Tag Archives: land

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.