1. The First Day - Creation proper (earth created but not yet formed)
2. The Second Day - Preparation and security (day/night, water/land, etc.)
3. The Third Day - Bringing forth life
When we speak of life here, we are talking about organic life that can procreate, grow, and needs a source of nourishment. In verse 11, we see that this first life is plants. The Bible in this account differentiates between three types of these plants:
A. Grass - meaning ground-covering vegetation
B. Herbs - bushes, shrubs, etc.
C. Trees - larger, woody plants
Because plants are living organisms, they are not simple in their makeup. For one thing, this is the first time created matter has been given self-replicating building-blocks called cells, which in themselves are complex. Despite the fact the cell is microscopic, it is also like a small factory as many component parts make up a cell As biochemist Michael Behe has noted, the cell has the capacity to produce thousands of different types of proteins and other molecules at different times and under variable conditions, a process known as irreducible complexity. Irreducible complexity is defined as being several interacting parts being present and functioning at the same time, and the removal of even one causes the whole system to malfunction (Allen Gillen, Frank J. Sherwin III, and Alan C. Knowles, The Human Body, An Intelligent Design. St. Joseph, MO: Creation Research Society Books, 2001. p. 28.). This complexity of the cell is itself an evidence that a master Creator designed a remarkable system to reproduce and sustain life, and all organisms - plant, animal, and human - have cellular construction. There is absolutely no logical possibility for such a system to randomly "evolve" over millions and billlions of years. Again, this would be the Aquinas Law of Non-Contradiction - Nature doesn't disprove the Bible at all, but rather affirms what Scripture teaches about the origins of life. In the case of plants however, God also gave them their own energy-producing mechanics by equipping them with cells called chromatophors which, through a process called photosynthesis, helps a plant produce its own food with help from the sun and other natural processes. However, the sun would not be created until the next day, so how did the plants feed themselves on the first day? Remember, God Himself provides a supernatural light on the first days of Creation, and thus it is this light that sustains the plants until the sun is created on Day Four. So, now that we have established that God created the basic building-blocks of life (cells), and the means for plants to feed themselves (photosynthesis), He also gave them the command and ability to reproduce after their kind. First, however, we note what Jesus said in Luke 12:27 that God indeed endowed the plants with a beauty only He Himself could create but no man can duplicate, as it says that we are to "consider the lilies, how they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these." The sophistication of their makeup, the beauty of their flowers and fruits, and the functionality they have makes plants a strong evidence for God's creation of all life - plants are not stupid, simple organisms which later randomly "evolved" into jellyfish, but are uniquely created by God to both adorn an otherwise barren earth as well as provide nourishment for the animals and man which were to come later. As mentioned, the plants were also the first living organisms, and could produce "after their kind," unlike the elements. The Hebrew word used for this, as Dr. Morris notes, is the word min, and although an exact translation of this word is not a consensus among students of the Bible, it is mostly applied to living organisms, and is not limited necessarily to species either but would be more fitting to classify it with the biological term genus, which denotes a group of species which may share a common ancestor (dogs, jackals, and wolves, for instance, would be the "dog kind") (Henry Morris III, The Book of Beginnings Vol. I. Dallas: ICR, 2012. pp. 78-79). One thing about kinds as well is that they can adopt to changes in climate and other factors (this is known as microevolution, and this is scientifically proven, although the better term for it would be adaptation) but one kind can never evolve into another. The plants were created first for a specific purpose - they will provide food for the animals that are created on Day 5, as well as for man when he is created on Day 6. Now, let us look at what the Church Fathers had to say about this, as many of them shed some interesting light on this whole subject as well.
St. Augustine, to start, noted some very sophisticated observations for a person in the 4th century who is not as "enlightened" as us 21st-century, sophisticated people (that is an argument which will be shredded later by the way, as ancients were just as smart and sophisticated as we are today on many levels, and prior to the Flood even more so!). For one thing, he noted that plants are not counted among the elements (remember there are five basics of those - heaven, earth, fire, water, and wind) but rather occupy their own place in God's created order. St. Augustine was astute enough to know that plants possessed the gift of life, in other words. A second observation of note St. Augustine made was that poisonous (toxic) plants and thorns, and I could add even carnivorous plants such as Venus flytraps and sundews, came into being as a result of the Fall later on - poisonous plants, by their very existence, were seen by St. Augustine therefore as a punitive result of our own concupiscence. St. Basil the Great also had some insights which would later be affirmed by Aquinas and others when he noted that God's voice and command became the natural law, and that God Himself endowed plants (and later animals) with procreative abilities. This is an early affirmation of the Thomistic Law of Non-Contradiction, in that because God Himself spoke the command that became natural law, He is therefore the author of it and it doesn't contradict His written revelation in Scripture. Basil further notes that the plants were created by divine decree, and are not a result of some primordial hiding in the earth. This means then that the creation of plant life is miraculous (the natural being created by supernatural means). Basil also makes an excellent observation about the sun too - the sun would not be created for another day yet at this point, and therefore it is folly for those who treat the sun as deity because plants existed before the sun was even created! This, I personally believe, is one of the main reasons why God chose to create the universe in the order He did so, because it makes idolatry and secularism both look foolish in the light of God's creative act. The idea of "bringing forth," as Basil further notes, consists of an elaborate system of procreation with supernatural origin. Therefore, vegetation and its creation are not merely symbolic, because the Scriptural account of their creation should be understood as written. St. Gregory of Nyssa likewise notes that "the ear did not rise from a grain, but the grain came from an ear, and the ear grows around the grain." Now, what is odd about this is the fact that what St. Gregory describes is what we call corn - Corn (or maize) is indigenous to the New World, the Americas, and should not have even been known to 4th-century Church Fathers, but here is St. Gregory describing in almost perfect detail the development of an ear of corn! As we will see later on, many parts of the world were not as isolated as the history books often lead us to believe, and it radically alters what we have been taught from a secular standpoint about history (which in recent years has become more altered, given the propensity of secular educators to cater to "political correctness" and other dumbing-down tactics). St. John Chrysostom affirms too what we have been saying throughout this study as he notes that God Himself ripened the fruits by providing the initial light Himself which nourished the plants prior to the creation of the sun. St. Ambrose would agree, as he wrote that the sun doesn't author vegetation, because it is younger than the green plant. Likewise, St. Ephrem the Syrian (Mor Aprem) affirmed that God created the plants fully mature, due to the fact they had to be to nourish the animals that would be created on the 5th day. These are just some of the uncited references of many of the early Church Fathers on this subject, and to a man they affirm both a literal creation of life by God and a creation that happened in a very short time (These references are taken again from Andrew Louth and Thomas C. Oden, eds, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture - Old Testament I: Genesis 1-11. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001. pp. 13-16).
About a thousand years after the earliest Church Fathers wrote on this subject, a Capuchin monk, St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619) wrote a very thorough commentary on the first three chapters of Genesis in the 16th century which faithfully upheld the literal interpretation of these chapters in Genesis, and throughout much of the remainder of this study I will be referencing his work extensively. For its time, St. Lawrence's commentary is actually very thorough and entails sophisticated scholarship that included even insights from studying Jewish rabbis and some Muslim scholars of his day, and St. Lawrence did have a first-hand knowledge of the Hebrew language himself that he utilized extensively in his own writing. He also was well-schooled in Aramaic as well, and as a Doctor of the Church he stands out as being the only one who utilize rabbinic commentators in his writings. The translation of St. Lawrence's commentary I am using here as reference was made available to me through the Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation, and it has been a real blessing as a learning tool. In his utilization of the rabbinic writers in regard to our passage here, St. Lawrence quotes one, Dawid Kimchi, regarding verse 11 and the distinguishing between two Hebrew words used in the original translation of that verse, deshe and eshev. The word deshe is translated by St. Lawrence as "to produce," implying when it begins to come forth out of the earth. The word eshev is translated "herb," and denotes a mature plant. Therefore, if read this way, the words "let it bring forth" would literally mean then "let it be covered in a garment of vegetation," being "brought forth" by the word of God Himself, in other words (Craig R. Toth, trans., and Victor P. Warkulwicz, ed., St. Lawrennce of Brindisi on Creation and Fall - A Verse-by-Verse Commentary on Genesis 1-3. Mount Jackson, VA: The Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation, 2009. pp. 61-63). In verse 12, St. Lawrence utilizes a word from another rabbi, Ibn Ezra, who says "in them seed which is according to their own species, because each seed preserves its own species," meaning again the impossibility of random evolution. Ibn Ezra, as quoted by St. Lawrence, also notes that the earth produced trees making fruit rather than just fruit-trees, noting that God created this process rather than just making the fruit magically appear on the trees (ibid, p. 64). So, what we see here is the supernatural, and the miraculous, but this must be distinguished from being merely magical - God made the trees to bear fruit through a process He created in them, and the fruit do not just suddenly appear in a smoke-and-mirrors display. This would also figure later after the Fall, when man was cursed essentially with cultivation of these same fruits to bring them to the point of producing the fruits he would consume for nourishment.
There is also a Christocentric application in the third day of Creation too. Out of the non-living God raised life, and in the same way Christ too brought forth life on the Cross when He gave His life for us. And, as you remember, the Resurrection happened on the third day as well. The existence of plant life then is a reminder to us that Jesus, from dead earth, brought forth new life to us. One herb that is associated with the Ressurection traditionally is the basil plant. Basil (which interesting enough comes from the Greek basileios, meaning "king") has long been associated with the Holy Cross, a tradition dating back to the Empress Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, who was reported to have found the location of the Holy Cross by digging under a patch of basil. The shed Blood of Jesus was said to have given life to the basil plants that sprouted at the foot of the Cross, much as God gave life to the plants on the third day of Creation, and therefore since then the basil plant, the "king of herbs," has been associated with the King of Kings. On the Feast of the Holy Cross in the Eastern Churches in particular, there is a blessing of basil bouquets that are then distributed to the faithful, and in an old prayer book I found the prayer for this blessing:
V: Our help is in the name of the Lord
R: Who hath made heaven and earth.
Let us pray.
Almighty and merciful God,
deign, we beseach Thee, to bless
Thy creature, this aromatic basil leaf. +
Even as it delights our senses,
may it recall for us the triumph of Christ, our Crucified King
and the power of His Precious Blood
to purify and preserve us from evil
so that, planted beneath His Cross,
we may flourish to Thy glory
and spread abroad the fragrance of His sacrifice.
Who is the Lord forever and ever.
The example of the basil plant reminds us that even the "lowliest" of creeping herbs can teach us a great deal about the majesty of God, and this is something to remember the next time you eat that good pizza from your favorite Italian restaurant with the fragrance of basil in its sauce. Again too, in Creation we see Christ, sometimes in the littlest of details, but all Creation bears witness and glorifies He who created it.
For some concluding thoughts, first the plants came into being on the third day, each after its kind. Secondly, Sacred Tradition affirms that the initial plant life God created was created with full maturity. Third, the fact plant life was created mature was a necessity for nourishing the animal (and later human) life which was to come. Plants, therefore, were intially created for our nourishment. For the sake of this study finally, the word kind would correspond with the biological term genus, and this will bear great importance as we study through the remainder of Genesis as well. God be with you until our next study.