Historical Creation View of Sailhamer – Part 5

“Garden of Eden” by Erastus Salisbury Field


Summary:  Genesis 1 is all about the covenant with God’s people and the land he promised them.

In the future I will be presenting the views of a number of natural historians/theologians and pastors from the late 17th and early 18th century regarding the nature of the 6 days of creation.  Some may find it surprising that most of there readings of Genesis 1 treat the origin of the universe separately from the forming of the earth.  Usually the earth is in view for the 6 days of creation and the origin of all things was sometime before the 6 days.   In the black and white version of who holds to a literal 6-day creation and who does not most people will tick these commentators off as being in the literal 6 day camp.  But there views of what this means beyond it happened in 6 days would seem very foreign to most today.    I bring this up because Sailhamer and Walton both accept that they days were normal days but few would place them in a young earth camp.   These 17th century thinkers were six day creationists but the earth itself could very well have been much older but only the shaping of the world as we see it today occurred in 6 literal days but not very long ago.    Sailhamer really isn’t all the different in that he interprets the Genesis 1:1 in what is likely the historically most common way but rather than seeing the world in view as being formless and void he limits that world to the promised land.   Similarly Walton finds the Genesis 1:2 to be limited in its scope of interest for for him the 6 days are literal days of assigning function to that which was created in Genesis 1:1.    Why does Sailhamer limit the creation events of Genesis 1:2 and thereafter.  It has to do with his understanding of the meaning of the Pentateuch and covenants.

I will let Sailhamer explain this connection as he  continues on page 82:

“Genesis 1 within the context of the Pentateuch”

Genesis 1 is often read as if it were merely an account of God’s creation of the universe. It is that, of course, but it is much more. The opening verse clearly states that God created all things. But throughout the rest of the chapter, the narrative focuses on God’s preparation of “the land.”  _The primary purpose of Genesis 1 is to show that God made “the land” and prepared it as a place for the man and woman to dwell in peace.  The events recorded in Genesis 1 have been carefully selected and arranged to serve a unique role as an introduction to the whole of the Pentateuch. The story recounted in these early chapters is thus both theological and historical in nature. It tells us the way things were, and it attempts to tell us something about the will of God for our lives.  In Genesis 1 the author carefully sets the stage for the narratives which follow: the primeval history (chapters 2-11) and the patriarchs (chapters 12-50). Also in these early narratives the author provides the necessary background for understanding the central topic of the Pentateuch:  God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. In nearly every sentence of the creation account the author’s interests in the Sinai Covenant and God’s chosen people can be clearly seen. There is much which deals with God’s purpose for all humanity as well.

In the Sinai Covenant, god entered a relationship with Israel in which He promised to be their god and make them His people. He vowed to give the “land” He had promised to their forefathers. He promised to bless them in the land, to give them rest and peace, and ultimately to dwell with them in that land. Thus the concept of the “land” is central to the purpose of the Pentateuch and the Sinai covenant. It was God’s ultimate goal to bless His people in the Promised Land.

In the Sinai Covenant, God also called on Israel to obey Him. In fact, that was the only condition God placed on their enjoyment of the land. If they disobeyed, Israel would be cast out of the land and go into exile (Deuteronomy 4:25-25).

Each of these central themes of the Sinai Covenant finds its initial statement in the opening chapters of Genesis. The Covenant is grounded in the events of creation. The author of Genesis 1 wants to show that the land which God promised to give Israel in the Sinai Covenant — the land where Abraham and his family sojourned, the land of Canaan– was the same land God had prepared for them at the time of creation. It was in that land that God first blessed mankind and called upon men and women to obey him. It was in _that_ land that the Tree of Life once grew and God provided for man’s good and kept him from evil. In the narrative of Genesis 1, we are thus given an account of God’s original purposes with humanity.”

On the next page Sailhamer continues by exploring the covenant and creation. Here the theology of the Pentateuch and the whole Bible in a covenantal approach pays dividends for understanding the early chapters of Genesis.  Continuing with an extended quote from Sailhamer:

“Creation and Covenant

The theological perspective of this first section of Genesis can be summarized in two points.   First, the author intends to draw a line connecting the God of the fathers and of the Sinai covenant with he God who created the world. That is the purpose of the very first verse in the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The God spoken of here is the god of the Sinai Covenant. The Bible thus begins with the statement that the Covenant God created the universe.  Second, the author wants to show that the Sinai Covenant and God’s call of Abraham have as their ultimate goal the establishment of God’s original purpose in creation. God intended from the beginning that His people find blessing and peace in “the land” He provided for them.  In Genesis 1 and 2, god created a place for the man and the woman to dwell — the “land.” There, in “the land,” they were to enjoy His blessing (Genesis 1:28u). There we see God’s people living in peace and enjoying God’s blessing.

These two themes dominate the portrayal of creation in Genesis 1. They  are also closely related. God’s blessing is to be found in the land which He created.

From the beginning of the creation account, God’s interest in the land lies at center stage. After establishing the larger point that God created  the universe (Genesis 1:1), the write then turns immediately to give an account of God’s preparation of the land (1:2). Thus it is that the remainder of the creation account (1:2-2.4a) is devoted to the narrative record of God’s preparation of the land.   

This land continues to occupy the attention of the writer throughout Genesis. We learn that it was this land which mankind abandoned, moving eastward where the city of Babylon was built (11:1-9). It was out of Babylon that God called Abraham. Abraham was to leave Babylon and return to the land which god promised to him and his descendants (15:18). It was in this land that God had promised to bless Abraham, and it is in this land that all the nations will be blessed along with the descendants of Abraham (12:3). This is a constant and recurring image in Scripture.  When the land and the blessing were lost as a result of the Fall, the Biblical narratives take up the story of God’s restoration of mankind and the land (Genesis 4-Deuteronomy 34). In those narratives we see that God restored mankind and the land through His covenants. He made a covenant with Noah (Genesis 9); then with Abraham (Genesis 15); and then again with the people of Israel (Exodus 19). The latter covenant was renewed on the borders of the promised land in the last chapters of the Pentateuch  (Deuteronomy 5-30). The biblical covenants are thus marked off in the Pentateuch as God’s means of restoring His lost creation. In fact, the whole of biblical revelation points to a time when God will restore creation to that original purpose (cf. Revelation 21:1-4). Thus creation and covenant, or creation and redemption, are the central themes of the Pentateuch. One aspect of God’s dealings with the world – creation- cannot be fully understood without the other — the covenant. ” 

As I stated above Sailhamer’s interpretation of Genesis 1:1 referring to the creation of the universe followed by 1:2 immediately focusing on the “land.”   This interpretation of Genesis 1:1 is found frequently all the way back to at least the 1400s though typically what was thought of in Genesis 1:2 was the formation of the earth such that the rest of Genesis 1 is the creation of the earth and its inhabitants. What is different with Sailhamer is that he is limiting the geographical extent of Genesis 1:2 and forward to only Eden.  This is quite different than the typical 17th and 18th century views of the literal 6 day creation where the creation in 6 days is only of the earth with the universe coming sometime BEFORE the 6 days.  These views were mostly the result of harmonization of science while Sailhamer is more concerned with placing the passage in its covenantal context.  I shall attempt to explore this much further at another time when I look at some the writings of Cotton Mather and his review of the various theories of his day (the early 1700s).

Next up the links between Genesis 1 and 2 and ask the question; So where was the Garden of Eden and how it is related to Genesis 1?

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