Genesis 1:1 Commentary - Adam Clarke's Commentary and Critical Notes on the Bible
THE FIRST BOOK OF MOSES CALLED GENESIS
-Year before the common era of Christ, 4004.
-Julian Period, 710.
-Cycle of the Sun, 10.
-Dominical Letter, B.
-Cycle of the Moon, 7.
-Creation from Tisri or September, 1.
First day's work-Creation of the heavens and the earth, 1, 2.
Of the light and its separation from the darkness, 3-5.
Second day's work-The creation of the firmament, and the separation
of the waters above the firmament from those below it, 6-8.
Third day's work-The waters are separated from the earth and formed
into seas, c., 9,10. The earth rendered fruitful, and clothed with trees, herbs, grass,
Fourth day's work-Creation of the celestial luminaries intended for
the measurement of time, the distinction of periods, seasons, &c., 14 and to illuminate the earth, 15. Distinct account of the formation of the sun, moon, and stars, 16-19.
Fifth day's work-The creation of fish, fowls, and reptiles in general,
20. Of great aquatic animals, 21.
They are blessed so as to make them very prolific, 22, 23.
Sixth day's work-Wild and tame cattle created, and all kinds of animals
which derive their nourishment from the earth, 24, 25. The creation of man in the image and likeness of God, with the dominion
given him over the earth and all inferior animals, 26. Man or Adam, a general name for human beings, including both male and
female, 27. Their peculiar blessing, 28. Vegetables appointed as the food of man and all other animals, 29, 30. The judgment which God passed on his works at the conclusion of his
creative acts, 31.
NOTES ON CHAP. I
Verse 1. בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ Bereshith bara Elohim eth hashshamayim veeth haarets GOD in the beginning created the heavens and the earth.
Many attempts have been made to define the term GOD: as to the word itself, it is pure Anglo-Saxon, and among our ancestors signified, not only the Divine Being, now commonly designated by the word, but also good; as in their apprehensions it appeared that God and good were correlative terms; and when they thought or spoke of him, they were doubtless led from the word itself to consider him as THE GOOD BEING, a fountain of infinite benevolence and beneficence towards his creatures.
A general definition of this great First Cause, as far as human words dare attempt one, may be thus given: The eternal, independent, and self-existent Being: the Being whose purposes and actions spring from himself, without foreign motive or influence: he who is absolute in dominion; the most pure, the most simple, and most spiritual of all essences; infinitely benevolent, beneficent, true, and holy: the cause of all being, the upholder of all things; infinitely happy, because infinitely perfect; and eternally self-sufficient, needing nothing that he has made: illimitable in his immensity, inconceivable in his mode of existence, and indescribable in his essence; known fully only to himself, because an infinite mind can be fully apprehended only by itself. In a word, a Being who, from his infinite wisdom, cannot err or be deceived; and who, from his infinite goodness, can do nothing but what is eternally just, right, and kind. Reader, such is the God of the Bible; but how widely different from the God of most human creeds and apprehensions!
The original word אלהים Elohim, God, is certainly the plural form of אל El, or אלה Eloah, and has long been supposed, by the most eminently learned and pious men, to imply a plurality of Persons in the Divine nature. As this plurality appears in so many parts of the sacred writings to be confined to three Persons, hence the doctrine of the TRINITY, which has formed a part of the creed of all those who have been deemed sound in the faith, from the earliest ages of Christianity. Nor are the Christians singular in receiving this doctrine, and in deriving it from the first words of Divine revelation. An eminent Jewish rabbin, Simeon ben Joachi, in his comment on the sixth section of Leviticus, has these remarkable words: "Come and see the mystery of the word Elohim; there are three degrees, and each degree by itself alone, and yet notwithstanding they are all one, and joined together in one, and are not divided from each other." See Ainsworth. He must be strangely prejudiced indeed who cannot see that the doctrine of a Trinity, and of a Trinity in unity, is expressed in the above words. The verb bara, he created, being joined in the singular number with this plural noun, has been considered as pointing out, and not obscurely, the unity of the Divine Persons in this work of creation. In the ever-blessed Trinity, from the infinite and indivisible unity of the persons, there can be but one will, one purpose, and one infinite and uncontrollable energy.
"Let those who have any doubt whether אלהים Elohim, when meaning the true God, Jehovah, be plural or not, consult the following passages, where they will find it joined with adjectives, verbs, and pronouns plural.
As the word Elohim is the term by which the Divine Being is most generally expressed in the Old Testament, it may be necessary to consider it here more at large. It is a maxim that admits of no controversy, that every noun in the Hebrew language is derived from a verb, which is usually termed the radix or root, from which, not only the noun, but all the different flections of the verb, spring. This radix is the third person singular of the preterite or past tense. The ideal meaning of this root expresses some essential property of the thing which it designates, or of which it is an appellative. The root in Hebrew, and in its sister language, the Arabic, generally consists of three letters, and every word must be traced to its root in order to ascertain its genuine meaning, for there alone is this meaning to be found. In Hebrew and Arabic this is essentially necessary, and no man can safely criticise on any word in either of these languages who does not carefully attend to this point.
I mention the Arabic with the Hebrew for two reasons.
1. Because the two languages evidently spring from the same source, and have very nearly the same mode of construction.
2. Because the deficient roots in the Hebrew Bible are to be sought for in the Arabic language. The reason of this must be obvious, when it is considered that the whole of the Hebrew language is lost except what is in the Bible, and even a part of this book is written in Chaldee.
Now, as the English Bible does not contain the whole of the English language, so the Hebrew Bible does not contain the whole of the Hebrew. If a man meet with an English word which he cannot find in an ample concordance or dictionary to the Bible, he must of course seek for that word in a general English dictionary. In like manner, if a particular form of a Hebrew word occur that cannot be traced to a root in the Hebrew Bible, because the word does not occur in the third person singular of the past tense in the Bible, it is expedient, it is perfectly lawful, and often indispensably necessary, to seek the deficient root in the Arabic. For as the Arabic is still a living language, and perhaps the most copious in the universe, it may well be expected to furnish those terms which are deficient in the Hebrew Bible. And the reasonableness of this is founded on another maxim, viz., that either the Arabic was derived from the Hebrew, or the Hebrew from the Arabic. I shall not enter into this controversy; there are great names on both sides, and the decision of the question in either way will have the same effect on my argument. For if the Arabic were derived from the Hebrew, it must have been when the Hebrew was a living and complete language, because such is the Arabic now; and therefore all its essential roots we may reasonably expect to find there: but if, as Sir William Jones supposed, the Hebrew were derived from the Arabic, the same expectation is justified, the deficient roots in Hebrew may be sought for in the mother tongue. If, for example, we meet with a term in our ancient English language the meaning of which we find difficult to ascertain, common sense teaches us that we should seek for it in the Anglo-Saxon, from which our language springs; and, if necessary, go up to the Teutonic, from which the Anglo-Saxon was derived. No person disputes the legitimacy of this measure, and we find it in constant practice. I make these observations at the very threshold of my work, because the necessity of acting on this principle (seeking deficient Hebrew roots in the Arabic) may often occur, and I wish to speak once for all on the subject.
The first sentence in the Scripture shows the propriety of having recourse to this principle. We have seen that the word אלהים Elohim is plural; we have traced our term God to its source, and have seen its signification; and also a general definition of the thing or being included under this term, has been tremblingly attempted. We should now trace the original to its root, but this root does not appear in the Hebrew Bible. Were the Hebrew a complete language, a pious reason might be given for this omission, viz., "As God is without beginning and without cause, as his being is infinite and underived, the Hebrew language consults strict propriety in giving no root whence his name can be deduced." Mr. Parkhurst, to whose pious and learned labours in Hebrew literature most Biblical students are indebted, thinks he has found the root in אלה alah, he swore, bound himself by oath; and hence he calls the ever-blessed Trinity אלהים Elohim, as being bound by a conditional oath to redeem man, c., c. Most pious minds will revolt from such a definition, and will be glad with me to find both the noun and the root preserved in Arabic. ALLAH [Arabic] is the common name for GOD in the Arabic tongue, and often the emphatic [Arabic] is used. Now both these words are derived from the root alaha, he worshipped, adored, was struck with astonishment, fear, or terror and hence, he adored with sacred horror and veneration, cum sacro horrore ac veneratione coluit, adoravit. - WILMET. Hence ilahon, fear, veneration, and also the object of religious fear, the Deity, the supreme God, the tremendous Being. This is not a new idea God was considered in the same light among the ancient Hebrews; and hence Jacob swears by the fear of his father Isaac, Ge 31:53. To complete the definition, Golius renders alaha, juvit, liberavit, et tutatus fuit, "he succoured, liberated, kept in safety, or defended." Thus from the ideal meaning of this most expressive root, we acquire the most correct notion of the Divine nature; for we learn that God is the sole object of adoration; that the perfections of his nature are such as must astonish all those who piously contemplate them, and fill with horror all who would dare to give his glory to another, or break his commandments; that consequently he should be worshipped with reverence and religious fear; and that every sincere worshipper may expect from him help in all his weaknesses, trials, difficulties, temptations, c, freedom from the power, guilt, nature, and consequences of sin; and to be supported, defended, and saved to the uttermost, and to the end.
Here then is one proof, among multitudes which shall be adduced in the course of this work, of the importance, utility, and necessity of tracing up these sacred words to their sources; and a proof also, that subjects which are supposed to be out of the reach of the common people may, with a little difficulty, be brought on a level with the most ordinary capacity.
In the beginning] Before the creative acts mentioned in this chapter all was ETERNITY. Time signifies duration measured by the revolutions of the heavenly bodies: but prior to the creation of these bodies there could be no measurement of duration, and consequently no time; therefore in the beginning must necessarily mean the commencement of time which followed, or rather was produced by, God's creative acts, as an effect follows or is produced by a cause.
Created] Caused existence where previously to this moment there was no being. The rabbins, who are legitimate judges in a case of verbal criticism on their own language, are unanimous in asserting that the word ברא bara expresses the commencement of the existence of a thing, or egression from nonentity to entity. It does not in its primary meaning denote the preserving or new forming things that had previously existed, as some imagine, but creation in the proper sense of the term, though it has some other acceptations in other places. The supposition that God formed all things out of a pre-existing, eternal nature, is certainly absurd, for if there had been an eternal nature besides an eternal God, there must have been two self-existing, independent, and eternal beings, which is a most palpable contradiction.
את השמים eth hashshamayim. The word את eth, which is generally considered as a particle, simply denoting that the word following is in the accusative or oblique case, is often understood by the rabbins in a much more extensive sense. "The particle את," says Aben Ezra, "signifies the substance of the thing." The like definition is given by Kimchi in his Book of Roots. "This particle," says Mr. Ainsworth, "having the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet in it, is supposed to comprise the sum and substance of all things." "The particle את eth (says Buxtorf, Talmudic Lexicon, sub voce) with the cabalists is often mystically put for the beginning and the end, as α alpha and ω omega are in the Apocalypse." On this ground these words should be translated, "God in the beginning created the substance of the heavens and the substance of the earth," i.e. the prima materia, or first elements, out of which the heavens and the earth were successively formed. The Syriac translator understood the word in this sense, and to express this meaning has used the word [Arabic] yoth, which has this signification, and is very properly translated in Walton's Polyglot, ESSE, caeli et ESSE terrae, "the being or substance of the heaven, and the being or substance of the earth." St. Ephraim Syrus, in his comment on this place, uses the same Syriac word, and appears to understand it precisely in the same way. Though the Hebrew words are certainly no more than the notation of a case in most places, yet understood here in the sense above, they argue a wonderful philosophic accuracy in the statement of Moses, which brings before us, not a finished heaven and earth, as every other translation appears to do, though afterwards the process of their formation is given in detail, but merely the materials out of which God built the whole system in the six following days.
The heaven and the earth.] As the word שמים shamayim is plural, we may rest assured that it means more than the atmosphere, to express which some have endeavoured to restrict its meaning. Nor does it appear that the atmosphere is particularly intended here, as this is spoken of, Ge 1:6, under the term firmament. The word heavens must therefore comprehend the whole solar system, as it is very likely the whole of this was created in these six days; for unless the earth had been the centre of a system, the reverse of which is sufficiently demonstrated, it would be unphilosophic to suppose it was created independently of the other parts of the system, as on this supposition we must have recourse to the almighty power of God to suspend the influence of the earth's gravitating power till the fourth day, when the sun was placed in the centre, round which the earth began then to revolve. But as the design of the inspired penman was to relate what especially belonged to our world and its inhabitants, therefore he passes by the rest of the planetary system, leaving it simply included in the plural word heavens. In the word earth every thing relative to the terraqueaerial globe is included, that is, all that belongs to the solid and fluid parts of our world with its surrounding atmosphere. As therefore I suppose the whole solar system was created at this time, I think it perfectly in place to give here a general view of all the planets, with every thing curious and important hitherto known relative to their revolutions and principal affections.
A GENERAL VIEW OF THE WHOLE SOLAR SYSTEM
TABLE I. - THE REVOLUTIONS, DISTANCES, c., c., OF ALL THE PRIMARY PLANETS
TABLE II.-SATELLITES OF JUPITER
TABLE III.-SATELLITES OF SATURN
TABLE IV.-SATELLITES OF HERSCHEL, OR THE GEORGIUM SIDUS
OBSERVATIONS ON THE PRECEDING TABLES
IN Table I. the quantity or the periodic and sidereal revolutions of the planets is expressed in common years, each containing 365 days as, e.g., the tropical revolution of Jupiter is, by the table, 11 years, 315 days, 14 hours, 39 minutes, 2 seconds i.e., the exact number of days is equal to 11 years multiplied by 365, and the extra 315 days added to the product, which make In all 4330 days. The sidereal and periodic times are also set down to the nearest second of time, from numbers used in the construction of the tables in the third edition of M. de la Lande's Astronomy. The columns containing the mean distance of the planets from the sun in English miles, and their greatest and least distance from the earth, are such as result from the best observations of the two last transits of Venus, which gave the solar parallax to be equal to 8 three-fifth seconds of a degree; and consequently the earth's diameter, as seen from the sun, must be the double of 8 three-fifth seconds, or 17 one-fifth seconds. From this last quantity, compared with the apparent diameters of the planets, as seen at a distance equal to that of the earth at her main distance from the sun, the diameters of the planets in English miles, as contained in the seventh column, have been carefully computed. In the column entitled "Proportion of bulk, the earth being 1," the whole numbers express the number of times the other planet contains more cubic miles, c., than the earth and if the number of cubic miles in the earth be given, the number of cubic miles in any planet may be readily found by multiplying the cubic miles contained in the earth by the number in the column, and the product will be the quantity required.
This is a small but accurate sketch of the vast solar system; to describe it fully, even in all its known revolutions and connections, in all its astonishing energy and influence, in its wonderful plan, structure, operations, and results, would require more volumes than can be devoted to the commentary itself.
As so little can be said here on a subject so vast, it may appear to some improper to introduce it at all; but to any observation of this kind I must be permitted to reply, that I should deem it unpardonable not to give a general view of the solar system in the very place where its creation is first introduced. If these works be stupendous and magnificent, what must He be who formed, guides, and supports them all by the word of his power! Reader, stand in awe of this God, and sin not. Make him thy friend through the Son of his love; and, when these heavens and this earth are no more, thy soul shall exist in consummate and unutterable felicity.
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Adam Clarke's Commentary and Critical Notes on the Bible
Adam Clarke (1762 – 1832) was a British Methodist theologian who served three times as President of the Methodist Conference (1806–07, 1814–15 and 1822–23). A biblical scholar, he published an influential Bible commentary among other works. He was a Wesleyan.