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. Genesis 1:2
- The earth was
Dare I even walk into the controversy surrounding this verse? That little word “was” is a Hebrew multiple personality — it can mean either “to be” or “to become,” “to exist” or “to come to pass.”
In other words, the earth was created in verse 1 as being “without form and void,” or there was some unspecified event which took place between verses 1 and 2 which resulted in the earth becoming “without form and void.” The second idea is commonly called the Gap Theory, which states that an indeterminate amount of time passed; this idea is often (though not always) held by those who attempt to reconcile the Bible with the theories of geologists — if they say the earth is millions of years old, the Bible must be interpreted accordingly.
That’s a novel approach, and I do believe that if the Scriptures do not reflect reality, then they are worthless as a source of truth; however, I do not believe the Gap Theory is an adequate explanation of Genesis 1:1–2. Exodus 20:11, for instance, affirms that creation took place in just the span of six days. The first day of the creation week, then, began (fittingly enough) “in the beginning” with verse 1, and it continued through verse 5.
- without form and void
But what about this “without form and void” business? The Hebrew word for “without form” can refer to a wasteland, a desert, or a desolation; the raw materials of the earth simply existed, having yet to be given any meaningful shape. The minerals swirled together with the waters, floating aimlessly in the emptiness of space.
Further, this desolate material was “void”: empty of all life, for man, beast, and plant had yet to be created.
Swirl together some sand and water in a bucket, and imagine the same thing on a scale billions of times greater and you’ll have a vague sense of what existed at this point in the creation week. ((Isaiah 45:18 states that God did not create the world “empty” (the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 1:2 for “without form”); this is taken to support the idea that something must have happened between the initial creative act in Genesis 1:1 and verse 2 to cause the earth to be “without form”; however, such speculation is unnecessary. The creative week is just getting started, and indeed, after the sixth day, you would be unable to accuse God of creating an “empty” world, and as Isaiah 45:18 states, Earth indeed was formed to be inhabited. There is no reason to resort to fanciful speculation of what, if anything, took place between the first two verses of Scripture.))
- and darkness was over the face of the deep
Light had yet to shine upon the watery mass of Earth materials. The universe existed as a mind-bogglingly large empty space and a planet’s worth of waterlogged minerals and ores, yet within just a few (24-hour) days, God will have worked these raw materials into a beautiful, life-supporting sphere. ((Yes, I know that the earth is not a perfect sphere.))
- And the Spirit of God
We are here introduced, however briefly, to He who is known theologically as the Third Person of the Trinity. He is the Holy Spirit (or, sometimes, Holy Ghost). The Nicene Creed ((As articulated at the First Council of Constantinople.)) says that we believe “in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.”
Much of what the creed says about the Spirit we do not here see exemplified; however, with the last part of Genesis 1:2, we see part of the Spirit’s role in the giving of life.
- was hovering
I’m dissatisfied with this particular translation — and every other one I have in my collection, actually. When I look in my concordances for “was hovering,” I see that the Hebrew word is rachaph, which primarily means “to brood.”
In other words, the Spirit of God is seen here brooding, which can mean any of a variety of things, actually. Perhaps the Spirit was hovering over the waters as a hen broods over her eggs, warming the waters in preparation for them to spring forth with life. Or perhaps another definition of brood is meant, and the Spirit was hovering over the waters ((Remember that the waters in this case represents both the solids and liquids that the earth is made up of, as they are still a formless, swirling mass.)) in order to mature them; if that is the case, could this action on the part of the Spirit be the reason the earth seems so much older (read: mature) than it chronologically is?
Whatever the case may be, the Spirit was unquestionably active during the creation acts, and He has been active in the events of man ever since.
- over the face of the waters
The Spirit was flitting about the surface of the formless earth, below Him a wishy-washy mass of unimaginably dark water and dirt. Assuming gravity was “active” at this point in history, it’s safe to assume that most of the solid matter of the formless Earth would have sunk to the center of the mass, creating a murky sea which covered the mass on all sides.
Perhaps the Spirit encircled the mass, hovering upon the waters as if the whole thing were an egg ready to spring forth with life. Or perhaps the Spirit was simply moving over the deep in appreciation of what has been created, glorifying the First & Second Persons of the Trinity for their work.
Much like the true number of licks for reaching the center of a Tootsie Pop, the question of what the Spirit was doing may linger on in mystery until all things are made clear to us in Heaven.
However, if you have any insights, I’d very much appreciate them!
Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures quoted within this post come from the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible.