on Genesis 1 :31
And, behold, it was very good - טוב מאד tob meod, Superlatively, or only good; as good as they could be. The plan wise, the work well executed, the different parts properly arranged; their nature, limits, mode of existence, manner of propagation, habits, mode of sustenance, etc., etc., properly and permanently established and secured; for every thing was formed to the utmost perfection of its nature, so that nothing could be added or diminished without encumbering the operations of matter and spirit on the one hand, or rendering them inefficient to the end proposed on the other; and God has so done all these marvellous works as to be glorified in all, by all, and through all.
And the evening and the morning were the sixth day - The word ערב ereb, which we translate evening, comes from the root ערב arab, to mingle; and properly signifies that state in which neither absolute darkness nor full light prevails. It has nearly the same grammatical signification with our twilight, the time that elapses from the setting of the sun till he is eighteen degrees below the horizon and the last eighteen degrees before he arises. Thus we have the morning and evening twilight, or mixture of light and darkness, in which neither prevails, because, while the sun is within eighteen degrees of the horizon, either after his setting or before his rising, the atmosphere has power to refract the rays of light, and send them back on the earth. The Hebrews extended the meaning of this term to the whole duration of night, because it was ever a mingled state, the moon, the planets, or the stars, tempering the darkness with some rays of light. From the ereb of Moses came the Ερεβος Erebus, of Hesiod, Aristophanes, and other heathens, which they deified and made, with Nox or night, the parent of all things.
The morning - בקר boker; From בקר bakar, he looked out; a beautiful figure which represents the morning as looking out at the east, and illuminating the whole of the upper hemisphere. The evening and the morning were the sixth day - It is somewhat remarkable that through the whole of this chapter, whenever the division of days is made, the evening always precedes the morning. The reason of this may perhaps be, that darkness was pre-existent to light, (Genesis 1:2, And darkness was upon the face of the deep), and therefore time is reckoned from the first act of God towards the creation of the world, which took place before light was called forth into existence. It is very likely for this same reason, that the Jews began their day at six o'clock in the evening in imitation of Moses's division of time in this chapter. Caesar in his Commentaries makes mention of the same peculiarity existing among the Gauls:
Galli se omnes ab Dite patre prognatas praedicant: idque ab Druidibus proditum dicunt: ab eam causam spatia omnis temporis, non numero dierum, sed noctium, finiunt; et dies natales, et mensium et annorum initia sic observant, ut noctem dies subsequatur; De Bell. Gall. lib. vi.
Tacitus likewise records the same of the Germans:
Nec dierum numerum, ut nos, sed noctium computant: sic constituent, sic condicunt, nox ducere diem videtur; De Mor. Germ. sec. ii.
And there are to this day some remains of the same custom in England, as for instance in the word se'nnight and fortnight. See also Aeschyl. Agamem. ver. 273, 287.
Thus ends a chapter containing the most extensive, most profound, and most sublime truths that can possibly come within the reach of the human intellect. How unspeakably are we indebted to God for giving us a revelation of his Will and of his Works! Is it possible to know the mind of God but from himself? It is impossible. Can those things and services which are worthy of and pleasing to an infinitely pure, perfect, and holy Spirit, be ever found out by reasoning and conjecture? Never! for the Spirit of God alone can know the mind of God; and by this Spirit he has revealed himself to man; and in this revelation has taught him, not only to know the glories and perfections of the Creator, but also his own origin, duty, and interest. Thus far it was essentially necessary that God should reveal his Will; but if he had not given a revelation of his Works, the origin, constitution, and nature of the universe could never have been adequately known. The world by wisdom knew not God; this is demonstrated by the writings of the most learned and intelligent heathens. They had no just, no rational notion of the origin and design of the universe. Moses alone, of all ancient writers, gives a consistent and rational account of the creation; an account which has been confirmed by the investigation of the most accurate philosophers. But where did he learn this? "In Egypt." That is impossible; for the Egyptians themselves were destitute of this knowledge. The remains we have of their old historians, all posterior to the time of Moses, are egregious for their contradictions and absurdity; and the most learned of the Greeks who borrowed from them have not been able to make out, from their conjoint stock, any consistent and credible account. Moses has revealed the mystery that lay hid from all preceding ages, because he was taught it by the inspiration of the Almighty. Reader, thou hast now before thee the most ancient and most authentic history in the world; a history that contains the first written discovery that God has made of himself to man-kind; a discovery of his own being, in his wisdom, power, and goodness, in which thou and the whole human race are so intimately concerned. How much thou art indebted to him for this discovery he alone can teach thee, and cause thy heart to feel its obligations to his wisdom and mercy. Read so as to understand, for these things were written for thy learning; therefore mark what thou readest, and inwardly digest - deeply and seriously meditate on, what thou hast marked, and pray to the Father of lights that he may open thy understanding, that thou mayest know these holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation.
God made thee and the universe, and governs all things according to the counsel of his will; that will is infinite goodness, that counsel is unerring wisdom. While under the direction of this counsel, thou canst not err; while under the influence of this will, thou canst not be wretched. Give thyself up to his teaching, and submit to his authority; and, after guiding thee here by his counsel, he will at last bring thee to his glory. Every object that meets thy eye should teach thee reverence, submission, and gratitude. The earth and its productions were made for thee; and the providence of thy heavenly Father, infinitely diversified in its operations, watches over and provides for thee. Behold the firmament of his power, the sun, moon, planets, and stars, which he has formed, not for himself, for he needs none of these things, but for his intelligent offspring. What endless gratification has he designed thee in placing within thy reach these astonishing effects of his wisdom and power, and in rendering thee capable of searching out their wonderful relations and connections, and of knowing himself, the source of all perfection, by having made thee in his own image, and in his own likeness! It is true thou art fallen; but he has found out a ransom. God so loved thee in conjunction with the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Believe on Him; through him alone cometh salvation; and the fair and holy image of God in which thou wast created shall be again restored; he will build thee up as at the first, restore thy judges and counsellors as at the beginning, and in thy second creation, as in thy first, will pronounce thee to be very good, and thou shalt show forth the virtues of him by whom thou art created anew in Christ Jesus. Amen.
on Genesis 1 :31
Here we have the general review and approval of everything God had made, at the close of the six days' work of creation. Man, as well as other things, was very good when he came from his Maker's hand; but good as yet untried, and therefore good in capacity rather than in victory over temptation. It remains yet to be seen whether he will be good in act and habit.
This completes, then, the restoration of that order and fullness the absence of which is described in the second verse. The account of the six days' work, therefore, is the counterpart of that verse. The six days fall into two threes, corresponding to each other in the course of events. The first and fourth days refer principally to the darkness on the face of the deep; the second and fifth to the disorder and emptiness of the aerial and aqueous elements; and the third and sixth to the similar condition of the land. Again, the first three days refer to a lower, the second three to a higher order of things. On the first the darkness on the face of the earth is removed; on the fourth that on the face of the sky. On the second the water is distributed above and below the expanse; on the fifth the living natives of these regions are called into being. On the third the plants rooted in the soil are made; on the sixth the animals that move freely over it are brought into existence.
This chapter shows the folly and sin of the worship of light, of sun, moon, or star, of air or water, of plant, of fish or fowl, of earth, of cattle, creeping thing or wild beast, or, finally, of man himself; as all these are but the creatures of the one Eternal Spirit, who, as the Creator of all, is alone to be worshipped by his intelligent creatures.
This chapter is also to be read with wonder and adoration by man; as he finds himself to be constituted lord of the earth, next in rank under the Creator of all, formed in the image of his Maker, and therefore capable not only of studying the works of nature, but of contemplating and reverently communing with the Author of nature.
In closing the interpretation of this chapter, it is proper to refer to certain first principles of hermeneutical science. First, that interpretation only is valid which is true to the meaning of the author. The very first rule on which the interpreter is bound to proceed is to assign to each word the meaning it commonly bore in the time of the writer. This is the prime key to the works of every ancient author, if we can only discover it. The next is to give a consistent meaning to the whole of that which was composed at one time or in one place by the author. The presumption is that there was a reasonable consistency of thought in his mind during one effort of composition. A third rule is to employ faithfully and discreetly whatever we can learn concerning the time, place, and other circumstances of the author to the elucidation of his meaning.
And, in the second place, the interpretation now given claims acceptance on the ground of its internal and external consistency with truth. First, It exhibits the consistency of the whole narrative in itself. It acknowledges the narrative character of the first verse. It assigns an essential significance to the words, "the heavens," in that verse. It attributes to the second verse a prominent place and function in the arrangement of the record. It places the special creative work of the six days in due subordination to the absolute creation recorded in the first verse. It gathers information from the primitive meanings of the names that are given to certain objects, and notices the subsequent development of these meanings. It accounts for the manifestation of light on the first day, and of the luminaries of heaven on the fourth, and traces the orderly steps of a majestic climax throughout the narrative. It is in harmony with the usage of speech as far as it can be known to us at the present day. It assigns to the words "heavens," "earth," "expanse," "day," no greater latitude of meaning than was then customary. It allows for the diversity of phraseology employed in describing the acts of creative power. It sedulously refrains from importing modern notions into the narrative.
Second, the narrative thus interpreted is in striking harmony with the dictates of reason and the axioms of philosophy concerning the essence of God and the nature of man. On this it is unnecessary to dwell.
Third, it is equally consistent with human science. It substantially accords with the present state of astronomical science. It recognizes, as far as can be expected, the relative importance of the heavens and the earth, the existence of the heavenly bodies from the beginning of time, the total and then the partial absence of light from the face of the deep, as the local result of physical causes. It allows, also, if it were necessary, between the original creation, recorded in the first verse, and the state of things described in the second, the interval of time required for the light of the most distant discoverable star to reach the earth. No such interval, however, could be absolutely necessary, as the Creator could as easily establish the luminous connection of the different orbs of heaven as summon into being the element of light itself.
Fourth, it is also in harmony with the elementary facts of geological knowledge. The land, as understood by the ancient author, may be limited to that portion of the earth's surface which was known to antediluvian man. The elevation of an extensive tract of land, the subsidence of the overlying waters into the comparative hollows, the clarifying of the atmosphere, the creation of a fresh supply of plants and animals on the newly-formed continent, compose a series of changes which meet the geologist again and again in prosecuting his researches into the bowels of the earth. What part of the land was submerged when the new soil emerged from the waters, how far the shock of the plutonic or volcanic forces may have been felt, whether the alteration of level extended to the whole solid crust of the earth, or only to a certain region surrounding the cradle of mankind, the record before us does not determine. It merely describes in a few graphic touches, that are strikingly true to nature, the last of those geologic changes which our globe has undergone.
Fifth, it is in keeping, as far as it goes, with the facts of botany, zoology, and ethnology.
Sixth, it agrees with the cosmogonies of all nations, so far as these are founded upon a genuine tradition and not upon the mere conjectures of a lively fancy.
Finally, it has the singular and superlative merit of drawing the diurnal scenes of that creation to which our race owes its origin in the simple language of common life, and presenting each transcendent change as it would appear to an ordinary spectator standing on the earth. It was thus sufficiently intelligible to primeval man, and remains to this day intelligible to us, as soon as we divest ourselves of the narrowing preconceptions of our modern civilization.
on Genesis 1 :31