Summary: God is not a god of chaos, but of order and peace
Genesis 1 English Standard Version (ESV)
The Creation of the World
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 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.
The beginning of the Bible depicts a universe of chaos. The words translated as without form and void in verse 2 of Genesis 1 are the words, “tohu wabohu.”
The word “Tohu” is used 20 times in the Old Testament, and always is translated as “vain” or “waste.” This conveys a meaning of pointlessness or being without purpose.
The word “Bohu” is used 3 times in the Old Testament, here in Genesis 1:2, in Isaiah 34:11, and Jeremiah 4:23. In both Genesis and Jeremiah it is translated as “without form and void,” but in Isaiah it is translated as “confusion.”
(Rob Robinson, “Tohu wa -bohu, Earth “Was” or “Became,” Waste and Void? https://robertcliftonrobinson.com/2014/07/29/tohu-wa-bohu-earth-was-or-became-waste-and-void/)
So, the state of the earth at the beginning of creation was pointless, without purpose, and in a state of confusion. That sounds to me like a pretty good description of chaos. The earth was in a state of chaos.
“And the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Water has, from ancient times, been a representative of chaos. And not just from the Hebrews, but from ancient cultures around the world. “Of all the ancient metaphors used to describe this original state of chaos, water appears to have been the most popular (at least according to translations into the English language).”
(Marrin West, “The Waters of Chaos” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/239849003_The_Waters_of_Chaos)
It isn’t hard to imagine why water would be a representation of chaos. If you’ve ever been on a boat during a storm you will understand what I’m talking about. We see images in movies and tv shows of giant waves and chaos in the middle of the waters.
Or have you ever gone swimming at the beach, and suddenly realize you are out too deep, and you can’t touch the bottom? It can be a little bit, or maybe a lot bit, scary and chaotic.
But the cool thing is, God was present, even in the midst of the chaos. From the very beginning. The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. That means that God was present, He was there, right in the middle of all that chaos, in the middle of the tohu wabohu, in the middle of the wild and waste, in the pointlessness, and in the confusion. God was there.
And if that was where the story ended that would be sad. It would truly be pointless and confusion. But God did not leave the world to tohu wabohu. God took that chaos and that disorder, and he created order and life. The following verses, Genesis 3 through 31 tell how God took the chaos of the waters, took what was formless and void, and bought order.
He separated darkness from light, he separated the land from the waters. He created plants and animals and humans. He created order and life from what was chaos.
Throughout the story of the Bible we continually see God working to bring order from chaos.
If we had time this morning, I would take you through every page of the Bible and show you how, time and again God brought order from chaos, but we would be here all day, so I’m going to pick a few out for you.
Let’s fast forward a few years from creation to the time of the Exodus.
God’s people, the nation of Israel, had, through the chaos of a famine, moved to Egypt. And over time they became enslaved by the Egyptians. They cried out to God to free them from the chaos of oppression, and God heard their cry.
Out of the chaos of the murder of children God saved a baby who would come to be called Moses. And through his own chaos of murder Moses was led into the chaos of wilderness. But it was there that he met to God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From the chaos of a burning bush, God spoke to Moses, and called him to free His people.
And so, Moses went, though reluctantly at first, and God used him to bring 10 plagues of chaos to the Egyptian people and their Pharaoh. And after the 10th plague the Israelite children were finally released from their captivity in Egypt.
But Pharaoh saw only chaos in letting the people go, so he changed his mind and pursued them, to capture them and bring them back.
We find, in the 14th chapter of the book of Exodus, a scene of chaos. The people of Israel are trapped between two bodies of chaos. On one side they have the pursuing Egyptian army, and on the other the chaotic waters of the Red Sea. They were surrounded by chaos, and they were afraid.