In this video, Old Testament scholar and author John Walton offers some important reminders with regard to how we should approach a reading of the book of Genesis. First and foremost, says Walton, we have to approach Genesis for what it is, which is an ancient text.
We have to approach Genesis 1 for what it is. It’s an ancient document. It’s not a document that was written to us. We believe the Bible was written for us, that it’s for everyone of all times and places because it’s God’s Word. But it wasn’t written to us. It wasn’t written in our language, it wasn’t written with our culture in mind or our culture in view. Therefore, if we want to get the best benefit from the communication, we need to try to enter their world, hear it as the audience would have heard it and as the author would have meant it, and read it in those terms. There is no more important place to do that than in Genesis 1.
To get the idea of what the six days, the seven days, actually, of course, is all about, we have to try to understand the context of the ancient world. First of all, we would have to understand that this resting on the seventh day is a very important element of it. One thing that we don’t pick up at all when we read the text, but that any ancient reader, Israelite or otherwise, would have understood, is that if it talks about God resting, it’s talking about a temple, because that’s where God rests and where the gods rest. That’s why temples were built. Therefore, we are automatically thrown into a temple context when we understand the ancient world.
The idea that they had in the ancient world was that the temple and the cosmos were kind of all blended into one. If we used a modern metaphor, it would almost be like the temple was the Oval Office. It’s kind of where all the business is done, where the work is run. It’s the hub of activity and of control. So for them, that’s what the temple represented, and the cosmos was run from the temple.
When deity took up his rest in the temple, it wasn’t for leisure or relaxation. It was to settle down to the work now that everything was set up and ready to go. When our candidates run for office and want to get into the White House, it’s not so they can just flop down in the Lincoln bedroom. It’s rather so they can get into the Oval Office and start running it. If you ask what happened after the person was elected and inaugurated, well, then they started running the country. Likewise, after the cosmos is organized and God takes up His rest in this cosmic temple, now He starts running it.