For all our debates about the nature and genre of the Creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2, I’m amazed by the lack of discussion surrounding the meaning of the Spirit’s activities in 1:2 where the text reads, “And the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep.”
We’ve been so sidetracked by other questions, often questions the text isn’t even asking, that we’ve overlooked this odd and fascinating feature of the Creation narrative – the presence and activity of God’s Spirit.
Neglecting the Spirit’s role in creation is easy for us, not only because we’re distracted by the Creationism vs. Evolution questions, but also because we’ve severely limited the Spirits role in the Christian life to conviction of sin and assurance of salvation. Or, more specifically, we’ve limited the Spirit’s role to our subjective devotional lives.
But prior to the need for conviction of sin and the need for assurance of salvation, the Spirit was involved in the work of creation. Contrary to our privatized Pneumatology, the fingerprints of the Spirit are clearly displayed in the cosmos.
But what do those finger prints look like? And why was the Spirit hovering over the deep?
By placing the Spirit within Genesis 1:2, where we have the beginning of a movement from darkness and void to order and light, the author suggests the Spirit is the agent by which creation is given form and order. The Spirit is not removed from the creation; the Spirit is intimately with the creation, guiding its development and progress along with the spoken word of God.
The Spirit’s hovering over the face of the deep is significant. For the ancient Hebrews, the sea was a force of chaos and unruliness. Often mythologized in Babylonian religions, the chaotic character of the sea is confirmed by numerous biblical accounts: Noah’s Flood and the destruction of the entire world, the crossing of the Red Sea, Jonah and the whale, Jesus and the calming of the Storm. Even more telling is in Revelation when the sea is the place from which the great Beast comes (13:1) and, ultimately, a place to be destroyed in the new creation: “and there was no longer any sea.”(21:1)
Furthermore, within our narrative, it is important to note that the deep is possibly a subtle reference to a Babylonian deity, Tehoim, “a belligerent and monstrous ocean goddess.” If so, Genesis 1:2 would have been an especially comforting verse for ancient Hebrews wrestling with the constant pressures of Babylonian culture and religion. Not only are the chaotic waters of the deep under the Spirit’s dominion, but implicitly and subversively, Babylonian religion is stripped of its power and demonstrated to be inferior to the religion of Yahweh. For in our narrative, the Spirit is holding at bay the chaotic forces of the world – Babylonian religious and cultural influence, to be more specific. The Spirit drifts over the deep and demonstrates the dominion of God over the disorder soiling the life of an exiled people attempting to be faithful to Yahweh’s covenant “in a foreign land.” (Ps. 137:1-4)
I know the objections will be that there are no forces of evil yet b/c Genesis 3 has not yet occurred. But, again, like the Creationism debates, I don’t think that’s the question the narrative asks.
Rather, it assumes some sort of rebellion has already occurred. You see, the pre-Fall narrative is replete with numerous subtle references to Babylonian deities, and even words which indicated violent subjugation (1:28). Furthermore, such an answer also accounts for the mysterious serpent in Genesis 3 – another possible allusion to a Babylonian deity, and one which would, again, make a lot of sense to an ancient Hebrew person struggling with the constant influences of Babylonian religion and culture.
Thus, what we’re learning from Genesis 1:2 is that those forces of chaos, those things in the world that are disorderly and unruly, are still held in check by the Spirit. The Spirit is already at work to bring the creation back to its original intention – the order of God.
The implication of this is, yes, that there were forces of death operative within creation prior to Genesis 3, but those forces of death were not yet operative within humanity or the earth in which humanity resided. But these forces of death are being checked by the Spirit. Indeed, even though the narrative makes subtle references to pagan deities, these subtle references are subtle precisely because the narrator wants the reader to see that the sea was created by God and that God is in control. The sea is not a deity, it is part of Yahweh’s creation and He is sovereign over it as the Spirit hovers over the deep and keeps it in its place (Ps. 140:9). “The author here plainly understands God’s act of creation to have involved some type of conflict with cosmic chaos, but also clearly portrays Yahweh as being more than up to the task.”
So what is the Spirit doing hovering over the face of the deep? Displaying and maintaining God’s sovereignty over creation. Demonstrating God’s intimate concern for the details of His creation. And ensuring the ancient reader that God maintains control over the chaotic influences and forces of false religion. The gigs up: the Sea is demythologized and shown to be part of creation. It is not an independent agent, and insofar as chaotic forces do control the sea, Genesis 1 will not allow us to despair, as if Yahweh has lost his sovereignty.
 For a great discussion on the closeness of the Word and the Spirit, see Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament. Vol. II (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1967), 49-50. Eichrodt argues that there are times in Israel’s history where the “word” and the “Spirit” are nearly identical in nature and indistinguishable from one another.
 Also see Job 7:12 when Job asks God is he is a cosmic opponent that needs to be guarded and watched – like the Sea and the Dragon.
 Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapter 1-17. NICOT. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1990), 110.
 Obviously this assumes a later date for the final composition of Genesis. I have no problem saying the sources go back much further, but the final redactors included these stories with these details to communicate certain and specific theological truths to their contemporaries in exile.
 Notice how the narrative never says the “deep” was “good.”
 In 1:28, the word the first of the 2 words for “dominion/rule” is an extremely violent one. It is used elsewhere in Hebrew literature to refer to pillaging after war. The question, then, becomes, why is there a need for violent subjugation if the creation as a whole is still under God’s rule?
 The serpent, like the sea, is de-mythologized and is demonstrated to be merely a creature made by the Lord God, not a deity to be worshipped (3:1).
 Greg Body, God at War.