How can this be if? Our God is perfect in all His way, how then did this formless and wasted earth get like this?
The meaning of the words bohu and tohu ('without form' and 'void' - KJV; 'waste' and 'void' - YLT) can be found quite simply by following them and their derivatives in the way they are used in scripture. 'Inglorious' and 'markedly so' is what they indicate of the state of the earth in its inception.
[The study of these two important words is lengthy, involving many scriptures, and I cannot, briefly, reproduce it here. The full study is available here, freely, without registration.]
Genesis 1 is an account of creation, seen spiritually. It is not a technical account to tell us how creation was, materially and physically, accomplished. The passage is telling us something about creation itself.
'Heavens' (plural) have already been mentioned. Then we are told about the 'deep' and about the 'waters'. The deep was obscure upon its face, thus nothing could be discerned as to its volume, because of darkness. Whence the darkness ? Does God create darkness ?
The Spirit of God moved ('fluttered', YLT, or 'hovered', JND, is better) upon the face of the waters, an event that is not of rest, but of activity. A desire to alight but a reluctance to do so. Something is wrong in the waters, making them unsuitable for the fluttering spirit to land and rest.
Why the lack of glory ? Why so marked ? Why the dark depth ? Why the reluctance of Divine Spirit to alight ?
Genesis 3:1 gives the answer.
Eventually, there shall be a place for the Spirit to alight : descending from heaven, as a dove, upon that in which the Creator is well pleased, Luke 3:22.
But, for now, the narrative continues in the rest of Genesis 3 . . . .
. . . . and as the account unfolds, we see the consequence of what had already occurred in the heavens. The consequence is played out upon earth.
God is perfect in all his ways (Psalm 18:30, 2 Samuel 22:31) and what he makes is perfect but there is a liability in the created creature, whether spirit-being in the heavens or whether humanity upon earth.
And the whole creation comes under sin by a conspiracy of the created creature : spirit, woman and man, in that order. Sin enters the world, Romans 5:12, and death by sin. But where did sin come from, before it entered the world ?
Well, we have already been shown its source.
But all was foreseen. All was foreknown, 1 Peter 1:2, Isaiah 46:10. Redemption was ever in view, ere God created. There was a people chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4.
And the promised seed shall come, the seed come of woman, Genesis 3:15, not man.
And he shall suffer and he shall die and he shall rise again, 1 Corinthians 15:4, and there shall be a rearrangement : God manifest in flesh, 1 Timothy 3:16, raised above all principality and power, Ephesians 1:21, to reign from the throne of God. And his people, already in him, shall reign with him, 2 Timothy 2:12.
Know ye not that we shall judge angels ?, 1 Corinthians 6:3.
All quotations, except those stated from YLT/JND are from the KJV, thus from the TR.
The Hebrew word commonly translated as "void" is "tohuw" (תֹּהוּ) is defined as:
meaning to lie waste; a desolation (of surface), i.e. desert; figuratively, a worthless thing; adverbially, in vain:—confusion, empty place, without form, nothing, (thing of) nought, vain, vanity, waste, wilderness. — Strong's #H8414
…, wasteland, wilderness, place of chaos, … — Outline of Biblical Usage
Similarly "bohu" (בֹּהוּ) commonly translated as "without form" is defined as:
a vacuity, i.e. (superficially) an undistinguishable ruin: —emptiness, void — Strong's #H922
emptiness, void, waste — Outline of Biblical Usage
That same word, "tohuw", is what appears in Isaiah 45:18:
… God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain ….
The Hebrew word translated as "in vain" is "tohuw", the same word as in Genesis 1:2, and "created" is the same word as in Genesis 1:1.
So if God didn't create the earth "tohuw", why does Genesis 1:2 say the earth was "tohuw"?
Throughout Genesis (and the Bible in general), the English verb "to be" is either used as an auxiliary verb or printed in italic in the KJV indicating that it was supplied by the translators (e.g. "it was good").
The use of "was" in Genesis 1:2 is not italicized; it corresponds to a real Hebrew word in the original. The "was" in Genesis 1:2 must mean something different from the simple "to be".
In Hebrew, there are three words which have similar meaning. They are Bara, meaning "to create", Yatzar, meaning "to form", and Asah, meaning "to make".
According to the Kabbalists, Bara indicates creation ex nihilo, "something from nothing". Yatzar denotes formation of something from a substance that already exists, "something from something". Asah has the connotation of the completion of an action. — Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation in Theory and Practice - Aryeh Kaplan - Google Books
In addition, Genesis uses the word "hayah" (הָיְתָ֥ה), which is defined as:
to happen, fall out, occur, take place, come about, come to pass; to come about, come to pass; to come into being, become; to arise, appear, come; to become … — Outline of Biblical Usage
That same word "hayah" is translated as "was" in Genesis 1:2. Elsewhere in Genesis it is translated as "let there be", and "shall be". In all cases, it is used in the sense of something being transformed and becoming something else:
- the evening and the morning [became] the first day.
- [become] light: and it [became] light.
- and it [became] so.
- to you it shall [become] food.
So, rather than saying that the Earth was void, it would make far more sense for 1:2 to be translated as:
The earth became an empty wasteland …
Genesis 1:1 says that God created the universe from nothing.
The "seven days of creation" describe how God restored this empty wasteland.
But there is no reason that Genesis 1:2 has to immediately follow 1:1 in time. Billions of years could have elapsed between those two verses.
So rather than asking "How in verse 2 was the earth without form?", the real question should be "How in verse 2 did the earth become without form?".
As is noted in other posts, the orignial Hebrew word, "tohu" (תֹּהוּ), is indicitave of a void. Other posters posit that the earth became void. Although that is more or less a correct translation of the verb Hayah, "to become" or more commonly "to be" in Hebrew, in most usage, and the Bible is usually very careful about usage of verbs to appropriately paint a picture, the verb Hayah does not often denote a movement from "was filled, now is empty" but rather denotes an initial or current stage of development. In this case, it seems to rather be a contrast with the movement of the spirit, hovering over the water. A scientific definition that is incredibly difficult to portray using ancient Hebrew may be indicated:
The spirit of God hovered = initial motion
In this definition, we cannot define classical matter without describing its motion. According to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, a the position of an atom cannot be defined without velocity, and the velocity cannot be known at the same time as its position. While this is not a topic specifically of interest to hermeneutics, the writer is possibly indicating that the creation of the earth had started, but the earth, apart from the movement of hovering of the spirit, is essentially a void: neither matter, earth or sky as we know it, but a truly undefined, yet still existing void, much like the soul of the human before God breathed life into it, on the sixth day.
Actually, there are three things about the earth (Gen 1:2) before the initial creative effort starting in Gen 1:3, namely:
- tohu תֹּהוּ = formless. In the six following days God gives things form by separation and shaping
- bohu בֹּהוּ = empty. in the following six days God populates the land, sea and air with plants and creatures
- choshek חשֶׁךְ = darkness, the first thing God does is to provide light on day 1.
The fact that the earth could be described thus, does not make it bad, wasted, or useless. It simply means that God's creative efforts were not complete. Note that at each stage of creation, after each day, God says that His efforts were "good", Gen 1:4, 10, 18, 21, despite the job being, as yet, unfinished.
It is theoretically possible that God could have created, in a single moment, a finished earth such as existed AFTER the creation week, complete with animals, fish, seas, humans, gardens, etc. However, in God's divine wisdom, He elected to do things over the space of at least a week (how long the earth existed before Gen 1:3 is not stated.)
Looked at another way, most theologians see in this record of creation week a kind of salvation metaphor: God takes the earth that is formless, empty and dark, but by the end of creation week it has light, is filled with many good things, and has wonderful form and this us "very good" (Gen 1:31).
Precisely this theme is alluded to in Rev 21:1 where the old sinful earth is replaced with a new heaven and a new earth.
Notice the fascinating reference in Jer 4;23 -
I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone.
Note the very close parallel between this and Gen 1:1, 2 as we have a lot of identical words in the same order: earth, formless, empty, heaven, darkness (no light). There are further parrallels in later verses as well.
The interesting part here is this prophecy is given in the context of what would happen if Israel remained unfaithful - an undoing of creation back to it pre-creation state.
Firstly the earth did not get this way, it started off this way as “empty and void”. The word beginning and first day denotes that there aren’t days that the earth existed prior to Day 1, otherwise it’s not day 1 and it’s not the beginning.
The confusion mostly comes from the English translation of the Hebrew תהו because automatically formless is contrasted with a form or a formation. But the Hebrew תהו is used in many other places and is translated to mean vain 1Sam12:21, Isa45:18,19, meaning without purpose, or nothing (to see) or empty, or desert(ed).
The second qualifying word used is ובהו and in English it is translated as without purpose, empty.
Hence the Hebrew could very well have been worded “and the earth was without purpose and empty”. Empty with the exception of the waters on top of it. The waters were there because verse 1 says both the heavens and the earth were made on Day 1 at the beginning and the heavens shemayim are made up of waters mayim.
We also have another qualifying document and this explains NT passages used about Creation which clearly refer back to the Hebrew Genesis 1:2
The Greek αορατος (translation of תהו) means to be unseen. The earth was unseen, why? Because it was dark and underneath immense volumes of water or it was invisible (NT translation).
How do we know the earth was covered by water and deep under the waters? The text says as much
“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
For a better understanding on where the waters came from click here
The second word ακατασκευαστος (translation of ובהו) is unready. Unready for what? Unready to be inhabited. Unready for plant life, even aquatic life because there was yet no sun or moon, much less dry land.
So the LXX describes the translation of the Hebrew manuscripts as the earth was unseen and not ready. This paints a clearer picture than the empty and void.
The earth in Biblical cosmology on day 1, at the beginning which by definition is day 1, was unseen and empty, covered by waters, in total darkness until later that day (Day 1) God made the light. It was also void, without purpose because it was “unformed”, and it was empty, having no life on it. It was incapable to sustain life being covered both by waters and darkness.
Heaven or heavens?
Notice that the King James Bible, the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Webster Bible, and other translated versions translated the word, shamayim in Genesis 1:1 as the heaven. However, in Genesis 2:1—at the end of Day-Six—they all three translated the same word shamayim as the heavens. This remarkable difference between the obvious singular usage in the very beginning and the obvious plural usage at the end of Day-Six demands our attention—and an explanation.
The two words, shamayim (heaven) and ‘erets (earth) that are used in Genesis 1:1 are also used for the same Genesis 2:1 nouns. However they are not to be construed in that latter portion as being a single joint body as they are in Genesis 1:1. The Genesis 2:1 nouns represent the many individual members of two divided subgroups—heaven and earth. Those members, which were precisely and uniquely made and/or formed throughout Creation Week, are small and large and they include stars, planets, moons, seas, atmospheres, etc. Accordingly, they are treated by most translations of Genesis 2:1 as non-definite nouns. They are the heavens (innumerably plural) and the earth. They are not to be perceived as one body as when created, not two bodies as being the dual or the two subgroups of that one body, but rather a great quantity of completely made individually different heavenly and earthly things.
The Hebrew definite direct object flag
The Biblical Hebrew particle ‘eth (or ‘et), has no direct translation to English, but its function was probably derived from the Hebrew ‘owth, which means a sign, mark, or token. ‘Eth, when placed before nouns in Biblical Hebrew, is used to flag or mark those nouns as being intended as definite direct objects of a certain verb. In Genesis 1:1 the Hebrew text shows that תאֵ (‘eth) is placed before the noun shamayim (heavens) and תוְאֵ (ve’et or, and ‘eth) is placed before the noun ‘erets (earth) to flag or mark shamayim and ‘erets as being ‘joint’ definite direct objects of the verb, bara (created). Those direct objects can be viewed in their joint definite context as that very one Creation which consists of all the matter necessary to make and form all the hoped for finished masterpieces of Genesis 2:1, each of which will always be categorized in Scripture as being either heavenly or earthly—one of the two. That One Creation’s name—the heaven and the earth—provides the token identity of its twosome: (1) the heaven and (2) the earth, from which all of the Genesis 2:1 things were later made and formed—including the physical bodies of the fifth and sixth day creations of living fish, fowl, and man.
The waters: The original Creation
A careful study of Genesis also reveals that the only matter mentioned as existing on Day One was the waters. Moses introduces us to those waters in Genesis 1:2:
. . . And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
The Hebrew word translated as waters in Genesis 1:2 is the noun mayim . It is very important to recognize that mayim is the Hebrew dual—an inherent twosome—of a primitive noun that is used in a singular sense. This dual-form word that is used in a singular sense is just like the noun phrase the heaven and the earth of Genesis 1:1 that speaks of a single body containing two inherent parts or groups. The original Genesis 1:2 waters can and should be properly described as that single body of matter from which God over a period of six days made exactly two universally recognized classes of material things—earthly things and heavenly things—the twosome of this very special and respected Hebrew dual.
Although identified on Day One as that special Hebrew dual body, the waters were not yet physically divided as being ‘the heaven’ separate from ‘the earth’. The waters were still only one large body of matter. (Kee, 2012) There was no distinguishable ‘heaven’ and there was no distinguishable ‘earth’—only a certain, ‘the heaven and the earth’.
One day later, on Day Two, God divided that single body of waters into two distinct bodies of waters—one in the midst of the entire deep while at the same time under the body above it. Thereafter, on Day Three, He used only that body of waters under the firmament to make the earthly world and its seas. On Day Four He used only that body of waters above the earth to make the numerous heavenly worlds while stretching them outward and setting them in their individual stretched out locations, orbits, and atmospheres.
Scriptural evidence for mayim being used for both gaseous waters and liquid waters
In Genesis 1:20-21—on God’s fifth work day—at that time when seas and rivers were already in place upon this fully formed earth under a stretched out heaven filled with heavenly worlds and lights—God inspired Moses to use the word mayim to describe both liquid waters and gaseous waters:
And God said, Let the waters (mayim—the dual) bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters (mayim) brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. (My insertions)
On Day Five, mayim—in perfect context—graciously brought forth two major categories of living creatures, (1) the fish of liquid waters and (2) the fowl of gaseous waters. Liquid waters (mayim) brought forth (became the habitat of) the fish of the earthly seas, rivers, etc. Gaseous waters (mayim) brought forth (became the habitat of) the heavenly fowl of the air.
Those fowl were brought forth by the waters, but they were also described in Genesis 2:19 as being formed of the dust of the ground. So those fowl were not formed of the waters but rather they were—and are—associated with the waters because the waters are their habitat just like waters are also the habitat of the fish. Fowl are sanctified (set apart) from the earth by those invisible gaseous waters (air) that they are associated with and Fish are sanctified from the earth by the visible liquid waters that they are associated with. In contrast, the earth brought forth the grass, herb, and fruit tree (Genesis 1:11) as well as the beast, cattle and creeping thing (Genesis 1:24)—all of which are associated with the earth.
Notice in Genesis 8:1-3, supra--after the flood—that God made a wind to pass over the earth. Some of those flood waters (mayim)—no doubt—remained upon or below the surface of the earth in the seas, rivers, fountains, etc. However, what is especially relevant here is that the rain waters (mayim) evaporated with the aid of that wind and returned to their gaseous state and to their lofty heavenly location—from off the earth—where they previously had been converted to the rain that had fallen, but those gaseous waters still retained their identity as mayim.
Jeremiah 10:13 confirms this by explaining that there is a multitude of waters (mayim) in the heavens that are replenished by the ‘vapours’ (gaseous waters) ascending from the earth, and that the LORD makes lightening with rain from those waters, and brings forth the wind from His treasures.
When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures
In Psalm 104:1-4 the Psalmist also agrees with Moses and with Jeremiah:
Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain: Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind: Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:
The inspired Psalmist describes how that the LORD walks upon the wings of the wind which consists of the same gaseous waters that brought forth the winged fowl of the air. He says that the clouds are the LORD’s chariots. The LORD lays the beams of His heavenly chambers in the gaseous heavenly waters (mayim) upon which He walks, upon which His chariots ride, and upon which the Day-Five fowl of the air put their trust in to fly above the earth.
Therefore, according to Genesis 1:20 and 8:1-3 , and that inspired prophet in Jeremiah 10:13 , and that inspired psalmist in Psalm 104:1-4, gaseous waters and liquid waters are both substantive waters that are both described as mayim in Scripture. Since these passages each describe gaseous waters, then mayim might also describe gaseous waters in other places in Scripture—especially in Genesis 1:2, 1:6, 1:7, etc.
God’s use of the earth itself as an example of gaseous waters
Obviously on that first day—before the waters were divided—those waters must necessarily have been undivided by any material difference. Otherwise, the waters would have already been divided by that or those differences and there would have been no need for a dividing firmament. Therefore, the pre-divided waters must have all been one and the same. They must have been one body of evenly distributed waters throughout that entire deep of Genesis 1:2.
If we compare the properties of the Genesis 1:1 created earth with those of the very familiar completely made earth, we should be better able to understand the created earth’s original state and type of matter. This appears to be the precise reason that God inspired Moses to instructively single out and describe the Day-One earth—one day before the waters were even divided—two days before the earth was even formed. Genesis 1:2: describes that earth as being without form and void.
And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was ... . (My emphasis)
Solid, liquid, and gas have been defined:
• Solid: A state of matter in which the relative motion of the molecules is restricted and they tend to retain a definite fixed position relative to each other. A solid may be said to have a definite shape and volume.
• Liquid: A state of matter in which the molecules are relatively free to change their positions with respect to each other, but restricted by cohesive forces so as to maintain a relatively fixed volume.
• Gas: A state of matter in which the molecules are practically unrestricted by cohesive forces. A gas has neither a definite shape, nor volume.
In Genesis1:2, the phrase, “without form” is translated from the Hebrew word tohuw which means: formlessness, confusion, unreality, emptiness, nothingness, empty space. The word, void, translated from the Hebrew bohuw , means emptiness, void, and waste. The word, wind that God used to evaporate the rain waters of the Flood in Genesis 8:1, supra, is translated from the Hebrew, ruwach , a noun described as: 1) of heaven; 2) quarter of wind, side; 3) breath of air; 4) air, gas; 5) vain, empty thing. So the earth being vain and empty in Genesis 1:2 does not mean merely, “desolate of life”, as some claim. Rather, it additionally means that any attempt to identify the earth apart from the heaven would have been futile—vanity—like searching for a world made of invisible air in a universe made of the same kind of invisible air. The earth’s matter would have been somewhere in the cosmos, but locating it would have been impossible. You would not have been able to see the earth or to have been able to identify it as an individually positioned object separate from the heaven.
Without form, and void
Without form and void plainly and simply describes the original created earth as consisting of an elementary foundational equally distributed building material which had neither shape nor measureable volume. At that time you could neither stake out the earth’s shape nor measure its volume. Earth was clearly neither liquid nor solid. Rather, according to Hebrews 11:1-3, it was understood through faith in God’s Word by the Jewish elders who studied Moses to have been the same type and state of original invisible Day-One substance that was used to make all the visible worlds that were hoped for:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (My emphasis)
Therefore, we understand that the LORD made the visible earth entirely of some invisible gaseous type substance such as air or some other form of a non-liquid and non-solid matter. Moreover, Moses clearly described that invisible matter as the waters even prior to the time when He gathered together those invisible gaseous waters to make the several visible liquid water Seas and to form that visible dry land Earth. Notice also that the writer of Hebrews above used this invisible matter as a type of God’s Word by which all things are framed (formed).
NOTE: The the above excerpts are copied from my paper entitled, "God's Day-One Creation, A Type of the Word of God" http://circumspectnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Gods-Day-One-Creation.pdf
Wonder ( תְּהוּ ) why The-Earth was Empty ( תֹ֨הוּ֙ ) ?
When reading Genesis 1:2, we are forced to Stare ( בְּהוּ ) at the Void ( בֹ֔הוּ ) with Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֔ים) while recounting the formation of The-Earth.
[ Read Genesis 1:9-10 ] - The-Land : "Ha-Yabashah" ( הַיַּבָּשָׁ֑ה ) had not yet been raised above "Ha-Mayim" ( הַמָּֽיִם ) The [deep] Waters in Genesis 1:2.** | Since The-Earth appeared Tohu ( תֹ֨הוּ֙ ) "empty" (covered in endless deep water), the surface was Bohu ( בֹ֔הוּ ) "void". Ha-Arets ( הָאָ֗רֶץ ) "The-Earth" is entire world distinguished from dry erets (אֶ֔רֶץ) "earth" in verse 10.
Genesis / Bereishit 1:2
Now-The-Earth was empty and-void**, and-darkness was on the face [of] the deep, and-[the] Spirit [of] Elohim was hovering over the face [of] The-Water. ( וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָֽיְתָ֥ה תֹ֨הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְח֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם )
Genesis 1:2-10 recounts the formation of [dry] land (אֶ֔רֶץ) on The-Earth ( הָאָ֗רֶץ ) in the beginning of a world created for The-Human [being] / Ha-Adam ( הָֽאָדָם֙ ).
Genesis / Bereishit 1:9
And Elohim said, "Let The-Water [on Ha-Arets] that is beneath The-Heavens gather into one place, and-let **The-Land** appear," and-[it] was so. ( וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים יִקָּו֨וּ הַמַּ֜יִם מִתַּ֤חַת הַשָּׁמַ֨יִם֙ אֶל־מָק֣וֹם אֶחָ֔ד וְתֵֽרָאֶ֖ה הַיַּבָּשָׁ֑ה וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן )
- What was The-Land / "Ha-Yabashah ( הַיַּבָּשָׁ֑ה ) formed on The-Earth / Ha-Arets ( הָאָ֗רֶץ ) called?
Genesis / Bereishit 1:10
And Elohim called [The] Land **erets** ( וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים לַיַּבָּשָׁה֙ אֶ֔רֶץ )
Since Ha-Arets already existed in the beginning of Genesis 1:2, Now-The-Earth was ( וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָֽיְתָ֥ה ) "Tohu va-Bohu" (תֹ֨הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ) empty and void. The-Earth had probably been flooded (wiped clean) for the beginning of Humanity.