Creation as God’s temple

John Walton points out that often in the Ancient Near East, a temple dedication ceremony would take place over seven days’ time; for six days, the temple would be furnished and the priests would take up their posts, and finally on the seventh day the deity would come in to take residence and begin to exercise his/her authority. Walton argues that when the Hebrews heard the priests read the creation week of Genesis 1 to them, they would probably not have taken it (primarily, anyway) as a treatise on history or a scientific origins account but as a comosgony framed in terms of an analogy with the construction and resulting importance of the temple as God’s headquarters for the universe. Walton refers to Genesis 1 as a “temple text”: it is a literary form of analogy to the establishment of the sanctuary. His “rest” was not about sleep, but about settling in at the control booth and taking command of the cosmos He had set in place. Six days you shall work, rest on the Sabbath. In fact (and this is not from Walton), that’s why the Sabbath was not made for man, but man for the Sabbath: it became a day of doing nothing (even healing!), when, as Jesus demonstrated with the healing of the man with the withered hand, it was intended to be a day of doing the Lord’s work, a day set aside to remember God’s intention for the heavens and the earth (the implementation of His purposes).

Remember Isaiah 66.1: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house that you build for me?” Like the word “rest” in Genesis 1, this word commonly translated footstool may sound like it’s describing a simple Laz-E-Boy scenario. as most commentators recognize, the footstool language should conjure the image of the posture of the victorious ANE king with his foot on the neck of the defeated foe. It’s the picture of a king exercising authority and dominion. A king in this position could “rest” in the confidence that he was in control of the situation, but his kingly responsibilites were by no means complete. Footstool in passages like Isaiah 66.1 and Psalm 110.1 refers to those who have been subjugated; it is after this “rest” of conquest has been undertaken that the king’s reign over all his subjects is realized. Recall that Isaiah 66.1 is only a few verses after the passage in chapter 65 in which Isaiah describes the establishment of a new heavens and a new earth, which is the same setting as Genesis 1. Compare Ps 110.1: “The LORD said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet,’ ” which was quoted multiple times in the NT (Lu 20.43; Ac 2.35; Heb 1.13; 10.13). What Isaiah was envisioning in chapters 65 and 66 was a new order, a new throne and footstool; this time those forcibly subjugated would be those who had been nullifying God’s purpose for His house. Beginning with the “earth is my footstool” verse, Isaiah goes on to list God’s grievances against those whose right standing with God implied by their adherence to the Law was being contradicted by their character, because they weren’t honoring God with their actions.

The early Christians thought of themselves as the new temple being built up (e.g. Ep 2.20); if they recalled their ANE past, they would have anticipated their “dedication” after their completion and furnishing. This completion would be realized in the initialization of God’s full reign through Christ, which Christ would conduct by putting his enemies under his feet (1 Cor 15.24-27), the most obvious of which were of the same cloth as the “enemies” seen in Isaiah 66, the practitioners of the Mosaic covenant whose lips honored God but whose hearts were far from Him.

Genesis 1 is a description of God’s ordering of the cosmos in the familiar terms of the house of the Lord. Not an historical account of the creation of the physical universe, it is a carefully sculpted literary expression using the familiar terms of the covenant intended to bear witness to God’s preeminence over all creation.

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