Creation accounts – not the Bible, nor the Book of Moses, nor the Book of Abraham, nor even the temple – give us any explicit information about how God created the heaven and earth, only that he did create it – first spiritually, then physically – and put life here. We are left to our own efforts to work out, as best we can, whatever principles can be learned, by reason and faith, from studying the word of God and the record left in the earth itself.
The Lord has promised us, though, that one day he will teach us all we want to know about how he brought about Creation. In 1833 he told Joseph Smith that he will come and reveal all things, specifically secrets of the creation of the world:
Doctrine and Covenants 101: 32-34
32 Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things—
33 Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof—
34 Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.
Why among all the things we might want to know do you think the Creation is singled out? Why do we spend so much time with the Creation, in the scriptures and in the temples?
Today we are going to talk about God’s story of Creation to the ancient Israelites. So to begin with, I’d like to read the story of Creation to you, using a translation of the Bible other than the King James Version. It will sound very familiar, but by using a different translation I hope you will actually hear the story, rather than reciting the words along with me in your mind. Just listen, the way hundreds of generations of people listened to the story, before they owned printed Bibles of their own.
When God set about to create heaven and earth – the world being then a formless waste, with darkness over the seas and only an awesome wind sweeping over the water – God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. God was pleased with the light that he saw, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and he called the darkness Night. Thus evening came, and morning – first day.
God said, “Let there be an expanse in the middle of the water to form a division between the waters.” And it was so. God made the expanse, and it divided the water below it from the water above it. God called the expanse Sky. Thus evening came, and morning – second day.
God said, “Let the water beneath the sky be gathered into a single area, that the dry land may be visible.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and he called the gathered waters Seas. God was pleased with what he saw, and he said, “Let the earth burst forth with growth: plants that bear seed, and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it.” And it was so. The earth produced growth: various kinds of seed-bearing plants, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with seed in it. And God was pleased with what he saw. Thus evening came, and morning – third day.
God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky, to distinguish between day and night; let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years, and serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth. And it was so. God made the great lights, the greater one to dominate the day and the lesser one to dominate the night – and the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth, to dominate the day and the night, and to distinguish between light and darkness. And God was pleased with what he saw. Thus evening came, and morning – fourth day.
God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” And it was so. God created the great sea monsters, every kind of crawling creature with which the waters teem, and all kinds of winged birds. And God was pleased with what he saw. God blessed them, saying, “Be fertile and increase; fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds multiply on earth.” Thus evening came, and morning – fifth day.
God said, “Let the earth bring forth various kinds of living creatures: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of every kind.” And it was so. God made various kinds of wild animals, cattle of every kind, and all the creeping things of the earth, whatever their kind. And God was pleased with what he saw.
Then God said, “I will make man in my image, after my likeness; let him subject the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky, the cattle and all the wild [animals], and all the creatures that creep on earth.”
And God created man in his image;
In the divine image created he him,
Male and female created he them.
God blessed them, saying to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and subdue it; subject the fishes of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that move on earth.” God further said, “See, I give you every seed-bearing on earth and every tree in which is the seed-bearing fruit of the tree. And to all the animals on land, all the birds of the sky, and all the living creatures that crawl on earth, [I give] all the green plants as their food.” And it was so. God looked at everything that he had made and found it very pleasing. Thus evening came, and morning – sixth day.
Now the heaven and the earth were completed, and all their company. On the seventh day God brought to a close the work that he had been doing, and he ceased on the seventh day from all the work that he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it he ceased from all the work which he had undertaken. Such is the story of heaven and earth as they were created.
I wish we could go through this whole lesson simply listening to the story as the Israelites heard it, and thinking about what it meant to them as revelation. But we can’t do that – we live in an age where we have to see as well as hear, and be able to refer to the written word. So I’ll pass out a handout that shows three of our four records of Creation, laid out so that you can refer to all three accounts without having to flip around in your scriptures. [Distribute Parallel Genesis 1-2.]
Why did God create the physical earth?
How do we know that?
Almost none of that doctrine or understanding is actually present in the scriptural account of Creation, though, is it? Oh, we can see bits and pieces of the doctrine there, but not stated explicitly. We have to already know what the doctrine is, from latter-day revelation, and then we can read it back into these accounts. If we didn’t already know from latter-day revelation why God created the earth, we would understand very little about it. That is why, perhaps, other people of faith can read Genesis and not understand Creation the way we do – they don’t know what God has told us about the premortal existence, or the purpose of earth life.
Let’s talk about what the Creation accounts do say – hopefully there will be something new here that will give you even more appreciation for the scriptural accounts.
What is God’s purpose for creating the earth?
What steps does he take to prepare the earth for its chief purpose, of providing a place for mankind to live and learn? [Tick off the main points of Creation, rapidly, without discussion.]
Note that the closer we get to the creation of man, the more importance God seems to place on each thing that is created.
In verses 6-7, for instance, on the second day, God creates the heavens (or “firmament”) above the earth itself. Does he give the sky any particular assignment? [Not really; he just creates it; it exists and separates “above” from “below.”]
On the third day, in verses 9-12, God separates the land from the water and puts plants on the land. Does he give those plants any particular assignment? [Yes, to reproduce, each after its kind.]
On the fourth day, in verses 14-18, God takes the light, which he had already created, and organizes it to achieve a purchase. What is that purpose? [The stars, moon, and sun are to give light to the earth, and serve as signs and for seasons.]
On the fifth day, in verses 19-21, God creates the moving creatures of the sea and sky. What is their assignment? [Like the plants, to reproduce after their own kind.]
He does something else, too, for the first time. What is different about the creation of these animals that is different from the creation of plants and the organization of the earth and heaven? [He blesses them.] This is the first time we have seen God bless any of his creations. Why do you suppose he blesses the sea and sky creatures this way? [I don’t know, but invite the class to offer ideas.]
Then on the 6th day, God creates the land animals. He gives them the same instruction as he gave to other forms of life: to reproduce, each after its own kind.
And on the same day, God creates another land animal: Mankind. What is different about the creation of man, according to this account, from the creation of other life? [Created in God’s image and not “according to its own kind”; given dominion over other life; and for the first time, male and female are distinguished. Also, where God has generally said “Let there be …” in the case of other life, God is even more directly involved here: “Let us make man.”]
Were there not male and female fish, and birds, and cattle? Is it at all significant that Genesis mentions the two sexes in connection with human beings?
How about that phrase that is part of the account of other forms of life, but is absent from the creation of mankind: “After their own kind.” What is “the kind” of birds and fish and cattle? How is man different in this respect. [He is the image and likeness of God.]
We’ve talked a little about this in past weeks, when Moses learned that he was “in the similitude of the Only Begotten,” and when Abraham saw the great council of God and his spirit children. Have you thought any more about what it means to be created in the image of God?
Let’s look at verse 28:
28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
We often speak of this direction to multiply and fill the earth as a commandment. We should also remember that God gave that direction as a blessing. How is it a blessing to have children? How does that blessing extend from mortal life into the eternities?
We haven’t commented on this detail before, but at each stage of Creation God evaluates the thing he has just created. What evaluation does he give in verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, and 25? He gives a slightly different evaluation in verse 31 – what is that?
What does God mean when he says this or that phase of Creation is “good”?
Here’s a point about Biblical studies that we’ll need to keep in mind throughout this year, and through next year when we read the New Testament: The text of a book like Genesis was original one unbroken narrative. [Draw a long vertical line on the board.] For the convenience of referring to a specific part of the text, the long narrative was divided into chapters, and the chapters into verses. [Divide the long line quickly into half a dozen “chapters” by crossing it with half a dozen short horizontal strokes; divide one “chapter” into “verses” by cross it with half a dozen even shorter horizontal strokes.] This allows someone to say, for example, “Genesis, chapter 2, verse 4,” and all of us could turn to exactly the same place – it’s very handy for that. But the scribes who divided the books into those chapters, sometime in the Middle Ages, put the breaks at more or less arbitrary places of convenient length, without paying attention to the sense of the narrative. We think of a chapter in a modern book as conveying one distinct unit of thought, but in the Bible, those distinct units of thought – the technical word is pericope [write on board] – very often start in the middle of a chapter and carry over into the beginning of another chapter. [Draw a bracket that begins midway in one “chapter” and ends partway into the next.] Sometimes understanding that difference in how we divide chapters makes a difference in how we understand a Bible story.
With Genesis – and it carries over into Moses and Abraham, because the early Latter-day Saints generally followed the established divisions of the Bible – we see this overlap at the end of Chapter 1 and the beginning of Chapter 2: Verses 1 through 3 of Chapter 2 actually belong to the end of Chapter 1; most people would even include the first half of verse 4 as the final thought of Chapter 1, a sort of “wrapping up” that finishes what was begun at the beginning of Chapter 1. The story begins:
1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2:4 These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created.
Why is it important to see the seventh day as a part of the first Creation story?
All three of our Creation accounts – Genesis, Moses, and Abraham – now do something that might seem a little strange. They all seem to repeat the Creation story – with some significant differences from what was told in the first chapter. The traditional Mormon explanation for this is that since God created everything spiritually before he created it physically, Genesis 1 is about a spiritual creation and Genesis 2 about a physical creation; in verse 5, the Lord does speak about creating things spiritually before creating them physically.
Not all Latter-day Saint commenters think that’s the solution, though, or at least not the full purpose for repeating the Creation story. It doesn’t satisfy me, although I do of course accept that God created everything spiritually before he created it physically. Even though these accounts all acknowledge a spiritual creation, both accounts seem to be very much about the physical creation. Genesis 1 (and Moses 2, and Abraham 4) seem to be very much about a physical creation: It’s the earth that brings forth plants and animals at God’s command, and the plants and creatures are blessed with the power to reproduce, something that was not available to us as spirits.
[If necessary, quote Joseph Fielding Smith: “The account of the creation of the earth as given in Genesis, and the book of Moses, and as given in the temple, is the creation of the physical earth, and of physical animals and plants.” Doctrines of Salvation 1:75)]
If both accounts are about the physical creation, let’s look at how the stories are told differently to see, perhaps, what is the point of the repetition.
In Genesis 1, we have watched God lay the groundwork: He has framed the earth, and prepared it to sustain life, and filled it with plants and animals. None of that is the purpose for which he created the world, though, is it? What, again, is the purpose for this earth?
In Genesis 1, the story has focused primarily on the big picture. Most of the story is about preparing physical creation for the benefit of man. Man and woman are mentioned; we even learn that human beings were created in the image of God, which sets us apart from all other creatures. In Genesis 2, the story focuses primarily on the smaller picture. It is more intimate. Instead of watching Creation from the distance of space, we are standing on the earth, watching God creating man, and from man creating woman.
Again, let me read part of Genesis, chapter 2, from another translation that will sound familiar, but just enough different that you may actually hear the words as if they were new:
At the time when God Yahweh made earth and heaven – no shrub of the field being yet in the earth and no grains of the field having sprouted, for God Yahweh had not sent rain upon the earth and no man was there to till the soil; instead, a flow would well up from the ground and water the whole surface of the soil – God Yahweh formed man from clods in the soil and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. Thus man became a living being.
God Yahweh planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground God Yahweh caused to grow various trees that were a delight to the eye and good for eating, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.
A river rises in Eden to water the garden …
God Yahweh took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to till and tend it. And God Yahweh commanded the man, saying, “You are free to eat of any tree of the garden, except only the tree of knowledge of good and bad, of which you are not to eat. For the moment you eat of it, you shall be doomed to death.”
God Yahweh said, “It is not right that man should be alone. I will make him an aid fit for him.” so god Yahweh formed out of the soil various wild beasts and birds of the sky and brought them to the man to see what he called them; whatever the man would call a living creature, that was to be its name. the man gave names to all cattle, all birds of the sky, and all wild beasts; yet none proved to be the aid that would be fit for man.
Then God Yahweh cast a deep sleep upon the man and, when he was asleep, he took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that spot. And God Yahweh fashioned into a woman the rib that he had removed from the man, and he brought her to the man. Said the man,
This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.
She shall be called Woman, for she was taken from Man.
Thus it is that man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
It’s probably very familiar to some of you, but honestly, as I prepared this lesson, it’s the first time I’ve really noticed that when God brings each of the animals to Adam, he does it because it is not good for man to be alone. Yet none of the animals he brings is a fit companion for Adam.
Why does he do that? Surely he knows that a salmon or a humming bird or even a dog is not the right companion for man – what does he want us to learn from telling the story this way? [My answer: Both the man is not like any other animals, but also that woman is not like any animal. She is of the same substance, the same heritage, the same potential as man, not to be subdued by man or put under his dominion, but to be in all ways his equal and companion.]
So God has created a world for his children, both men and women. He has set up the conditions for life, stocked the world with plants and animals, and placed the first of his children in a specially designated garden place, both male and female, and given them his first blessings and commandments. Next week, we’ll pick up with the story of the Man and the Woman in the Garden.