on Genesis 1 :2
The earth was without form and void - The original term תהו tohu and בהו bohu, which we translate without form and void, are of uncertain etymology; but in this place, and wherever else they are used, they convey the idea of confusion and disorder. From these terms it is probable that the ancient Syrians and Egyptians borrowed their gods, Theuth and Bau, and the Greeks their Chaos. God seems at first to have created the elementary principles of all things; and this formed the grand mass of matter, which in this state must be without arrangement, or any distinction of parts: a vast collection of indescribably confused materials, of nameless entities strangely mixed; and wonderfully well expressed by an ancient heathen poet: -
Ante mare et terras, et, quod tegit omnia, caelum,
Unus erat toto naturae vultus in orbe, Quem dixere
Chaos; rudis indigestaque moles,
Nec quicquam nisi pondus iners; congestaque eodem
Non bene junctarum discordia semina rerum.
Before the seas and this terrestrial ball,
And heaven's high canopy that covers all,
One was the face of nature, if a face;
Rather, a rude and indigested mass;
A lifeless lump, unfashion'd and unframed,
Of jarring seeds, and justly Chaos named.
on Genesis 1 :2
- II. The Land
היה hāyah, "be." It is to be noted, however, that the word has three meanings, two of which now scarcely belong to our English "be."
1. "Be, as an event, start into being, begin to be, come to pass." This may be understood of a thing beginning to be, אור יהי yehiy 'ôr, "be light" Genesis 1:3; or of an event taking place, ימים מקץ ויהי vayehı̂y mı̂qēts yāmı̂ym, "and it came to pass from the end of days."
2. "Be," as a change of state, "become." This is applied to what had a previous existence, but undergoes some change in its properties or relations; as מלח גציב ותהי vatehı̂y netsı̂yb melach, "and she became" a pillar of salt Genesis 19:26.
3. "Be," as a state. This is the ultimate meaning to which the verb tends in all languages. In all its meanings, especially in the first and second, the Hebrew speaker presumes an onlooker, to whom the object in question appears coming into being, becoming or being, as the case may be. Hence, it means to be manifestly, so that eye-witnesses may observe the signs of existence.
ובהוּ תהוּ tohû vābohû, "a waste and a void." The two terms denote kindred ideas, and their combination marks emphasis. Besides the present passage בהוּ bohû occurs in only two others Isaiah 34:11; Jeremiah 4:23, and always in conjunction with תהוּ tohû. If we may distinguish the two words, בהוּ bohû refers to the matter, and תהוּ tohû refers to the form, and therefore the phrase combining the two denotes a state of utter confusion and desolation, an absence of all that can furnish or people the land.
השׁך choshek, "darkness, the absence of light."
פגים pānı̂ym, "face, surface." פנה panah, "face, look, turn toward."
תהום tehôm, "roaring deep, billow." הוּם hûm, "hum, roar, fret."
רוּח rûach, "breath, wind, soul, spirit."
רחף rāchaph, "be soft, tremble." Piel, "brood, flutter."
והארץ vehā'ārets, "and the earth." Here the conjunction attaches the noun, and not the verb, to the preceding statement. This is therefore a connection of objects in space, and not of events in time. The present sentence, accordingly, may not stand closely conjoined in point of time with the preceding one. To intimate sequence in time the conjunction would have been prefixed to the verb in the form ותהי vatehı̂y, "then was."
ארץ 'erets means not only "earth," but "country, land," a portion of the earth's surface defined by natural, national, or civil boundaries; as, "the land of" Egypt, "thy land" Exodus 23:9-10.
Before proceeding to translate this verse, it is to be observed that the state of an event may be described either definitely or indefinitely. It is described definitely by the three states of the Hebrew verb - the perfect, the current, and the imperfect. The latter two may be designated in common the imperfect state. A completed event is expressed by the former of the two states, or, as they are commonly called, tenses of the Hebrew verb; a current event, by the imperfect participle; an incipient event, by the second state or tense. An event is described indefinitely when there is neither verb nor participle in the sentence to determine its state. The first sentence of this verse is an example of the perfect state of an event, the second of the indefinite, and the third of the imperfect or continuous state.
on Genesis 1 :2