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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 1

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-31

Genesis 1:1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth; all the orbs which revolve and shine in the expanse of heaven, measuring time by days, and years, and periods. By consequence, the sublime system of nature is not eternal. If matter were eternal, then the אלהים Elohim, Ο Θεοτης , the Godhead or Divinity who acts here, is also material, dependent on matter, and a necessary agent. The perfections of wisdom, goodness and love, can no longer be attributed to him. These assumptions of atheism are everywhere refuted by nature herself. If any difficulty arise in proving the Being of a God, it is because nature overwhelms us with evidence, and with the blaze of his perfections.

Genesis 1:2. And the earth was without form and void. תהו ובהו Tohoo ve- bohoo; when the mountains first appeared they were bare, and unadorned with vegetation. Jeremiah 4:23. On these words the rabbi Kimchi says, Tohoo designates the unformed mass, and Bohoo the form itself. The LXX read the conjunction disjunctively, ‘ Η δε γη ην αορατος , but the earth was invisible, being enveloped in the darkness which covered the face of the deep. The earth was created in a liquid state, a chaotic mass, having the pure essence of every mineral in itself. On this subject, Moses, as the scribe of nature, is supported by universal tradition.

When the Brahmins solicited MENU, son of Brahma, to give them some account of the first creation, he spake thus ”This world was all darkness, undiscernible, undistinguishable, and altogether as in a profound sleep, till the self-existent invisible God made it manifest by the five elements, and with other glorious forms which perfectly dispersed the gloom. Designing to raise up creatures by an emanation of his own glory, he first created the waters, and impressed them with the power of motion. Hence the waters are called nàrá, because his first agana, or moving was on them.” Asiatic Researches, vol. 1. p. 243.

Homer coincides with the Brahmins, and regards the ocean as the common parent from which all the productions of nature had their birth.

Ωκεανος δ ’ οσπερ γενεσι παντεσσι τετυκθαι : Cicero gives it as an opinion generally received among the ancients, that fluidity was the pristine state of the watery mass from which all things were formed, conformably to the plan existing in the divine mind. Aquam esse initium rerum, Deum autem eam mentem qua ex aquâ cuncta fingeret. De nat. Deorum, lib. 1. cap. 25.

A recent discovery of modern science has demonstrated that the earth was created in a liquid state. By measuring a degree of the sun’s meridian in every degree of latitude as far as the arctic region, it is found that the figure of the earth is a spheroid, whose diameter at the poles is nearly thirty seven miles less than at the equator. It must have assumed this figure from its diurnal motion while in a liquid state, and from the special design of the Creator, as it gives elevation to the torrid zone, and cools the heat by an increase of the trade winds, and moderates the northern cold by an oblation of the poles. This was first suspected by the Danes, as all their goods weighed less in the West Indies than at Copenhagen.

The spirit of God moved on the face of the waters. Though it be true, that the wind moved on the face of the waters, and with great violence; yet the rabbins read Spirit, as being connected with creative energies. The word is used for the brooding of a hen over her nest. So in Job, “By his Spirit he hath garnished the heavens.” Genesis 26:13. Psalms 33:6.

Genesis 1:3. And God said, Let there be light. Though the atmosphere of the sun was not cleared till the fourth day, to receive and propel the light, yet the luminous fluid would so collect by affinity as to cheer creation with the dawn of day; and night is but the absence of light. In this most beautiful fluid the universe becomes the object of transporting vision, and the perfections of the invisible God are seen in his works. By the light, warmth and animation are conveyed to the animal and the vegetable world; and the eye is charmed with the exhibition of primitive colours in the rainbow, and in all prismatic refractions of light.

Genesis 1:5. And the evening and the morning were the first day. The day is reckoned by oriental nations by the third, the sixth, and the ninth hour. Matthew 20:0. The night allows the weary labourer time for repose, and cheers him in the morning by the welcome return of the rising sun.

Genesis 1:7. And God made the firmament. רקיע rakia, the expanse or expansion, as Montanus reads, not only the atmosphere of the earth, but the whole ether in which the orbs of heaven revolve. Such is the import of the word in Genesis 1:15; Genesis 1:17; and Daniel 12:3. By the laws of gravitation which subsist between the sun and the whole planetary system, the centripetal and centrifugal motions are so firmly regulated, that each moves in its orbit with the greatest precision, and all nature is bound by the universal chain. The earth’s atmosphere was cleared on the second day, and left adorned with ever-changing scenes of beauteous clouds.

Genesis 1:9. And God said, Let the dry land appear. The elder opinion is, that the mountains rose by latent heat. But the expansive power of heat would swell the waters as well as the land. La Mertherie, editor of Annales de Chemie, contends, that the mountains rose by crystalization. Expansion is inseparable from crystalization, as is apparent from the icebergs in the north seas, rising high above the water.

In the liquid mass, the first state of the earth, every mineral essence would sport its configurations with the sublimest effects of chemical energy. The beautiful granite would augment into immense masses, and raise its sharply defined summits above the seas. So is the diamond rock near the Cape of Good Hope, two miles in extent without any visible fissure; and so is the granite at Mount Bineve in Scotland; and yet those rocks alternate in colour from white to green, red, and yellow. So also is the salt rock, extending for three miles at Cordova in Spain: and the iron rock at Taberg in Sweden is one entire mass, visible for four hundred yards.

The primitive limestones have the like massy character. Dr. Townson, a Caledonian traveller, says, “I have followed the great chain of primitive limestone mountains in Hungaria for perhaps a hundred miles; yet they never appear to be divided into beds, though sometimes elevated a hundred yards.” Philosophy of Mineralogy, p. 70. Humboldt, an accredited traveller, confirms Dr. Townson’s statement. “The volcanoes of South America, he says, have their grand seat of action far below the granitic ranges.” And volcanoes are always seated in the ranges of limestone and iron.

The formation of the secondary or transition rocks, immediately followed the primitive and massy. They are the immense depositions of the rolling waters, which have broken by exsiccation into beds or strata, and crystalized into every species of rocks and of metals, conformably to the determinate laws of the essences which predominated in their formation. As the mountains continued to rise, the waters have so retreated from the vallies as to leave the fine shapes of landscape behind, and so inclined their torrents as to give an earlier meeting to a sister stream.

These operations of the waters, and in strong characters, continued after the creation of living beings; and in fact, continue their operations in weaker characters to the present time, wherever the sea is making new land.

Add to these, that almost every continent presents us with some new formation of rocks, or other minerals, as the white sparry rock of vast extent in South America, the gneiss in Sweden, and the chalk in England and France. The chalk being superposed on a blue clay, might occasion the mass to remain in a soft state longer than other limestone, which generally rests on a gravel: or from some unknown essence in its formation, so as to allow the silicious fluid time to separate and form its flinty nodules, which lie in parallel veins along the mass.

The small proportion of organic remains, which are found deep in the chalk, and more largely in some of the marmoreous ranges; and the abundance of coralites, and encrinites, and testaceous families which often cover the superior strata of those rocks, must all be regarded as depositions of the refluent seas, subsequent to the fifth day of the Mosaic creation.

Count Chateaubriand, a student of nature, who travelled in Asia and America, nearly coincides in this view of the primitive deposition of organic remains.

The coal formations, of which the new science boasts four ages, are in fact but two; the oldest, which burns with fusion, and the more recent, which burns with all the characters of charcoal. The coal which melts is mainly a marine deposition, mineralized in thin beds, and often at great depths. The other, as in Staffordshire, lies in thick beds, and is chiefly the timber of Noah’s flood: else what became of the timber which then covered the primitive world? Of this fact, after a long residence in those collieries, I am perfectly assured. I have traced the ramifications of large trees in those beds, which are thirty feet thick, and extend for seventeen miles in length by twelve in breadth. The bog coal is partial, and of more recent date.

What need then have we to be sent from light to darkness, and told that “man, to whom only a short space of existence is allotted on earth, would,” by the study of geology, “have the glory of restoring thousands of ages, which preseded the history of his race, and thousands of animals that never were contemporaneous with his species. And would there not be some glory for man to overleap the boundaries of time by means of a few observations [au moyen de quelques observations,] to recover the history of this earth, and the series of events which preseded the birth of the human race?” Cuvier’s Essay, pp. 2, 140.

Our reply is, that we have no chronometers; but on the contrary, in the vicinity of volcanoes, after exceptions for earthquakes and the overflowings of lavas, the ancient strata, though near the craters, are perfectly undisturbed. The disruptions of the earth are all local, and occasioned by irruptions of water on the ignited lavas. Those waters being instantly converted into vapour, tremblings, and sometimes burstings of the earth, are the immediate consequences. The mountain ranges, which abound with subterranean rivers and lakes, and widely communicate with one another, as is known by volcanic effects, greatly preserve the earth from destruction. If God gave a revelation at all to man, we should not doubt but that revelation comprised the history of his birth. We must not sacrifice to the novelties of science, the universal traditions of the primitive world.

Genesis 1:14. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven. שׁמשׁ shemesh, the sun to rule the day, this orb being the servant or equal minister of light to all the world; and the appellation of servant is thought to be a reprehension of sabianism, which taught men to worship the hosts of heaven. See on Job 1:5. Jeremiah 7:18.

Sir William Herschel discovered by his telescope of immensely magnifying powers, that the sun is an opaque body, and that his brightness consists in the splendour of his atmosphere, which attracts and propels the light. Astronomy has now adopted this discovery, and abandoned the old opinion, which presumed that the sun was a body of fire. The observations of astronomers have demonstrated to a considerable degree of certainty, that its axis is 883,210 miles; its circumference 2,774,692 miles. The sun has two motions, the one periodical in its own orbit, nearly circular, and the other round its axis in twenty five days, as is known by observing its maculæ or dark spots, and its faculæ or semitransparent spots.

Genesis 1:16. And the lesser light to rule the night. This beautiful luminary, says Dr. Olinthus Gregory, is a secondary planet, being a satellite to the earth, about which she revolves in an elliptical orbit from one new moon to another, in twenty nine days, twelve hours, forty four minutes, nearly. Her mean distance from the earth is 240,000 miles, and she moves in her orbit at about 2,290 miles in an hour. Her diameter is about 2,180 miles, and her rotation on her axis is performed in the same time as her revolution through her orbit; hence it appears that her day and night, taken together, are just as long as our lunar month.

“The moon is a dark body, shining principally with the light she receives from the sun; hence, only that half which is turned towards us can be illuminated. If the moon shone by her own light, we should feel sensible heat from her rays; but the solar light which she reflects is so exceedingly weak and languid, that the most powerful burning glasses will not collect enough to make any sensible degree of heat. This has been accounted for, that the light of the moon is ninety thousand times less than day-light. How wonderfully is infinite goodness and wisdom displayed in this instance: for if the moon’s reflected rays produced heat, as the air of the night would then have a continual warmth, it is obvious, that it would be prejudicial to the health of mankind.” Lessons, &c. p. 47. The moon, moving in an elliptical orbit, varies her power of gravitation on the earth, and with the aid of the sun, causes the highest tides at the full and change; and much higher tides at the vernal and the autumnal equinoxes: but the highest water does not appear till the fifth tide, after the full and change; that time being required to put the waters in the fullest motion. Above all, we should remark, that the moon is the constant and ever-welcome attendant on winter. In our winter, she sheds her cheering rays on the north; and in summer interchanging her beams with the sun, she visits the southern hemisphere, which is their winter. How adorable is this instance of the divine wisdom and love!

Genesis 1:20. And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly. ישׁרצו isheretzoo, superabundance; as Leviticus 21:18; Leviticus 22:23; a happy word to designate the plenitude of the marine creation. The great whales are named, which enjoy the cold of the arctic regions; the crooked serpent, the devouring shark, and all the marshalled armies of the smaller shoals. The testaceous families, exquisite in beauty and countless in species, bestudded all the latent rocks, while the waving fields of vegetation gave the richest food to the subterranean families. And though the ken of man has not surveyed the deep, the rolling tides bestrew the shores with the admirable productions of the latent world.

Genesis 1:24. And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after its kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and [wild] beast. Thus all nature was peopled with living beings. The Creator provided delicious food for each, adapted their clothing, their habitations and temperature to the climate, and bade them joyfully sport in the fields, stray in the forests, and play in the waters, while the blessing of their God crowned their movements with delight.

Genesis 1:26. And God said, Let us make man; not Adam alone, but in him the whole human kind, that every man by natural affinity might be taught to love his brother, having all one Father, even God. He gave him a natural but humble name Adam, or earth, teaching all men to know that they are but worms of the dust.

Genesis 1:27. The image of God. The Creator being a Spirit, his image in man must be that which belongs to celestial beings; ( 1) knowledge; ( 2) moral rectitude; ( 3) liberty; ( 4) immortality; ( 5) sovereignty; the Lord said, Let him have dominion. But his condition varied from that of his Maker; he was placed in a state of probation. God, says the text, created man in his own image; it was not impressed upon him, as the head of a sovereign on a coin, but holiness was an essential attribute of his soul. Oh lovely, wonderous, and happy sire; his body visible on earth, his countenance surpassing all the beauties of creation, his mind walking through the heavens, grasping at infinity and adoring his Maker.

Thus in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth. He proceeded with all the wisdom, the ease, and omnipotence of a God. The dark benighted chaos in one week presented the most beautiful earth, clothed with verdure, perfumed with flowers, and abounding in fruits. He chose to create the heavens and the earth in six days, that he might confer the greater honour and sanctity on the seventh day, as a type and figure of celestial repose.


When God by Wisdom created the heavens and the earth, the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. A sight of the sublime expanse of heaven, illuminated with orbs, and of the delightful landscapes of the earth, adorned with grass, loaded with fruits, and peopled with inhabitants, should at all times rouse our dormant powers to devotion. Oh glorious heavens, uttering unceasing songs; oh beautiful earth, adorned with verdure, and enamelled with flowers; oh admirable scale of living beings, consummate in structure, inimitable in arrangement, and gracious in design. We want not evidence of thy Being, thou Source of all good; we are dazzled and lost in the effulgence of thy perfections.

For thee, oh man, all these glorious heavens, and this beautiful earth were created; and eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, the more glorious things which God hath prepared for them that love him. If creation was the first emanation of his glory, that intelligent beings might be happy in the contemplation of his works, what must his glory and our happiness be in the heaven of heavens, when we shall see him disclosed, and resemble him in purity?

Let us learn to confide in that alsufficient Being who spreadeth out the heavens like a curtain, and upholdeth all things by the word of his power. Let us rely on his wisdom to guide and govern us in life, for he has contrived the harmony of the universe by a glance, and all futurity to him is without a veil. Let us cast our care upon him, and expect the daily supply of our wants, for he fills all nature with his bounty, and makes every creature the object of his peculiar care. Let us endeavour to see the whole universe full of his wisdom, power, and love. Let us deduce from his works, a full conviction of his being and perfections; and on this subject we have no difficulty, except what may arise from our weak understanding being overpowered with evidence.

Above all, vile and sinful as we now are, let us never forget the original glory and grandeur of man in a state of innocency; and never cease to wrestle and strive, till we once more obtain righteousness and salvation by Jesus Christ. And the faithful God will surely, according to the great promises of the New Covenant, give us back original rectitude, with increasing glory and everlasting felicity.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 1". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/genesis-1.html. 1835.
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