“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life…” (Genesis:1:20)
One of the interesting things that we notice as we read through Genesis 1 is how economical on words the chapter is. A great deal is said with very few words. So when the creation of sea creatures on the fifth day is reported, it is described thus: And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures.”
The Hebrew word for swarm is repeated, which adds extra emphasis. In English, we could probably interpret this as “swarms and swarms and swarms”. The impression is given of large numbers of creatures of a very wide variety. The fourth Century teacher Basil interpreted the verse thus: “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life.”
Not only that, but these creatures are described as living creatures – in Hebrew, this is nephesh chayyāh. The word nephesh (נפש) refers to life as described in Leviticus:17:11 – “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” It is this word that indicates the great difference between animal life and plant life, as far as the Bible is concerned. Plants can be described as food machines that can self-replicate. Animals, in contrast, are what life is really about. That is why, for example, the blood of certain animals could be offered as a covering for sin as a type of Christ, whereas plants could not. This, indeed, was part of the reason for God later accepting Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s.
There is a great excitement in the description of these first animals. God is a God of variety.