January's Comfort: Reflections on Genesis 1: 1-15

As I noted, the English word tohubohu is a transliteration of the two Hebrew words used to summon the idea of what the world was like before God began the creative work. It was in short pandemonium, chaos. The traditional reading "without form and void" is a prosaic attempt to capture a word cluster that was in essence onomatopoeic; the earth was tohubohu, and the priests must have enjoyed rolling that locution off their tongues as they performed the ritual. Then, too, the world was dark, pitch black, literally lightless before the great work of God, the darkness blanketing the Deep. I capitalize Deep, because the Hebrew is tehom, a word analogous to the Babylonian deity, Tiamat, the great dragon of chaos, out of whose murdered body Marduk had created the earth, according to the mythology of the great city. But for the Hebrews Tiamat has been reduced to a thing acted upon by the only God there is. Indeed, "a God-awful wind" is howling over the surface of tehom, echoing again the ancient myth of Babylon, wherein Marduk uses a huge wind to pry open the mouth of Tiamat in order to kill her with his golden spear. In every particular then, Gen. 1:1-2 is a rejection of what the Babylonians claim to believe.

And finally, into their January, and into our own, the great YHWH announces, "Let there be light!" And there was light" (Gen. 1:3). Where that light comes from is not described, but it is abundantly clear that it comes directly from God, not from the sun or moon or fire.

The dark is dispelled, the wind subsides, and a place for the people is revealed. God has created the world! Little wonder that when John composed his gospel some 700 years later, he recalled these magnificent words from Genesis and announced that "in the beginning was the word," and that word was light.

All of our Januaries must be viewed in the beam of that light. The light of Christmas must not be allowed to dim in the face of January gloom. Genesis' words composed to light up a Babylonian January 2600 years ago can still illumine our own Januaries in 2012. And a happy and light-filled New Year to you!

1/6/2012 5:00:00 AM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.
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