Tag Archives: eretz

Genesis 1:2b – Eretz as Planet Earth or Land

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 explored the meaning of “without form and void”.

  • We now need to deal with exactly what was formless and void.
  • We have two choices – planet earth or the land.
  • Not surprisingly there are some differences of opinion.





Planet Earth:

Often, verse 2 is understood as describing planet earth covered with water.

  • Gordon Wenham says “eretz” in verse 2 “describes the state of the earth [as in planet] before the first divine command”.
  • Waltke agrees and says “eretz” in verse 2 is “what we would call the planet”.


In other words, there is no land present at all.

  • The assumption is that all the land on the entire planet is covered with water.


James Boice embraces this view and provides the below graphic:





The text doesn’t actually say earth is covered with water.

  • This is assumed based on the 3rd day of creation description – about which there is disagreement.
  • And if Genesis 1:1 is about the creation of the universe, then land is present.



But given the contextual considerations of Genesis 1 and 2 and the Pentatuech…

  • Some say “eretz” means the land from a person’s perspective, not planet earth.
  • Genesis 1:2, then, is actually distinguishing between land and water.


In fact, Kenneth Mathews says “eretz” in verse 2 is “the ‘land’ of Israel’s habitation.”

  • In other words, what is covered with water is a specific piece of land – Israel’s land.


He goes on to say:

“The recurring motifs of ‘land’ and ‘blessing’ introduced in 1:1–2:3 are thematic fixtures in the patriarchal narratives and the entire Pentateuch. For Israel the land was God’s good gift that he prepared for his people to possess. Creation prepared God’s good ‘land/ earth,’ which was for man to enjoy (1:10, 12, 31) and for Israel to possess” – Kenneth Mathews.


In other words, taking into consideration the focus of the Pentateuch, the “eretz” has to be land, specifically Israel’s land.

  • And God’s preparation of this land for habitation involved the waters that were on, part of, or up against such this land.
  • More on this next week, and when we get to day 3.


John Walton’s Take:

He appears to take the planet earth view, but from a functional perspective not a material one.


John Sailhamer’s Take:

Sailhamer, like Mathews, says the answer is to be found in a contextual consideration of Genesis.

  • “Throughout Genesis 1, the term eretz is used to denote ‘the dry land,’ as opposed to a body of water” – John Sailhamer.
  • He suggests, then, that verse 2 is referring to “the land” as opposed to the waters around it.


In other words, “eretz” is used to distinguish between the water and the land throughout Genesis 1 and 2.

  • It is not used to describe the totality of planet earth – sky, water and land.


Other verses make this distinction as well.

  • 1:11 – “Let the ‘eretz’ sprout vegetation…” – can’t be global earth (sky, water, land), must be specifically land since most of earth is water and sky doesn’t “sprout vegetation”.
  • 1:12 – “The ‘eretz’ brought forth vegetation…” – same.


And looking at Genesis 2 we see the same meaning of “eretz”.

  • “The [eretz] land is the dry ground where the man and the woman were to dwell when they were created” – John Sailhamer.
  • The “eretz” is not the totality of planet earth – sky, water, land.


Exodus and Deuteronomy also demonstrate this distinction.

  • Exodus 20:4 (ESV) — 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth [eretz] beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
  • Deuteronomy 33:13–16 (ESV) — 13 And of Joseph he said, “Blessed by the Lord be his land [eretz], with the choicest gifts of heaven above, and of the deep that crouches beneath
  • As with Genesis, eretz is not the globe because of the distinctions made between heaven and water.


For these reasons Sailhamer asserts:

“The usual meaning of eretz is simply ‘the land’ and not ‘the earth’ as in most English translations. For the most part, it refers to a specific stretch of land in a local, geographical, or political sense. Often it means simply ‘the ground’ upon which one stands” – John Sailhamer.


Sailhamer, like Mathews, also believes he can answer the following question.

  • What “specific stretch of land”?


Eretz as The Promised Land:

Sailhamer argues the referent of “eretz” is the Promised Land.

  • “…Most often in Genesis and throughout the Pentateuch the term eretz refers to the promised land” – John Sailhamer.
  • He says there are at least four reasons to understand “eretz” in Genesis 1 as the Promised Land.


(1) Garden of Eden Implication

  • If Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are about the same creation event, an important implication can be deduced.
  • First, Genesis 2 is clearly about the “eretz” as the Garden of Eden not global earth.
  • Therefore if Genesis 1 is the same creation as Genesis 2, it is also about “eretz” as the Garden of Eden – i.e. the Promised Land.
  • “Since chapter 2 is clearly an account of God’s preparing the garden of Eden as man’s dwelling place, chapter 1 must also be about God’s preparing the garden” – John Sailhamer.


(2) Location of Babylon Implication

  • Genesis 11:1–2 & 9 (NASB95) — 1 Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. 2 It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there…Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.


Shinar is “a plain in the lower Euphrates-Tigris system, from modern Baghdad to the Persian Gulf” – Logos 5.

  • And Babel, says Sailhamer, is Hebrew for Babylon.
  • So here we have a people that speak the same language who journeyed east towards the Euphrates-Tigris rivers system and built a tower in Babylon.
  • Is this describing the global earth and its entire people, or the people dwelling in the “eretz” west of Babylon?
  • Sailhamer says, “It seems clear from this text that the author did not understand ‘the land’ in Genesis 11:1 as ‘the whole earth.’ Rather, it was simply the region west of Babylon” – John Sailhamer.


So what?

  • Question – if one traveled East from Eden where would one end up?
    • Answer – Babylon.
    • Genesis 2:14 (ESV) — 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
    • Genesis 3:24 (ESV) — 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
    • Genesis 4:16 (ESV) — 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

“This implicit geography within these early narratives locates the promised land centrally and sees movement away from it as ‘eastward’ and away from God’s presence, to Babylon. It is thus understood within the narratives that ‘the land’ is in fact the promised land” – John Sailhamer.


BTW – When Israel was exiled, where were they sent? East.

  • And what left the Temple? God’s presence.
  • Curiously, what direction did Abraham come from to enter into the Promised Land? The east.


BTW 2 – Sailhamer makes an interesting observation at this point.

  • Genesis 3:24 tells us that God placed an angelat the east of the garden”.
  • We are later told, two times, that an Israelite traveling west to the Promised Land encountered an angel/theophany.


Jacob encounters an angel and a theophany as he travels west into the Promised Land.

  • Genesis 31:3 (ESV) — 3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land [eretz] of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.”
  • Genesis 32:1 (ESV) — 1 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
  • Genesis 32:24 (ESV) — 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.


Joshua encounters the Divine Warrior as he travels west into the Promised Land.

  • Joshua 5:13–14 (ESV) — 13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth [eretz] and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”


(3) Central Theme of Pentateuch is Covenant and Promised Land

  • Genesis 12:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land [eretz] that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
  • Deuteronomy 1:8 (ESV) — 8 See, I have set the land [eretz] before you. Go in and take possession of the land [eretz] that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them.’

“The close ties between the creation narratives in Genesis and the narratives which focus specifically on the covenant suggest they are all concerned with the same general theme: God’s gift of the land” – John Sailhamer.


(4) Other OT Writers Connect Genesis 1 with the Promised Land

  • Jeremiah 27:5–6 (ESV) — 5 “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth [eretz], with the men and animals that are on the earth [eretz], and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. 6 Now I have given all these lands [eretz] into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him.
  • Verse 5 is clearly echoing Genesis 1 creation language and is talking about the eretz.
  • Verse 6 makes clear that the eretz is the Promised Land that God is taking from the Israelites and giving to Nebuchadnezzar.

“There is no thought in Jeremiah’s words that God was about to give the ‘whole earth’ to Nebuchadnezzar. The very next verse [verse 6] says that God was about to give only Judah’s land and the lands of her neighbors into the hands of the Babylonian king” – John Sailhamer.


And of course our Jeremiah text from last week.

  • Jeremiah 4:23–26 (ESV) — 23 I looked on the earth [eretz], and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. 24 I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. 25 I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the air had fled. 26 I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger.


This is also evident in the “return to Eden” texts:

  • Isaiah 51:3 (ESV) — 3 For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
  • Ezekiel 36:35–36 (ESV) — 35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ 36 Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.
  • Joel 2:3 (ESV) — 3 Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them.


Sailhamer also argues that the “return to Eden” texts demonstrate that land=Eden=Promised Land?

  • His reason is found in Genesis 2:8.
  • Genesis 2:8 (ESV) — 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.
  • Was Eden the garden or was the garden in Eden?
  • What is Eden, then? Sailhamer would say the Promised Land.


Sailhamer’s graphic describing exactly what the “eretz” in Genesis 1:2 is referring to:



BTW – if the “eretz” is the Promised Land, what are the waters?

  • More on this later.



Genesis 1:1b – God Created the Heavens and the Earth

Today we dig into the importance of “bara” and “the heavens and the earth”.

  • The weight of creation has far reaching implications.
    • Scientifically
    • Philosophically
    • Theologically


For example, science has demonstrated that all the following “had a beginning in finite time” – Hugh Ross.

  • All matter and energy
  • All space-time dimensions “within which matter and energy are distributed” – Ross.
  • Genesis 1 seems to make the same claim.


And philosophically, the Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God stems from creation.

  • Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  • The universe began to exist.
  • Therefore the universe has a cause.


Moreover, philosophically, Genesis 1 provides the answer to the following question…

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?


Yet, regardless of whatever scientific and philosophical implications Genesis 1:1 may or may not have, I am most concerned with

  • Its theological significance,
  • Moses’ Message,
  • And, John Sailhamer and John Walton’s take.





A huge implication of “bara”:

“It should be noted that God, the God of Israel, is always the subject of ברא” – Gordon Wenham.

  • “Creation is never predicated [on] pagan deities” – Gordon Wenham.
  • In other words, the use of “bara” in the OT is reserved only for God.
  • “Bara” is something only the God of Israel can do.
    • Not man
    • Not pagan gods


Because of this, the HALOT actually refers to “bara” as a theological term.

  • One reason is an implication of the exclusivity of “bara”.


The fact that only God can “bara” highlights the difference between Creator and creation.

  • God puts it as follows:
  • Job 38:4–7 (ESV) — 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, 7 when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?


The God that called out Moses and led the Israelites out of Egypt is wholly other from creation.

  • He is not contingent upon creation.


A.W. Pink puts it like this:

“God was under no constraint, no obligation, no necessity to create. That he chose to do so was purely a sovereign act on his part, caused by nothing outside himself, determined by nothing but his own mere good pleasure; for he ‘worketh all things after the counsel of his own good will’” – A.W. Pink.


Meaning of “bara”:

  • It has two important meanings in our text.


(1) In context of Genesis 1, “Hebrew linguists define it as ‘bringing into existence something new, something that did not exist before’” – Hugh Ross.

  • The TWOT puts it this way, bara “seems to carry the implication that the physical phenomena came into existence at that time and had no previous existence in the form in which they were created by divine fiat” – TWOT.
  • The DBL simply says it means, “to make something that has not been in existence before”.


BTW – It is readily admitted that Genesis 1 does not tell us what God used to create the universe – out of nothing, or out of material that He had previously created.

  • We will see that John Walton makes this a piece of his particular view.
  • Although Genesis does not state God created “ex nihilo”, most understand, as we just saw, the theological concept of “bara” as making such a claim.
  • This is also buttressed by other OT Scriptures – Wenham references Proverbs 8:22-27, e.g.


(2) “Bara” also carries the following sense:

“The idea of ordering or determining function, suggesting God’s creative activity consisted of bringing proper order and function to the cosmos” – Michael Heiser.

  • Again, this is a theological claim.
  • God didn’t just create He also created with purpose and function.


Moses’ Message Reprise:

God’s ordering and assigning function to His creation is an important consideration in our ongoing Moses’ Message theme.

  • Moses already knew that God created, covenanted and called out when he wrote Genesis.
  • He himself was called out to be part of God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel.
  • He knew that history was heading somewhere – the Promised Land, for example.
  • Creation that calls out image bearers to glorify God and participate in the fellowship and love of God is creation with a purpose.


John Sailhamer’s Take:

John Sailhamer would embrace all of the above meanings of “bara”.

  • Genesis 1 is a material account of creation and God assigns purpose.


John Walton’s Take:

John Walton has other ideas.

  • It is called a functional view of creation and it is foundational to his view of Genesis 1.


This view makes a distinction between “function-giving activity” and “material activity”.

  • He says Israel, as an ANE culture, would have framed her creation story as a “function-giving activity” and not a “material activity”.

This is because, “the ancient world defined existence in terms of having a function in an ordered system. This functional ontology indicated that the line between existence and nonexistence was functional, not material” – John Walton.


Why does Walton make this claim?

  • “People in the ancient Near East did not think of creation in terms of making material things— instead, everything is function oriented…Creation thus constituted bringing order to the cosmos from an originally nonfunctional condition” – John Walton.
    • For him, the nonfunctional condition was Genesis 1:2 (chaos).
    • What this means is that “to create something (i.e., bring it into existence) would mean to give it a function or a role within an ordered cosmos” – John Walton.


He further explains:

  • “There is no concept of a ‘natural’ world in ancient Near Eastern thinking. The dichotomy between natural and supernatural is a relatively recent one” – John Walton.

“The Israelites, along with everyone else in the ancient world, believed instead that every event was the act of deity— that every plant that grew, every baby born, every drop of rain and every climatic disaster was an act of God. No ‘natural’ laws governed the cosmos; deity ran the cosmos or was inherent in it” – John Walton.


In other words, Israel, as an ANE culture, would write an ANE creation story not a modern one.

  • And things in their world were meaningful because of their function and purpose.
  • So what they wanted to know is not how an object physically came to be – like moderns.
  • They wanted to know how God or the gods assigned it function and purpose.


How does Walton’s view specifically relate to Genesis 1?

  • He argues that Genesis 1 does not describe a “material activity” but creation through “functional activity”.
    • Implying that God’s creation was an earlier event.
    • So Genesis, as an ANE creation story, is not concerned with material creation.
    • Its concern is with God assigning order, function and purpose to His creation.


He says that in Genesis, “God created by assigning functions throughout the heavens and the earth…”

  • God’s assigning function “was accomplished in the seven-day period that the text calls ‘the beginning’” – John Walton.
  • And he argues that the fact that Genesis does not deal with the “stuff” used in creation, as we saw earlier, buttresses his view.


BTW – He wants to be clear, “If we conclude that Genesis 1 is not an account of material origins, we are not thereby suggesting that God is not responsible for material origins” – John Walton.


Some OT Examples of Functional use of Bara:

Of these examples, Walton says they “cannot be used to prove a functional ontology, but they offer support that existence is viewed in functional rather than material terms, as is true throughout the rest of the ancient world” – John Walton.

  • Psalm 102:18 (ESV) — 18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord:
  • Psalm 148:5 (ESV) — 5 Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created.
  • Isaiah 41:19–20 (ESV) — 19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, 20 that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.
  • Isaiah 43:7 (ESV) — 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”


Time to move on.

  • We will come back to the implications of this view in the coming weeks.





It seems all are in agreement about the meaning of the phrase “the heavens and the earth”.

  • The phrase is a merism.
  • This means that as a phrase it obtains a different meaning than each word would convey individually.
  • One author suggests dragonfly as an example.
  • Obviously a dragon and a fly are not a dragonfly.


John Sailhamer explains it as follows:

“In the case of the merism ‘sky and land,’ the terms shamayim (‘sky’) and eretz (‘land’) represent two extremes in the world. By linking these two extremes into a single expression—‘sky and land’ or ‘heavens and earth’— the Hebrew language expresses the totality of all that exists. Unlike English, Hebrew doesn’t have a single word to express the concept of ‘the universe’; it must do so by means of a merism” – John Sailhamer.


Others agree with this meaning.

  • “This merism represents the cosmos, meaning the organized universe in which humankind lives” – Bruce Waltke.
    • And it does so in all its OT uses.
  • “The expression ‘the heavens and the earth’ indicates the totality of the universe” – Kenneth Mathews.
  • Gordon Wenham simply says that the merism refers to “the universe” in its “totality”.


Astrophysicist Hugh Ross gives it a scientific spin.

“All of the stars, galaxies, planets, dust, gas, fundamental particles, background radiation, black holes, physical space-time dimensions, and voids of the universe—however mysterious to the ancient writer—would be included in this term” – Hugh Ross.


John Walton’s Take:

Walton apparently agrees with this take.

  • He doesn’t address it in The Lost World of Genesis One.


John Sailhamer’s Take:

As we saw, Sailhamer is in line with the rest of our commentators.

  • However, he points out that the meaning of the merism is too often read into verse 2 and the six days of creation.
  • “We have filled the word with a meaning it clearly did not suggest to its original readers” – John Sailhamer.
  • “Eretz” in verse 1 does not mean the same as “eretz” in verse 2, for example.
  • In verse 2 it means land – horizon to horizon from a humans perspective.


He is not the only one that sees the need for a distinction.

  • It is “quite feasible for a mention of an initial act of creation of the whole universe (v 1) to be followed by an account of the ordering of different parts of the universe” – Wenham.
  • Specifically, “eretz” as the “area in which man thinks of himself as living” – Wenham.


Bruce Waltke also agrees with these distinctions and says “eretz” actually has three meanings in Genesis 1.

  • The merism meaning
  • Dry land
  • The planet earth


Sailhamer draws out some very important implications in verse 2 and the six days based on what he sees as a right handling of “eretz” – land.

  • We will tease these out in the coming weeks.
  • It has to do with “eretz” equaling the Promised Land not verse 1’s earth.


Observation Answers:

Pertaining to “the heavens and the earth” we asked last week –

  • What are “the heavens and the earth”?
  • Is this all of creation – the universe?
  • Is this literally heaven and earth or is this a figure of speech for something?


We now have our answers.

  • There is really no disagreement about them.
  • It is the implications of this fact that lead to discord.


Pertaining to “bara” we also asked last week –

  • What does “bara” mean?
  • Was “bara” in the beginning?


The first we answered today.

  • There is really no disagreement about what “bara” means.
  • Again, the discord arises when the implications of its meaning are applied to Genesis 1.
    • As when Walton focuses on it’s functional against its material meanings.
  • The second we answered last week.



Sailhamer and Walton’s views are beginning to take shape.

  • As we get into Genesis 1:2, their views will really begin to fill out.


Thus far, Sailhamer sees “in the beginning” as a creation event, not an introduction.

  • Its length of time is unknown, but it is a separate event from the six days – “time before time”.
  • The “heavens and the earth” tell us what God created “in the beginning” – the totality of the universe.
    • For Sailhamer, this includes the earth, light, water the sun and the moon, etc.
  • Finally, we saw that Sailhamer sees the six days as not about the earth meaning of “eretz”, but the land meaning of “eretz”.
    • The earth meaning is mistakenly carried over from verse 1.
  • And the “eretz” is the Promised Land.


Thus far, Walton sees “in the beginning” as only an introduction – not a creation event.

  • He suggests it is “a beginning”…
    • Not to a material creation event but,
    • To a functional creation event.
  • The “heavens and the earth” is the totality of the universe.
    • A universe God presumably created prior to Genesis 1.
  • The six days of creation are about God assigning purpose, order and function to His creation not material creation.
  • Something that all ANE cosmologies concerned themselves with.