To keep the Sabbath—the very aim of creation—is to understand that you are part of a complicated pattern of time, of bringing order to chaos, and knowing that you are a creature rather than the Creator. We keep weekly the day of stopping, of not-creating, so that we learn these truths from the world around us.
The Bible starts with seven words. Then the second sentence has fourteen words. Then there are seven paragraphs each describing a day in this week of seven days. The seventh of these includes three parallel seven word phrases.
None of this is an accident. In our modern day with our modern eyes it can look like an accident, but it’s a deliberately formed piece of writing that is trying to instruct us. With our modern eyes we expect a sentence to do one thing, the first sentence of the Bible is doing so many different and layered things we can scarcely count them. We need new eyes.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Instantly we are confronted with time: God is there in the beginning before the heavens and the earth. We are confronted with the creator: it is God who creates as an act of fiat. We see that God creates from nothing, and in a few sentences time we discover that he does it by speaking. We can read this in parallel with other creation myths that the Hebrews would have known like the Enuma Elish and note the stunning parallels and differences that show us how different Yahweh is to the gods of the Babylonians, and much more besides.
But I’d like to start somewhere else.
This seven word sentence starts with the word בְּרֵאשִׁית, which we usually translate ‘in the beginning’. Nothing wrong with that translation, but it’s worth noticing that the Hebrew idiom which means first or beginning is ‘from the head’. Which means not a lot at all in and of itself, it’s idiomatic and arguing from etymology ends you up thinking a butterfly is a sort of fairy that attends milkmaids churning.
Except, with open eyes that know the hymn of Colossians chapter 1, the idea that from the head God created the heavens and the earth is evocative, to say the least. From him and to him and through him, in fact.
The opening word of the Bible announces—to those with eyes of faith—that the world is created from Jesus, and that everything else flows from him too. It preaches the gospel, that there is a Head in God who we can follow to be saved.
That’s not really where I wanted to start, either.