Friday, March 02, 2007

Significance of Leviticus

Since we are now well into the reading of Leviticus, let me catch you up on the significance of many of these quite alien practices.

The Sacrifices
There are five main sacrifices in Leviticus, covered in chs 1-5, with some additional priestly regulations for them given in chs 6-7. The general significance of these offerings is briefly: first, the reality and enormity of sin--it must be dealt with; second, the principle of substitutionary atonement. These sacrifices were accepted in the place of the one bringing the sacrifice. Third, sacrifice is available for all. The wealthy could afford to sacrifice cattle, the "middle class" could afford a sheep or goat, and even the poorest could capture birds for sacrifice. Fourth, practicality. This was a system designed not only to afford sacrifice for all worshipers, it was also designed to create the income for the priests, who would not be able to spend their time farming. It also gives no specific requirements as to when or how often sacrifices were to be offered. Thus, those who lived far away from the tabernacle (or later, the temple), could bring sacrifices when they went to the tabernacle for the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover/Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Booths/Tabernacles). This seems, for example, to have been the practice of Elkanah (1 Sam 1).

The Whole Burnt Offering
This sacrifice was intended to teach first that no one profits from sin. The whole animal went up in smoke on the altar, and not even the priest received a portion of the sacrifice. Second, it reminds the offerer that sin requires death (see gen 2:17 and Ezek 18:4). That is, the sinner owes God a death, regarding which God is willing to accept a substitute. In the OT of course, those substitutes were the animal, but as Hebrews makes clear, they were only foreshadowings of the death of Christ for the remission of sin.

The Grain Offering
This offering is designed to teach that the sinner owes God a holy life. No leaven, nor honey (both corrupting agents) were allowed with the grain offering. Further, the grain offerings were accompanied by frankincense, which represented the aroma of a life lived unto God. This is the idea behind Paul's reference to "living sacrifices" in Rom 12:1. It is essential to note in this offering that no sinner, however redeemed he may be, lives a life wholly consecrated to God. Hence, the active obedience of Christ (his fulfilling of the law in all its demands) is imputed to the believer's account and substitutes for the failures of the believer.

The Peace/Fellowship Offering
Older translations generally translate this as the peace offering, while newer ones generally translate it as the fellowship offering. Both are adequate translations, and both contain the general idea of the offering. Notice that this is the one sacrifice in which the offerer partakes of some of the offering. This represents the fact that by sin peace/fellowship with God has been broken, and sacrifice is necessary to restore that relationship. This is the idea behind Paul's speaking of the ministry of reconciliation in 2 Cor 5:12-21. Thus the offerer is able to celebrate, by partaking of the offering meal, his restored relationship with God.

The Propitiatory Offerings
In regard to all three of these first offerings, the phrase "a sweet aroma to the Lord" is used. The significance of this phrase turns on the fact that the Hebrew word for nose, and the Hebrew word for anger are the same word. Thus there is by sacrifice a soothing of God's nose, that is, a placating of his anger. The technical theological term for this is propitiation. Hence, Christ fulfills these sacrifices as our propitiation (see Rom 3:25 and 1 John 2:2). These sacrifices are centered on God. They are objective with regard to the believer.

The Guilt Offering
The purpose of this offering is to teach that when man sins, even without intent, such as through ignorance, he incurs guilt. This guilt must be wiped away, and is done so by sacrifice. Christ took upon himself our guilt, thus removing the guilt from us.

The Sin Offering
This offering teaches that man also sins when he fails to live a life fully consecrated to God. This failure must be made up, by sacrifice. Here again, the active obedience of Christ, imputed to the believer, makes up for the believer's failures.

The Expiatory Offerings
These last two sacrifices are subjective with regard to the believer. Notice that the phrase "a sweet aroma to the Lord" is not used with these sacrifices. They are intended to make up for the believer's failures, and to remove the guilt of his transgressions. They operate on the believer, not on God. The technical theological term for this is expiation. Hence Christ's work is both propitiatory and expiatory, taking care of everything that stands between the believer and his enjoyment of fellowship with God.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Leviticus Outline and Survey

I'm sorry to be a couple of days behind on Leviticus, but this has been a crazy week. At any rate, here goes.

I. The Sacrifices chs 1-7
II. Aaron's installation chs 8-10
III. Clean and Unclean chs 11-15
IV. The Day of Atonement ch 16
V. A People Holy unto the Lord chs 17-27

In many ways, Leviticus is perhaps the OT book most alien to a modern American audience. It is all about sacrifice and ritual purity, things that are alien to our own experience, even to our Christian experience, since we don't pay much if any attention to the kind of religious ritual outlined in Leviticus. What then, is the purpose for Leviticus as it concerns a modern American Christian audience? I would say three things.

First, the content of the book focuses on the Day of Atonement. That is really the centerpiece of the book. Hence the primary theme of the book is maintaining the purity of God's people. In the OT this is expressed in a ritual fashion. The sacrifices (chs 1-5) and the festivals (ch 23) are the specifically religious aspects of that purity. The laws of cleanness (chs 11-15), the holiness laws (chs 17-20), and the sabbath year/jubilee year laws (ch 25) all show the necessity of purity in everyday life. In a certain sense, the Book of Leviticus is the expansion of Deut 4:6-8. It shows the people of Israel how they are to display the wisdom of God before a watching world. Christians, likewise are to display the wisdom of God before a watching world (see Eph 3:8-13).

Second, the rituals of the book, particularly the sacrifices, point us to the work of Christ, and fill out the richness of it for us, if properly understood (see the blogs that I will post in the next couple of days). Third, the book impresses upon us the importance of holiness not just in religious ceremony (that is, in public worship) but in the totality of life. Our lives are to be distinct in their holiness before a watching world.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Introduction to Mark

The organization of Biblical books is sometimes difficult to decipher, and often the outlines provided by commentaries are too detailed to be much help. This proposed outline is intended to provide a quick overview of the gospel, and thus a general sense of how Mark has organized it.

I. Prologue 1:1-13 The ministry of John the Baptist
II. Jesus' northern ministry 1:14-9:50
III. Jesus' Judean ministry (including passion and resurrection) 10:1-16:20

The reader should note that in the course of Jesus' northern ministry, there is a great amount of movement from one place to another, so much so that it is often difficult to be entirely certain where Jesus is. On the other hand, when Jesus moves to Judea, Mark's purpose here is clearly to show Jesus arriving in Judea for his final days. Thus, in chapter 10, Jesus moves into Judea, and already chapter 11 provides the account of his triumphal entry.

Many commentators have noted the vigorous nature of Mark's narrative, and the importance of euthus (immediately, straightway) to that narrative movement. Mark's is a gospel that focuses on the activity of Jesus, with a lower teaching-to-doing ratio than the other gospels. Pay attention to this as you read, and catch the urgency of Mark's story.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Date of the Exodus

The date of the Exodus has been a matter of debate for quite some time, even among evangelical scholars. There are currently two schools of thought on the matter. The older view bases the date of the Exodus on the information given in 1 Kings 6:1 which states that the building of Solomon's temple began in the fourth year of his reign, 480 years after the Exodus. The date of Solomon's reign is usually given as 970-930 BC (though there is some variation, as much as ten years either direction, depending on whose chronology you are examining). But 970 BC is widely agreed on, putting the fourth year of his reign at 966 BC. Adding 480 years to that number gives a date of 1446 BC for the Exodus itself, and a date of about 1406 BC for the beginning of Israel's conquest of Palestine under the leadership of Joshua. That would seem to fix the date pretty well. Such a date also seems to coincide well with the statements made by Jephthah in the preiod of the Judges (see Judges 11:12-28, especially vs 26).

But for some scholars, the problem with that date is that it does not seem to comport with the events and calendars from Egyptian history. Hence, in the 1950's and 1960's, many began to argue for a 13th century date for the Exodus. This view was set out briefly but forcefully by Kenneth A. Kitchen in Ancient Orient and Old Testament (1966), arguing for a 13th century date (1260-1250 BC). He has recently restated this view in On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2003, pp. 307-310). His view is largely based on considerations of Egyptian chronology and a harmonization of the Biblical materials with the Egyptian resources. He has to conclude that the 480 years of 1 Kgs 6:1 are not "real time" years. Unfortunately, his treatment seems to take the Egyptian material more seriously than it does the Biblical text. He dismisses Jephthah's statement in a most unscholarly fashion saying, "What we have is nothing more than the report of a brave but ignorant man's bold bluster in favor of his people, not a mathematically precise chronological datum" (p. 209). This sounds suspiciously like special pleading. A recent article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (I'll post the precise reference on Monday, since I don't have it with me at the moment) does an excellent critique of Kitchen's view.

In addition to Kitshen's dismissal of Jephthah, his earlier treatment concluded that the 480 years had to be a figurative number, perhaps indicating a complete set of generations (since 480 is 12 x 40, and we all know that 40 years is a Biblical generation, and twelve is a number of completeness relative to Israel). Unfortunately for Kitchen, the Bible nowhere defines a generation as forty years, and while both 40 and 12 are significant numbers in the Old Testament, they function in different spheres and are nowhere brought together.

Thus it is safe to conclude that the Exodus took place in the mid-15th century BC. Any apparent discrepancies between Biblical and Egyptian data should seek to harmonize the Egyptian data to the Bible, and not the other way around.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Thoughts on Sermons

Thanks to the fact that I teach at a seminary, I have the Logos Bible Software Scholar's Edition. I have noticed that any text I search on, lists of sermons come up. Now I admit, I haven't typed in Numbers 7 to see what comes up there, or 1 Chron 26:18. Nonetheless, printed sermons have been available for a long time, and have no doubt been used by less-than-scrupulou s ministers. The internet and the vast array of electronic resources have simply made the temptations worse.

At the individual level, each minister needs to commit himself to doing his own work. Now, I have no problem with a man on occasion using someone else's sermon, if he thinks it particularly appropriate, it adapts well to his own style, and he makes it clear that this is not his work. Such might even be appropriate on very special occasions. But as Andy has noted, our calling is to the ministry of the Word and prayer. Sermons written by someone else will never be ours regardless of whether on a technical level the sermon is better than one we might have prepared and delivered from the same text. It pleases God through the foolishness of preaching to save the lost and to edify the saints. That means that he uses earthen vessels for this task. Our calling is not: be Spurgeon! be J. M. Boice! be R. C. Sproul! be Jonathan Edwards! Instead my calling is: be Benjamin Shaw. Let his Word dwell in you richly, and let it come out from within as a result of your own study, prayer, and meditation on the text.

Perhaps the reason that "borrowed" sermons have become a greater problem is not their greater availability, but the loss of the sense of the importance of preaching. If preaching is old-fashioned, out-of-date, not where the action is; if the "real" life of the church is in the worship team, or the small-group ministries, or in anything but the preached Word of God, then what does it matter whose sermon I preach?

At the presbytery level, I can think of only one thing that will work to fix the problem (assuming it is a problem in our presbyteries) . That would be unannounced visitation of churches in the presbytery by other members of the presbytery. In other words, on any given Sunday, the pastor at 123 Presbyterian Church should know that 2-3 members of presbytery might show up in the service that morning, having found out ahead of time what the text for the morning is, and having researched to some extent the sermonic material that is out there, so they might be able to spot a canned sermon. Of course, that probably falls under the category of "meddling."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Exodus Commentaries

There are many more commentaries available on Exodus than there used to be. For some reason, when I was in seminary Exodus seemed to be much under-commented on. But a proliferation of new commentaries does not necessarily improve the situation much.

While I generally recommend Calvin, I have a hard time recommending his volumes that cover Exodus through Deuteronomy. I can understand why he took the harmony approach, but it has two serious difficulties. First, it is almost impossible to find a particular passage. The so-called Index of Scripture Passage in the Calvin Translation Society edition is virtually worthless. Second, the harmony approach loses the sense of each book as a distinct entity with a unique development of argument.

All that being said, here are my recommendations for Exodus. For the Pentateuch as a whole, I recommend John Sailhamer's The Pentateuch as Narrative. His view of the opening chapters of Genesis is loopy, but he does give you a sense of how the material progresses and ties together.

On Exodus in particular, I will divide the commentaries into three sorts: 1) academic technical, 2) study guide/lay commentary, 3) in between.

For academic/technical, I recommend Wm. Propp in the Anchor Bible series. It is new, and will give much help in matters of text (textual variants, vocabulary, grammar and syntax). Second, I recommend Brevard Childs in the Old Testament Library series (Westminster/John Knox). His work has a fairly good sense of the theology of the book, and it deals as well with the history of interpretation.

For in-between commentaries, I recommend John Currid (2 vols) in the series from Evangelical Press. I can't think of anyone better equipped to comment on Exodus, due to his work in Egyptology. I also recommend Douglas Stuart in the New American Commentary series. I listed this one here rather than in academic/technical simply because it is more accessible than most academic commentaries usually are.

Finally, in the study guide/lay commentary, I recommend Cole in the Tyndale OT Commentary series, John Mackay in the Mentor series from Christian Focus, and Bentley in the Welwyn series from Evangelical Press. These will all give good guidance in understanding the book, though they will not answer questions of a more technical sort that may arise.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Exodus Outline and Themes

The outline of Exodus is as follows:
I. Calling of Moses, chs 1-6
II. The Plagues and Passover, chs 7-13
III. From the Red Sea to Sinai, chs 14-19
IV. The Book of the Covenant, chs 20-24
V. Instructions for the Tabernacle and its Furnishings, chs 25-31
VI. The Golden Calf Episode, chs 32-34
VII. The Tabernacle Built and Dedicated, chs 35-40

The major theme of the book is obviously deliverance. Connected with that is the centrality of Moses as the human tool of God in the deliverance. In addition, you have the revelation of the name of Yhwh as the covenant name of God. This is not to say that the name was not known before (see, for example, Gen 4:26). Instead, there is a whole element to the significance of the divine name that had not been previously revealed.

This also calls for a brief note on the significance of names in the Old Testament. Many interpreters (for example, Henry Morris in The Genesis Record) attempt to give a meaning for every name that occurs. I am leery of that project for a couple of reasons. First, not all names are noted for their significance in the OT record. Second, the signifcance of the name often does not hang on the strict etymology of the name, but on a play on words involving the name. Now the name of Isaac is strictly etymological. It means "he laughs" and that laughter is the connection given to the name in Gen 21:6. On the other hand, the significance of Samuel's name is given as "I have asked him of the Lord" (1 Sam 1:20), implying that perhaps the name Samuel has some connection to the word "ask." But it does not. It sounds sort of like the phrase "God heard," but even there the connection is only aural. Thus, to assign a significance to a Biblical name when the text itself does not do so is a questionable practice.

Back briefly to the name Yhwh. There is perhaps some significance to the fact that the discussion of the divine name shows up near the beginning of the book (chapter 3) and again near the end of the book (chapter 34), providing an inclusio (parentheses) around the book, giving the focus of the book as God delivering his people according to his promise to the patriarchs.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Job Oultine

I apologize for those of you who have been waiting for my Job outline, since we are already at Job 11, but this has been a crazy week. At any rate, I will be posting more frequently on Job because it is a more difficult book. Here is one outline for the book, which I consider to be a content outline.

I. Prologue, chs 1-2
II. Dialogues, chs 3-26
III. Monologues, chs 27-41
IV. Epilogue, ch 42

This quick overview of the book shows the reader the character of the book as a collection of speeches. However, an expanded form of the outline can be even more helpful in following the discussion.

I. Prologue, chs 1-2 Job loses everything, including his health
II. Dialogues, chs 2-26
A. Round One, chs 3-14
1. Job's lament, ch 3
2. Eliphaz responds, chs 4-5
3. Job speaks again, chs 6-7
4. Bildad responds, ch 8
5. Job speaks again, chs 9-10
6. Zophar responds, ch 11
7. Job wraps up the discussion chs 12-14
B. Round Two, chs 15-21
1. Eliphaz speaks, ch 15
2. Job responds, chs 16-17
3. Bildad speaks, ch 18
4. Job responds, ch 19
5. Zophar speaks, ch 20
6. Job responds, ch 21
C. Round Three, chs 22-26
1. Eliphaz speaks, ch 22
2. Job responds, chs 23-24
3. Bildad speaks, ch 25
4. Job responds, ch 26
III. Monologues, chs 27-41
A. Job's final statement, chs 27-31
B. Elihu speaks, chs 32-37
C. God speaks, chs 38-41
IV. Epilogue, ch 42, Job is restored

The best brief study of Job is William Henry Green's work, Conflict and Triumph: The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded. It was originally published in the 19th century, but has been reprinted by Banner of Truth. It follows the course of the argument of the book through the dialogues and monologues, relating all of it together. Most modern commentaries seem to have assumption that the speeches in the dialogues and monologues have little to do directly with one another, being merely set pieces for the pronouncement of views. But paying careful attention to what is said reveals how the speaker interact with one another. Green helps the modern reader do this.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The Joseph Story: Genesis 37-50
There has been a great deal of literature on the Jospeh Narrative (as it is usually called) published in recent years.. Most of it has focused on either the literary structure of the material or the literary artistry of the narrative. Much of the latter perhaps springs from Robert Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981) of which chapter 8 (155-77): "Narration and Knowledge" deals exclusively with the Joseph story. In addition, the story comes in for discussion in numerous other places in the same book. The index references 19 other places in the book that deal with the Joseph story. This is probably the most accessible treatment of the artistic issues, though of course the discussion has moved a long way in 26 years. A much more recent work deals primarily with structural, as opposed to artistic issues. "The Literary Genius of the Joseph Narrative," by Dr. William D. Rainey (2004). I downloaded this from

As useful and helpful as these studies are, however, they do not deal with the theological aspects of the story. They can't be faulted for this, since it isn't their aim. But unless the theology of the text is brought to bear upon us, then these investigations are nothing more than exercises in intellectual curiosity, on the level of "An Analysis of the Personal Names in Dickens' Fiction and Their Purposes in His Narrative Concerns." So the next several notes, as the reading moves through the Joseph story, will focus on this neglected aspect. Those interested in more of this can refer to George Lawson's Lectures on Joseph.

At the end of Genesis 36:43, we are told that those aforementioned chiefs of Edom according to "their dwellings in the land of their possession," and that Esau is the father of Edom. This is immediately contrasted with the statement (Gen 37:1) "Jacob dwelt in the land of the sojournings of his father." Esau (Edom) has a settled possession, while Jacob has only a place in the land where his father sojourned. This makes clear the point brought out by the author of Hebrews that the patriarchs were looking for a home beyond this world (Heb 11:10-22). The remainder of Genesis shows how Jacob is removed even from that toehold in the land.

Chapter 38 has often created a problem for those who study the Joseph story, because it seems to break the continuity of the narrative. Consider however, that Judah (the subject of ch 38) was the chief instigator against Joseph in ch 37. By his humbling in ch 38, God works in him to make him ready to be the chief protector for Benjamin when the brethren go down to Egypt the second time.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Jacob's Vow: Genesis 28:10-22
This passage has a long history of both misinterpretation and mistranslation. In general, the passage has been read, especially vss. 20-22, as Jacob bargaining with God: if You provide for me, I'll believe in You. The problem with such an understanding is that is fails to realize that there is, as it were, no profit for God in such a deal. Further, it fails to take serious account of the context of the passage, and finally it fails to pay careful attention to the Hebrew syntax of the passage.

Dealing with the last first, the problem of mistranslation, based apparently on either a failure to comprehend the Hebrew syntax, or a misunderstanding of what is taking place, ranges all the way from the Geneva Bible (1599) to the God's Word translation (2003). As most English versions have it, the protasis (the "if" part of an "if/then" statement) begins in vs 20 with "If God will be with me." The apodosis (the "then" part of an "if/then" statement) begins at the end of vs 21 with "then God will be my God." Unfortunately, this follows neither the Hebrew syntax, nor the sense of the larger context. The Hebrew syntax is clear. The protasis begins with the particle im (if) and the imperfect form of the verb. The succeeding elements of the protasis are then linked by the conjunction vav and the perfect form of the verb. The last link in this chain is "and the Lord will be my God" in vs 21. The beginning of vs 22 breaks this verbal sequence (thus ending the protasis and beginning the apodosis) by starting the verse (the next clause in the vow) with a noun, not a verb. Thus, the vow should read: "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way on which I am going, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and I return in peace to my father's house, and Yahweh will be my God, then this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be the house of God, and of all which you give me, I will tithe a tenth to you." This rendering is found in the 1901 American Standard Version.

This rendering also makes the best sense of the context. Jacob, in the clauses of his vow, is taking Yahweh at his word (compare vss 20-21 with Yahweh's promise in vss 13-15, especially vs 15). Thus Jacob's vow is not a bargaining with God, but rather a confession of faith, in which he takes God at His word, and says so. What follows in the account of the life of Jacob is the account of the difficulties of the work of sanctification in the life os a man. Jacob often acts according to his name (character) "supplanter, heel-grabber," rather than according to who he is as a converted child of God. The vicissitudes of his life are not unlike those of our lives. This is set out as a series of examples for our instruction. Let us be instructed thereby.

Friday, January 05, 2007


Exegetical Note Gen 12-22
This section begins with the promise to Abraham and concludes with the "Binding of Isaac" episode and its renewal of the covenant promises. (Incidentally, the title "Binding of Isaac" comes from the Jewish tradition. The more common Christian tradition is to call it the "Sacrifice of Isaac," which is technically a misnomer.) The reader should take note of the movement in this section. It begins with the promise to Abram. Abram immediately endangers the fulfillment of the promise by passing off Sarai as his sister. God restores Sarai to Abram. The blessing is then strengthened in two ways. First, by the blessing of Melchizedek, who is a type of Christ, and second by the institution of the covenant. What began as simply a promise now becomes a covenant with all the obligations on the maker of the covenant that are implied. Again, Abram endangers the fulfillment of the promise by means of Hagar and Ishmael. God moves to restore the promises with the giving of the covenant sign, and the emphatic statement to Abraham that Ishmael will not be the inheritor of the promises. Abraham, if you will, then denies his Lord a third time, by passing off Sarah as his sister again. God restores Sarah to Abraham, and demonstrates the fulfillment of the promise in the birth of Isaac. At this point, God himself moves to endanger the fulfillment of the covenant by ordering Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, then saves the covenant by the substitution of the ram. Then God reiterates the promise elements of the covenant. This multiple endangering of the covenant, with God removing the endangerment in each case, emphasizes as strongly as possible that this covenant is inviolable--neither by man, nor by God Himself. It is for this reason (among others) that Paul looks to the covenant with Abraham as the covenant under which the believer comes.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Exegetical Note Gen 1:1-2
Almost two centuries ago, the otherwise great Thomas Chalmers seems to have invented the "Gap Theory" as a way of dealing with the apparent discrepancies between the "scientifically determined" age of the earth, and that indicated by the traditional reading of Genesis 1-11. At the foundation of the Gap Theory is the allegation that the verb hayetah at the start of verse 2 should be translated "became" rather than "was." The implication drawn from this is that time had passed between the end of verse 1 and the beginning of verse 2, and in that period the earth "had become" waste and empty. The Gap Theory became popular during the 19th century, though that popularity waned as the arrival of Darwinism later in the centruy necessitated an old human race as well as an old earth. The Gap Theory could provide the latter, but not the former, as it presumed that other than the Gap between vss. 1 and 2, the text of Genesis 1 was to be taken literally. Nonetheless, the view was adopted by C. I. Scofield in his study Bible, and the view retains some adherents among those whose "hope is built on nothing less than Scofield's notes and Moody Press" (no offense intended to Moody Press).

Over the last two decades or so, a fair amount of work has gone into the study of Hebrew syntax. One result is the realization that the Hebrew verb system is syntactically more complex and more subtle than many had thought. The sequence of verb "tenses" is important, and the relationship between successive verb forms is exegetically significant. The significance of this for Gen 1:1-2 is as follows: 1) Note that 1:2 begins with a noun, not a verb (unusual for Hebrew, which is normally verb-first); 2) the verb in 1:2 that follows the opening noun is in the perfect form without a connecting vav, which indicates a break in the sequence, and a shift of focus. What this means is that the first verse begins the story (it is not a summary statement of the whole chapter, as some hold). The second verse then shifts focus to one aspect of what is mentioned in the first verse. On this basis, I suggest the following translation for Gen 1:1-2. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now, as for the earth, it was formless and void, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep." In other words, when God first created the heavens and earth, the earth was formless and void. The ordering of the earth then becomes the main subject of the following verses.