|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
1:1,2 The first verse of the Bible gives us a satisfying and useful account of the origin of the earth and the heavens. The faith of humble Christians understands this better than the fancy of the most learned men. From what we see of heaven and earth, we learn the power of the great Creator. And let our make and place as men, remind us of our duty as Christians, always to keep heaven in our eye, and the earth under our feet. The Son of God, one with the Father, was with him when he made the world; nay, we are often told that the world was made by him, and nothing was made without him. Oh, what high thoughts should there be in our minds, of that great God whom we worship, and of that great Mediator in whose name we pray! And here, at the beginning of the sacred volume, we read of that Divine Spirit, whose work upon the heart of man is so often mentioned in other parts of the Bible. Observe, that at first there was nothing desirable to be seen, for the world was without form, and void; it was confusion, and emptiness. In like manner the work of grace in the soul is a new creation: and in a graceless soul, one that is not born again, there is disorder, confusion, and every evil work: it is empty of all good, for it is without God; it is dark, it is darkness itself: this is our condition by nature, till Almighty grace works a change in us.
Verse 2. - And the earth. Clearly the earth referred to in the preceding verse, the present terrestrial globe with its atmospheric firmament, and not simply "the land" as opposed to "the skies" (Murphy); certainly not "the heavens" of ver. 1 as well as the earth (Delitzsch); and least of all "a section of the dry land in Central Asia" (Buckland, Pye Smith). It is a sound principle of exegesis that a word shall retain the meaning it at first possesses till either intimation is made by the writer of a change in its significance, or such change is imperatively demanded by the necessities of the context, neither of which is the case here. Was. Not "had become." Without form and void. Literally, wasteness and emptiness, tohu vabohu. The words are employed in Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23 to depict the desolation and desertion of a ruined and depopulated land, and by many have been pressed into service to support the idea of a preceding cosmos, of which the chaotic condition of our planet was the wreck (Murphy, Wordsworth, Bush, &c). Delitzsch argues, on the ground that tohu vabohu implies the ruin of a previous cosmos, that ver. 2 does not state specifically that God created the earth in this desolate and waste condition; and that death, which is inconceivable out of connection with sin, was in the world prior to the fall; that ver. 2 presupposes the fall of the angels, and adduces in support of his view Job 38:4-7 ('Bib. Psychology,' sect. 1, p. 76; Clark's 'For. Theol. Lib.') - a notion which Kalisch contemptuously classes among "the aberrations of profound minds," and "the endless reveries" of "far-sighted thinkers." Bush is confident that Isaiah 45:18, in which Jehovah declares that he created not the earth roan, is conclusive against a primeval chaos. The parallel clause, however, shows that not the original state, but the ultimate design of the globe, was contemplated in Jehovah's language: "He created it not tohu, he formed it to be inhabited;" i.e. the Creator did not intend the earth to be a desolate region, but an inhabited planet. There can scarcely be a doubt, then, that the expression portrays the condition in which the new-created earth was, not innumerable ages, but very shortly, after it was summoned into existence. It was formless and lifeless; a huge, shapeless, objectless, tenantless mass of matter, the gaseous and solid elements commingled, in which neither organized structure, nor animated form, nor even distinctly-traced outline of any kind appeared. And darkness (was) upon the face of the deep. The "deep," from a root signifying to disturb, is frequently applied to the sea (Psalm 42:8), and here probably intimates that the primordial matter of our globe existed in a fluid, or liquid, or molten form. Dawson distinguishes between "the deep" and the "waters," making the latter refer to the liquid condition of the globe, and the former apply to "the atmospheric waters," i.e. the vaporous or aeriform mass mantling the surface of our nascent planet, and containing the materials out of which the atmosphere was afterwards elaborated ('Origin of the World,' p. 105). As yet the whole was shrouded in the thick folds of Cimmerian gloom, giving not the slightest promise of that fair world of light, order, and life into which it was about to be transformed. Only one spark of hope might have been detected in the circumstance that the Spirit of God moved (literally, brooding) upon the face of the waters. That the Ruach Elohim, or breath of God, was not "a great wind," or "a wind of God," is determined by the non-existence of the air at this particular stage in the earth's development. In accordance with Biblical usage generally, it must be regarded as a designation not simply "of the Divine power, which, like the wind and the breath, cannot be perceived" (Gesenius), but of the Holy Spirit, who is uniformly represented as the source or formative cause of all life and order in the world, whether physical, intellectual, or spiritual (cf. Job 26:13; Job 27:3; Psalm 33:6; Psalm 104:29; Psalm 143:10; Isaiah 34:16; Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 63:11). As it were, the mention of the Ruach Elohim is the first out-blossoming of the latent fullness of the Divine personality, the initial movement in that sublime revelation of the nature of the Godhead, which, advancing slowly, and at the best but indistinctly, throughout Old Testament times, culminated in the clear and ample disclosures of the gospel The special form of this Divine agent's activity is described as that of" brooding" (merachepheth, from raehaph, to be tremulous, as with love; hence, in Piel, to cherish young - Deuteronomy 32:11) or fluttering over the liquid elements of the shapeless and tenantless globe, communicating to them, doubtless, those formative powers of life and order which were to burst forth into operation in answer to the six words of the six ensuing days. As might have been anticipated, traces of this primeval chaos are to be detected in various heathen cosmogonies, as the following brief extracts will show: -
1. The Chaldean legend, deciphered from the creation tablet discovered in the palace of Assurbanipal, King of Assyria, 2. c. 885, depicts the desolate and void condition of the earth thus: -
"When above were not raised the heavens,
And below on the earth a plant had not grown up;
The abyss also had not broken up their boundaries; The chaos (or water) tiamat (the sea) was the producing-mother of the whole of them," &c. ('Chaldean Genesis,' p. 62.)
2. The Babylonian cosmogony, according to Berosus (B.C. 330-260), commences with a time "in which there existed nothing but darkness" and an abyss of waters, wherein resided most hideous beings, which were produced of a twofold principle... The person who presided over them was a woman named Omoroea, which in the Chaldean language is Thalatth, in Greek Thalassa, the sea, but which might equally be interpreted the moon" ('Chaldean Genesis,' pp. 40, 41).
3. The Egyptian account of the origin of the universe, as given by Diodorus Siculus, represents the heaven and earth as blended together, till afterwards the elements began to separate and the air to move. According to another idea, there was a vast abyss enveloped in boundless darkness, with a subtle spirit, intellectual in power, existing in the chaos (Macdonald, 'Creation and the Fall,' p. 49).
4. The Phoenician cosmogony says, "The first principle of the universe was a dark windy air and an eternal dark chaos. Through the love of the Spirit to its own principles a mixture arose, and a connection called desire, the beginning of all things. From this connection of the Spirit was begotten mot, which, according to some, signifies mud, according to others, a corruption of a watery mixture, but is probably a feminine form of too, water. From this were developed creatures in the shape of an egg, called zophasemin (Macdonald, p. 50).
5. The Indian mythology is very striking in its resemblance to the Mosaic narrative." The institutes of Menu affirm' that at first all was dark, the world still resting in the purpose of the Eternal, whose first thought created water, and in it the seed of life. This became an egg, from which issued Brahma, the creative power, who divided his own substance and became male and female. The waters were called nara, as being the production of Nara, or the Spirit of God, who, on account of these being his first ayana, or place of motion, is named Naray-na, or moving on the waters. A remarkable hymn from the Rig Veda, translated by Dr. Max Muller, also closely approximates to the Scriptural account: -
"Nor aught nor naught existed; yon bright sky
Was not, nor heaven's broad woof out-stretched above.
The only one breathed breathless by itself;
Other than it there nothing since hath been.
Darkness there was, and all at first was veiled
In gloom profound - an ocean without light."
(Vid. Macdonald's 'Creation,' &c., p. 51.)
6. The description of chaos given by Ovid is too appropriate to be overlooked: -
"Ante mare et tellus, et, quod tegit omnia, caelum,
Unus erat toto naturae vultus in orbe,
Quem dixere chaos; rudis indigestaque moles quia corpere in uno
Frigida pugnabant calidis, humentia siccis,
Mollia cum duris, sine Pendere habentia pondus"
(Metamor.,' lib, 1:1). Yet not more remarkable are these indirect confirmations of the truthfulness of the Biblical cosmogony than the direct corroborations it derives from the discoveries of modern science.
(1) The nebular hypothesis of Laplace, which, though only a hypothesis, must vet be admitted to possess a high degree of probability, strikingly attests its authenticity. That eminent astronomer demonstrated that a huge chaotic mass of nebulous matter, revolving in space on its own axis with a sufficient velocity, and gradually condensing from a high degree of heat, would eventually, by throwing off successive rings from the parent body, develop all the celestial orbs that presently compose our planetary system. Though for a long time regarded with suspicion by Biblical scholars, and at the first only tentatively thrown out by its author, Kant, yet so exactly does it account for the phenomena of our solar system as disclosed by the telescope, that it may now be said to have vindicated its claim to be accepted as the best solution science has to give of the formation of the universe; while further and more dispassionate reflection has convinced theologians generally, that so far from conflicting with the utterances of inspiration, it rather surprisingly endorses them.
(2) The researches of physical philosophy in connection with hydrodynamics have successfully established that the present form of our earth, that of (the solid of revolution called) an oblate spheroid, is such as it must necessarily have assumed had its original condition been that of a liquid mass revolving round its own axis.
(3) Geological science likewise contributes its quota to the constantly accumulating weight of evidence in support of the Mosaic narrative, by announcing, as the result of its investigations in connection with the earth's crust, that below a certain point, called "the stratum of invariable temperature," the heat of the interior mass becomes greater in proportion to the depth beneath the surface, thus leading not unnaturally to the inference that "the earth has assumed its present state by cooling down from an intensely heated, or gaseous, or fluid state" (Green's 'Geology,' p. 487.).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And the earth was without form, and void,.... It was not in the form it now is, otherwise it must have a form, as all matter has; it was a fluid matter, the watery parts were not separated from the earthy ones; it was not put into the form of a terraqueous globe it is now, the sea apart, and the earth by itself, but were mixed and blended together; it was, as both the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem paraphrase it, a waste and desert, empty and destitute of both men and beasts; and it may be added, of fishes and fowls, and also of trees, herbs, and plants. It was, as Ovid (k) calls it, a chaos and an indigested mass of matter; and Hesiod (l) makes a chaos first to exist, and then the wide extended earth, and so Orpheus (m), and others; and this is agreeably to the notion of various nations. The Chinese make a chaos to be the beginning of all things, out of which the immaterial being (God) made all things that consist of matter, which they distinguish into parts they call Yin and Yang, the one signifying hidden or imperfect, the other open or perfect (n): and so the Egyptians, according to Diodorus Siculus (o), whose opinion he is supposed to give, thought the system of the universe had but one form; the heaven and earth, and the nature of them, being mixed and blended together, until by degrees they separated and obtained the form they now have: and the Phoenicians, as Sanchoniatho (p) relates, supposed the principle of the universe to be a dark and windy air, or the blast of a dark air, and a turbid chaos surrounded with darkness, as follows,
and darkness was upon the face of the deep: the whole fluid mass of earth and water mixed together. This abyss is explained by waters in the next clause, which seem to be uppermost; and this was all a dark turbid chaos, as before expressed, without any light or motion, till an agitation was made by the Spirit, as is next observed:
and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, which covered the earth, Psalm 104:6 the earthy particles being heaviest sunk lower, and the waters being lighter rose up above the others: hence Thales (q) the philosopher makes water to be the beginning of all things, as do the Indian Brahmans (r): and Aristotle (s) himself owns that this was the most ancient opinion concerning the origin of the universe, and observes, that it was not only the opinion of Thales, but of those that were the most remote from the then present generation in which he lived, and of those that first wrote on divine things; and it is frequent in Hesiod and Homer to make Oceanus, or the ocean, with Tethys, to be the parents of generation: and so the Scriptures represent the original earth as standing out of the water, and consisting of it, 2 Peter 3:5 and upon the surface of these waters, before they were drained off the earth, "the Spirit of God moved"; which is to be understood not of a wind, as Onkelos, Aben Ezra, and many Jewish writers, as well as Christians, interpret it; since the air, which the wind is a motion of, was not made until the second day. The Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem call it the spirit of mercies; and by it is meant the Spirit of the Messiah, as many Jewish writers (t) call him; that is, the third Person in the blessed Trinity, who was concerned in the creation of all things, as in the garnishing of the heavens, so in bringing the confused matter of the earth and water into form and order; see Job 26:13. This same Spirit "moved" or brooded (u) upon the face of the waters, to impregnate them, as an hen upon eggs to hatch them, so he to separate the parts which were mixed together, and give them a quickening virtue to produce living creatures in them. This sense and idea of the word are finely expressed by our poet (w). Some traces of this appear in the or mind of Anaxagoras, which when all things were mixed together came and set them in order (x); and the "mens" of Thales he calls God, which formed all things out of water (y); and the "spiritus intus alit", &c. of Virgil; and with this agrees what Hermes says, that there was an infinite darkness in the abyss or deep, and water, and a small intelligent spirit, endued with a divine power, were in the chaos (z): and perhaps from hence is the mundane egg, or egg of Orpheus (a): or the firstborn or first laid egg, out of which all things were formed; and which he borrowed from the Egyptians and Phoenicians, and they perhaps from the Jews, and which was reckoned by them a resemblance of the world. The Egyptians had a deity they called Cneph, out of whose mouth went forth an egg, which they interpreted of the world (b): and the Zophasemin of the Phoenicians, which were heavenly birds, were, according to Sanchoniatho (c), of the form of an egg; and in the rites of Bacchus they worshipped an egg, as being an image of the world, as Macrobius (d) says; and therefore he thought the question, whether an hen or an egg was oldest, was of some moment, and deserved consideration: and the Chinese say (e), that the first man was produced out of the chaos as from an egg, the shell of which formed the heavens, the white the air, and the yolk the earth; and to this incubation of the spirit, or wind, as some would have it, is owing the windy egg of Aristophanes (f). (Thomas Chamlers (1780-1847) in 1814 was the first to purpose that there is a gap between verse 1 and 2. Into this gap he places a pre-Adamic age, about which the scriptures say nothing. Some great catastrophe took place, which left the earth "without form and void" or ruined, in which state it remained for as many years as the geologist required. (g) This speculation has been popularised by the 1917 Scofield Reference Bible. However, the numerous rock layers that are the supposed proof for these ages, were mainly laid down by Noah's flood. In Exodus 20:11 we read of a literal six day creation. No gaps, not even for one minute, otherwise these would not be six normal days. Also, in Romans 5:12 we read that death is the result of Adam's sin. Because the rock layers display death on a grand scale, they could not have existed before the fall of Adam. There is no direct evidence that the earth is much older than six thousand years. However, we have the direct eyewitness report of God himself that he made everything in six days. Tracing back through the biblical genealogies we can determine the age of the universe to be about six thousand years with an error of not more than two per cent.
(k) "Quem dixere chaos, rudis indigestaque moles", Ovid Metamorph. l. 1. Fab. 1.((l) &c. Hesiodi Theogonia. (m) Orphei Argonautica, ver. 12. (n) Martin. Sinic. Hist. l. 1. p. 5. (o) Bibliothec. l. 1. p. 7. (p) Apud Euseb. Praepar. Evangel. l. 2. c. 10. p. 33. (q) Laert. in Vita Thaletis, p. 18. Cicero do Natura Deorum, l. 1.((r) Strabo. Geograph. l. 15. p. 491. (s) Metaphysic. l. 1. c. 3.((t) Zohar in Gen. fol. 107. 3. and fol. 128. 3. Bereshit Rabba, fol. 2. 4. and 6. 3. Vajikra Rabba, sect. 14. fol. 156. 4. Baal Hatturim in loc. Caphtor Uperah, fol. 113. 2.((u) "incubabat", Junius, Tremellius, Piscator, "as a dove on her young", T. Bab. Chagigah, fol. 15. 1.((w) ----and, with mighty wings outspread, Dovelike satst brooding on the vast abyss, And mad'st it pregnant.---- Milton's Paradise Lost, B. 1. l. 20, 21, 22. The same sentiment is in B. 7. l. 234, 235. (x) Laert. in Vita Anaxagor. p. 91. Euseb. Evangel. Praepar. l. 10. c. 14. p. 504. (y) Cicero de Nat. Deorum, l. 1. Lactant, de falsa Relig. l. 1. c. 5. (z) Apud Drusium in loc. (a) Hymn. ver. 1, 2.((b) Euseb. Praepar. Evangel. l. 3. c. 11. p. 115. (c) Apud Ib. l. 2. c. 10. p. 33. (d) Saturnal. l. 7. c. 16. (e) Martin. Sinic. Hist. l. 1. p. 3, 4. (f) In Avibus. (g) Ian Taylor, p. 363, 364, "In the Minds of Men", 1984, TEF Publishing, P.O. Box 5015, Stn. F, Toronto, Canada.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
2. the earth was without form and void—or in "confusion and emptiness," as the words are rendered in Isa 34:11. This globe, at some undescribed period, having been convulsed and broken up, was a dark and watery waste for ages perhaps, till out of this chaotic state, the present fabric of the world was made to arise.
the Spirit of God moved—literally, continued brooding over it, as a fowl does, when hatching eggs. The immediate agency of the Spirit, by working on the dead and discordant elements, combined, arranged, and ripened them into a state adapted for being the scene of a new creation. The account of this new creation properly begins at the end of this second verse; and the details of the process are described in the natural way an onlooker would have done, who beheld the changes that successively took place.
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