Consider the opening chapter of Genesis.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:1-4 NIV)
In this passage we see that God created the land and the sea. Not only did he create the sea, but he saw that it was good.
But the sea is also an image of chaos.
On the other hand, the image of the sea is often an image of chaos in scripture and in ancient Near Eastern culture more broadly. In the Genesis 1 the “deep” and the sea are inanimate objects, but remnants of this image of chaos are still present, if nothing else in the emphasis on them as inanimate objects.
A retelling of creation in the Psalms is somewhat more explicit in reference to the ANE view of sea as chaos: It was you who split open the sea by your power (Ps 74:13). References can be found in a number of other passages as well.
A little later on in Genesis 1 we read that God created “the great creatures of the sea,” that is the sea monsters, as well. And again he saw that it was good. Later Jewish tradition makes this idea of God’s creation of the great sea monsters explicit as we see in 2 Bar 29:4 And Behemoth shall be revealed from his place and Leviathan shall ascend from the sea, those two great monsters which I created on the fifth day of creation and in 4 Ezra 6:49-54. Both of these texts appear to date around 90-100 AD and likely reflect ideas current in first century Judaism.
Psalm 74 specifies Leviathan as well (13-14):
It was you who split open the sea by your power;
you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.
It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert.
It was very good. In some discussions of a Christian view of creation much has been made of the phrase “it was good” in Genesis 1 repeated in verses 3,9,12,18,21. In verse 31 we have the summary: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. One can, of course, take the position that the image of the sea as chaos and the denizens of the deep as creatures of terror are a result of the fall. Prior to Genesis 3 they were “good” in an idyllic sense. If there had been no fall, they’d be good and tame yet.
But we still have a problem in scripture – at least if we take a literal approach as preferred and assume a motif of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Revelation does not really depict a restoration of an idyllic primeval garden or the reestablished perfect creation of Genesis 1.
The consummation in Revelation 21 begins:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
If the sea in Genesis 1 was good – a part of God’s perfect creation – why is there particular mention in Revelation 21 that there will be no longer any sea? The sea is not necessarily evil, and can be quite beautiful. If the sea, however, represents chaos, the elimination of the sea makes sense. But it isn’t a recreation of Genesis 1.
And in Revelation 22:3-5 we read:
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Not only is there no longer any sea, there also is no longer any dark. The Lord God gives light everywhere. His face will shine upon them, an echo of Aaron’s priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24-26.
The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.
This is a blessing I think we should use more often. But, if the dark and night were part of God’s good creation of Genesis 1, why is night not a part of the new heavens and earth? Did the Lord’s face not shine on Adam and Eve?
Well, not a problem, but a pointer. I don’t want to claim that this “discrepancy” is a problem for faith. But I do think it points to ways in which an overly literal approach to Genesis and Revelation, without careful consideration of genre and message, can cause problems. I also think it points to a problem with a synopsis that characterizes the story of scripture as creation, fall, redemption, and new creation, as though the consummation is a return to the garden. This reading simply is not consistent with scripture as far as I can tell. Even without Genesis 3 there is a trajectory commenced in creation, and it would lead eventually to the consummation. The command to be fruitful and multiply (1:28) is part of this trajectory.
The role that death plays in God’s creation is a problem with which we must wrestle. But ultimately we have a promise. In the consummation, where there is no sea (however good it was in Genesis 1) and no night or dark (however good they were in Genesis 1), there is also no death.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
This doesn’t look like a restoration of Eden, but it is a restoration of the presence of God and even more. It bears repeating. God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. Isn’t this even better than the Garden?
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
Is the Christian story told as creation, fall, redemption, and restoration (i.e. return to Eden) true to the Bible?
Does it matter?
What do you make of the creation of the sea, the taming of the sea, and the elimination of the sea?
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The pictures in this post, by the way, I took at Caesarea Maritima on a beautiful September day when the sea appeared quite tame.
This is a lightly edited repeat of an earlier post – as I am traveling and in meetings much of this week.