The System of the Apocalypse (Genesis 1:14-25)

When the people of Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt, God led them eastward, deep into the deserts of Arabia. And as they travelled, they were wondering, “Who is this God?” and, “Is he going to take care of us?”

Moses has been answering those questions by telling the people about the first three Days of creation, the story of how God gave structure to the universe, and designed the earth to take care of his people.

But the people of Israel still don’t know why. They are learning who God is, they are learning that he wants to care for them…but why?

What does this God want from them in return?

See, for the ancient people of Israel, their whole exodus — their whole redemption from slavery — has been sort of like signing a contract without reading it. Put yourselves in their place: you’re in slavery for 400 years, and then suddenly a God shows up and says, “Hey, I was very fond of your ancestor Abraham, and I am here to rescue you!” We would say, “Okay! Sign us up!”

It’s only later on, in the desert, that you have the time for second thoughts. You get out the paperwork and try to read it, find out if you got a good deal or not. Because it could be that this God has rescued you from one kind of slavery, and he is taking care of you now, only because he is leading you to an even worse kind of slavery. Right? That is possible.

So even as the people learn more about God, and about his ability to care for them, they still have this very important question on their minds: what does he want from us?

In our modern world we ask this same question a little differently. We want to know, “Why are we here? What is the meaning of existence? What is the secret to a fulfilling life? How can I live in such a way that I do not find myself on my deathbed filled with regrets?”

Well, Moses has actually already begun to answer this question in Days 1, 2, and 3. He has been dropping hints here and there that the ancient people of Israel might have picked up — hints that we definitely have missed.

But here, in Days 4, 5, and 6, those hints are going to be developed in such way that Moses’ people could say for sure, “Ohhhhhhhh! I think I’m starting to understand!”

My task here, today, is to bring us to that same point of realization.

So let’s get started with Day 4.

[14] And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, [15] and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. [16] God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. [17] God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, [18] to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. [19] And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

Now, remember how, on Day 1, God spoke light into the blackness of the cosmic ocean? And then he arranged an alternating motion between light and darkness which he called Day and Night. God created a structure, a way to measure Time.

Before Day 1, Time was formless and empty. By the end of Day 1, Time had been given form.

But it was still empty: it had no purpose.

Here, on Day 4, God fills that emptiness. He creates things to populate the Day and the Night. He creates things that are designed to give purpose to the Day and the Night.

So God sets up lights in the vault of the sky. That is, Moses is telling us that God installed lights in the sky dome, just like we install light-bulbs in the ceiling today. And before you say, “Oh, man, how stupid is that!” you should know that we all believed this until only 500 years ago.

But anyway, this is another reminder to us that we need to be careful about interpreting the creation story too literally or scientifically. If we are going to insist that God literally created the stars on Day 4, then we are also going to have to insist that the sky is solid, and the stars are stuck to it. But we know that is not — scientifically speaking — true. And yet, we believe that God always tells the truth. Therefore, we believe that God must be trying to communicate something true to his people using their level of understanding to do it.

We do this with our own children. When your 3-year-old asks you, “Where do babies come from?” you say, “Babies come from Mommy’s tummy.” Scientifically speaking that is not true — but did you just lie to your child? No, you told the truth as far as your 3-your-old could understand it. You used what appears to be true to communicate even more important truths, like the fact that women produce babies, that children are intimately connected to their mothers.

In the same way, God told Moses, “Yeah, I installed the stars in the ceiling.” But his point is not really to talk about how the stars exist; his point is to tell his people why the stars exist.

So we, as modern people, need to change our mindset a little bit. We need to stop asking, “How?” and start asking, “Why?” The bible was not written to answer, “How?” it was written to answer, “Why?” So if we keep on asking the bible, “But how?” we are going to be disappointed by the answers, and ultimately we are going to be even more confused.

For instance, our focus on “How?” has actually produced confusion for us on this very point: how can God create Day and Night on Day 1, but only create the sun on Day 4?

That makes no sense to us because we tend to focus on scientific truth, the How and the What. For us, light is matter and energy moving at certain wavelengths; Day and Night are caused by the revolution of the earth.

Moses is focused on theological truth, the Why. For him, light is God’s spoken word. When God speaks, light exists. When God is silent, light ceases to exist. For him, Day and Night are caused by the patterns of God’s speech, not the revolution of the earth.

So for Moses it makes perfect sense that Day and Night started on Day 1, and the sun only shows up on Day 4. Day and Night come from God, not from the earth’s interactions with the sun. For Moses, Day and Night are supposed to teach us about God’s character, not about the structure of our solar system.

And what we learn about God from the pattern of Day and Night is that God rules Time, God rules the calendar, God regulates when his spoken revelation goes out, and when it doesn’t.

But then, if Day and Night come directly from God, why did he bother to create a sun, or a moon, or stars? If Day and Night already teach us so much about God, why do we need these other things?

Well…because there is actually more to learn about God.

And what we learn about God from the creation of the sun, moon, and stars is this: God does not like to do everything himself. He likes to delegate. He likes to share his authority.

Yes, God rules Time, God rules the calendar, God rules his own revelation — but here on Day 4 we see him pass some of that authority on to the sun, the moon, and the stars. He gives them three basic jobs to do, three reasons to exist. They are to 1. “separate the day from the night”, 2. “serve as signs to mark sacred times, days and years”, and 3. “give light on the earth”.

They don’t control Time, but they help to measure it, they help to regulate it. They are not the source of God’s spoken revelation, but they do help to regulate God’s revelation. Psalm 19 tells us that they actively reveal the knowledge of God: “They have no speech, they use no words, no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” And the Old Testament prophets warn us that there is a time coming when “The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine,” because God is going to withdraw his revelation from the earth.

Which means we also learn something else about God from the creation of the sun, moon, and stars, and that is this: God’s revelation will never cease…but it will not always be available to our planet. The sun, the moon, and the stars were created to give light on the earth, but the day is coming when they will no longer do so. And on that day cosmic darkness will close upon the earth. God will cease speaking to mankind. And all those who have refused to hear his voice will be left to live in the darkness and ignorance that they thought they loved. Which means that the cycle of days, months, and years are also a perpetual reminder to us that now is the time to listen for the voice of God! — while the sun, the moon, the stars still shine.

So on Day 4, God took the emptiness of Time and filled it with meaning by filling it with the sun, the moon, and the stars. They exist for a purpose: to continue the revelation of God.

[20] And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” [21] So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Now, remember how on Day 2, God separated the waters, lifting up the weight of the cosmic ocean from the surface of the earth. This resulted in the creation of two things: the sky dome above, and the sea below. God created a structure, a space where life can happen.

So before Day 2, the cosmic waters were formless and empty. By the end of Day 2, the waters had been given the form of sea and sky.

But they were still empty. They had no purpose.

So here, on Day 5, God fills that emptiness. He creates things to populate the sea and the sky. He creates things that are designed to give purpose to the sea and the sky.

So God creates — for the first time — living creatures. He did create life on Day 3: plants, vegetation. But even ancient people recognized that plant life is different from animal life. Animals move. They have a will. They do things. For instance, they actively reproduce.

And so God — for the first time — blesses something. He says, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”

So the fact that fish and birds reproduce is not just a fact. It is a calling. It is their job. The fish and the birds have a job to do, just like sun, the moon, and the stars. Their job is to be fruitful and fill the seas and the skies.

And by this point I think we know what question we are supposed to ask now: “What is the creation of fish and birds supposed to teach us about God?”

Day 2, the forming of sky and sea, taught us that God’s spoken word protects our earth from chaos. What does Day 5, the filling of sky and sea, teach us?

Well, this is interesting to notice. For ancient Israel, the sky dome is God’s barrier between order and chaos, between our earthly atmosphere and the cosmic ocean above us. The sea is also God’s barrier between order and chaos, between our earthly sea and the cosmic ocean beneath us. The skies and the seas were designed to protect us from chaos. But because they are the transition point between order and chaos, they have both orderly and chaotic qualities, right? For the most part the skies and the seas behave themselves — but every now and then we get these terrible chaotic storms, don’t we?

For the ancient people of Israel, skies and seas straddled the line between order and chaos. So in the same way, the animals that live in those environments also straddle the line between order and chaos. Birds and fish live violent, active, chaotic lives, fighting constantly for survival against the chaotic elements they live in. In fact, their native environments are so harsh that you would expect them to go extinct really quickly.

But they don’t go extinct. Instead they thrive. They multiply. Why?

Because of God’s blessing. God commands them to be fruitful, but that is not just a command: it is a blessing. It is a promise that they will be fruitful. Even though they swim and fly in that transitional space between order and chaos, they are going to fill their environments, they are going to rule their environments.

And this is a further revelation of God’s character. The forming of skies and seas showed us that God can make room for life even in the midst of chaos. The filling of skies and seas shows us how complete God’s domination over chaos is! He has chaos under such complete control that he has created living creatures that thrive in the midst of chaos, living creatures that are designed to tame the elements of chaos and use them to provide ongoing life for themselves.

[23] And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

So on Day 5, God took the emptiness of sky and sea and filled them with meaning — gave them a purpose — by filling them with birds and fish. And we see that these birds and fish also have a purpose: they deepen the revelation of who God is.

This is confirmed in the Book of Job. He says, “But ask…the birds in sky, and they will tell you…or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?

[24] And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.”

Now, remember how, on Day 3, God separated the waters and created dry land, and then commanded the land to produce plant life? God created a structure where life could take root.

So at the beginning of Day 3, the face of the earth was just a formless and empty ocean. By the end of Day 3, the face of the earth had been given solid form.

But it was still empty. Land existed; plants existed. But for what purpose?

So here, on Day 6, God begins to fill the land. He creates living things to populate the ground, things that are designed to give purpose to the land, and to plants. He creates animal life.

— actually, to be more precise: he tells the land to produce animals, just like he told the land to produce plants on Day 3. And this is is an interesting difference from Day 5. On Day 5 he did not tell sky and sea to produce animal life.

Why not?

Well, because chaos cannot produce life. Only orderly structures can produce life. The sky and the sea are protective structures, but as we have discussed, they were considered transition zones between chaos and order. They were in constant motion. As such, they could not produce life.

Dry ground, however, has a very solid structure. It is stable. It is not constantly changing. As such, it makes a very good orderly foundation to produce life. Which it does. As Moses says:

And it was so. [25] God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

And here we see that there is another difference between Day 5 — the creation of fish and birds — and Day 6 — the creation of land animals.

On Day 5, God blessed the sky creatures and sea creatures. He promised that they would overcome their chaotic environments.

He does not bless the land creatures. Why not?

Well, remember how, back in Day 4, we learned that God likes to delegate his authority? He created the sun, moon, and stars to rule over Time, to regulate Time and give it meaning.

Here we have land animals that are — no doubt — meant to reproduce themselves. But could it be that God wants to give his authority to bless these animals to someone else?

Could it be that God wants to give someone else the chance to regulate the animals, to give them meaning, to help them fill their environments with life?

Hmmmm…could be!

But you’ll have to come back next week to find out.

So. A brief recap: on Days 1, 2, and 3 God took the formless universe and gave it form. He gave it structure.

Here, on Days 4, 5, and 6, God has taken the formed universe…and filled it. He gave it a system.

So Days 1, 2, and 3 tell us that God created a structure to shape our world. Days 4, 5, and 6 tell us that God created a system to give that structure purpose.

See, every structure has a purpose, a function. When something doesn’t have structure we call it randomness. Chaos. Chaos is meaningless, structure is meaningful, purposeful. And this is true of the structure of the atom, the structure of an ocean wave, and it is definitely true of structures that we build. We build things because we want to do something with that building.

But it is often hard to tell what a structure was built for until we see it being used. For instance: an empty room in a tower in KL is just an empty room in a tower in KL. It could be a bank. It could be a church. It could be a car park. We can make educated guesses based on the furniture, the layout, that sort of thing — but we don’t know for sure until we see that space in action. Fill that room with people, and watch them use that room, and very quickly we will figure out exactly what is the purpose of that room.

…and at this point I’m going to pause and drop an extra philosophical brain-twister on us. Here it is:

The meaning behind a structure is not actually contained in the structure itself; the meaning is contained in the users of that structure. To put it another way: a structure actually has no purpose until it is inhabited and put into use. For instance, an umbrella is designed to protect a person from rain. But until a person takes that umbrella, opens it, and stands in the rain, the umbrella actually has no purpose. Until someone uses it, an umbrella is really nothing but a collection of wires and cloth.

This is also true of the universe: the universe has no purpose unless and until someone or something makes use of it. And this is why modern secular people are struggling to find meaning in the universe: our cultures do not believe that there is anyone out there making use of the universe. And this is why our global, modern, secular cultures are falling into despair: without a God to use the universe, the universe has no meaning. Which ultimately means that our existence has no meaning.

Now, I know that this is a pretty heavy philosophical concept, and I realize that for some of you it is going to go right past you. That is okay! The only reason I am pointing it out is because this is actually one of the strongest logical arguments for the existence of God. And I know that a few of you are going to be able to make use of it in your conversations with your secular friends.

Okay. Unpause. Back to the text:

So human-built structures have a purpose, but that purpose only becomes clear when those structures are filled and used. God’s structure of the universe works the same way. On Days 1 to 3 of creation, he built an orderly structure, but we could not see clearly what it was for. But here, on Days 4 to 6, God has filled that structure. Now we get to see that structure in action. And now we begin to see the purpose behind the universe.

It is here, in Days 4 to 6, that Moses has really begun to answer the question his people have been asking: “What does this God want from us?” It is here that God begins to answer our questions, “Why are we here? What is the meaning of existence?”

And I promised at the beginning to try to make clear to us what is already becoming very clear to the ancient people of Israel.

Here goes:

First God created a structure that goes from outer chaos and then builds inward to more and more order and stability. The cosmic ocean is on the outside. Then there is the sky and the sea serving as barriers between chaos and order. Then in the center there is dry land: very stable, very orderly, capable of producing life.

Then God created a system designed to regulate that structure. The outer-most “creatures” — the sun, moon, and stars — are designed to regulate the outer chaos of Time, the cycles of Day and Night and months and years. The next inward layer of creatures — fish and birds — are designed to fill and use the transitional zones between chaos and order. Then, the central creatures — land animals — are designed to fill and use the most orderly centre of the universe. And by doing this, they reveal the purpose of the universe. In fact, they give the universe its purpose.

Now, that is pretty cool, right?

But there is more.

The ancient nation of Israel was oriented around one central, very special, structure. This special structure was designed to go from outer chaos, to transitional zone, to a perfect, orderly, life-producing centre.

And this structure was run according to a very orderly system. This system was designed to bring living creatures in from the outer darkness, through the transitional veil between order and chaos, and into the perfect light of God’s living presence…

I think most of you already know what that structure is.

Two months after ancient Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt, they came to a mountain in Arabia, a mountain called Sinai. There God introduced himself to them, he made a covenant with them, and then he gave them extremely detailed instructions for a structure called the tabernacle, and a system of living worshipers.

The ancient people of Israel, hearing Moses tell the story of creation, would have understood the meaning behind it at once. They would have understood at once that this little tabernacle they are building in the desert is meant to be a miniature model of the universe.

And they would have understood at once that when God structured the universe and filled it, he was building a cosmic temple for himself, and then filling it with worshipers who — by their very existence — reveal the true purpose behind the cosmic temple.

And what is the true purpose behind the cosmic temple?

Well, what is the purpose behind any kind of temple?

A temple is meant to be a place where a god comes to meet his people and reveal himself to them.

Pathetic, little, earthly gods have pathetic, little, earthly temples.

But our God has built for himself a cosmic temple.

Our universe is a comic temple designed for the apocalypse of God, the revelation of who God is. And it is all centered around the earth. The ancient Israelites understood this so clearly that later on the Prophet Isaiah wrote about it. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.’” The universe is God’s temple, and God’s footstool is the earth at the centre of it. And the whole point of the whole structure is so he can know his people and so they can know him.

So when modern people ask, “Why does the universe exist?” Moses’ answer is very simple: the universe exists to provide a space where we can meet God.

And then, when modern people say, “Okay, then. But why does life exist?” Moses’ answer is equally simple: life exists in order to meet God. Life exists in order to give the universe its purpose.

Now, that sounds crazy. I know. But think about it this way: God does not need a temple of any kind! But we do…if we want to meet him. God did not create the cosmic temple for his own sake. He does not need a place to live! But we do.

God created the cosmic temple for our sake. He created a structure, and then he filled that structure with life: from the outermost edges of chaos to the innermost center of beauty and order. And the whole point of all that structure and all that life is to guide his people inward to the very source of all revelation.

To put it very simply: the reason the cosmic temple exists, and the reason God filled his cosmic temple with living creatures is to help usher us into worship.

A temple without worshipers is just an empty building. A universe without worshipers is just meaningless chaos. Which means that when God’s living creatures worship, they give the universe its meaning.

When we worship, we give the universe its meaning.

I realize that most of our heads just exploded. So I’m going to pause here for a moment so you can find all the pieces of your skull and try to put them back into place…you do not want to lose those!

So I’ll give you a moment.

Our world, our modern culture, is lost in an infinite ocean of chaos. We look out at the universe and we see…nothing.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: we are seeing more than we have ever seen before. With our telescopes we are looking deep into space, and we are seeing beauty beyond anything we could ever imagine. With our microscopes we are looking into the structure of the atom. We are accelerating particles to near light-speed, and smashing those particles into other particles and creating whole new particles no one has ever seen before. We are learning so much about the foundational structure of our universe —

— and yet, we seeing less than ever before. We are looking outward and inward and all we can ask is, “What is it all for?” What is the point of all this beauty out there on the edges of time and space when there is no one there to see it? The more we learn, the smaller and more meaningless we become in our own eyes…

And we are small. We are miniscule. We are nothing, we are dust compared with the scale of the universe. But listen to this: even ancient people understood that. Yes, they believed that the earth is covered by a sky dome with stars screwed into it like lightbulbs. But they understood that those stars are beyond anything we could travel to in a thousand lifetimes. They understood that the sky dome is immense, and that we are tiny. Even the writers of scripture understood this: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of us…?

And yet…and yet somehow we contain within ourselves the very meaning of the universe —

I’m going to pause for a moment myself so I can collect the pieces of my skull…

So what does this mean for us, here, today?

Obviously we’re just at the beginning of something that is going to be explained to us in more detail in the chapters to come. But what is our take home now? What practical application can we ta pau for ourselves today?

Well, all this is so huge, so mind-blowing that I am sort-of desperate to keep it really really simple here at the end.

So how about this:

We are lost as a culture, as a people, as a planet. The secular world is losing the plot and falling into despair. And we Christians are affected by that because we live in this world. We also feel that creeping numbness, the sense that there is something out there that we are missing.

So this week, as we go about our lives, let us look around at the world with new eyes. When we look up at the stars, let us fix in our minds that those are not just balls of gas hurtling through the vacuum of space. Those are lights fixed to the ceiling of God’s temple. They are designed to worship God by giving light to our worship. And in that moment, let’s take the time to praise God.

When we go to the mamak, and we see those sparrows picking up crumbs, let us fix in our minds that those are not randomly selected elements of an ecological system. Those are creatures designed tame the currents of the air with their wings; they are designed to worship God by filling the transition zone between order and chaos. And in that moment, let’s take the time to praise God.

And when we go to the mamak, and when we see the rats in back of the kitchen, well — they, too, worship God in their very limited way. And if even rats have a purpose…then surely we do as well?

And every time this week that we pause to look around and see things as they really are, and praise God for them — every time we do this, we will be bringing purpose to the universe, and meaning to our own lives.

But now some of you are going to say, “Oh, c’mon Ian, surely we have a greater purpose than just worshiping alongside the rats and the sparrows!”

Well, yes we do.

And then you’re going to say, “Good. What is that greater purpose?”

And I’m going to say, “Well, there is a hint in what we have already read today.”

See, so far in Moses’ creation story we’ve got a temple, and we’ve got worshipers. But there is something missing. What else does a temple need?

Doesn’t every temple need someone to lead the worshipers in their worship?

Could that be our greater purpose?


But you already know what I’m going to say now: you’ll have to come back next week to find out for sure. 

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