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EXEGESIS > Old Testament > Pentateuch > Genesis > Gen. 1:2

Formless and Lifeless

The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Textual Considerations

    “without form”

The newly created earth had no form; there was no order, no shape, no arrangement, no structure, and no distinct outline of any kind.

The word could be translated “waste,” in the sense of not having been put into shape; NIV has “formless”.


The Hebrew word comes from a root word meaning “to be empty”; the earth had no inhabitants of any kind; no life whatsoever; what God had made was lifeless and barren; NIV has “empty”.


The earth was surrounded with complete and absolute darkness; it hung suspended in darkness.


The word comes from a root meaning “to resound”; the word signifies a surging and raging; it implies anything but peace and calm; it seems that originally the solid matter and water were churned up into one vast conglomerate that was surging back and forth; the “deep” and the “waters” are synonyms; initially creation was a semi-solid state, a mixed mass of matter and water; the earth was a chaotic abyss surrounded by darkness.

    “Spirit of God was hovering”

The Spirit was present waiting to complete the work of creation; the earth must be given form; it must be populated; it must be given light; “By His Spirit He adorned the heavens” (Job 26:13); “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created” (Ps. 104:30).

“hovering” is a participle which signifies a vibrant moving, a protective hovering, a creative hovering; the Spirit was over the earth like a great eagle hovering over her young in loving care; the same verb is used in Deut. 32:11, “As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings . . .”; the hovering was not an idle or purposeless hovering; the Spirit was ready to bring order and life to the earth.

Theological Thoughts

* v. 2 is a description of the created earth in its unfinished state; not that what was created was imperfect, but that God had brought into existence that which He was going to develop into an bountiful and inhabited earth; “without form and void” indicates that the earth was waste and empty, formless and lifeless, without definition and without objects; it was suspended in darkness and was a raging restless mass.

* it is proper to draw spiritual comparisons from historical events, and this verse is an example; the verse is an accurate historical account of the earth at the point of its creation; and it is often pointed out that man in his natural state is like the earth at this point in its development.

“without form” – man in his natural state has no order in his life; there is no structure, no shape; the life is a waste land; there is no value and no worth; there is no goal and no purpose.

“void” – man’s life is empty; in fact, he has no life, no spiritual life; he is dead; man has existence but no life; man has family, money, education, earthly security, but no spiritual life.

“darkness” – in the Scriptures darkness is associated with evil; outside of Christ man is in darkness; the earth sits in darkness (Lu. 1:79;); people live in darkness (Rom. 2:19); men love darkness (Jo. 3:19); and the works of man are works of darkness (Rom. 13:12); “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (I Jo. 1:5); no God in the life, then no light, only darkness.

“deep” – the life of man is everything but peace and calm; his life is an unsettled raging and surging; man in his sin can never be at peace.

* The Spirit surrounds man in his sin, hovering over him in creative ability; His presence is for the purpose of life; the Spirit creates conviction, conversion, and change; He brings order, life, light, and peace; for the formless there is order; for the void, the lifeless, there is life; light replaces the darkness; and in the raging deep of the soul there is peace; Jo. 6:63; II Cor. 3:16; illustration in I Ki. 17:17-24.

See: Gen. 1:3-4 - Darkness and Light

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