Cosmology, the Study of Origins

by WordExplain

"And the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters..." Genesis 1:2

How Did Our World Get Here?

An Exegesis of Genesis 1:1 - 2:3

By James T. Bartsch


Day One of Creation: The Activity of God's Spirit

Genesis 1:2. The Preliminary Condition of the Earth When First God Created It.

“and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters”

We are told that the Spirit of God was moving or hovering over the surface of the waters (Gen. 1:2). The word Spirit translates ruach, which can be translated either spirit or wind or breath, depending on the context. In Genesis 1:2, the ruach of God is said to have been active in creating the earth on Day One of creation. In Psalm 33:6 it is “By the word of the LORD” that “the heavens were made, and by the breath (ruach) of His mouth” that “all their host” (were created). In Psalm 104:30, it is said of Yahweh regarding births of animal life, “You send forth Your Spirit (ruach), they are created; and You renew the face of the ground.” In Isaiah 34:16 the Spirit (ruach) of Yahweh will call specific animals to haunt the ruins of Bozrah and Edom. So we can definitely observe the ruach of God active in nature.

What role did God’s ruach exercise in creation on Day One? It is lexically possible that Moses here (Gen. 1:2) meant that a wind from God was blowing, but then he would have used a word for blowing, such as nashaph or nashab. Instead, he used the Piel Participle of the verb rachaph, literally, "was hovering" (Gen. 1:2). This verb appears but two more times in the entire OT. In Deut. 32:11 Moses used the Piel Imperfect of the same verb, speaking of an eagle that "hovers" over its young. In Jer. 23:9 the prophet mourned, "All my bones tremble" (Qal Perfect of the verb rachaph) because of the  holy words of the LORD.

Back to Genesis 1:2. Perhaps Moses meant that a wind from God was hovering over the surface of the waters; but in any case the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, cannot be excluded from this passage. Why can both ideas not be present? The Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters, and the observable physical manifestation of God's Spirit was a powerful wind. Note that, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, the audible sound was like a "violent rushing wind" (Acts 2:1-2).

So what was He doing?

“We could never believe that this hovering of the Spirit over the face of the waters was idle and purposeless. From all other activities that are elsewhere ascribed to the Holy Spirit we conclude that His work in this case must have been anticipatory of the creative work that followed, a kind of impregnation with divine potentialities.” (H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, Section 1.50).

Leupold goes on to say (Section 1.50) that Eduard Koenig, in his Kommentar on Genesis,

“feels impelled to interpret this ‘hovering’ as ‘an intensified and vitalized type of vibration.’ We should not be averse to holding that the foundation for all physical laws operative in the world now was laid by the preparatory activity” (Ibid.). .

Henry M. Morris, in his commentary, The Genesis Record, p. 52, agrees. He believes that the Hebrew word rachaph carries the idea “of a rapid back and forth motion.” He goes on to state the following:

In modern scientific terminology, the best translation would probably be “vibrated.” If the universe is to be energized, there must be an Energizer. If it is to be set in motion, there must be a Prime Mover.

It is significant that the transmission of energy in the operations of the cosmos is in the form of waves – light waves, heat waves, sound waves, and so forth. In fact (except for the nuclear forces which are involved in the structure of matter itself), there are only two fundamental types of forces that operate on matter – the gravitational forces and the forces of the electromagnetic spectrum.  All are associated with “fields of activity and with transmission by wave motion.

Waves are typically rapid back and forth movements and they are normally produced by the vibratory motion of a wave generator of some kind. Energy cannot create itself. It is most appropriate that the first impartation of energy to the universe is described as the “vibrating” movement of the Spirit of God Himself.

We cannot know for certain from the text of Genesis precisely what God’s Spirit was doing when He was hovering over the surface of the waters (Gen. 1:2). But perhaps we are given a clue in Psalm 104:5-9. Perhaps it was then that “He established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter forever and ever” (Ps. 104:5). Perhaps it was then that He was forming mountain peaks, broad plains, and canyons beneath the surface of the waters (Ps. 104:6), so that on the Third Day, God could lift up the land masses and peaks, and sink down the ocean canyons (Gen. 1:9-10). This would have formed the pre-Deluge continent(s) and global sea. Peter accurately recorded “that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water” (2 Pet. 3:5, emphasis mine).

(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB 1995.)

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Updated February 9, 2022