Sermon: Realms, Rulers And Sabbath Rest: Genesis 1:1-2:3

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 2:1-3

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:1-3, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Hebrews 4:1–11

“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, ‘As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’’ although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’ And again in this passage he said, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’ Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’ For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:1–11, ESV)


This is now the third sermon devoted to the days of creation of Genesis 1:1-2:3. The first two sermons were big picture sermons. I was flying at 30,000 feet and making general observations about this text. 

If I were to briefly summarize the first sermon I would say that the process whereby God created the world reveals that God is God Most High – he is Lord of all creation. 

If I were briefly summarize the second sermon I would say that the created world itself reveals the glory of God Most High. In other words the world was made in the beginning to be filled with the glory of God; and the world was made to declare the glory of the God who made it.

This third sermon will also be a big picture sermon. We will fly together at 30,000 feet to make some general observations concerning the days of creation as they are recounted in Genesis 1:1-2:3. When all is said and done we will again walk away from the text seeing God as God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth, the only one worthy of our devotion and praise. 

In this sermon, we will give special attention to what God did on each day of creation. Again we will ask the question, why did God create in this way?

We have already admitted that God could have created the world as we know it in an instant. But Genesis 1 declares that God chose create progressively. First he created the realms of heaven and earth.  The earthly realm, we are told, was at first without form and void and was clocked in darkness. And then God formed the earth to be a place suitable for human habitation. This he did in six days time. When we noticed that God created progressively we began to ask the question, why the process? Certainly God could have created in an instant. Why did he take time to create the world? The answer given was that the process of creation reveals truth about the Creator and his relationship to his creation. 

Today we are looking more closely at the process of creation. And as we consider the days of creation we will ask, not only, why the process?, but more specifically, why this process? Why did God choose to create in six days and to rest on the seventh, blessing the seventh day and setting it apart as a day to be treated as holy? Why did he make what he made in the order that he made them?

Again, the general answer to the question, why this process? is that the process of creation was revelatory. God was saying something when he created the world in this way. God was making a statement, as it were. But today I intend to be more specific.  


First, I want to remind you of something. Remember that the name used for God throughout Genesis 1:1-2:3 is, in the Hebrew, Elohim. This is the more generic name for God. This is the name used for God when his supremacy is being emphasized. The God of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is the one true God, Maker of heaven and earth. He is God Most High. This will become even more significant when we move to Genesis 2:4 and following and see that a different name for God is used in that passage. 

In Genesis 2:4 and following God is called, in the Hebrew, Yahweh Elohim. This is not a different God, of course, for there is only one God. But the change in name indicates a change in focus. In Genesis 2:4 and following it will be God, the covenant making and covenant keeping God, who is in view. There the view is of God drawing near to man and entering into covenant with him. Elohim – God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth – is also Yahweh Elohim – the relational, covenant making and covenant keeping God. 

But let us keep things in their proper place. The truth being emphasized here in Genesis 1:1-2:3 is that God is God Most High. He is the Supreme One. He is Creator of heaven and earth. All of his creation, therefore, owes to him devotion and praise by virtue of their existence. If you are alive and breathing today you must know that you are in a relationship with God. This is even true of those who deny his existence. You are his creation, and he is your Creator. You opinion of him does not alter this reality. Elohim is supreme over you. Therefore, you owe to him obedience and praise. 

Realms and Rulers

Not only does the name “Elohim” communicate that God is God Most High, so too does the narrative. 

Notice that God made all things seen and unseen. There is God and there is his creation. Nothing else exists to compete with God. He is supreme.

Notice that when God created he did so by first creating realms, or territories, and then he filled those realms with rulers who were to do his bidding. These rulers were to function as vassal kings or under lords in the place that God had placed them. 

In ancient times when a king would conquer another king, a treaty would sometimes be made between the kings. In these treaties the conquering and supreme king would tell of the victory he had won,  he would communicate what was expected of the conquered king, who was taking the position of vassal  king, or under lord, and then sanctions  would be communicated should vassal king rebel against the supreme king. 

Something similar happened at creation. The Lord Most High accomplished his creative work. He called realms into existence. Afterwards he filled those realms with rulers. As we will see, man is the pinnacle of creation. He was given dominion over all creation. But he was to exercise his dominion in perpetual submission to and in obedience to God Most High. Man was indeed made to rule as king, but not as supreme king. He was made to live as a vassal kings who would live in perpetual submission to and in service of the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The covenant made between God and man is described in Genesis 2. There the sanctions of the covenant are communicated. If king Adam rebels against the King of kings, he will experience death. These things we will consider in great detail when we come to them in the text. Today I want for you to recognize that God created as he did in order to establish this relationship between himself and his creation. He is God Most High. He is King of kings, and Lord of lords. Whatever dominion man has, it is not absolute and supreme, but is to be exercised in perpetual submission to our Creator. 

Realms Created

As we consider the days of creation, please recognize that God Most High first made realms and then filled those realms with rulers who were to function as vassal kings. 

Day One

On day one God created light and separated the light from darkness.  

Verse 3: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:3–5, ESV)

Some have wondered if we should take the days of creation as ordinary 24 hour days, or if each of these “days” might instead represent ages or eons. I will not bore you with the exegetical details, but I will say that there is no reason at all to think that the days of creation are anything other than ordinary 24 hour days. 

Yes, it is true that the word day, which is in the Hebrew is yom, can be used to refer to a period of time. In fact, the word yom is certainly used in that way in Genesis 2:4 where we read, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” (Genesis 2:4, ESV). The days of creation having been descried to us in 1:1-2:3 are now referred to as “the day”. In 2:4 the word yom is clearly referring, not to an actual day, but to a period of time, namely the seven days of creation that have just been described to us in 1:1-2:3. 

There are many reasons to take the days of creation of Genesis 1:1-2:3 as referring to ordinary days. 

One, the word yom is ordinarily used to describe an ordinary day. If it is being used in an unusual way (in reference to a period of time) then the context will make it clear.

Two, the repeated phrase “evening and morning” found at the end of each of the days of creation (with the exception of the seventh, which is itself significant), shows that these are to be taken as ordinary days.

Three (and I think this is most telling), when later scriptures look back upon the days of creation they speak of the days as if they were ordinary days. Indeed, as we will see, the way in which God created serves as a pattern for us. Because God created in six days and rested on the seventh, we too are to live according to that pattern. We are to work six days, and rest from our labor and worship one. Six and one, six and one. This is the pattern we are to follow until the consummation. More on this later. 

More arguments could be given. E.J. Young in his, “Studies in Genesis One” makes some rather detailed exegetical arguments which, though very good, are not well suited for presentation in a sermon. 

Some, having noticed that the sun and moon and stars are not created until day four, have wondered how days one through three could be considered ordinary 24 hour days, given that it is by the rising and setting of the sun that we tell time. 

Well, first of all, notice that it is was not “we” who were tracking time in the days of creation, but God. And God is able to keep track of time without the sun. And secondly, notice that the sun is not needed to track seconds, minutes, and hours. All that is needed is matter and movement. Remember that Genesis 1:1-2 informed us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form, was void and dark. There is no reason to think that the globe was not at that time spinning on it’s axis, which is, in fact, how a day is measured. It is not the rising of the sun, but the rotation of the earth which makes a day a day. Your watches and phones track time without any consideration of the sun, but rely upon the movement of material.

And so what was accomplished on the first day? The answer is that the invisible heavenly realm was made on the first day, and so to was the material world. The material world was at first without form, void and dark. And the first act of God’s formative creation was the calling of light into existence. The creation of light did not happen at the beginning of day one, but in the middle of it. The first day began cloaked in darkness. The first morning dawned when God said, “Let their be light.” Thus the pattern is not, morning and evening, the first day, but evening and morning. For the Jews a new day began not with the the rising of the sun and the in breaking of light, but with the setting of the sun and darkness. And so it is for us. Each of our days begin cloaked in darkness and after some time dark day gives way to the morning light. Day one of creation began with the activity described in Genesis 1:1. Day one of creation was at first dark. And then God said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light… And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

And so in this way God created the realms of day and night by separating the light from the darkness. 

Day Two

Let’s move a little more quickly now. On day two God created the realms of the sky above and the oceans below as he separated the waters from the waters. 

Verse 6: “And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” (Genesis 1:6–8, ESV)

Notice that three things are in fact called heaven in Genesis 1. The invisible spiritual realm is called heaven in 1:1. Outer space, as we call it, is called heaven in 1:15. And the sky where the birds fly is called heaven here in 1:8. And so according to the scriptures there are three heavens. And this is why Paul wrote as he did to the Corinthians saying, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven…” (2 Corinthians 12:2, ESV). In other words, Paul saw something of the heavenly and spiritual realm.  

On day two God created the realms of the sky above (the first heaven) and the oceans below when he separated the waters from the waters. 

Day Three

On day three God created the realm of dry land and he also filled that realm with vegetation in preparation for the creatures that would soon be placed there. 

Verse 9: “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day” (Genesis 1:9–13, ESV).

And so by the end of day three theses realms had been created by God. Light had been separated from darkness, day from night. The sky above and oceans beneath had been formed, the waters above and the waters below having been divided. And the dry land had also been formed and given the power to bring forth vegetation. 

Rulers Created

Next God created rulers or creature kings to have dominion over each of these realms. 

Day Four

On day four God created the luminaries – the sun, moon and stars. 

Verse 14: “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day [the sun] and the lesser light to rule the night [the moon]—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day” (Genesis 1:14–19, ESV).

I do want for you to notice the word rule. The sun, moon and stars were created on day four to rule over the realms created on day one, namely, the realms of light and darkness, day and night. 

Day Five

On day five God filled the waters below and the sky above with creature kings. 

Verse 20: “And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.’ So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day” (Genesis 1:20–23, ESV).

Though the word “rule” is not found in here in verses 20-23, it is implied that theses creatures are exercise a kind of dominion over these realms when God commands them saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill” the realms to which they have been assigned.  

Day Six

On day six God filled the dry land with creature kings. 

Verse 24:  “And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’ And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:24–25, ESV). 

In verse 26 we read of the creation of man: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26, ESV).

Notice two things. First, man is unique in that he alone is said to be made in the image and likeness of God. Secondly, notice that man is supreme over all creation. Man is given dominion “over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” This is why the language of ruling was not directly applied to the fish and birds nor the land animals. They do have a kind of dominion. It is right for us to say, for example, that the birds rule the air and that the tiger is king of the jungle. But it is man who was in the beginning crowned by God as king of the earth. 

That man was created to function as a vassal king or under lord  on earth is made clear in the narrative that follows. 

Verse 27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, ESV)

Now listen to the kingly language of verse 28: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28, ESV). 

Man was created to function as king of the earthly realm. His task from the beginning was to fill the earth. He was to subdue it and to have dominion over it. This he was to do, not independent from the God who made him, but in perpetual subordination to him. He was to rule as a king, but more specifically, as a king under the authority of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Adams task was to fill the earth and to expand, not his own kingdom, but the kingdom of God who had created him, who had prepared this place for him, and who had blessed him. 

Much more could be said about all of this. And much more will be said about it in the weeks to come. But for know I want to you to see that God first created realm and afterwards he  filled those realms with creature kings and commissioned them to fill those realms and to exercise dominion within them. Furthermore, if we consider what God made and the order in which he made it we see a progression from the more basic and lower forms of life to the more complex and higher forms of life with man being the pinnacle or apex of God’s creative activities. Man, being made in the image of God, was blessed by God and given dominion over all the earth as God’s vassal king. 

Day Seven

Let us now consider very briefly day seven of the creation week. We will return to this text in the future and we will engage in a prolonged study of the Christian Sabbath. But for now would you notice the importance of the seventh day. On it God, having created the invisible heavenly realm and having finished the earthly realm, “rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:1–3, ESV).

God rested from his work of creation, not because he was tired, but because he was finished. Having made a temple for himself – his heavenly throne and his earthly footstool – he sat down, as it were. He ceased from his work of creation but he continued with his work of providence. This is what kings do. After winning a great battle they rest from war and go on with the ruling and reigning of the kingdom. After building the palace, they sit on the throne. After securing the kingdom they rest from the process of securing it and begin the process of ruling and reigning as king. This is similar to what is described to us in here in Genesis 2:1-3. God, having finished his work of creation, ceased from his created work and entered into rest. He took his seat on his heavenly throne. 

His newly created kingdom was to be advanced on the earth. And who was to do the advancing? King Adam was to do the advancing. He had a task to accomplish! Fill, subdue exercise dominion over the earth. And he was to do so living in perpetual submission to the King of kings and Lord of lords. 

We will come to conserver the Sabbath much more carefully in the future. For now please see that, “The Sabbath rest of the Creator [as described in Genesis 2:1-3]… is an invitation for Adam to be like his Maker, working as a temple-builder and then, upon final completion of the task assigned to him, entering the rest  of God. It is a symbol of a state of creaturely existence to be entered into after the creature’s faithful work.” (Barcellos, GTGR, 112)

God created in six days time and entered into rest in the seventh day in order to reveal something and in order to establish a pattern for man to follow. Adam was to work six days and he was to rest on worship on the seventh in imitation of his Maker. This he was to do until his work was completed. And once completed, he would enjoy eternal Sabbath rest along with the God who made him. 

Notice that not only did God rest on the seventh day, but he blessed the seventh day and made it holy. This he did, not for himself, but for the man and woman whom he created and for all their posterity. He made the seventh day a blessed day for them! He set the seventh day apart as distinct from all of the other days and holy for them! They were to follow the pattern established by God in creation. And following the pattern faithfully would mean they two would enjoy the unending Sabbath Rest of God.


Truly, we must take care in our application of this text to our lives today, for we do not live in Eden.  

For example, it would be very wrong to suggest that we are capable of entering into the Sabbath rest of God by fulling the task that was given to Adam at the beginning. That way of obtaining eternal rest was closed off to man in the moment that man fell from his state of innocency and into sin. Genesis chapters 2 and 3 will help us understand that.

But this text must be applied! 

One, we must see that this eternal Sabbath rest is still available to us by God’s grace. Adam didn’t earn it. He failed very quickly. But God y his grace provided a redeemer, Christ Jesus our Lord. He was faithful to keep the covenant of made with him. He earned Sabbath rest, and he has entered into it! Having accomplished his work of recreation, he sat down at the Fathers right hand. And all who have faith in him also enjoy this rest! We have tasted of it. All who have faith in Christ will indeed enter into the fulness of the rest that he has earned when Christ returns and makes all things new. Then we will forever cease from our labors. Then we cease in our struggle with sin. Then we will no longer we tormented by sorrow, sickness and death. We must trust in Christ. In the first Adam there is no rest but only death. In the second Adam, who is Christ our Lord, true rest is found.   

Two, we must recognize that we were created by God in the beginning to live in subordination to our Maker. At the very heart of sin is pride. At the very core of sin is the desire to be autonomous, to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong, true and false. In our sin we insist on gong our own way. Oh that we would truly submit to God and to his word to live in subjection to him. Oh, that we would truly live with God as King over us, with Christ truly as Lord. Here is where find life abundant. Friends, “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word [of God], which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21, ESV).

Three, let us serve the Lord faithfully in the places that he set us, living in perpetual obedience to our Maker. Are you a husband? Serve the Lord faithfully in your home. Are you are wife? Fulfill God’s calling upon by living according to his word. Are you a child? Obey God and show honor to your parents. Are you single? Walk in purity day by day trusting in the Lord always. Are you employed? Work to the glory of God exercising dominion in the place that God has set you, never for your own glory and according to your own wisdom, but in perpetual submission to your Maker and to his glory alone. 

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