The creation of heaven and earth took place in seven 24-hour days, according to the text. I am unconvinced by all attempts to affirm or deny any particular scientific meaning to the chapter, but I also reject assigning a macro-evolutionary worldview. Such a worldview is more akin to the pagan creation stories circulating in Moses’ day: where the gods made the world through violence and sexual perversion, that were both “amoral.” It was a theology of war, “the survival of the fittest.” The Pentateuch was written to overthrow this worldview.
The pagan stories did not depict creation ex nihilo, “out of nothing.” The pagan gods all used existing substances to recraft the world. The stories were more about the “creation” of a new world order, a new ruling dynasty and its king installed by the god. These stories were more like the king’s claim to divine authority, an authority that was always contested by war.
But the creation story in Genesis is different. God clearly created out of nothing. This was an historical act, which told Israel that they had a greater power on their side than all the gods of Egypt. Since God was placing Israel in the land between Egypt and the Hittite empire, it was important for them to know that he created the universe entirely out of nothing. This means nothing could wage war against him. Israel was told to answer this threat of violence with neighbour love: the same message in the Sermon on the Mount.
The poetic nature of the creation account is most instructive. The six days are divided into two. In the first three days God makes the structure of the house: the sea, land and sky. In the next three days he fills these places with life. This depicts creation as a temple, a home, a family, where all parts of creation relate together with God. The seventh day is called the sabbath, which Moses goes on to show Israel in the Torah means the rule of God. God’s rule is contrary to the pagan’s rule. Order comes to creation, not by war, but by restoring the land and restoring lives, shown by the Jubilee, which is the sabbath of sabbaths. This is primarily what the teachings of Jesus were about.
The creation narrative is poetic of a journey from chaos to cosmos, where cosmos means order and shalom. The pairing of heaven and earth, night and day, sea and land, sky and land, plants and animals, male and female, all show the importance of relationships sustaining the creation. This holism is opposed to modern materialism and individualism. This was very important to Israel’s vocation after the Exodus, as God was bringing them on the same journey from pagan chaos to creational renewal. The creation narrative was not only history, but also an identity marker for Israel’s calling. They were the new Adam and Eves, taking creation on a journey to newness.
The gospel of Christ is lodged within this first chapter of the bible. It is not a gospel of salvation as an individual’s spiritual escape from this world. It is the gospel of the individual receiving a new heart, to become part of a new community (a new family, a new Israel uniting humanity) to fulfil the “Adamic commission,” bringing sabbath to the world.