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. https://i2.wp.com/blessedquietness.com/alhaj/ass-king.gif?resize=330%2C398But 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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  • Doug Moody

    Steve,

    I agree completely with your anlysis of these sometimes difficult passages. But I would like to know your view about the LITERAL establishment of these events.

    Do you feel, for example, that the earth was created in seven days (whether 7 long periods or 7 24-hour days) or whether this was just a literary device to point out, maybe, the significance of the number 7?

    This question has been bugging me for a while now, because although I used to be a literalist, I have read many posts like yours in which authors interpret the events of the bible in STRICT metaphorical terms. Meaning, in many cases, that there is no room for the event to have ACTUALLY happened (regardless of whether or not there are metaphorical underpinnings)

    This bothers me because I see no problem with an event of the bible to have BOTH a foundation in reality AND a metaphorical meaning. Yet, I read many commentaries that seek to negate the actual happening and explain it away as pure allegory or metaphor. Can’t it be BOTH? What is your opinion about the events of the bible. Did they all literally happen, or are they just mythological stories intended to teach us other lessons?

  • Doug Moody

    Steve,

    I agree completely with your anlysis of these sometimes difficult passages. But I would like to know your view about the LITERAL establishment of these events.

    Do you feel, for example, that the earth was created in seven days (whether 7 long periods or 7 24-hour days) or whether this was just a literary device to point out, maybe, the significance of the number 7?

    This question has been bugging me for a while now, because although I used to be a literalist, I have read many posts like yours in which authors interpret the events of the bible in STRICT metaphorical terms. Meaning, in many cases, that there is no room for the event to have ACTUALLY happened (regardless of whether or not there are metaphorical underpinnings)

    This bothers me because I see no problem with an event of the bible to have BOTH a foundation in reality AND a metaphorical meaning. Yet, I read many commentaries that seek to negate the actual happening and explain it away as pure allegory or metaphor. Can’t it be BOTH? What is your opinion about the events of the bible. Did they all literally happen, or are they just mythological stories intended to teach us other lessons?

  • Doug Moody

    Steve,

    Maybe you missed my question in m last comment. I would like to know your thoughts on it please:

    “What is your opinion about the events of the bible. Did they all literally happen, or are they just mythological stories intended to teach us other lessons?”

  • Doug Moody

    Steve,

    Maybe you missed my question in m last comment. I would like to know your thoughts on it please:

    “What is your opinion about the events of the bible. Did they all literally happen, or are they just mythological stories intended to teach us other lessons?”

  • Doug,
    No, I didn’t miss your question — I simply lost track of my blog’s comments. Family, holidays, personal responsibilities…general absent-mindedness, you know. 🙂

    I’m a little confused by this question because the way I’m reading it, it seems to be asking something I’ve made myself clear about (and about which you and I have interacted before). They did not all literally happen (we determine this by genre identification, historical studies, and the like), even when the authors might have thought they did; some stories were not historiographical and were certainly intended by their authors to teach other lessons that are still meaningful to us.

    Genesis 1 (above), while probably bearing the meaning I described in the post, is certainly not also possible to have “actually happened” based on a multitude of reasons; this is not (as you fear it might be) determined by some blind “either literal or metaphorical” rule, but on a reasoned analysis. Before we had comparative literary or scientific data to help guide us in interpreting Genesis 1, we could have recognized its meaning and maintained agnosticism about its historicity.

    Whether something like the story of Jonah whose enduring meaning lies outside of historicity could have also happened is not a particularly interesting question to me, especially when it’s wholly unverifiable. If the Jonah story were to be (somehow) definitively disproved as an historical account, it wouldn’t matter to me at all. Here again, we make judgments about stories based on their literary character and extrabiblial sources of information corroborating or problematizing them.

    Am I approaching the intent of your question? 🙂

  • Doug,
    No, I didn’t miss your question — I simply lost track of my blog’s comments. Family, holidays, personal responsibilities…general absent-mindedness, you know. 🙂

    I’m a little confused by this question because the way I’m reading it, it seems to be asking something I’ve made myself clear about (and about which you and I have interacted before). They did not all literally happen (we determine this by genre identification, historical studies, and the like), even when the authors might have thought they did; some stories were not historiographical and were certainly intended by their authors to teach other lessons that are still meaningful to us.

    Genesis 1 (above), while probably bearing the meaning I described in the post, is certainly not also possible to have “actually happened” based on a multitude of reasons; this is not (as you fear it might be) determined by some blind “either literal or metaphorical” rule, but on a reasoned analysis. Before we had comparative literary or scientific data to help guide us in interpreting Genesis 1, we could have recognized its meaning and maintained agnosticism about its historicity.

    Whether something like the story of Jonah whose enduring meaning lies outside of historicity could have also happened is not a particularly interesting question to me, especially when it’s wholly unverifiable. If the Jonah story were to be (somehow) definitively disproved as an historical account, it wouldn’t matter to me at all. Here again, we make judgments about stories based on their literary character and extrabiblial sources of information corroborating or problematizing them.

    Am I approaching the intent of your question? 🙂

  • Doug Moody

    Steve,
    “Am I approaching the intent of your question? ”

    Yes you are. I think sometimes I am just a simpleton who wants yes and no answers to things. I am pretty methodical, and I don’t just accept things because others do. I look for the evidence and unless/until I see it as a preponderance of evidence, I won’t jump.

    So it is with this issue. I first of all don’t see a REASON to embrace an either/or position regarding the literalness versus mythological question. Personally, I don’t see many reasons to believe that the stories cannot have happened as related, AS WELL AS being metaphorical and allegorical. That is, I cannot see why the stories did not happen as related and that we can find the deeper meaning behind the actual events! Why must they be proven to have not happened as related? Is there some reason to beleive otherwise? Is it an issue about wanting to relegate everything to the natural and explainable? Is there no room for miraculous things to have happened, through God’s hand working in the affaris of men, and for God to have worked them out as He did to teach us lessons?
    Isn’t Hebrews plain in explaining that the events of Israel and the old covenant were shadows intended to point to the realities?
    So again, I just wanted to know where you were coming from on this so that I could understand, maybe, where you are headed! My mind isn’t closed on this, it just doesn’t compute that I have to decide that some things have to have been non-literal for them to also have a spiritual lesson to learn.
    That’s the simpleton in me! 🙂

  • Doug Moody

    Steve,
    “Am I approaching the intent of your question? ”

    Yes you are. I think sometimes I am just a simpleton who wants yes and no answers to things. I am pretty methodical, and I don’t just accept things because others do. I look for the evidence and unless/until I see it as a preponderance of evidence, I won’t jump.

    So it is with this issue. I first of all don’t see a REASON to embrace an either/or position regarding the literalness versus mythological question. Personally, I don’t see many reasons to believe that the stories cannot have happened as related, AS WELL AS being metaphorical and allegorical. That is, I cannot see why the stories did not happen as related and that we can find the deeper meaning behind the actual events! Why must they be proven to have not happened as related? Is there some reason to beleive otherwise? Is it an issue about wanting to relegate everything to the natural and explainable? Is there no room for miraculous things to have happened, through God’s hand working in the affaris of men, and for God to have worked them out as He did to teach us lessons?
    Isn’t Hebrews plain in explaining that the events of Israel and the old covenant were shadows intended to point to the realities?
    So again, I just wanted to know where you were coming from on this so that I could understand, maybe, where you are headed! My mind isn’t closed on this, it just doesn’t compute that I have to decide that some things have to have been non-literal for them to also have a spiritual lesson to learn.
    That’s the simpleton in me! 🙂

  • I quote Walton, other Evangelicals, and mainstream scholars and present the evidence for Genesis 1 being neither history nor science in my article, “The Cosmology of the Bible,” sent on request (it recently appeared in print, but I don’t wish to send e-copies, only printed copies), please email me your snail mail address and I’ll send you a copy: leonardo3 {a t] msn [d ot} com

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