Tag Archives: deep

Genesis 1:2c – The Waters and the Spirit

Genesis 1:2 (ESV) — 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.


Last week we focused on the meaning of “eretz” – the thing that was “without form and void”.

  • Some suggest it means the entire planet.
  • Some suggest it means the Promised Land/Eden.


Today we deal with the “the deep” and “waters”.





What are they?


Gordon Wenham states that the “‘deep’ and ‘waters’ are virtually synonymous here”.

  • He argues that they are “parallel clauses” that describe the material conditions before God spoke.


He suggests the meaning of deep and waters is:

  • “…The primeval ocean that is supposed to surround and underlie the earth”.
  • Wenham points out, however, that this primeval ocean was not “a power, independent of God, which he had to fight to control”.
    • Like the Babylonian chaos god of the deep, Tiamat, defeated by Marduk.


He points to Genesis 7 to elaborate on what Moses was referring to with the deep.

  • Genesis 7:11 (ESV) — 11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.


Picture of Hebrew view of the earth showing the deep (Logos):




Michael Heiser sees a much stronger parallel to ANE creation stories and Tiamat via the Hebrew word tĕhôm [the deep].

  • He sees them referring to the ANE “cosmic waters of chaos”.
  • He states that Genesis 1:2, “credits the God of Israel with subduing the chaotic primordial conditions to bring about an ordered, habitable creation” – Michael Heiser.


He says this view is paralleled and clarified in Psalm 74.

  • Psalm 74:12–17 (ESV) — 12 Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. 13 You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. 14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. 15 You split open springs and brooks; you dried up ever-flowing streams. 16 Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. 17 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter.


Heiser does recognize the differences between Genesis and Tiamat.

  • He is clear that the chaos represented in Genesis is not to be taken as “personified god”.


Kenneth Mathews agrees with Wenham about the parallel of “waters” and “deep”, and about its meaning.

  • “The ‘deep’ is best taken as part of the ‘earth’ [eretz] and not as a distinctive entity [obstacle to God].”
  • “Here, again, Genesis identifies the waters only for what they are, creations subject to the superintendence of God” – Mathews.
  • In other words, it is a literal description of water created by God and under His total control.


Mathew’s, like Wenham, sees less of a connection than Heiser to any ANE “cosmic waters of chaos”.

“The earlier scholarly opinion that the biblical ‘deep’ (tĕhôm) evidences a borrowing from Babylonian tradition where the primeval waters are personified as Tiamat has been shown wrong.”

  • Sailhamer also agrees.
  • However, Mathews does recognize [like everybody] the obvious similarity between the deep of ANE stories and Genesis.


But he says of them…

“Yet the differences between them are monumental. Whereas Tiamat is a deity that rivals the creator-god Marduk, in Genesis the ‘deep’ is not a threatening force at all, merely physical waters. As for threatening waters, the Lord’s battle against the waters is an important motif in the Psalms and Prophets, but there is no ‘battle of creation’ in the true sense of the word. In Genesis 1 there is no conflict motif as we find in the Baal-Yam or Baal-Mot myths. Among the later biblical writers, where the conflict theme is present, the raging waters pound their waves yet are only waters circumscribed by the omnipotent rule of the Lord (Pss 33:7; 93:1–5)” – Kenneth Mathews.


BTW – What about the “darkness” that is over the deep?

  • Kenneth Mathews says typically “darkness” has been taken in this passage – as it is sometimes used elsewhere – as a negative.


But, “Darkness is not necessarily negative since it is also associated with God, and it is the Lord who made it as a part of his ‘good’ creation” – Mathews.

  • He cites a Psalm to make his point:
  • Psalm 18:11 (ESV) — 11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water.


Moses’ Message:

Mathews also provides for us an excellent observation pertaining to our Moses’ Message theme.

“The proper context for understanding the ‘deep’ for its religious significance is the historical experiences of the Mosaic community where it confronted the waters [not an ANE context]. Yahweh, who had created the waters, employs them to achieve his salvific ends for his people. In the poetic account of Israel’s deliverance, the Song of Moses declares that the ‘deep’ drowned Pharaoh’s armies at the Red Sea (Exod 15:5, 8; cf. Ps 106:9; Isa 63:13). Isaiah directly linked the language of the primordial ‘Rahab’ with God’s deliverance of Israel by the drying up of the ‘great deep’ (i.e., Red Sea, 51:9–10). In Genesis the ‘deep’ of Noah’s day assists the Lord in destroying what God himself had made (7:11; 8:2). The ‘deep’ stands not only in the way of Israel’s escape from Egypt (Exod 14:21–22) but also its entrance into Canaan (Josh 3:14–17); however, it too succumbs to its Creator.”


BTW – I can’t resist noting Mathew’s connection of the waters in Genesis 1 to Revelation 21.

“In Revelation the ‘new heavens and new earth’ have no seawater (21:1), and the New Jerusalem experiences no night because of God’s presence (21:25). By appealing to the imagery of Gen 1:2, John indicates that the eternal, blessed state will be God’s completed new creation. He draws on the additional imagery of Isa 65:17 to show that the old earth and heaven have been supplanted by the new heavenly abode; the salvific work of God in the universe is declared complete.”

  • The new heavens and earth are not a restoration of Eden – they are something “new”.



Sailhamer’s View:

Sailhamer is even less inclined to see a connection to ANE creation stories than Mathews.

  • For him, the context from which to gleam meaning is the Pentateuch, not the ANE.
  • He simply says that “a deep ocean” covered the “eretz” (Promised Land/Eden).
  • Remember, on his view creation was in verse 1.
  • This explains why “stuff” was there before the six day creation event.


BTW – When scholars reject a direct connection between ANE creation stories (Tiamat) and Genesis (tehom) they are not saying there are no similarities.

  • They are saying that Genesis 1 is not dependent on ANE creation stories for its meaning and significance.


Sailhamer, for example, does see the value of an ANE contextual understanding:

“Though I have not taken the ancient Near Eastern approach in Genesis Unbound, I want to acknowledge its strengths and essential validity. The Bible is an ancient book, written to people in an ancient world, with a quite different outlook than ours. We will miss the message and meaning of the Bible if we foist our viewpoint and perspectives on the writers” – John Sailhamer.



Walton’s View:

Walton puts all his eggs in the ANE contextual view.

  • However, we have to remember for him this entails rejecting any material view of creation.
  • The ANE contexts of creation were always a functional view – assigning order and purpose.


Exactly what is the difference between material creation and functional creation?

“We describe functions in scientific terms and understand function as a result of material properties. So we might describe the sun functionally as a burning ball of gas that projects heat and light, and which, by virtue of its gravitational pull, holds the solar system in orbit around it. In contrast, in the ancient world, function was not the result of material properties, but the result of purpose. The sun looks down on all and is associated with the god of justice” – John Walton.


In other words, the sun materially existed in a physical state.

  • But in the ANE that was not existence.
  • When the sun was assigned a role in the life of people and gods is when it “existed” functionally.
  • So creation was not the act of literally physically making the sun.
  • Creation was to give the sun, which already physically existed, its purpose in the life of the gods and people.


Keeping that in mind, Walton says:

  • “Here at the beginning of the creation process, there is already material in existence— the waters of the deep” – John Walton.
    • Similar to Sailhamer, but creation was before 1:1 for Walton – in the “preface” maybe.
  • And, “These primeval cosmic waters are the classic form that nonexistence takes in the functionally oriented ancient world” – John Walton.
  • The cosmic waters are the geographical representation of creation being “functionally nonexistent”.


In other words, the material stuff (creation) is there already.

  • It is “nonexistent” because God has yet to organize it for a purpose.


Walton notes, for example, that in ANE creation stories…

  • “Creation often begins with that which emerges from the waters— whether a deity or land (e.g., the Egyptian Primeval Hillock).”
  • But he then points out that though the material (primeval waters/stuff) is there they are “designated [as] ‘nonexistent’…” – John Walton.


Again, nonexistent because God hasn’t organized it and assigned it a purpose (material creation is present).

  • Remember, in the ANE context, existence is found in function/purpose not in matter.


So the deep and the waters indicate that God has yet to take His creation and submit it to…

  • “A process by which functions, roles, order, jurisdiction, organization and stability [are] established” – John Walton.
  • He does this in the six days of creation – aka – the six days of assigning function, purpose and order.
  • Verses 1 and 2 are an introduction and lead up to this “creation”.


BTW – Walton says the fact that material creation existed before the six days supports his functional view.

“The evidence of matter (the waters of the deep in Gen 1: 2) in the precreation state then supports this [functional] view” – John Walton.





There really isn’t any disagreement here.

  • Though, obviously, the implications are different depending on one’s view of the creation story.


Wenham says the word “ruach” could be “Wind of God” or “Spirit of God”.

  • The point being made is that “the powerful presence of God moving mysteriously over the face of the waters” – Wenham.


Heiser says it is more likely to be “Spirit”.

  • “The pairing of ruach with God usually refers to God’s spirit” – Heiser.
  • And he says, “The basic idea is vibration, so its use here in the primordial description indicates that the process of transforming the unformed, inactive material of v. 2 begins with God’s hovering presence” – Michael Heiser.
  • This view expresses the formless, blob, lava lamp view of “Tohu Wabohu” in opposition to most of the other views from last week.


Kenneth Mathews simply says…

  • God’s Spirit is “presiding over the earth and preparing it for the creative word to follow. The ‘Spirit’ alone is moving, animated, while the elements of the lifeless earth remain static, passive, awaiting their command” – Mathews.
  • “God was sovereignly superintending the condition of the earth and preparing the way for his creative word” – Mathews.


Moses’ Message:

Mathews gives yet another insight into our Moses’ Message theme.

“The Mosaic community may have understood rûaḥ as having a double sense, ‘wind’ as the prototype of the ‘Spirit’ because of Israel’s experience at the Red Sea, where God sent a mighty ‘wind’ to part the waters and deliver Israel from the Egyptians” – Mathews.

  • Exodus 14:21 (ESV) — 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.


Sailhamer and Walton:

Sailhamer and Walton don’t seem to differ from the above.

  • However, they see the work of the Spirit in light of their specific views.
  • This leads to vastly different implications of the purpose of the “hovering”.
  • Calling out the Promised Land/Eden or preparing to give function.


Questions Answered:

When we began verse 2 a few weeks ago, we asked a number of questions.

  • Where did the “darkness” and the “waters” come from?
  • What does “eretz” mean?
  • What does “without form and void” mean?
  • What is the “hovering” work of the Spirit?


We now have possible answers for all of these questions.

  • Next week we start the six days of creation.