Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
gen 1:1Observe here. 1. The effect produced, The heaven and the earth - That is, the world, including the whole frame and furniture of the universe. But 'tis only the visible part of the creation that Moses designs to give an account of. Yet even in this there are secrets which cannot be fathomed, nor accounted for. But from what we see of heaven and earth, we may infer the eternal power and godhead of the great Creator. And let our make and place, as men, mind us of our duty, as Christians, which is always to keep heaven in our eye, and the earth under our feet.
Observe 2. The author and cause of this great work, God. The Hebrew word is Elohim; which (1.) seems to mean The Covenant God, being derived from a word that signifies to swear. (2.) The plurality of persons in the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The plural name of God in Hebrew, which speaks of him as many, tho' he be but one, was to the Gentiles perhaps a favour of death unto death, hardening them in their idolatry; but it is to us a favour of life unto life, confirming our faith in the doctrine of the Trinity, which, tho' but darkly intimated in the Old Testament, is clearly revealed in the New.
Observe 3. The manner how this work was effected; God created, that is, made it out of nothing. There was not any pre - existent matter out of which the world was produced. The fish and fowl were indeed produced out of the waters, and the beasts and man out of the earth; but that earth and those waters were made out of nothing.
Observe 4. When this work was produced; In the beginning - That is, in the beginning of time. Time began with the production of those beings that are measured by time. Before the beginning of time there was none but that Infinite Being that inhabits eternity. Should we ask why God made the world no sooner, we should but darken counsel by words without knowledge; for how could there be sooner or later in eternity?
gen 1:2Where we have an account of the first matter, and the first Mover. 1. A chaos was the first matter. 'Tis here called the earth, (tho' the earth, properly taken, was not made 'till the third day, Gen 1:10) because it did most resemble that which was afterwards called earth, a heavy unwieldy mass. 'Tis also called the deep, both for its vastness, and because the waters which were afterwards separated from the earth were now mixed with it. This mighty bulk of matter was it, out of which all bodies were afterwards produced. The Creator could have made his work perfect at first, but by this gradual proceeding he would shew what is ordinarily the method of his providence, and grace. This chaos, was without form and void. Tohu and Bohu, confusion and emptiness, so those words are rendered, Isa 34:11. 'Twas shapeless, 'twas useless, 'twas without inhabitants, without ornaments; the shadow or rough draught of things to come. To those who have their hearts in heaven, this lower world, in comparison of the upper, still appears to be confusion and emptiness. And darkness was upon the face of the deep - God did not create this darkness, (as he is said to create the darkness of affliction, Isa 45:7.) for it was only the want of light. 2. The Spirit of God was the first Mover; He moved upon the face of the waters - He moved upon the face of the deep, as the hen gathereth her chicken under her wings, and hovers over them, to warm and cherish them, Mat 23:37 as the eagle stirs up her nest, and fluttereth over her young, ('tis the same word that is here used) Deu 32:11.
gen 1:3We have here a farther account of the first day's work. In which observe, 1. That the first of all visible beings which God created was light, the great beauty and blessing of the universe: like the first - born, it doth, of all visible beings, most resemble its great parent in purity and power, brightness and beneficence. 2. That the light was made by the word of God's power; He said, Let there be light - He willed it, and it was done; there was light - Such a copy as exactly answered the original idea in the eternal mind. 3. That the light which God willed, he approved of. God saw the light, that it was good - 'Twas exactly as he designed it; and it was fit to answer the end for which he designed it. 4. That God divided the light from the darkness - So put them asunder as they could never be joined together: and yet he divided time between them, the day for light, and the night for darkness, in a constant succession. Tho' the darkness was now scattered by the light, yet it has its place, because it has its use; for as the light of the morning befriends the business of the day, so the shadows of the evening befriend the repose of the night. God has thus divided between light and darkness, because he would daily mind us that this is a world of mixtures and changes. In heaven there is perpetual light, and no darkness; in hell utter darkness, and no light: but in this world they are counter - changed, and we pass daily from one to another; that we may learn to expect the like vicissitudes in the providence of God. 5. That God divided them from each other by distinguishing names. He called the light Day, and the darkness he called night - He gave them names as Lord of both. He is the Lord of time, and will be so 'till day and night shall come to an end, and the stream of time be swallowed up in the ocean of eternity. 6. That this was the first day's work, The evening and the morning were the first day - The darkness of the evening was before the light of the morning, that it might set it off, and make it shine the brighter.
gen 1:6We have here an account of the second day's work, the creation of the firmament. In which observe, 1. The command of God; Let there be a firmament - An expansion; so the Hebrew word signifies, like a sheet spread, or a curtain drawn out. This includes all that is visible above the earth, between it and the third heavens, the air, its higher, middle, and lower region, the celestial globe, and all the orbs of light above; it reaches as high as the place where the stars are fixed, for that is called here the firmament of heaven, Gen 1:14-15, and as low as the place where the birds fly for that also is called the firmament of heaven, Gen 1:20. 2. The creation of it: and God made the firmament. 3. The design of it; to divide the waters from the waters - That is, to distinguish between the waters that are wrapt up in the clouds, and those that cover the sea; the waters in the air, and those in the earth. 4. The naming it; He called the firmament Heaven - 'Tis the visible heaven, the pavement of the holy city. The height of the heavens should mind us of God's supremacy, and the infinite distance that is between us and him; the brightness of the heavens, and their purity, should mind us of his majesty, and perfect holiness; the vastness of the heavens, and their encompassing the earth, and influence upon it, should mind us of his immensity and universal providence.
gen 1:9The third day's work is related in these verses; the forming the sea and the dry land, and making the earth fruitful. Hitherto the power of the Creator had been employed about the upper part of the visible world; now he descends to this lower world, designed for the children of men, both for their habitation, and their maintenance. And here we have an account of the fitting of it for both; the building of their house, and the spreading of their table.
Observe, 1. How the earth was prepared to be a habitation for man by the gathering of the waters together, and making the dry land appear. Thus, instead of that confusion which was, when earth and water were mixed in one great mass; now there is order, by such a separation as rendered them both useful. (1.) The waters which covered the earth were ordered to retire, and to gather into one place, viz. those hollows which were fitted for their reception. The waters thus lodged in their proper place, he called Seas; for though they are many, in distant regions, yet either above ground or under ground, they have communication with each other, and so they are one, and the common receptacle of waters, into which all the rivers run. (2.) The dry land was made to appear, and emerge out of the waters, and was called Earth.
Observe, 2. How the earth was furnished for the support of man, Gen 1:11-12. Present provision was made, by the immediate products of the earth, which, in obedience to God's command, was no sooner made but it became fruitful. Provision was likewise made for time to come, by the perpetuating of the several species of vegetables, every one having its seed in itself after its kind, that during the continuance of man upon the earth, food might be fetched out of the earth, for his use and benefit.
gen 1:14This is the history of the fourth day's work, the creating the sun, moon and stars. Of this we have an account, In general, verse 14, 15. where we have, The command given concerning them. Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven - God had said, Gen 1:3 Let there be light, and there was light; but that was, as it were, a chaos of light, scattered and confused; now it was collected and made into several luminaries, and so rendered both more glorious and more serviceable. The use they were intended to be of to this earth. They must be for the distinction of times, of day and night, summer and winter. They must be for the direction of actions: they are for signs of the change of weather, that the husbandman may order his affairs with discretion. They do also give light upon the earth - That we may walk Joh 11:9 and work Joh 9:4 according as the duty of every day requires. The lights of heaven do not shine for themselves, nor for the world of spirits above, they need them not; but they shine for us, and for our pleasure and advantage. Lord, what is man that he should be thus regarded, Psa 8:3-4. In particular, Gen 1:16-18, The lights of heaven are the sun, moon and stars, and these all are the work of God's hands. The sun is the greatest light of all, and the most glorious and useful of all the lamps of heaven; a noble instance of the Creator's wisdom, power and goodness, and an invaluable blessing to the creatures of this lower world. The moon is a lesser light, and yet is here reckoned one of the greater lights, because, though in regard of its magnitude, it is inferior to many of the stars, yet in respect of its usefulness to the earth, it is more excellent than they. He made the stars also - Which are here spoken of only in general; for the scriptures were written not to gratify our curiosity, but to lead us to God. Now, these lights are said to rule, Gen 1:16, Gen 1:18; not that they have a supreme dominion as God has, but they are rulers under him. Here the lesser light, the moon, is said to rule the night; but Psa 136:9 the stars are mentioned as sharers in that government, the moon and stars to rule by night. No more is meant, but that they give light, Jer 31:35. The best and most honourable way of ruling is, by giving light, and doing good.
gen 1:20Each day hitherto hath produced very excellent beings, but we do not read of the creation of any living creature till the fifth day. The work of creation not only proceeded gradually from one thing to another, but advanced gradually from that which was less excellent, to that which was more so. 'Twas on the fifth day that the fish and fowl were created, and both out of the waters.
Observe, 1. The making of the fish and fowl at first. Gen 1:20-21 God commanded them to be produced, he said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly - The fish in the waters, and the fowl out of them. This command he himself executed, God created great whales, &c. - Insects which are as various as any species of animals, and their structure as curious, were part of this day's work, some of them being allied to the fish, and others to the fowl. Notice is here taken of the various species of fish and fowl, each after their kind; and of the great numbers of both that were produced, for the waters brought forth abundantly; and in particular of great whales the largest of fishes, whose bulk and strength, are remarkable proofs of the power and greatness of the Creator.
Observe, 2, The blessing of them in order to their continuance. Life is a wasting thing, its strength is not the strength of stones; therefore the wise Creator not only made the individuals, but provided for the propagating of the several species, Gen 1:22. God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply - Fruitfullness is the effect of God's blessing, and must be ascribed to it; the multiplying of the fish and fowl from year to year, is still the fruit of this blessing here.
gen 1:24We have here the first part of the sixth day's work. The sea was the day before replenished with fish, and the air with fowl; and this day are made the beasts of the earth, cattle, and the creeping things that pertain to the earth. Here, as before, (1.) The Lord gave the word: he said, Let The earth bring forth - Let these creatures come into being upon the earth, and out of it, in their respective kinds. 2. He also did the work; he made them all after their kind - Not only of divers shapes, but of divers natures, manners, food, and fashions: In all which appears the manifold wisdom of the Creator.
gen 1:26We have here the second part of the sixth day's work, the creation of man, which we are in a special manner concerned to take notice of. Observe, That man was made last of all the creatures, which was both an honour and a favour to him: an honour, for the creation was to advance from that which was less perfect, to that which was more so and a favour, for it was not fit he should be lodged in the palace designed for him, till it was completely fitted and furnished for his reception. Man, as soon as he was made, had the whole visible creation before him, both to contemplate, and to take the comfort of. That man's creation was a mere signal act of divine wisdom and power, than that of the other creatures. The narrative of it is introduced with solemnity, and a manifest distinction from the rest. Hitherto it had been said, Let there be light, and Let there be a firmament: but now the word of command is turned into a word of consultation, Let us make man - For whose sake the rest of the creatures were made. Man was to be a creature different from all that had been hitherto made. Flesh and spirit, heaven and earth must be put together in him, and he must be allied to both worlds. And therefore God himself not only undertakes to make, but is pleased so to express himself, as if he called a council to consider of the making of him; Let us make man - The three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, consult about it, and concur in it; because man, when he was made, was to be dedicated and devoted to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. That man was made in God's image, and after his likeness; two words to express the same thing. God's image upon man, consists,
In his nature, not that of his body, for God has not a body, but that of his soul. The soul is a spirit, an intelligent, immortal spirit, an active spirit, herein resembling God, the Father of spirits, and the soul of the world. In his place and authority. Let us make man in our image, and let him have dominion. As he has the government of the inferior creatures, he is as it were God's representative on earth. Yet his government of himself by the freedom of his will, has in it more of God's image, than his government of the creatures. And chiefly in his purity and rectitude. God's image upon man consists in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, Eph 4:24; Col 3:10. He was upright, Ecc 7:29. He had an habitual conformity of all his natural powers to the whole will of God. His understanding saw divine things clearly, and there were no errors in his knowledge: his will complied readily and universally with the will of God; without reluctancy: his affections were all regular, and he had no inordinate appetites or passions: his thoughts were easily fixed to the best subjects, and there was no vanity or ungovernableness in them. And all the inferior powers were subject to the dictates of the superior. Thus holy, thus happy, were our first parents, in having the image of God upon them. But how art thou fallen, O son of the morning? How is this image of God upon man defaced! How small are the remains of it, and how great the ruins of it! The Lord renew it upon our souls by his sanctifying grace! That man was made male and female, and blessed with fruitfulness. He created him male and female, Adam and Eve: Adam first out of earth, and Eve out of his side. God made but one male and one female, that all the nations of men might know themselves to be made of one blood, descendants, from one common stock, and might thereby be induced to love one another. God having made them capable of transmitting the nature they had received, said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth - Here he gave them,
A large inheritance; replenish the earth, in which God has set man to be the servant of his providence, in the government of the inferior creatures, and as it were the intelligence of this orb; to be likewise the collector of his praises in this lower world, and lastly, to be a probationer for a better state. A numerous lasting family to enjoy this inheritance; pronouncing a blessing upon them, in the virtue of which, their posterity should extend to the utmost corners of the earth, and continue to the utmost period of time.
That God gave to man a dominion over the inferior creatures, over fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air - Though man provides for neither, he has power over both, much more over every living thing that moveth upon the earth - God designed hereby to put an honour upon man, that he might find himself the more strongly obliged to bring honour to his Maker.
gen 1:29We have here the third part of the sixth day's work, which was not any new creation, but a gracious provision of food for all flesh, Psa 136:25. - Here is, 1. Food provided for man, Gen 1:29. herbs and fruits must be his meat, including corn, and all the products of the earth. And before the earth was deluged, much more before it was cursed for man's sake, its fruits no doubt, were more pleasing to the taste, and more strengthening and nourishing to the body. 2. Food provided for the beasts, Gen 1:30. Doth God take care of oxen? Yes, certainly, he provides food convenient for them; and not for oxen only that were used in his sacrifices, and man's service, but even the young lions and the young ravens are the care of his providence, they ask and have their meat from God.
gen 1:31We have here the approbation and conclusion of the whole work of creation. Observe, The review God took of his work, he saw every thing that he had made - So he doth still; all the works of his hands are under his eye; he that made all sees all. The complacency God took in his work. When we come to review our works we find to our shame, that much has been very bad; but when God reviewed his, all was very good. 1. It was good. Good, for it is all agreeable to the mind of the creator. Good, for it answers the end of its creation. Good, for it is serviceable to man, whom God had appointed lord of the visible creation. Good, for it is all for God's glory; there is that in the whole visible creation which is a demonstration of God's being and perfections, and which tends to beget in the soul of man a religious regard to him. 2. It was very good - Of each day's work (except the second) it was said that it was good, but now it is very good. For, 1. Now man was made, who was the chief of the ways of God, the visible image of the Creator's glory, 2. Now All was made, every part was good, but all together very good. The glory and goodness, the beauty and harmony of God's works both of providence and grace, as this of creation, will best appear when they are perfected. The time when this work was concluded. The evening and the morning were the sixth day - So that in six days God made the world. We are not to think but that God could have made the world in an instant: but he did it in six days, that he might shew himself a free agent, doing his own work, both in his own way, and in his own time; that his wisdom, power and goodness, might appear to us, and be meditated upon by us, the more distinctly; and that he might set us an example of working six days, and resting the seventh. And now as God reviewed his work, let us review our meditations upon it; let us stir up ourselves, and all that is within us, to worship him that made the, heaven, earth, and sea, and the fountains of waters. All his works in all places of his dominion bless him, and therefore bless thou the Lord, O my soul.