THE BOOK OF GENESIS.
The Hebrews now entitle all the Five Books of Moses, from the initial words, which originally were written like one continued word or verse; but the Sept. have preferred to give the titles the most memorable occurrences of each work. On this occasion, the Creation of all things out of nothing, strikes us with peculiar force. We find a refutation of all the heathenish mythology, and of the world's eternity, which Aristotle endeavoured to establish. We behold the short reign of innocence, and the origin of sin and misery, the dispersion of nations, and the providence of God watching over his chosen people, till the death of Joseph, about the year 2369 (Usher) 2399 (Sal. and Tirin) B.C. 1631. We shall witness the same care in the other Books of Scripture, and adore his wisdom and goodness in preserving to himself faithful witnesses, and a true Holy Catholic Church, in all ages, even when the greatest corruption seemed to overspread the land. H.
--- This Book is so called from its treating of the Generation, that is, of the Creation and the beginning of the world. The Hebrews call it Bereshith, from the word with which it begins. It contains not only the History of the Creation of the World, but also an account of its progress during the space of 2369 years, that is, until the death of Joseph.
Ver. 1. Beginning. As St. Matthew begins his Gospel with the same title as this work, the Book of the Generation, or Genesis, so St. John adopts the first words of Moses, in the beginning; but he considers a much higher order of things, even the consubstantial Son of God, the same with God from all eternity, forming the universe, in the beginning of time, in conjunction with the other two Divine Persons, by the word of his power; for all things were made by Him, the Undivided Deity. H.
--- Elohim, the Judges or Gods, denoting plurality, is joined with a verb singular, he created, whence many, after Peter Lombard, have inferred, that in this first verse of Genesis the adorable mystery of the Blessed Trinity is insinuated, as they also gather from various other passages of the Old Testament, though it was not clearly revealed till our Saviour came himself to be the finisher of our faith. C.
--- The Jews being a carnal people and prone to idolatry, might have been in danger of misapplying this great mystery, and therefore an explicit belief of it was not required of them in general. See Collet. &c. H.
--- The word bara, created, is here determined by tradition and by reason to mean a production out of nothing, though it be used also to signify the forming of a thing out of pre-existing matter. 21. 27. C.
--- The first cause of all things must be God, who, in a moment, spoke, and heaven and earth were made, heaven with all the Angels; and the whole mass of the elements, in a state of confusion, and blended together, out of which the beautiful order, which was afterwards so admirable, arose in the space of six days: thus God was pleased to manifest his free choice in opposition to those Pagans who attributed all to blind chance or fate. Heaven is here placed first, and is not declared empty and dark like the earth; that we may learn to raise our minds and hearts above this land of trial, to that our true country, where we may enjoy God for ever. H.
Ver. 2. Spirit of God, giving life, vigour, and motion to things, and preparing the waters for the sacred office of baptism, in which, by the institution of J. C., we must be born again; and, like spiritual fishes, swim amid the tempestuous billows of this world. v. Tert. &c. W. H.
---This Spirit is what the Pagan philosophers styled the Soul of the World. C.
--- If we compare their writings with the books of Moses and the prophets, we shall find that they agree in many points. See Grotius. H.
Ver. 3. Light. The sun was made on the fourth day, and placed in the firmament to distinguish the seasons, &c.; but the particles of fire were created on the first day, and by their, or the earth's motion, served to discriminate day from the preceding night, or darkness, which was upon the face of the deep. H.
--- Perhaps this body of light might resemble the bright cloud which accompanied the Israelites, Ex. xiv. 19, or the three first days might have a kind of imperfect sun, or be like one of our cloudy days. Nothing can be defined with certainty respecting the nature of this primeval light. C.
Ver. 4. Good; beautiful and convenient:
---he divided light by giving it qualities incompatible with darkness, which is not any thing substantial, and therefore Moses does not say it was created. C.
--- While our hemisphere enjoys the day, the other half of the world is involved in darkness. S. Augustine supposes the fall and punishment of the apostate angels are here insinuated. L. imp. de Gen. H.
Ver. 6. A firmament. By this name is here understood the whole space between the earth and the highest stars. The lower part of which divideth the waters that are upon the earth, from those that are above in the clouds. Ch.
--- The Heb. Rokia is translated stereoma, solidity by the Sept., and expansion by most of the moderns. The heavens are often represented as a tent spread out, Ps. ciii. 3. C.
Ver. 7. Above the firmament and stars, according to some of the Fathers; or these waters were vapours and clouds arising from the earth, and really divided from the lower waters contained in the sea. C.
Ver. 11. Seed in itself, either in the fruit or leaves, or slips. M.
--- At the creation, trees were covered with fruit in Armenia, while in the more northern regions they would not even have leaves: Calmet hence justly observes, that the question concerning the season of the year when the world began, must be understood only with reference to that climate in which Adam dwelt. Scaliger asserts, that the first day corresponds with our 26th of October, while others, particularly the Greeks, fix it upon the 25th of March, on which day Christ was conceived; and, as some Greeks say, was born and nailed to the cross. The great part of respectable authors declare for the vernal equinox, when the year is in all its youth and beauty. H. See T. and Salien's Annals, B.C. Christ 4053.
Ver. 14. For signs. Not to countenance the delusive observations of astrologers, but to give notice of rain, of the proper seasons for sowing, &c. M.
--- If the sun was made on the first day, as some assert, there is nothing new created on this fourth day. By specifying the use and creation of these heavenly bodies, Moses shows the folly of the Gentiles, who adored them as gods, and the impiety of those who pretend that human affairs are under the fatal influence of the planets. See S. Aug. Confes. iv. 3. The Heb. term mohadim, which is here rendered seasons, may signify either months, or the times for assembling to worship God; (C.) a practice, no doubt, established from the beginning every week, and probably also the first day of the new moon, a day which the Jews afterwards religiously observed. Plato calls the sun and planets the organs of time, of which, independently of their stated revolutions, man could have formed no conception. The day is completed in twenty-four hours, during which space the earth moves round its axis, and express successively different parts of its surface to the sun. It goes at a rate of fifty-eight thousand miles an hour, and completes its orbit in the course of a year. H.
Ver. 16. Two great lights. God created on the first day light, which being moved from east to west, by its rising and setting made morning and evening. But on the fourth day he ordered and distributed this light, and made the sun, moon, and stars. The moon, though much less than the stars, is here called a great light, from its giving a far greater light to earth than any of them. Ch.
--- To rule and adorn, for nothing appears so glorious as the sun and moon. M.
--- Many have represented the stars, as well as the sun and moon, to be animated. Ecclesiastes xvi, speaking of the sun says, the spirit goeth forward surveying all places: and in Esdras ix. 6, the Levites address God, Thou hast made heaven and all the host thereof; and thou givest life to all these things, and the host of heaven adoreth thee. S. Aug. Ench. and others, consider this question as not pertaining to faith. See Spen. in Orig. c. Cels. v. C.
--- Whether the stars be the suns of other worlds, and whether the moon, &c. be inhabited, philosophers dispute, without being able to come to any certain conclusion: for God has delivered the world to their consideration for dispute, so that man cannot find out the work which God hath made from the beginning to the end, Eccles. iii. 11. If we must frequently confess our ignorance concerning the things which surround us, how shall we pretend to dive into the designs of God, or subject the mysteries of faith to our feeble reason? If we think the Scriptures really contradict the systems of philosophers, ought we to pay greater deference to the latter, than to the unerring word of God? But we must remember, that the sacred writings were given to instruct us in the way to heaven, and not to unfold to us the systems of natural history; and hence God generally addresses us in a manner best suited to our conceptions, and speaks of nature as it appears to the generality of mankind. At the same time, we may confidently asset, that the Scriptures never assert what is false. If we judge, with the vulgar, that the sun, moon, and stars are no larger than they appear to our naked eye, we shall still have sufficient reason to admire the works of God; but, if we are enabled to discover that the sun's diameter, for example, is 763 thousand miles, and its distance from our earth about 95 million miles, and the fixed stars (as they are called, though probably all in motion) much more remote, what astonishment must fill our breast! Our understanding is bewildered in the unfathomable abyss, in the unbounded expanse, even of the visible creation. --- Sirius, the nearest to us of all the fixed stars, is supposed to be 400,000 times the distance from the sun that our earth is, or 38 millions of millions of miles. Light, passing at the rate of twelve millions of miles every minute, would be nearly 3,000 years in coming to us from the remotest star in our stratum, beyond which are others immensely distant, which it would require about 40,000 years to reach, even with the same velocity. Who shall not then admire thy works and fear thee, O King of ages! Walker.
--- Geog. justly remarks, "we are lost in wonder when we attempt to comprehend either the vastness or minuteness of creation. Philosophers think it possible for the universe to be reduced to the smallest size, to an atom, merely by filling up the pores;" and the reason they allege is, "because we know not the real structure of bodies." Shall any one then pretend to wisdom, and still call in question the mysteries of faith, transubstantiation, &c., when the most learned confess they cannot fully comprehend the nature even of a grain of sand? While on the one hand some assert, that all the world may be reduced to this compass; others say, a grain of sand may be divided in infinitum! H.
Ver. 20. Creeping: destitute of feet like fishes, which move on their bellies. M.
--- Fowl. Some assert that birds were formed of the earth, but they seem to have the same origin as fishes, namely, water; and still they must not be eaten on days of abstinence, which some of the ancients thought lawful, Socrates v. 20. To conciliate the two opinions, perhaps we might say, that the birds were formed of mud, (C.) or that some of the nature of fish, like barnacles, might be made of water and others of earth, C. 11. 19.
--- Under: Heb. on the face of the firmament, or in the open air. H.
Ver. 22. Blessed them, or enabled them to produce others.
--- Multiply: the immense numbers and variety of fishes and fowls is truly astonishing.
Ver. 26. Let us make man to our image. This image of God in man, is not in the body, but in the soul; which is a spiritual substance, endued with understanding and free-will. God speaketh here in the plural number, to insinuate the plurality of persons in the Deity. Ch.
--- Some of the ancient Jews maintained that God here addressed his council, the Angels; but is it probable that he should communicate to them the title of Creator, and a perfect similitude with himself? C.
--- Man is possessed of many prerogatives above all other creatures of this visible world: his soul gives him a sort of equality with the Angels; and though his body be taken from the earth, like the brutes, yet even here the beautiful construction, the head erect and looking towards heaven, &c. makes S. Aug. observe, an air of majesty in the human body, which raises man above all terrestrial animals, and brings him in some measure near to the Divinity. As Jesus assumed our human nature, we may assert, that we bear a resemblance to God both in soul and body. Tertullian (de Resur. 5.) says, "Thus that slime, putting on already the image of Christ, who would come in the flesh, was not only the work of God, but also a pledge." H. See S. Bern. on Ps. xcix. W.
Ver. 27. Male and female. Eve was taken from Adam's side on this same day, though it be related in the following chapter. Adam was not an hermaphrodite as some have foolishly asserted. C.
--- Adam means the likeness, or red earth, that in one word we may behold our nobility and meanness. H.
Ver. 28. Increase and multiply. This is not a precept, as some protestant controvertists would have it, but a blessing, rendering them fruitful: for God had said the same words to the fishes and birds, (ver. 22.) who were incapable of receiving a precept. Ch.
--- Blessed them, not only with fecundity as he had done to other creatures, but also with dominion over them, and much more with innocence and abundance of both natural and supernatural gifts.
--- Increase. The Hebrews understand this literally as a precept binding every man at twenty years of age (C.); and some of the Reformers argued hence, that Priests, &c. were bound to marry: very prudently they have not determined how soon! But the Fathers in general agree that if this were a precept with respect to Adam, for the purpose of filling the earth, it is no longer so, that end being sufficiently accomplished. Does not St. Paul wish all men to be like himself, unmarried? 1 Cor. vii. 1. 7. 8. H.
Ver. 29. Every herb, &c. As God does not here express leave to eat flesh-meat, which he did after the deluge, it is supposed that the more religious part of mankind, at least, abstained from it, and from wine, till after that event, when they became more necessary to support decayed nature. H. M.
--- In the golden age, spontaneous fruits were the food of happy mortals. C.