Old Testament Theology: Creation Theology

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Old Testament
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Over the years there have been a number of attempts to find consistent themes flowing throughout the Old Testament.  Serious scholars have depicted God through various themes, such as: Covenant; God as Divine Warrior; Wisdom; History; Cult; Salvation; and Calling, to name a few.  Among these, however, the theme of creation has been seriously neglected (God and World ix-xiv).  A proper Old Testament theology views God as Creator working in and through the creation to bring and sustain life.  All other themes interwoven into the Old Testament can and should be understood within a creation theology.

Pentateuch and Creation

“When God began to create heaven and earth” are the first words of the Scriptures (Tanakh 3).  Creation is the beginning action of God in the world.  As the wording suggests in the Tanakh, God’s creating has not ended with the formation of the world and everything in it.  Rather, God’s creating continues as an ongoing process.  God even places man in the garden to govern over creation and till the soil (Ge 2:5; 1:26-30).  This act alone suggests that God’s creation continues to produce life by creating through the processes and instructions given by the Creator.

This Creation is given order instead of the chaos that had previously been.  The waters are separated forming the sky apart from the waters below.  The earth is filled with life to govern each space.  Of course, sin is introduced into the world interrupting the harmony and shalom of creation.  Dissonance between the Creator and the created produces a fissure.  This gap in relationship culminates in violence and wickedness by humanity.  In fact, Genesis 6:5 states that “every plan devised by [humanity’s] mind was nothing but evil all the time.”  This wickedness has replications for all creation.  God decides to destroy humanity and the earth with a flood.  The waters above collapse into the waters below.  Humanity’s anti-creational activity has brought about chaos rather than the order God desired for His Creation.  Despite this fact, God spares Noah and his family’s life, because God considered Noah righteous, via the ark.  Despite this destruction, humans remain entirely wicked “from his youth” (Ge 8:21).  However, God covenants with humanity saying that He will never destroy “the earth because of man” nor “every living being, as I have done” (Ge 8:21).  God is committed to the work He began in creation and will see it to completion.

The first command given after the flood reflects the words from the Creation account: “Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth” (Ge 9:1).  Life seems to be something God is concerned about.  Skip ahead to the enslavement of the Israelites inEgypt.  The Hebrew people have become a vast population, fulfilling the command to be fruitful.  It was also a fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham.  Pharaoh, on the other hand, decides thatIsraelis a threat to national security.  He begins trying to control the population ofIsraelby having their baby boys killed.  The acts of Pharaoh beyond this instance can also be seen as anti-creational acts to which God resoundingly responds through natural wonders.  The final judgment of Pharaoh culminates at the crossing of theSeaofReeds.  After the Israelites cross on dry land safely between the two walls of water, Pharaoh and his army pursue.  However, God allows the waters to slam down upon the army, annihilating them entirely.  As God had separated the waters of chaos at Creation, Pharaoh’s acts destroy him in the chaos.

God’s creational activity is not relegated to the natural realm alone.  In Exodus, we see the instructions to build the Tabernacle, a place of worship.  The instructions for the Tabernacle and Genesis 1 hold many similarities.  Both are created in seven days; specific spaces are formed and filled; separation between areas is also important, as in creation; man governs over the proceedings as representatives of God; and it is used to promote life for the community.  The Tabernacle and worship are meant to form a certain type of people that will be representatives of God to the rest of the created order (Ex. 19:5-6).

The covenant found in Deuteronomy is also based on creation and the Creator.  The Song of Moses callsIsraelto radical obedience to Yahweh.  In Deuteronomy 32:6, Moses questions, “Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you.”  God deserves obedience because He alone is Creator and God.  He alone has given life toIsrael.

Creation Theology, according to Terrence Fretheim, can be seen as God’s redemptive action in the world through re-creation.  Creation is “life-giving, life-preserving, and life-blessing” (Exodus13).  In addition, re-creation is a means of “…returning creation to a point where God’s mission can once again be taken up” (Exodus 13).  Anything opposing those purposes will be judged and brought back under God’s sovereignty (i.e. Pharaoh of the Exodus).

Deuteronomistic History

            Creation theology also shapes our view of God’s sometimes violent interaction with the nations as something more than whimsical favoritism forIsrael.  God desires to re-create a space (i.e. Promised Land, Tabernacle) in which to relate and dwell among His creation.  God’s purposes forIsrael, stated in Exodus 19:5-6 and Genesis 12:2-3, show God’s concern for all creation, not justIsrael.  Israel’s seemingly constant redemption from exile is viewed to be re-creational processes that allow God to bless the world by His presence, thus glorifying His Name (Fretheim 12-14; Birch 154-64; 189-205).

However, despite this concern for all of creation, why does God seem to violently oppose the other nations?  Once again, it can be said that other nations are acting out in anti-creational ways.  These nations do not recognize Yahweh as the Creator, serving other gods.  They also do not enact justice, which is a major concern of God’s.  1 and 2 Kings details the reigns of the kings ofIsraelandJudah.  The summary of each king’s reign depends on whether or not each king was obedient to God’s Law or not.  Only a few king’s reign are extolled due to their obedience to God, which brings about life for the community. Israelis preserved and blessed through their leadership.  Judgment is usually brought uponIsraelwhen they fail to follow God’s purposes in the world.  In other words,Israelbecomes like the surrounding nations by participating in anti-creational activity.

However, God is always quick to extend mercy when His people repent or cry out for help.  Redemption and salvation, as Fretheim points out, become the very creational activities of God.  Discipline, by way of exile or enslavement to other nations, is used to form Israelinto the types of people who will be obedient.  In other words, they will live out God’s creational purposes to their world.  This creational purpose is seen as equality and justice for all people, not just Israel.  Unwillingness to live in the land on God’s terms risks judgment from God.

Wisdom Literature

            Wisdom literature in the Bible has a sense of creation being formed through God’s wisdom.  In fact, wisdom is the first of God’s creations (Pr 8:22-31).  Wisdom is the means by which creation functions harmoniously.  In this view, creation and wisdom are linked inextricably together.

Psalms also roots praise to be found in creation and to the Creator.  John G. Gammie notes, “Psalms of natural wisdom… focus on the created order, offspring, life, abundance, or fruitfulness” (130).  Gammie suggests there are eight psalms that prescribe to this theme (Psalms 45, 91, 104, 127, 128, 133, 139, 147).  However, I do not believe this is an all-encompassing list detailing God’s creating activity.  Psalm 51:10 is a good example, stating, “Create in me a pure heart, O God.”  God’s creating activity is not relegated to natural events.  However, this particular psalm is concerned about life and knows God is the only source for that life.  Likewise, other psalms have creation weaved into their message (Psalms 65, 89, 94, 95, 102, 103, 119, 148).

Job, although he is not always explicit, also has creation as a theme in its pages.  For instance, Job 12 says that the wisdom of God can be found in creation if one searches for it.  It maintains God is the sovereign Creator.  In Chapter 14, Job once again asserts that God is Creator and that he is the work of God’s hands.  In Chapter 38, God defends His Name to Job and his friends.  God asserts that only He laid the foundations of the earth and all that is in it.  It is upon this fact that God vindicates Himself and shames Job’s friends for speaking falsely.

Even the downcast viewpoint of Ecclesiastes has creation as a central force in its theology.  Despite Ecclesiastes seemingly “enjoy life however you may” attitude, we find caution to “remember our Creator in the days of our youth.”  In other words, you will one day have to give an account to God for all that we have done, so be mindful of your decisions.  Likewise, even though Ecclesiastes maintains that life is meaningless, it affirms that life is a gift from God that should be enjoyed.

Within the Wisdom tradition we see a strong correlation between wisdom and creation.  God formed creation through His wisdom.  This same creation, when working properly, attests to the wisdom of God.  God is the giver and sustainer of life, so we should fear Him (Pr 1:7).  Finding this wisdom produces life, but shunning God’s wisdom brings death and folly.  God’s creative purposes always promote life.

Prophets

            Both the major and the minor prophets are generally concerned about purity and social justice.  Although each prophet may have a slightly different view of this purity and separation, each of them has creation themes threaded throughout.  Isaiah alone mentions Creator, create, or created twenty-two times.  God is the holy Creator who alone is worthy of praise.  Therefore,Israel must worship God alone if they desire life.  God formed and created the people ofIsrael andJudah.  Likewise, each breath of man is a gift from God.  Despite God’s judgment, He remains committed toIsrael.  He will not let them be consumed but will maintain them because He is still committed to His work, which is not finished.  Besides that point, Isaiah affirms that God’s work is not finished, stating, “I will create new heavens and a new earth.”  God is bringing all things, Creation, to a certain point whereby God might once again say, “It is very good.”

Jeremiah also asserts that God’s creating days are far from over.  Jeremiah 31:22 says, “The Lord will create a new thing on earth.”  As part of the creation, we, likeIsrael, are called to participate in God’s kingdom.  Through the means of justice, we in a sense live out God’s creational purposes of blessing for humanity.  Amos is also a great example of this politic.  God’s judgment is based upon His authority as Creator, as well as,Israel’s failure to live obediently to God’s Law.  Jeremiah callsIsraelto remember its Creator and to turn back to the one who formed them.  In the same way, every prophet callsIsraelto do the same by participating in God’s on-going creational activity.

The Old Testament clearly calls us to engage the world as stewards and shepherds of God’s creation.  Likewise, it calls us to actively participate in the redemptive actions of God.  These actions are “life giving, life blessing, and life preserving” (Exodus 13).  Re-creation is the means of “…returning creation to a point where God’s mission can once again be taken up” (Exodus 13).  As such, God calls us to be a holy people, living in obedience to Him alone.

Works Cited

Anderson, Bernhard W. From Creation to New Creation: Old Testament Perspectives.Minneapolis:Augsburg FortressCanada, 1994.

Birch, Bruce C., Walter Brueggemann, and Terence E. Fretheim. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament.New   York: Abingdon P, 2005.

Fretheim, Terence E. Exodus.New York:Geneva P, 2003.

Fretheim, Terence E. God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation.New York: Abingdon P, 2005.

Gammie, John G. Holiness in Israel.Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2005.

Matthews, Victor H. Old Testament Themes.New York: Chalice P, 2000.

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