In Trees and Thorns, James Jordan suggests that Genesis has an introduction (Genesis 1:1-2:3), which presents the seven days of creation, followed by seven sections which parallel those seven days. For the most part, I find that to be a helpful way of looking at the book of Genesis and I commend what he says to you for your meditation.
As I worked on Genesis 1 and as I thought about the things Jordan said about these seven sections, however, I began to wonder if there might not be another set of parallels going on here, not in conflict with but perhaps in addition to the seven-day structure Jordan suggests. Ten times in Genesis 1 we are told that God spoke (“And God said…”) and ten times in the rest of the book a section begins with some variation on this line: “These are the begettings of….”
Is there some connection? In what follows, I’m drawing heavily on what Jordan has already said in Trees and Thorns, though I’ll be diverging a bit as we go.
Genesis 1:3: “Let there be light”
Genesis 2:4-4:26: the begettings of the heavens and the earth.
The first part of Genesis 2 is closely parallel to the first day of creation, but where Day 1 ended up with light, Genesis 2 has the creation of man. Man is the lightbearer in creation, the one begotten by the heavens (God’s breath in his nostrils) and the earth (adamah, mother earth, the dust from which he was made). But in Genesis 1, Day 1 includes the separation of light and darkness, and so too here in this section of Genesis we find the separation of light (Abel, Seth’s line) and darkness (Cain).
Genesis 1:6: “Let there be a firmament….”
Genesis 5:1-6:8: the begettings of Adam
On Day 2, in His second speech, God creates the firmament to separate between the waters above, which later on in Scripture will turn out to be the sea before God’s throne in heaven, and the waters below, which will later be gathered into seas. The firmament thus mediates between heaven and the earth. What corresponds in the rest of Genesis may be, as Jordan suggests, the godly line of Seth, who are to function as mediators and through whom God interacts with the world, but whose sinful intermarriage with the ungodly leads to the world’s destruction.
Genesis 1:9: gathering the waters into seas; dry land appears.
Genesis 6:9-9:29: the begettings of Noah
In Genesis 1:9, God’s Word initiates the gathering of the waters into seas, which causes the dry land to appear. In Genesis 6:9-9:29, the corresponding section, we have the Flood, which is a reversal of what happened in Genesis 1, followed by a new separation of the waters and a reappearance of the land. This is probably the clearest correspondence between Genesis 1 and the sections of the rest of the book, whether in Jordan’s seven-day analysis or in my ten-word analysis.
Genesis 1:11: earth produces green plants and fruit trees
Genesis 10:1-11:9: the begettings of the sons of Noah
After the parting of the waters and appearance of the dry land, God speaks a second time on Day 3, this time to call the earth to produce green grain plants and fruit trees. Even within Genesis 1, there’s a parallel between Day 3 and Day 6, which sets up a parallel between plants and men, and that parallel is worked out in the rest of Scripture (e.g., Psalm 1). So the multiplication of plants on the earth after the parting of the waters parallels the section in Genesis which deals with the multiplication of the nations after the Flood and their scattering over the face of the earth.
Genesis 1:14: lamps in the firmament
Genesis 11:10-26: the begettings of Shem
On Day 4, God speaks to create lamps to bear light in the firmament and to rule in the heavens over day and night. The correspondence with Genesis 11:10-26 isn’t completely clear to me, but it may be something along the lines Jordan suggests: “Not only are the godly called lights, but the patriarch’s lives were marked out in years that are the same as significant astronomical numbers” (Trees 3).
Genesis 1:20: fish and birds
Genesis 11:27-25:11: the begettings of Terah
On Day 5, God’s Word causes the waters to produce fish and other swimming creatures and causes birds to be created on the earth. But this is also the day in which God first speaks a command, a command which is also a blessing: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Jordan says, “These themes, multiplication and law, are highlighted in the story of Abraham” (Trees 3), which is the main story in this section of Genesis.
Genesis 1:24: living creatures on earth
Genesis 25:12-18: the begettings of Ishmael
As on Day 3, so on Day 6 God speaks more than once. In his first speech on Day 6, God has the earth bring forth land animals. These animals, as Genesis 2 makes clear, are to be helpers for man, though none is a helper corresponding to him, as the woman would be. The Ishmaelites, whose story is told in Genesis 25, are not enemies of Israel nor are we to regard Ishmael and his descendants as apostate and ungodly, for God blesses Ishmael and makes of him a great nation (Gen. 17:20). The Ishmaelites therefore correspond to the helpful land animals created on Day 6.
Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man….”
Genesis 25:19-35:29: the begettings of Isaac
God’s Word creates the land animals first as helpers for man, and then goes on to create man. So, too, God creates Ishmael first and makes his descendants into helpers and then goes on to create Isaac and his seed. Man is created in the image of God in Genesis 1 in order that he might have dominion. The corresponding section of Genesis deals mainly with Jacob, who is described first as a mature, blameless man. He is the man who most faithfully images God here. As for dominion, toward the end of the story, Jacob is said to have wrestled with God and man and prevailed.
Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion….”
Genesis 36:1-43: the begettings of Esau
When God creates man on Day 6 in Genesis 1, he then blesses him with a blessing that entails a mandate to multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and rule over it. The corresponding section in Genesis deals with the offspring of Esau, and I have to admit that I don’t really see a close correspondence. But this section does deal with Esau multiplying and taking control of a territory, something that Israel didn’t get to do in Genesis.
Genesis 1:29: provision of food for man and beast
Genesis 37:1-50:26: the begettings of Jacob
God’s tenth word in Genesis 1 is his invitation for man to eat the grain plants and the fruit of the green trees. In the same speech, he tells man that he has given the plants to the beasts for food, as well. The passage in Genesis identified as “the begettings of Jacob” is concerned mainly with Joseph and Joseph’s story has a lot to do with the provision of food, not just for Joseph’s own family but for the world.
Some of these suggested correspondences seem to me a bit more iffy than others, but I find that some work particularly well, well enough that I suspect there’s something to this approach to Genesis 1.
If so, then there’s something else we can notice here, namely, the big correspondence throughout Genesis between God’s speaking in Genesis 1 and begetting throughout the rest of the book. That shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise, though, considering that Peter talks about how we were begotten by the Word of God (1 Pet. 1:23), but it does bear thinking on.
And if you’re still thinking this all sounds a bit farfetched, I can only echo what Jordan says at the close of his essay: “Is all of this speculative? Sure. What’s wrong with tossing around some possibilities? Give it a thought, and see what you think” (Trees 3).