Genesis 1:20-26

We are continuing in our verse by verse study of the book of Genesis. We are arriving at verse 20 and it is the fifth day of creation. It has often been noted that of the six active days of creation, there are three days of forming the earth and there are three days of filling it. In three days God forms the earth and thus the earth is ready for habitation, but in the next three days, he fills it. Now he is going to fill it with living creatures.

In verse 20, we read, “And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth, across the expanse of the heavens.’ So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.” (Genesis 1:20-23)

So on the fifth day of creation God, in this sequential, developmental understanding of the formation of the universe as we know it here on this planet, fills the seas and fills the air. Now, if you’ve ever been in a place where there is no life in the sea, you’ll notice how troubling that is. If you go to the Dead Sea, for instance, which has such a high mineral content that there is no aquatic life in it. No one goes fishing in the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has that name because its waters are death to live creatures. And it appears that it’s just this sea of death. 

Meanwhile, you go to any living water and you’ll notice very quickly that there are things in it and you don’t have to be Henry David Thoreau on Walden’s pond to have the experience of noticing that the water’s alive, that there are things in that water. When you’re a little child and in the shallows of a pond you play with tadpoles and little minnows. The little minnows come to surround you and you realize there are live things in this water. You’re there placidly and a fish breaks the surface of the water or a bird flies down and grabs a fish and goes off with it. Or you see other evidence of life in the water. I was just again down with some folks in salt water and you realize how alive it is. On the boat that I was on, there were two little boys and they were six and eight. And they yelled, “Shark!”, which turned out to be a false alarm. It wasn’t a shark, there were two porpoises that were playing in the wake of the boat. Their eyes got so big as they realized these animals were there and behind them were many others. One eventually said, “How many are there?” Well, there’s one, no, there’s two, there’s three, there was an entire pod of porpoises playing in the wake of the boat. And, uh, they were clearly having a blast. And you realize, yes, the seas are filled with all of these creatures filled with fish and crustaceans and plankton. And of course filled with sea mammals as well. 

God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures.” And you’ve seen these, for the first generation now, these massive pictures of these schools of fish in the depths of the sea. Now we have the ability to put these cameras down in the very deepest depths of the deepest part of the ocean, such as the Mariana Trench in the Pacific. There are creatures that are particularly created in order to withstand the almost unbelievable pressures of water at that depth. They are not handsome creatures, by our estimation, they are fearsome creatures. They look like something that could have been drawn by some kind of science fiction artist, but that’s the point, isn’t it? No science fiction, no imaginative depiction of what these creatures might look like is any stranger than how they actually look. By the way, one of the things that we’ve noted is that in ancient records, in ancient historians, there are records of creatures that people thought were invented. Yet now we know that some of them are simply these creatures in the great depth that sometimes get washed up on the shore or they get caught in a fishing net. All of a sudden you realize this thing’s not mythological, it’s altogether real and altogether is ugly as we were told. Fearsome sometimes. 

But what we have here are swarms. The point of verse 20 is God’s creative intention that the waters would not just be alive here and there, sometimes under certain circumstances with life, but the life would simply swarm within the waters. And thus, he said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures and let birds fly above the earth in the expanse of the heavens.” So in the seas and in the skies, God designed and created swarms of creatures. Great flock of birds. Not only flocks of many birds, but flocks of many kinds of birds and many flocks of their kinds, and also there in the sea. So God created the great sea creatures. Now, what are these great sea creatures? Well, they are certainly the whales and there certainly are the other large fish. There are some incredibly large fish and not only the great sea creatures, but every living creature that moves with which the water’s swarm. 

That word swarm comes again. In other words, it is indicating how fertile the earth is, how fecund the world is, how filled with life the world is. So having formed it, God now fills it. He doesn’t fill it in a small way. He doesn’t fill it with a sporadic evidence of his creative activity. He doesn’t put these creatures just here and there. He puts them in the seas where they swarm. He puts them in the sky where they swarm, every living creature that moves with which the waters swarm according to their kinds and every winged bird, according to its kind. Now the word that’s translated bird here really means anything with wings. Just like the fish commonly refer to everything that’s in the sea, even though we know some of them are mammals, so also when it says birds it is speaking of all winged creatures. As you know, there are some winged creatures that buzz and hover as well as those who fly and glide. And God saw that it was good. 

Before we go on, we need to recognize there are a couple of other cues to God’s glory in creation evident within these verses. For instance, it says, “God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds”. That word, according to their kinds, that phrase is very important. It is repeated, of course, with the winged birds, “and every winged bird, according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” God creates creatures according to their kind. Now, this is an indication that God has created species. God has created categories of animals. God created horses and cattle, as we shall see in the next day. But at this point, he has created all kinds of things that fill the sea and all kinds of birds and winged creatures that fill the air. Every one of them is according to its kind. It will reproduce according to its kind. 

When God created the trees, he said, and looking back here at verse 11, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” Now the importance of this really can’t be overstated because in confrontation with the dominant secular scientific worldview, that says that all life simply comes from one common source and developed along different trajectories and a different developmental patterns to the world that we know today filled with living creatures, animate and inanimate plants, vegetation, and then the animal kingdom and humans and all the rest, the scripture clearly says that God’s intention was reflected in the specific, sovereign designation of what we might call species, kinds. That’s evidenced in the fact that trees bear fruit in which is the seed so that what will reproduce will be its kind. So also is the seed in the animals that swarm in the sea and those that swarm in the air, such that you have reproduction according to kinds. 

There’s several implications of this. First of all, again, God’s creative glory is in the variety of the kinds and his delight in the kinds. It’s not just our delight, observing them. We need to remember God’s delight in creating them. That will become even more evident as we follow through, but at this point, just looking at the things that are in the waters and the things that are in the air, they just like the trees, are to reproduce according to its kind. There is a mandate for them to reproduce “And God blessed them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas and let the birds multiply on the earth.’” God’s mandate to reproduce is another implication of each of these creatures according to its kind. Two things here, first of all, God blesses them and secondly, God commands them. God blessed them, commanding be fruitful and multiply and fill. Be fruitful, multiply fill. 

I want you to notice that God here is commanding creatures. At this point, he is commanding sea creatures, air creatures. He is commanding fish and birds and he is commanding them to multiply. Now he commanded the trees to multiply, but not by speaking to them in the same way, but rather, “Let this happen.” But you’ll notice, to these creatures, he speaks directly, “Be fruitful and multiply.” God speaks to those that he’s created and tells them to multiply. God plants within them a desire, even rightly described as an instinct, to multiply.

God’s blessing is in the command to multiply, but it’s also a command to fill. In other words, God’s creatures by God’s own creator assignment, bear responsibility to continue his work of filling. God forms in three days, God fills in three days. But God fills in the beginning by creating the species, the kinds, and then by commanding them to multiply. It will be a pattern we will recognize as we get to the creation of humankind on the sixth day. So the blessing is in the command to multiply, which is a command to fill. The earth as God has created it is intended to be filled. Filling is a blessing.

God continues his activity. As we follow along with verse 24, “And God said, let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds – livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds. And it was so.”

God says, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” Now these are gonna be on the earth, not in the sea, not in the sky, but walking upon the earth and as we shall sea creeping, as well as walking. “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds – livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” So, livestock. From the very beginning, God intended some animals to be domesticated. That’s livestock. Livestock is differentiated here from the beasts of the field. Livestock are those animals that we have domesticated but God domesticated them first. In other words, God made certain animals to serve human beings rather directly. Livestock is a term that makes no sense in the wild. It only makes sense in civilization. Livestock is a sign that these animals are created in a particular way to serve the needs of humankind. 

“Livestock and creeping things.” Between livestock and beasts of the earth we’ve got creeping things. Creeping things are part of God’s design as well. Now, at this point they creep, creeping things. The clearest meaning to this is low on the earth. They’re creepy little things.

The word creepy to us is a negative word, unless you’re a fifth grade boy. For most people, creepy is a designation of things you would rather not run into. Close to the earth. At this point they don’t slither, they creep. Only after Genesis three do we have things that slither. No one ever uses the word slither positively. You never say, “Here’s the queen, she just slithered into the throne room.” That just doesn’t work. You don’t say, “Here’s grandma, she just slithered in the house.” That doesn’t work. Slither is a negative word, traveling on one’s belly, as the Scripture will say. At this point there are creeping things and the creepy things are necessary too. These creeping things are a part of the glory of God’s creation. These things that are frogs and reptiles and lizards and all these things. Livestock and creepy things and beasts of the earth, these beasts – does it not interest us that God in his sovereign action in creation thrilled in the variety of the beast of the earth? 

One of my ambitions is to go on a safari. I would love to be there in Africa and see so many of these beasts that I grew up watching on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. That was one of those instances of child abuse in my childhood, because that came on at a time that often conflicted with evening church on Sunday night. One had to be very sick in my household to see Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom or the Wonderful World of Disney. The Wonderful World of Disney turned out to be for Methodists and other people who did not have Sunday night church. The wonderful world of Sunday night service is where I was as a son, but every once in a while we would get to see it. There were other times when we could see Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. You remember there was Marlin Perkins who was the kindly zoologist or least posing as the expert and he had on his safari jacket and he had his distinguished mustache and he had his very specific elocution as he spoke of each of the animals. Then there was Jim, the poor guy that actually had to go risk life and limb to show you these animals. And so Marlon Perkins would say, “While, I’m here safely in the studio,Jim will be down here with the boa constrictor.” You know what that’s like. You look at it and for most of us, it was an amazing thing to see. 

In the great age of exploration it was fascinating to people, especially in Great Britain and in the United States to come face to face with these things, even by means of a photograph. They had heard of them but they really didn’t get to see them. In the age of exploration, they would bring back taxidermy models of these things. Sometimes they would fill zoos with them. The great day of the zoo was when all of a sudden in the age of exploration and as east India tea companies going to places they would, they would come across these things. You’d have Sumatran tigers brought to London and you would have polar bears brought to Berlin so that people could see these things face to face. Many children, as I did, had a great acquaintance with these animals by means of the National Geographic magazine. When you had these pictures that came, I devoured every single issue of National Geographic. Now we have Animal Planet. We have 24/7 wildlife shows. Why? Because we’re fascinated with them. We’re fascinated with the ones that are cute and cuddly, such as the koala bear, which turns out isn’t even a bear. And we’re interested in those that can kill us. There’s a great fascination with the things that will eat us and do so evidently without any tinge of conscience. God made these beasts, these creeping things, and the livestock, each according to its kinds.

“And it was so. And God made the beast of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” 

Now, when we began at verse 20, we saw when God created the fish and the swarms in the sea, the birds and the swarms in the air, he said, “It is good.” And God saw that it was good. Now he declares again, that it is good. On the fifth day of creation, we had the waters and the birds created. On the sixth day of creation we have the creation of the living creatures on the earth and eventually also the crowning glory of creation in terms of the creatures, the creation of men and women, of humankind. “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’”

Now you need to notice as you look at the different commands, you’ll notice that as you follow through the sequence, something now changes. God said in verse three, “Let there be light.” God says in verse six, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters.” God says in verse nine, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place and let the dry land appear.” God says in verse 11, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed.” God said in verse 14, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.” God says in verse 20, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures.” And God says in verse 24, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” And then God says in verse 26, “Let us make man.” Do you notice the difference? There is a pronoun here that is nonexistent in the previous commands. The previous command just said, “Let there be, let there be, let there be, let there be.” And because God sovereignly said, “Let there be,” it was, just as he said. But now God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” 

Now, what is this pronoun to indicate to us? Would this indicate merely a linguistic convention known as the plural of majesty? It could be. The reigning Monarch of England never uses the first person singular because he or she represents the nation. So queen Victoria, for instance, famously said when she wasn’t amused, “We are not amused.” She meant she, herself. That’s a we. The rest of us are an I. “We do this.” “We do that.” That’s the plural of majesty. Is that what’s going on here? Is this throne language? Is this royal, majestic language? Well, it’s certainly royal and it’s certainly majestic, but that’s not what is going on here. Or Is God referring back to all the things that he has made and including them in the plurality of this pronoun, us, let us make man? No, the animals aren’t invited to help make man. The beasts of the field, the livestock, they’re not invited to participate in this. So why the plural pronoun out of the sequence? It is because God here is about to create the only creature made in his image. And as he does so, he says, “Let us”.

There are clues already to the fact that there is a plural point of reference here. You don’t find it in the sequence of the first five days. You don’t even find it in the beginning of the sixth day with the creation of the livestock and the creeping things and the beasts. You find it in the first two verses. “In the beginning,” we read, “God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” From Genesis one on onward we will come to understand that the Spirit of God refers to God’s active presence in his creation. God is transcendent so he is apart from his creation, but by his Spirit he is present in creation, though not part of it. And he is active. His spirit is never inactive. His spirit is never merely a witness. His spirit is never merely a presence. It is always an active presence. We will come later to know to name this Spirit, the Holy Spirit. We will come to understand in the New Testament, the ministry of this Spirit. We have here a Trinitarian reference, but if we were not Christians, we would not know how to understand this. You say Trinitarian, you just mentioned the Father, not yet named as Father, but we know this is the Father and the Spirit. That’s two. Where is the third? Well, we come to know, by means of the New Testament, that Christ is here. And to that we will turn subsequently. But at this point with this strategic verse, it is important for us to recognize that God says, “Let us make man in our image.” In the New Testament, in the gospel of John, in the prologue to that Gospel, we read that Christ is the Logos, the Word through whom the Father created everything that is. We have here, the Spirit of God, his active presence in creation. We have the Creator, who will be designated as Father, and of course that designates relationship. He isn’t a Father yet until he has created the human creatures who will know him as Heavenly Father. And we have Christ whom we know to be present here by means of the New Testament. 

Here we have a distinction in how God speaks, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Now the word likeness becomes important here. What kind of likeness will this be? Well, since there is no body, God does not have a form, this likeness is going to have to mean something else. But the important thing for us to recognize here in this sixth day of creation is that we have reached a climactic point. It is climactic in the sense that everything that has been created in terms of the forming and in terms of the filling has gotten us ready for this. This is something different than whatever has come before. What has come before is the creation of living things, including vegetation, trees that have seed in their fruit, according to their kinds. Then the swarming things of the sea, each reproducing according to its kind, the birds of the air, each reproducing according to its kind. Then we have the creation of the creatures on the sixth day, these who are livestock and creeping things and beasts and God speaks to them and says to them, “Reproduce.” And they do. And they will, according to their kinds.But there’s more. 

God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our lightness.” And we shall see something that isn’t said of any other creature, “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” What we have here in the sequence of creation, by the time we arrive here in the highest point of the sixth day, is that it turns out that the forming and the filling was to come to a climactic conclusion in the creation of the one creature made in God’s own image. He will not be, himself, imaged in creation by means of an idol. He will not, as we shall see, allow any idol even to be brought into his presence, but he stamps his likeness on this final creature he creates, when in this Trinitarian reference he says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. You’ll notice that what is immediately said thereafter is, “Let them have dominion.” It’s not said over anything else.

The fish aren’t told to rule over the birds. The birds aren’t told to rule over the giraffes. The beasts aren’t told to rule over the livestock. The livestock aren’t told to rule over the creeping things. They simply do what they do. They operate by what we will later call instinct. They have a very, very specific place within what we would call their habitat or their environment, and they stay there. They will act in ways that will sometimes seem very complex. Termites will build these massive termite mounds that you see in Africa. Bees will operate with what must be described as a bee civilization. Beavers build dams, they act in amazing ways, but they don’t have dominion. Beavers build dams but they don’t arrest cattle. Termites build these magnificent mounds but they don’t hunt birds. In other words, each has its own slot. Each has its own role. Each lives out that role to the glory of God. The termite building its mound thinks it’s merely building a mound because this is where they live, and this is where they reproduce, and this is where they colonize. He doesn’t know he is doing it for the glory of God. He’s not taking dominion, he’s just operating by instinct.

You watch the beaver, he’s doing the same thing. A farmer one time who told me that his land was being flooded because every time you turn around, the beavers would build a dam. And he said, “I would just go back and destroy the dam.” He said, “I know that sounds mean but it was my farm or the beavers. They can move somewhere else.” The problem is they wouldn’t move anywhere else. Tear down the dam and a week later there’d be another dam. He’d tear down the dam and they would build another dam. And he said he’d actually look at the beavers and they would stare at him. He said, “I wasn’t gonna kill ’em, I just wanted them to stop flooding my land.” Well, they’re not taking dominion. They’re simply operating out of instinct. If they were smarter beavers, they would have moved down somewhere. And if they were beavers with dominion, they’d shoot the farmer. They’d tear down his house. That’s not the way they operate. Each of these creatures, each of these living things before the creation of humanity, has a place where it displays the glory of God but does not do so by means of dominion and does not do so consciously. 

We have to pause here in order to say that when we come back to look at this sixth day of creation and its conclusion and the creation of the human creature, we’re going to note that the storyline of the Bible now begins in terms of God’s dealing with humanity. In order to get that story right, we have to get it right from the very beginning, which means we have to understand everything that has been given us here in Genesis one, and later in Genesis two, to understand who is this creature we are. Why are we different than all of the other creatures? Why is God’s glory in what he is assigned to us? And what purpose does all of this point toward in terms of the drama of redemption that will follow?

Forming and filling. There’s so much here to recognize, so much here to ponder, but as we close at this point, we need to recognize that the verdict in all of this has been uniform. It’s good. Everything is as God wants it to be but he isn’t finished yet. 

Let’s pray. “Father, we are so thankful for all that you give us in these verses in a sequential understanding of your creation, that fills less than a page of our text, but fills the earth with your glory. Father, we pray to keep these things alive in our minds as we ponder them in our hearts. We pray that your Holy Spirit will apply these truths to our hearts, to conform us to the image of Christ until we meet again. And we pray this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.