20 Then God said, "Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens."
21 So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
22 And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth."
23 So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
For the first four days of Creation, God simply created good things. Each time He finished with some part of making the universe, God would look at it and see that it was good. In and of itself, the Creation was good and pleasant - the land and the seas, the plants and the stars, all of it. But for God, "good" is not good enough. Here in the fifth day (and again on the sixth), God does more than just notice that He's creating something good, He also blesses the living creatures He creates.
What does it mean to bless something? In Hebrew, the word is "bārak," which is variously translated as "bless" or "praise" or even "kneel." This idea of blessing is a very different idea than most of us think. This blessing in the Old Testament is not so much about giving gifts of God's grace, it is more about honoring and adoring something, about showing living creatures respect and love. It is not in itself an act of worship - i.e. ascribing worth to something or someone - but more a simple acknowledgment of something's intrinsic worth and goodness. Although God is spirit (John 4:24), it is still quite a vision to think of God kneeling down and perhaps even smiling at the lovely creatures He had made, as He tells them to "be fruitful, and multiply."
When we look at the complexity of the world's ecosystems, we, too, may smile and kneel before God's Creation. We certainly ought to praise God for what He has wrought, for the abundance and variety of the creatures He has made. From the tiniest germ or plankton to great whales and majestic eagles, we have to acknowledge how wonderfully God has worked. And looking at how these creatures multiply and spread across the earth, largely unaffected by or at least adapting to the changes humanity makes in their homes, we have to be amazed at the sheer tenacity of God's Creation. He may not have created it to last forever, but God certainly created the world and its living creatures to not go down without a fight.
And perhaps that is the blessing that God bestowed - "blessing" in the sense of a gift of God's grace and power. God gave living creatures a measure of His power and His vitality, so that they would hold on even when things got tough. He created the fish and the birds and the beasts and gave them His praise, and then He gave them a simple command which they obey until this very day: "Be fruitful, and multiply." (v.22) God told them to grow, to increase, to bear the fruit of their loins, to cover all the seas and the skies and the earth. God told them to live life, and to live it more abundantly in the only way a brute creature knows how: by procreating and making new generations.
From the greatest galaxy down to the smallest microorganism, God knew the finiteness of His Creation. While the stars and planets had their own mechanisms for birthing and dying through nuclear reactions and chemical bonding, so, too, did God bestow upon living things a capacity to renew and revive themselves, so that the spark of life He gave would not be extinguished until the last day. God knew that the lion would hunt the gazelle, and so He gave them both the capacity to continue living from one generation to the next. And while some creatures may have been utterly wiped out, He has allowed others to grow and fill those same niches, so that life continues in abundance on His earth.
I am not an ecologist nor a "green freak," but I can see that humanity has thrown off that God-given balance that once existed in the world. To humankind alone, God has given a portion of His Spirit, and to us alone He has promised eternal life. And yet only humankind seems able to utterly wipe all life from the face of the earth. Whether we do it with atomic bombs or with unchecked pollution, it seems very likely that in just a few generations there will be far fewer of God's creatures for us to bless and to have dominion over. With our innate pride and self-centeredness, we have ignored the fact that God didn't just bless humanity, He also blessed the fish and the fowl, the lion and the lamb, commanding them ALL to be fruitful. But how can they be fruitful if humanity rapes the earth of what those creatures need to survive?
The first blessing in the whole Bible was bestowed upon fish and birds, not humans. That ought to tell us something about the value God places on all life, that His blessing is for all creatures, and that humankind is given dominion over things that God finds worthy of adoration and praise. God did not command us nor even recommend that humans be vegetarians, but nor did He tell us to be fruitful ourselves and wipe out all other living creatures. God blessed the birds and the fishes as some of the finest things He ever created. While a star gets by on simple nuclear reactions and constant burning, living creatures display a complexity and variety that continues to astound us, and that is worthy of OUR blessing as well as God's.
Every day, let us honor what God has made. Let us kneel down before the Lord our God and bless Him for what He has given us. Let us make a commitment not to destroy the wonderful balance He has created, not to bring the curse of our own sin down upon the very first things God ever blessed. May we be fruitful, as God has commanded, but also allow God's other blessed creatures to thrive and grow and be fruitful in their own right.
Heavenly Father, we thank You and praise You that You have already forgiven us for our pride and short-sightedness. We thank You for Jesus Your Son, because of Whom You are willing to overlook our sin of pride and disrespect for the creatures You have made. How can we love one another as You have loved us if we continue to destroy the very things that give us physical sustenance and life? Please, Lord, guide us aright, teach us Your way of stewarding this Creation, and help us to allow Your other blessed creatures to be fruitful and multiply as You have commanded. Amen.