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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 1

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 1. B.C. 4004.

We have three things in this chapter.

(1,) A general idea of the work of creation, Genesis 1:1-2 .

(2,) A particular account of the several days’ work, distinctly and in order, Genesis 1:3-30 .

(3,) The review and approbation of the whole work, Genesis 1:31 .


WITH a view to teach us the knowledge of God and his will, the only sure foundation of genuine piety and virtue, and therefore of infinite importance to us, the Holy Scriptures pursue that method, which, of all others, is the most convincing and instructive, and the best calculated to answer the end intended: they present us with a history of his mighty acts, and set before us the displays which he has made of his nature and attributes in his wonderful works. In this way we learn, not only what he is in himself, but what he is to us, and become acquainted, as well with the various relations in which he stands to us, and our duty to him according to these relations, as with his own inherent and essential perfections. And as his sustaining the relation of a Creator must, in the nature of things, precede his bearing any other, he is first exhibited to us in that character. As we proceed with the sacred narrative, we behold him in his providence, preserving, superintending, and governing the world he had made, and giving law to the intelligent part of his creatures, as also predicting future events and accomplishing his predictions. We likewise view him in his grace, redeeming and saving fallen man; and, last of all, in his justice, judging, acquitting, or condemning, rewarding, or punishing his free, accountable, and immortal offspring.

Verse 1

Genesis 1:1. In the beginning That is, of this material, visible, and temporal world, (which was not without beginning, as many of the ancient heathen philosophers supposed,) and of time with relation to all visible beings. The creation of the spiritual, invisible, and eternal world, whether inhabited by the holy or fallen angels, is not here included or noticed. God The Hebrew word אלהים Elohim, here and elsewhere translated God, has been considered by many learned men as signifying God in covenant, being derived from the word אלה Alah, he sware, or bound himself by an oath. It is in the plural number, and must often, of necessity, be understood as having a plural meaning in the Holy Scriptures, being a name sometimes given to the false gods of the heathen, who were many, and to angels and magistrates, who are also occasionally called elohim, gods. When intended, as here, of the one living and true God, which it generally is, it has, with great reason, been thought by most Christian divines to imply a plurality of persons or subsistences in the Godhead, and the rather, as many other parts of the inspired writings attest that there is such a plurality, comprehending the Father, the Word, or Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that all these divine persons equally concurred in the creation of the world. Of these things we shall meet with abundant proof in going through this sacred volume Created That is, brought into being, gave existence to what had no existence before, either as to matter or form; both making the substance of which the different parts of the universe were formed, and giving them the particular forms which they at present bear. How astonishing is the power that could produce such a world out of nothing! What an object for adoration and praise; and what a foundation for confidence and hope have we in this wonderful Being, who thus calls things that are not as though they were! The heaven and the earth Here named by way of anticipation, and spoken of more particularly afterward.

The aerial and starry heavens can only be included here. For what is termed by St. Paul the third heaven, 2 Corinthians 12:0., the place where the pure in heart shall see God, and which is the peculiar residence of the blessed angels, was evidently formed before, (see Job 38:6-7,) but how long before, who can say?

Verse 2

Genesis 1:2. The earth When first called into existence, was without form and void: confusion and emptiness, as the same original words are rendered, Isaiah 34:11. It was without order, beauty, or even use, in its present state, and was surrounded on all sides with thick darkness, through the gloom of which there was not one ray of light to penetrate not even so much as to render the darkness visible.

The Spirit of God moved, &c. To cherish, quicken, and dispose them to the production of the things afterward mentioned. The Hebrew word here rendered moved, is used, Deuteronomy 32:11, of the eagle fluttering over her young, and of fowls brooding over their eggs and young ones, to warm and cherish them: but, we must remember, that the expression, as here used, is purely metaphorical, and must not be considered as conveying any ideas that are unworthy of the infinite and spiritual nature of the Holy Ghost.

Verse 3

Genesis 1:3. God said Not by an articulate voice; for to whom should he speak? but in his own eternal mind. He willed that the effect here mentioned should be produced, and it was produced. This act of his almighty will is termed, Hebrews 1:3, the word of his power. Perhaps, however, his substantial Word, his Son, by whom he made the worlds, Hebrews 1:2, and Psalms 33:6; Psalms 33:9, is here intended, and whom the ancient fathers of the Christian Church thought to be termed the Word, John 1:1, chiefly for this reason. Let there be light, &c. The noted critic, Longinus, in his celebrated Treatise on the Sublime, expresses his admiration of this sentence, as giving a most just and striking idea of the power of God. In bringing order out of confusion, and forming the sundry parts of the universe, God first gave birth to those that are the most simple, pure, active, and powerful; which he, probably, afterward used as agents or instruments in forming some other parts. Light is the great beauty and blessing of the universe; and as it was the first of all visible things, so, as the firstborn, it most resembles its great parent in purity and power, in brightness and beneficence. Probably the light was at first impressed on some part of the heavens, or collected in some lucid body, the revolution of which distinguished the three first days. On the fourth it was condensed, increased, perfected, and placed in the body of the sun and other luminaries.

Verse 4

Genesis 1:4. God saw the light, &c. He beheld it with approbation, as being exactly what he designed it to be, pleasant and useful, and perfectly adapted to answer its intended end. God divided Made a separation between the light and the darkness, as to time, place, and use, that the one should succeed and exclude the other, and that by their vicissitudes they should make the day and the night. Though the darkness was now scattered by the light, it has its place, because it has its use: for as the light of the morning befriends the business of the day, so the shadows of the evening befriend the repose of the night. God has thus divided between light and darkness, because he would daily impress upon our minds that this is a world of mixture and changes. In heaven there is perpetual light and no darkness; in hell, utter darkness and no light: but in this world they are counter-changed, and we pass daily from the one to the other, that we may expect the like vicissitudes in the providence of God.

Verse 5

Genesis 1:5. God called, &c. God distinguished them from each other by different names, as the Lord of both. The day is thine, the night also is thine. He is the Lord of time, and will be so till day and night shall come to an end, and the stream of time be swallowed up in the ocean of eternity. The evening Including the following night, and the morning, including the succeeding day, were the first natural day, of twenty-four hours. Some, indeed, by evening understand the foregoing day as being then concluded, and by the morning the preceding night: but the Jews, who had the best opportunity of understanding Moses, who here declares the mind of God in this matter, began both their common and sacred days in the evening, see Leviticus 23:32. The darkness of the evening, preceding the light of the morning, sets it off and makes it shine the brighter.

Verse 6

Genesis 1:6. Let there be a firmament This term, which is an exact translation of the word used by the Septuagint, or Greek translation of the Old Testament, by no means expresses the sense of the word used by Moses, רקיע , rakiang, which merely means extension or expansion. And as this extension or expansion was to be in the midst of the waters, and was to divide the waters from the waters, it chiefly, if not solely, means the air or atmosphere which separates the water in the clouds from that which is in and upon the earth. Thus the second great production of the Almighty was the element which is next in simplicity, purity, activity, and power, to the light, and no doubt was also used by him as an agent in producing some subsequent effects, especially in gathering the waters into one place. It is true, we afterward read of the sun, moon, and stars being set in the firmament of heaven: but the meaning seems only to be that they are so placed as only to be visible to us through the atmosphere.

Verses 9-10

Genesis 1:9-10 . God said, &c. From the production, or separation from gross matter, of light and air, and the assigning them their proper places and uses in the creation, God proceeds, on the third day, to separate, put in order, and control the clement nearest to them in quality and use, fluid like them, comparatively simple, and pure, and although not elastic, yet of great power. Let the waters be gathered into one place The abyss in the bowels of the earth, Genesis 7:11, and the hollows connected therewith. Thus, instead of the confusion which existed when the earth and the water were mixed in one great mass, there was now order; and by such a separation, both were rendered useful: the earth was prepared for the habitation and support of man, and various orders of land animals, and the waters for the still more numerous tribes of living creatures, formed to abide and seek their sustenance in the seas, lakes, and rivers.

Verses 11-12

Genesis 1:11-12 . Let the earth bring forth grass Here we rise to organized and vegetative bodies. Thus, before God formed any living creature to abide upon the earth, he wisely provided for its sustenance. The herb yielding, seed, whose seed is in itself; that is, in some part of itself: either in the root, or branch, or bud, or fruit; which is sufficient in itself for the propagation of its kind, from generation to generation, as long as the world shall endure, without any new creation. How astonishing the wisdom and power that could effect this! O God! how wonderful art thou in counsel, and how excellent in working! God saw that it was good “This clause is so often added,” says Pool, “to show that all the disorders, evil, and hurtful qualities that are now in the creatures, are not to be imputed to God, who made all of them good, but to man’s sin, which hath corrupted their nature and perverted their use.”

Verses 14-15

Genesis 1:14-15 . Let there be lights, &c. God had said, Genesis 1:3, Let there be light; but that was, as it were a chaos of light, scattered and confused: now it was called and formed into several luminaries, and so rendered more glorious, and more serviceable. Let them be for signs,

“An horologe machinery divine!”

to mark and distinguish periods of time, longer or shorter; epochas, ages, years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes. For seasons By their motions and influences, to produce and distinguish the different seasons of the year, mentioned Genesis 8:22. To give light upon the earth That man, and other creatures, might perform their offices by its help, as the duty of each day required; as well as to call forth the moisture and genial virtue of the earth, in order to the production of trees, plants, fruits, and flowers, for the profit and pleasure of both man and beast.

Verse 16

Genesis 1:16. Two great lights Or enlighteners, מארת , meoroth, distinguishable from all the rest, for their beauty and use. Moses terms the moon a great light, only according to its appearance, and the use it is of to us, and not according to the strictness of philosophy. For there is abundant proof that most of the stars are much greater than the moon; although their immense distance makes them appear so much smaller to us. The greater light Not only greater, as it appears to us, but incomparably greater in itself; being abundantly larger even than the earth; to rule the day By its rise and gradual ascension in the heavens, to cause and increase the light and heat of the day; and by its declining and setting to impair and end the same: or to direct men in their actions and affairs during the day. To rule the night To measure the hours of it, and give some, though a lesser light. “The best and most honourable way of ruling,” says Henry, “is by giving light and doing good.” <19D609>Psalms 136:9, and Jeremiah 31:35, the stars are mentioned as being joined with the moon in ruling the night.

Verse 20

Genesis 1:20. The moving creature that hath life Endued with self-motion and animal life. How much soever we may be astonished at the stupendous vastness and magnificence of inanimate matter, the least piece that is animated and has life, is still more admirable. But who can conceive the nature of life? We see it daily around us, but cannot comprehend it!

We observe that it enables millions and millions of creatures to act, as it were, of themselves, and to seek and obtain such enjoyments as give them a sensible pleasure; but how it does this surpasses all understanding: and we can reach no more of its nature, than that it is such an amazing property, as, if we think at all, must carry up our thoughts to that Almighty Being, who alone could bestow such a wonderful blessing, and who, in his exuberant goodness, has conferred it, not on one or a few merely, but on innumerable millions, and has inclined and enabled them to communicate it to millions and millions more of the same species with themselves, that shall succeed one another till time shall be no more! Thus in the work of creation, after the formation of light, air, water, and earth, the originals of all things, he proceeds from creatures less excellent to those that are more so: from vegetables to animals; and then from animals less perfect in their form to the more perfect. Such was the Creator’s progress in his work; and, in imitation of him, we should be continually advancing to greater excellence and perfection in our dispositions and actions. Fish and fowl were both formed out of the water: there being a nearer alliance and greater resemblance between the form of the bodies in general, and the motions of creatures that swim and of those that fly, than there is between either of these and such as creep or walk on the earth: and their bodies being intended to be lighter, and their motions swifter, the wise Creator saw fit to form them from a lighter and fluid element.

The waters are said to produce them abundantly; to signify the prodigious and rapid multiplication, especially of all the various species of fishes. The word in Hebrew, which generally stands for fish, also means multiplication; no creatures, it seems, multiplying so fast as they do.

Verse 21

Genesis 1:21. Great whales The Hebrew word here rendered whales is sometimes put to signify great dragons of the wilderness; (see Jeremiah 9:11; Jeremiah 14:6; Malachi 1:3;) but it undoubtedly here means some very large inhabitants of the waters, and probably what we call whales, whose astonishing bulk and prodigious strength are amazing proofs of the power and glory of the Creator.

Verse 22

Genesis 1:22. God blessed them Behold the cause of the continuance in existence, and of the fruitfulness and multiplication, of the sundry kinds of creatures! It is owing to this word only that, though thousands of years have rolled away since their creation, not one species of them, amid so many, has been lost. Hence the inclination in every creature to propagate its species, and hence the wonderful and tender care they take of their young, till they are able to provide for themselves! So that, notwithstanding the daily great consumption of the creatures for the food of man, there is still such a succession of them, that the innumerable multitudes consumed for our use are not even missed. How wonderful that Being who is the author of this fertility and plenteousness!

Verses 24-25

Genesis 1:24-25 . Let the earth bring forth He that of stones can raise children to Abraham, and who called forth the universe from nothing, could easily produce animals from the dull and sluggish earth, although inanimate. Cattle Those tame beasts which do not shun the society of men, and are most useful to us for food, clothing, or various services. The beasts of the earth The Hebrew word חית , chaiath, generally signifies the wild beast, which is evidently its meaning here.

Verse 26

Genesis 1:26. God said, Let us make man We have here another and still more important part of the sixth day’s work, the creation of man. Having prepared a fit habitation for man, and furnished it with all things necessary for his use and comfort, God now proceeds to create him. But this he does, as it were, with deliberation, nay, and consultation, using a phraseology which he had not used with regard to any other creatures, thereby showing the excellence of man above every other being which he had made. And it appears from hence, that all the three hypostases, which still bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, were peculiarly concerned in the creation of man. For God did not speak thus to angels, who, although they were present, and rejoiced at the creation of the universe, (Job 37:4; Job 37:7,) yet had no hand therein, sundry passages of Scripture testifying that it was the work of God alone. In our image, after our likeness Two words signifying the same thing. Here again we see the excellence of man above all other creatures of this world, none of which are said to be made after the image or likeness of God. Indeed, his pre-eminence above the brute creatures, and his high destination, are apparent in the very form of his body, the erect figure of which, set toward the heavens, points him to his origin and end. It is, however, in the soul of man, that we must look for the divine image. And here we easily discern it. Like God, man’s soul is a spirit, immaterial, invisible, active, intelligent, free, immortal, and, when first created, endowed with a high degree of divine knowledge, and with holiness and righteousness; in which particulars, according to St. Paul, Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10, the image of God in man chiefly consists. He was also invested with an image of God’s authority and dominion, and was constituted the ruler, under him, of all the inferior creatures. For God said, And let them Male and female, (here comprehended in the word man,) with their posterity; have dominion over the fish of the sea, &c. All the creatures, both wild and tame, are here included, over which our first parents, while innocent, had entire and perfect power and dominion, as they had also over the productions of the earth, and over the earth itself, to cultivate and manage it, as they should see fit, for their comfort and advantage.

Verse 27

Genesis 1:27. So God created man in his own image In his natural, but especially in his moral image, with an habitual conformity of all his powers to the will of God, his understanding clearly discerning, his judgment entirely approving, his will readily choosing, and his affections cordially embracing his chief good; without error in his knowledge, disorder in his passions, or irregularity or inordinancy in his appetites; his senses also being all inlets to wisdom and enjoyment, and all his faculties of body and mind subservient to the glory of God and his own felicity! But man being in honour did not abide, but became like the beasts that perish! What cause we have for thankfulness that this image of God may be restored to our souls, and how earnestly ought we to pray for, and how diligently to seek this most important of all attainments! Male and female created he them Not at once, or both together, as some have unscripturally taught, but first the man out of the earth, and then the woman out of the man.

They seem both, however, to have been made on the sixth day, as is here related, and as the following words, promising they should be fruitful, manifest: but the particular history of the woman’s creation is brought in afterward by way of further elucidation, and to introduce the account of the institution of marriage. God formed the woman from the man, and caused the whole race of mankind to descend from one original pair, that all the families and nations of men, being made of one blood, and proceeding from one common stock, might know themselves to be brethren, and might love and assist one another to the uttermost of their power: but, alas! what a sad reverse of this do we daily see exemplified before our eyes!

Verse 28

Genesis 1:28. Be fruitful, and replenish the earth A large estate is given them, and they are to fill it with inhabitants, to cultivate it, and enjoy the fruits it produces. But these words rather contain a benediction and a promise, than a command, as appears from Genesis 1:22, where the same words are applied to the brute creatures, which are not capable of understanding or obeying a command.

Verses 29-30

Genesis 1:29-30 . I have given you every herb It does not appear that liberty was given to men to eat animal food before the flood. Indeed, there seems to have been no need of it, as before the deluge, and more especially before the earth was cursed for the sin of man, undoubtedly its fruits were not only brought forth in greater abundance, but were both more pleasant to the taste, and more strengthening and nourishing to the body, than they were after these events. And to every beast Thus the great Lord of all took care for oxen, and every living creature that he had created, and made ample and continued provision for their subsistence.

Verse 31

Genesis 1:31. Behold, it was very good It had been said of each day’s work, except the second, that it was good, but now, of every thing, that it was very good. For man, the master-piece of God’s works, and his visible image and deputy here on earth, was now formed and constituted the head and governor of the whole. And all these wonderful works being connected together and dependant one on another, till the last link of the chain was made and added to the rest, some defect and imperfection must of necessity be attached to them all: but this being now finished, the whole was complete, and very good. The evening and the morning were the sixth day No doubt, God could as easily have made the world and all things therein in an instant, as in six days: but he chose to form it in this gradual way, partly, perhaps, that his wisdom, power, and goodness, manifested in each part, might be more distinctly viewed and considered; and that he might show us how great things might rise from small beginnings, and be gradually accomplished; as also that he might set us an example of working six days, and resting on the seventh.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 1". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/genesis-1.html. 1857.
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