We are still occupied with the verses of Genesis 1:1-2. We have so far dealt with two keywords found in these verses namely "heaven" and "earth". So, today my quest to understand the Genesis creation myth nonliterally takes us to the words of "darkness", "without form and void" and "The Deep." What do they mean nonliterally? In what way can these words also be used in the Bible? Let's find out.
We all know what darkness normally symbolize in the Bible. Yes, darkness is one of those metaphors which are easily identifiable in the Bible and which the churches has popularized. Nonetheless, the important nonliteral sense of darkness in the Bible is the state of the absence of knowledge, council or any words of direction from God. This word may be used figuratively to refer to those individuals who live their lives remote from God's statutes, law, commandments, judgments and council.
Paul once told the Christians at Ephesus that they "were sometime darkness, but now are light in the Lord Jesus Christ." Ephesians 5:8. Paul also admonished the Ephesians saying they should "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reproof them." Ephesians 5:11.
Therefore the darkness mentioned in the second verse of the Bible thus reminds us the state of complete absence of God's judgments and council in the world.
Chaos - Without Form and Void
The description of the earth as having been without form and void found in Genesis reminds us of some descriptions in other mythological systems about the state of things during the supposed primordial times. In the Babylonian creation myth we read about Marduk (king of the gods) defeating Tiamat, the goddess of Chaos, and split her in two to create heaven and earth from these halves. The creation of humanity then follows and this comes from the blood of Tiamat's monster. The image of chaos also features in Greek mythology as the material from which the earth was made.
However, one thing to note about the chaos of the Genesis myth is that it is the condition of the primeval earth. Genesis says the earth was in chaos or to use the book's language, without form and void. Here the earth already exists. Yet it's on a chaotic condition. Though, Genesis does not detail how this earth happened to be in this chaotic form. And to worsen things--while it essentially detailed the establishment of all the features of the heavens--it is dead silent about detailing the creation of the very essence of the earth. The result then is that if our idea of literal creation must be obtained from Genesis then the saying "God created the earth" must be understood to point out to the re-establishment of the primeval chaotic earth from its chaos to its non-chaos state.
That was one of the issues that can be raised about the Genesis myth. Now back to serious business. Let us look at the phrase "without form and void" found in the second verse of the Bible. What can be the nonliteral meaning of this phrase in the Bible? A very similar statement to this phrase is found in Jeremiah 4:23. This passage reads thus: "I beheld the earth, and it was without form and void; and the heavens and they had no light." In this passage Jeremiah was portraying the state of Israel after the devastation of this nation by the Babylonians and the subsequent exile. Evidently, this passage describes the state of the Israelites when remote from God.
The prophet Nahum described the state of the ancient city of Nineveh, at the time of its fall, in this manner: "she [the city] is empty, and void, and waste; and the heart melts, and the knees smite together, and pain is in all loins, and the faces of them all gather blackness." Nahum 2:10. The "emptiness", "wasteness", fear and "blackness" portray the state of hopelessness on the Ninevites at the time of Nineveh's fall.
There are so many occasions in the books of the prophets where the captive Israel is likened to an empty, waste, desolate and unfruitful wilderness. See Isaiah 35:1-2 & Jeremiah 50:12-13. Actually, a chaotic or void, formless and waste earth resembles people who are remote from God or any source of direction and hope. These people then are like an empty, disorganized, dry and abandoned land.
The deep or the depths might be a poetic word for the sea or ocean. See Jonah 2:3-5 or Job 41:31. The deep usually brings to mind the imaginary place whence all the waters in the rivers, the sea and the whole world are thought to originate. Sometimes the Bible mentions deep waters and at any case it would be pointing to those waters of the imaginary deeper regions of the earth. See Genesis 7:11, Job 38:16, Isaiah 44:27, Zechariah 10:11, Psalms 104:6-9, Proverbs 3:20.
The figurative sense of this word is the source of any knowledge, counsel and guidance in the earth. See Ezekiel 31:4. Proverbs 20:5 tells that counsel in the heart of man is like deep waters and it is a man of discernment who will draw it. Also see Proverbs 18:4.
Now, let us be here. Genesis says before any stated work of creation darkness engulfed the deep. But we have already agreed that darkness may mean something else in our previous article. Thus, here we see two words that normally appear elsewhere figuratively in one sentence. So, let us see what the saying "darkness was upon the deep" may further be understood to mean if we were to take into account the figurative meanings of the outlined words. The figurative meaning of this musical statement found at the beginning of the Bible may be that the source of knowledge in the world (the deep) was without any direction from God. As said, "darkness" here resembles the condition of absence of God's knowledge and direction. So, there was but only lack of God's involvement upon those who establishes knowledge and counsel in the world. Actually, the "darkness" that covered the "deep" is the very direct cause of "chaos" in the earth reported in verse 2.
That's it folks for today. Let's meet again in 24 hrs or so for our next episode.