In Genesis 1:4, 1:6-7, 1:9-10, 1:14, 1:17-18 there is a repetitive theme that we would do well to pay attention to. This repeated theme present in these verses is one of separation. Watch for it as lay these verses out before you.
1:4 says, “And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 1:6-7 says, “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.” 1:9-10 says, “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 seas. And God saw that it was good.” 1:14 says, “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…’” 1:17-18 says, “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.”
In these few verses we see the theme of separation repeated. God separated the light from the darkness in v4, God separated the waters above from the waters below in v6-7, God separated the waters under the heavens and the dry land in v9-10, and in v14 and v17-18 God separated day from night by creating the stars. You can even say God made another act of separation in 1:26-31 when He called everything He has made ‘very good’ only after He made man, which in turn gives mankind a distinct status that is higher than every other creature He had made.
Now, usually we tend to think of God’s creative activity in making the world an act of bringing harmony into chaos, and this is right for us to think so, for this is what God truly did. But rarely do we see this from another angle, that in God’s creative activity He brought separation into certain aspects of creation where it did not earlier exist. And after creating separation He called it good.
Think about this idea of separation more. That God brought separation into His creation for the purpose of distinguishing between one thing and another thing, God is preparing us to see how He will deal with His redeemed people. This has meaning for both Israel and the fulfillment of Israel, the Church. As for Israel, God called them to Himself out of Egypt in the Exodus. Once He called them to Himself what did He then command them to do? He gave them His Law so that they would obey it and become different than the other nations. Again and again, we see God calling His people to be different, not like the other nations; so different that the nations would notice a difference between Israel and all other nations on the face of the earth.
In Leviticus 11:44 God says, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” Another way to translate the word ‘holy’ is to be ‘separate.’ So just as God did great works of separation in creating the world to distinguish between this and that, God, by redeeming Israel out of Egypt did another great work of separation, setting His people apart from all other nations, for Himself. This also shows us the root of Israel’s sin through the OT was such that they no longer looked different than the nations around them. Each time they began to resemble the surrounding nations more than God, God would send a prophet to rebuke them and remind them of His Law.
This work of separation does not end when we cross over into the New Testament. Peter, in 1 Peter 1:14-16 applies Leviticus 11:44 to the Church saying, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written ‘You shall be holy, as I am holy.’” More so, using OT language notice how Paul speaks to the Corinthians in regard to their conduct before the pagan world in 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of God; as God said, ‘I will make My dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty.’ Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
Notice what’s happening here. The same work of separation that God did at creation, He then did with His people Israel, and then also did with the fulfillment of Israel, His Church. As His work of separation was to distinguish between this and that in Genesis 1, and as His work of separation was to distinguish Israel from their surrounding nations in the OT, His work of separation now continues by distinguishing His Church from the unbelieving world. He calls us to be holy, calls us to be separate, calls us to be the light of the world, to be light in darkness, and calls us to be different from the world that He calls us to reach for Christ. This work of separation prepares us for Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:34, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” God is working to conform His people to His own character and by doing so, He is creating a people that will be holy, distinct, and separate from the rest of the world.
Therefore, when we see God doing works of separation in Genesis 1 we get a preview of the kind of life He calls His people to live in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.