Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (Jan.-Mar. 1975) 25-36

Copyright 1975 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.

 

 

The Creation Account

in Genesis 1.1-3

 

 

Part I: Introduction to Biblical Cosmogony

 

 

Bruce K. Waltke

 

Until about a century ago, most persons living within Western

culture found their answer to the question of cosmogony in the

first words of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens

and the earth." But today their descendants turn more and more

to encyclopedias or other books on universal knowledge. There,

both in text and in picture, an entirely different origin is presented.

In place of God they find a cloud of gas, and in place of a well-

organized universe they find a blob of mud. Instead of beginning

with the Spirit of God, the new story begins with inanimate matter

which, through some blind force inherent in the material substance,

brought the world to its present state during the course of billions

of years. This substitution of matter for spirit accounts for the

death of Western civilization as known about a century ago.

Why has the new generation turned from the theologian to

the scientist for the answer to his nagging question about the origin

of the universe? In a provocative work D. F. Payne addressed

himself to this question.1 He concluded that the switch came about

because of a threefold attack on the first chapter of Genesis during

the latter half of the last century.

 

CHALLENGES TO BIBLICAL COSMOGONY

 

First, there came the challenge of the scientific community.

In the wake of Charles Darwin's revolutionary hypothesis of

 

1 D. F. Payne, Genesis One Reconsidered (London: Tyndale Press, 1962).

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles first delivered by

the author as the Bueermann-Champion Foundation Lectures at Western

Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, Oregon, October 1-4, 1974, and

adapted from Creation and Chaos (Portland, OR: Western Conservative

Baptist Seminary, 1974).

25



26 / Biliotheca Sacra -- January 1975

 

evolution to explain the origin of species, the majority of the

scientific community fell in with Darwin's hypothesis against the

Bible. They believed they could validate Darwin's theory by

empirical data, but they thought that they could not do the same

for the Bible.

The second challenge came from the comparative religionists

who sought to discredit the biblical story by noting the numerous

points of similarity between it and ancient mythological creation

accounts from various parts of the Near East being studied at that

time. If Darwin's work, On the Origin of Species by Means of

Natural Selection, was the bellwether for the scientific challenge,

Hermann Gunkel's work, Schopfung und Chaos,2 persuaded many

that the Hebrews from their entrance into Canaan had a fairly

complete creation myth like all the other ancient cosmogonic myths.

But in Israel's story, according to Gunkel, Yahweh took the place

of the pagan hero gods. According to his view, the Hebrew version

of creation was just another Near Eastern folktale, which was

improved in the process of time by the story transmitters' creative

and superior philosophical and theological insights.

The third challenge came from literary criticism. The case

was stated most persuasively by Julius Wellhausen in his most

influential classic, first published in 1878 and still in print under the

title, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel.3 Here he argued

that there were at least two distinct accounts of creation in Genesis

1 and 2 and that these two accounts contradicted each other at

various points.

This threefold challenge radically altered the shape of theo-

logical education throughout Europe and America. The position

of most of the educators at the turn of the century is tersely caught

in this pronouncement by Zimmern and Cheyne in the Encyclopaedia

Biblica:

 

It may be regarded as an axiom of modern study that the descrip-

tions [note the plural] of creation contained in the biblical records,

and especially in Gen. 1:1-2:4a, are permanently valuable only

in so far as they express certain religious truths which are still

recognized as such. To seek for even a kernel of historical fact in

such cosmogonies is inconsistent with a scientific point of view.4

 

2 Hermann Gunkel. Schopfung und Chaos (Gottingen: Vanenhoeck &

Ruprecht, 1921).

3 Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel (New

York: Meridian Books, 1957).

4 Encyclopaedia Biblica. s. v. "Creation."



Introduction to Biblical Cosmogony / 27

 

Payne observed, "By the year 1900, therefore, many people had

been educated to believe that the Bible's statements about creation

were neither accurate, inspired, nor consistent."5 No wonder the

sons of the fathers turned their backs on their heritage as they

sought to answer the question, "How did the world originate?"

The purpose of this series of articles is not to reappraise the

apology for the biblical account of creation. But it seems imprudent

to address oneself to this subject without taking note of the debate

between reaction and evolution.

Perhaps the author can best state his position by a personal

anecdote. Last spring, through the mediation of one of his students,

who was both a premedical and a theological student, the author

was requested by his student's professor in a course on genetics

at Southern Methodist University to give a lecture defending the

creationist viewpoint. The thesis the author presented was that

evolution is a faith position that cannot be supported by empirical

data. In the field of genetics, for example, it can be demonstrated

that microevolution takes place but it cannot be demonstrated that

macroevolution has occurred. To illustrate, it is well known that

the varieties of gulls inhabiting the northern hemisphere between

North America and Western Siberia interbreed with one another

in the middle of the ring, but those at the end of the ring do not

interbreed. Therefore, by a strict definition of species, it appears

almost certain that by natural selection distinct species arose on

this planet. But what cannot be proved -- and this is essential if

the theory of general evolution is to stand -- is that one of these

species of gulls is superior to another, that is, that it has a new

functioning organ with a genetic capacity to carry it on. To this

writer's knowledge there is no observed instance of the development

of a cell to greater specificity. G. A. Kerkut, professor of physiology

and biochemistry at the University of Southampton, concluded:

. . . there is the theory that all the living forms in the world have

arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic

form. This theory can be called the General Theory of Evolution,

and the evidence that supports it is not sufficiently strong to allow

us to consider it as anything more than a working hypothesis.6

 

During the questioning session that followed the lecture, the basic

thesis was accepted by both professor and students, but their next

question was, "Why should we accept your faith position instead of

ours?"

 

5 Payne, Genesis One Reconsidered, p. 5.

6 G. A. Kerkut. Implications of Evolution (New York: Pergamon Press,

1960), p. 157.



28 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- January 1975

 

Now the author is not suggesting that by this one experience

he has refuted the hypothesis of evolution, but he is maintaining

that all answers which attempt to explain the origin of the universe

are essentially faith positions. The question that the LORD asked

of Job is asked of every man: "Where were you when I laid the

foundation of the earth?" (38:4) Since science is the systematic

analysis of presently, observed processes and their phenomena, sci-

ence cannot and ought not attempt to answer the question of the

origin of the universe. The answer is beyond the range of empirical

proof.

 

IMPORTANCE OF BIBLICAL COSMOGONY

 

But it may be asked, "What difference does all this make?"

It is important because the question of cosmogony is closely related

to one's entire world view. Someone has said that our world view

is like the umpire at a ball game. He seems unimportant and the

players are hardly aware of him, but in reality he decides the ball

game. So likewise one's world view lies behind every decision a per-

son makes. It makes a difference whether we come from a mass of

matter or from the hand of God. How we think the world started

will greatly influence our understanding of our identity, our rela-

tionship to others, our values, and our behavior. Because the

question of cosmogony is important for understanding some of the

basic issues of life, intelligent men throughout recorded history

have sought the answer to this question. Just as the knowledge of

the future is crucial for making basic choices in life, so also the

knowledge of beginnings is decisive in establishing a man's or a

culture's Weltanschauung ("world view"). No wonder the Bible

reveals both.

Because of man's limitation as a creature, he must receive this

knowledge by revelation from the Creator. Moreover, because of

the noetic effects of sin, he needs to be reborn before he can

comprehend that revelation.

The Christian faith rests on God as the first Cause of all

things. God has created man a rational creature, and while the

Christian's faith does not rest on rationalism, he should be able

to validate and defend his position. Therefore, we applaud and

encourage those engaged in apologetics.

Ancient myths died at just this point; they could not be

believed because there came into man's experience too much

contradictory evidence. As long as the world view assumed by

the myth satisfactorily accommodated the apparent realities of the



Introduction to Biblical Cosmogony / 29

 

objective world, it served as a plausible explanation of things and

gave a cohesive force to the community. But when that world view

slipped radically out of line with the general experience of "the

way things are," it ceased to be effective, Mary Douglas, in her

work Purity and Danger,7 made the helpful analogy that myth and

ritual are like money in providing a medium of exchange. As the test

of money is whether it is acceptable or not, so primitive ritual is

like good money so long as it commands assent.

It is precisely because of this incongruity between myth and

reality that the old liberal myth of man's self-progress died. Ander-

son rightly observed:

 

It is worthy of note that contemporary poets give expression to a

sense of catastrophe. . . . As Amos Wilder points out, poets like

John Masefield and Alfred Noyes, Vachel Lindsay and Edwin

Markham, even Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson, and many

others who reflected the buoyant optimism of the nineteenth century

doctrine of progress, no longer speak to our situation. Where are

the Browning clubs or the Tennyson circle?8

 

They are gone because man can no longer believe in his own self-

made Utopia.

Orlinsky made this point well when addressing the symposium

of the annual meeting of the American Learned Society in 1960:

 

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the earlier part

of our own twentieth, are not unfairly labeled by historians as the

age of reason, enlightenment, ideology, and analysis -- in short,

the age of science. In this extremely exciting epoch, man began

increasingly to reject, and then to ignore the Bible, the revealed

Word of God, for more than two thousand years preceding, as

the ultimate source of knowledge by which the problems of society

could be resolved. Man began to depend upon his own powers of

observation and analysis to probe into the secrets of the universe

and its inhabitants.

 

Rationalists, political scientists, economists, historians, phi-

losophers, psychologists -- the two centuries preceding our own

times are full of great minds who grappled with societal problem,

and proposed for them solutions of various kinds. . . . If only reason

prevailed in man's relations to his fellowman -- the kind of uni-

versal peace and personal contentment that religion had been

promising humanity for over two thousand years would finally

come to pass.

 

7 Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (New York: Praeger, 1966), p. 128.

8 Bernhard Anderson, Creation versus Chaos (New York: Association

Press, 1967), p. 13.



30 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- January 1975

 

Alas, this has not come to pass. If anything the opposite

seems to prevail. Ever since World War I in the teens, the world

depression of the early thirties, the rise of fascism in Europe, the

horrors of World War II, the cold and hot and lukewarm wars of

the past decade and a half, increasing unemployment and auto-

mation, and the rather frequent recessions, it has become ever

more clear that reason alone was unable to bring our problems

closer to solution. And so, people have begun to come back to

Holy Scripture, to the Bible.9

 

In a word, the challenge has failed, and its alternative hypo-

thesis has left the world spiritually bankrupt. We are reminded of

Simon's answer when the Lord asked the Twelve if they too would

leave Him: "To whom shall we go? You have words of eternal

life" (John 6:68).

But unfortunately, when we turn to the theologians we discover

that those who study the Scriptures have not as yet established a

consensus of opinion regarding the meaning of the first two verses

of the Bible. In this series of articles the author hopes to familiarize

his readers with the positions advocated and to defend his own

conclusion.

 

ASSUMPTION UNDERLYING BIBLICAL COSMOGONY

 

Four assumptions underlie the method used in this series.

1. The validity of the philological approach used by the rabbis

of Spain during the ninth century A.D. is assumed, in contrast to

the mystical approach employed by their French peers.

2. The historical method of interpretation will be employed as

faithfully as possible. Through the tools at our disposal, we must

work our way back into the world of the biblical authors if we

hope to understand their message.

The biblical authors themselves make it abundantly plain

that they were a part of their world, and that they originated out

of the nations of their time and place. For example, concerning

the list of nations in Genesis 10, Eichrodt observed:

 

The list of nations in Gen. 10, which is unique in ancient Eastern

languages, includes Israel, proudly conscious though it is of its

preferential historical position, in the general context of humanity.

No claim is made for Israel of any fundamentally different natural

capacity or "inherited nobility" which set it apart from the rest

of the nations.10

 

9 Harry M. Orlinsky, "The New Jewish Version of the Torah," Journal of

Biblical Literature 82 (1963): 249.

10 Walther Eichrodt. Man in the Old Testament. trans. K. and R. Gregor

Smith (Chicago: H. Regnery. 1951), p. 36.



Introduction to Biblical Cosmogony / 31

 

One of Israel's earliest creeds begins with this humble confession:

"My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt

and sojourned there" (Deut. 26:5 ).11 Ezekiel deflates the pre-

tentious pride of his fellow countrymen by reminding them, "Your

origin and your birth are from the land of the Canaanite, your

father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite" (Ezek. 16:3).

These notices of their common origins with the other peoples

of the ancient Near East went by largely unnoticed until one day

in 1872. At that time George Smith, a young Assyriologist employed

as an assistant in the British Museum, was sorting and classifying

tablets excavated from Nineveh about twenty years earlier. In the

course of his work he was struck by a line on one of the tablets.

He later wrote of this epoch-making moment:

 

Commencing a steady search among these fragments, I soon found

half of a curious tablet which had evidently contained originally

six columns. . . . On looking down the third column, my eye caught

the statement that the ship rested on the mountains of Nizir,

followed by the account of the sending forth of the dove, and its

finding no resting place and returning. I saw at once that I had

here discovered a portion at least of the Chaldean account of the

Deluge.12

 

But that was not all. Included among the religious texts from

Ashurbanipal's library at Nineveh was the Babylonian creation

myth known as Enuma Elish (after its opening words "When on

high") -- a relatively late version of an ancient myth which dates

back to at least the First Babylonian Dynasty (ca. 1830-1530 B.C.),

whose greatest king was Hammurabi (ca. 1728-1686 B.C.). This

myth was first published by George Smith in 1876 under the title

The Babylonian Account of Genesis.

It was on the basis of Smith's work that Gunkel wrote his

most influential work on creation and chaos in the Old Testament.

Though few will be enamored with Gunkel's clever analysis, no

serious student of Scripture today should give less attention to this

material than that given by Gunkel.

3. Having analyzed our material by the philologico-grammatical

approach, we must attempt to classify and systematize it. The texts

of the Old Testament bearing on cosmogony may be grouped into

four divisions: (a) texts describing the creation under the figure of

 

11Gerhard von Rad considered this the first of all biblical creeds. See

Theologie des Alten Testaments (Munchen: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1957), 1:

127-28.

12 George Smith. cited in Jack Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past

(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959), p. 217.



32 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- January 1975

 

Yahweh's combat with the sea monster; (b) Genesis 1; (c) texts

from the wisdom school bearing on creation, namely Psalm 104,

Job 38, and Proverbs 8; and (d) the use of creation by Isaiah as

he addressed the exiles in Babylon.

4. Any given text must be interpreted within the realm of

Old Testament thought. Eichrodt's words are pointed but well taken:

 

In deciding, therefore, on our procedure for the treatment of the

realm of OT thought, we must avoid all schemes which derive

from Christian dogmatics -- such, for example, as "Theology-

Anthropology-Soteriology," "ordo salutis," and so on. Instead we

must plot our course as best we can along the lines of the OT's

own dialect.13

 

In a word, we must try to extrapolate from the Old Testament itself

its unifying concepts and interpret the texts bearing on cosmogony

within those categories.

 

CREATION AND THE RAHAB-LEVIATHAN THEME

 

In several passages of the Old Testament, reference is made

to God's conflict with a dragon or sea monster named as Rahab,

"The Proud One," or Leviathan, "The Twisting One."14 At least

five of these texts are in a context pertaining to the creation of

the world, and it is for this reason that these are considered in

this series on creation. An understanding of these passages will aid

in understanding the Genesis creation account. For example, in Job

26:12-13 we read: "He quieted the sea with His power, and by His

understanding He shattered Rahab. By His breath the heavens are

cleared; His hand has pierced the fleeing serpent." In Psalm 74:13-17

it is recorded: "Thou didst break the heads of the sea-monsters in

the waters, Thou didst crush the heads of Leviathan; Thou didst give

him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. Thou didst break

open springs and torrents; Thou didst dry up ever-flowing streams,

Thine is the day, Thine is the night; Thou hast prepared the light

and the sun. Thou hast established all the boundaries of the earth;

Thou hast made summer and winter,"

Three questions may be asked about these passages: Who are

the monsters? How are we to interpret references to them in the

Old Testament? What is the significance of these references? These

questions pertain to identification, interpretation, and significance.

 

13 Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament. trans, J. A. Baker

(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961). p. 33.

14 Rahab is referred to in Job 9:13; 26:12; Pss. 87:4; 89:10; Isa. 30:7; and

51:9. Leviathan is mentioned in Job 3:8; 41:1; Pss. 74:14; 104:26; and Isa.

27:1.



Introduction to Biblical Cosmogony / 33

 

IDENTIFICATION

To identify Rahab and Leviathan. Wakeman turned to the

mythological lore of the ancient Near East.15 After analyzing twelve

myths from Sumer, India, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Greece, and

Canaan, she concluded that in spite of their great variety, all the

battle myths are, as she put it, "about the same thing." Her analysis

showed that at the core of the myths three features were always

present: (1) a repressive monster restraining creation, (2) the defeat

of the monster by the heroic god who thereby releases the forces

essential for life, and (3) the hero's final control over these forces.16

These myths of the ancient Near East identify Rahab or

Leviathan as an anticreation dragon monster.17 Interestingly, the

biblical texts that refer to Rahab or Leviathan imply these same

three features found in these other mythical cosmogonies.

Job 3: 8 makes it clear that Leviathan is a repressive, anti-

creation monster who swallows up life. Job said: "Let those curse

it who curse the day, who are prepared to rouse Leviathan."

Summarizing the context of this verse, Fishbane concluded:

 

The whole thrust of the text in Job iii 1-13 is to provide a syste-

matic bouleversement, or reversal, of the cosmicizing acts of creation

described in Gen. i-ii 4a. Job, in the process of cursing the day of

his birth (v. 1), binds, spell to spell in his articulation of an abso-

lute and unrestrained death wish for himself and the entire

creation.18

 

In several passages this repressive anticreation monster is

associated with the sea. For example, Psalm 89:9-10 reads: "Thou

dost rule the swelling of the sea; when its waves rise, Thou dost

still them. Thou thyself didst crush Rahab like one who is slain;

Thou didst scatter Thine enemies with Thy right arm." Isaiah

27:1b reads, "He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea." Job

26:12-13 and Psalm 74:13-17, cited earlier, also associate this

monster with the sea, as do Psalms 89:10; 104:26; and Isaiah 27: 1.

The other two features, viz., the destruction of the monster

and the controlling of life forces by the destroyer, are also seen

in several of the biblical Rahab-Leviathan passages. For example,

 

15 Mary K. Wakeman, God's Battle with the Monster: A Study in Biblical

Imagery (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973).

16 Ibid., pp. 4-6.

17 Cf. the conflict between Apsu and Tiamat and between Ea and Marduk in

the Chaldean myth "Enuma Elish." See E. A. Speiser, "The Creation Epic," in

Ancient Near Eastern Texts. ed. James P. Pritchard (Princeton, NJ: Princeton

University Press, 1955), p. 60.

18 Michael Fishbane, "Jeremiah IV 23-26 and Job III 3-13: A Recovered

Use of the Creation Pattern," Vetus Testamentum 21 (1971): 153.



34 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- January 1975

 

Isaiah 51:9 states that Yahweh cut Rahab in pieces and pierced

the dragon, and Psalm 89:10 mentions that Yahweh crushed Rahab

and quelled the turbulent sea associated with the dragon.

Gordon's study of leviathan in both the Bible and the Ugaritic

texts puts the case beyond doubt.19 He convincingly demonstrated

that the myth about Rahab-Leviathan belongs to the mythology of

ancient Canaan.

 

INTERPRETATJON

Having established that Leviathan in the Canaanite mythology

is a dragon resisting creation, we must raise the hermeneutical

question whether the inspired poets of Israel meant that Yahweh

actually had a combat with this hideous creature or whether this

Canaanite story served as a helpful metaphor to describe Yahweh's

creative activity. If we assume that the biblical authors were

logical -- and they were that and far more -- then we must opt

for the second interpretation of these references. The poets who

mention this combat also abhor the pagan idolatry and insist on a

strict monotheism.

Job, for example, protested his innocence by claiming: "If I

have looked at the sun when it shone, or the moon going in

splendor; and my heart became secretly enticed, and my hand

threw a kiss from my mouth, that too would have been an iniquity

calling for judgment, for I would have denied God above" (Job

31:26-28). Isaiah, who stated that Yahweh hewed Rahab and

pierced the dragon (Isa. 51:9), also wrote, "Thus says the LORD,

the King of Israel. . . : 'I am the first, and I am the last, and there

is no God besides Me'" (Isa. 44:6). Similar words are stated later

by Isaiah: "That men may know from the rising to the setting of

the sun that there is no one besides Me; I am the LORD, and there

is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing

well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD, who does all

these" (Isa, 45 :6-7).

Allen stated the issue well when he concluded, "The

problem. . . is not one of borrowed theology but one of borrowed

imagery."20 The biblical prophets and poets, who were accustomed

to clothing their ideas in poetic garb, elucidating them with the

help of simile, and employing the familiar devices of poetry, were

 

19 Cyrus H. Gordon. "Leviathan: Symbol of Evil," in Biblical Motifs: Origins

and Transformations. ed. Alexander Altmann (Cambridge: Harvard Univer-

sity Press, 1966), pp. 1-9.

20Ronald Barclay Allen. "The Leviathan-Rahab-Dragon Motif in the Old

Testament" (Th. M. thesis. Dallas Theological Seminar, 1968). p. 63.



Introduction to Biblical Cosmogony / 35

 

not, to be sure, deterred from using what they found at hand in

Israel's epic poetry, McKenzie observed:

 

It does not seem possible any longer to deny the presence of

mythological allusions in the Old Testament. They appear almost

entirely, as far as present research has shown, in poetic passages,

where they add vividness and color to the imagery and language.

They do not, on the other hand, permit one to affirm the existence

of creation myths among the Hebrews, corresponding to those of

Mesopotamia and Canaan. Gunkel's brilliant attempt to do this

was a conspicuous failure. The creation accounts of the Bible were

studiously composed to exclude mythological elements. The fact

that such allusions were freely admitted in poetry indicates no more

than this, that the Hebrews were acquainted with Semitic myths.

Where these are cosmogonic myths, the work of the creative

deity, or his victory over chaos, is simply transferred to Yahweh;

other deities involved in the myths are ignored. In no sense can

it be said that the Hebrews incorporated "mythopoeic thought" (to

borrow a word from Frankfort) into their own religious concep-

tions; they did, however, assimilate mythopoeic imagery and

language.21

 

It is inconceivable that these strict monotheists intended to support

their view from pagan mythology, which they undoubtedly detested

and abominated, unless they were sure that their hearers would

understand that their allusions were used in a purely figurative

sense.

A study of the texts in which the Rahab-Leviathan emblem is

found shows that the biblical authors used it in one of three ways.

First, as seen in the texts considered thus far, they employed the

figure to describe God's creative activity in the prehistoric past.

Second, the symbol of Yahweh's victory over the dragon is

used as symbolic of Yahweh's victory over Pharaoh and Israel's

enemies in the historic present. They were particularly fond of

using Rahab as a nickname for Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus.

Rahab evoked appropriate feelings of Yahweh's victory in creating

Israel by destroying the oppressive tyrant and drying up his restrain-

ing sea. In Isaiah 30: 7 the prophet, referring to Egypt, wrote,

"Therefore I have called her Rahab who has been exterminated."

Later when Isaiah calls for the second exodus, this time from the

oppressive Babylonian, he commands: "Awake, awake, put on

strength, O arm of the LORD; awake as in the days of old, the

generations of long ago. Was it not Thou who cut Rahab in pieces,

who pierced the dragon? Was it not Thou who dried up the sea,

the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a

 

21 John L. McKenzie. S. J., "A Note on Psalm 73 (74); 13-15," Theological

Studies 2 (1950): 281-82.



36 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- January 1975

 

pathway for the redeemed to cross over?" (Isa. 51:9-10) As Ander-

son obsersed: "It was then that Yahweh slew the monster Rahab,

separated the Great Deep (tehom rabbah) so that the people could

pass through (44:27), [and] rebuked the rebellious Sea (Yam;

51:10)."22

Third, whereas Yahweh's poets used the symbol of Rahab to

depict His triumph at creation in the prehistoric past, and the

prophets employed the story for His victories over Israel's political

enemies in the historic present, the apocalyptic seers used it to

portray Yahweh's final triumph over the ultimate enemy behind all

history, even Satan, in the posthistoric future. Thus in Isaiah we

read: "In that day the LORD will punish Leviathan the fleeing

serpent, with His fierce and great and mighty sword, even Leviathan

the twisted serpent; and He will kill the dragon who lives in the

sea" (Isa, 27: I). More clearly John says in his apocalypse: "And

there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels waging war with

the dragon. And the dragon and his angels waged war, and they

were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for

them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent

of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole

world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown

down with him" (Rev. 12:7-9).

 

SIGNIFICANCE

In all these passages, the literary allusions to Yahweh's defeat

of Rahab serve to underscore the basic thought of the Old Testa-

ment: Yahweh will triumph over all His enemies in the establishment

of His rule of righteousness. Negatively, the allusion serves as a

polemic against the gods of the foreign kingdoms. Not Baal of the

Canaanites, not Marduk of the Babylonians, not Pharaoh of Egypt,

but Yahweh, God of Israel, author of Torah, triumphs. As the

Creator of the cosmos, He triumphed at the time of creation; as

Creator of history, He triumphs in the historic present; and as

Creator of the new heavens and the new earth, He will triumph in

the future.

 

22 Anderson, Creation versus Chaos, p. 128. Incidentally, it may be noted

that in contrast to Moses' rod which turned into a serpent (Exod, 4:3).

Aaron's rod turned into a dragon (Exod. 7:12). It was Aaron's draconic

rod that swallowed the draconic rods of the Egyptians. The point of the

incident is now clear: The rod is a symbol of rulership, and God thus

demonstrated that His kingdom would swallow up Pharaoh's kingdom.

Moreover, God indicated that He would subsume its powers within His own

dominion. The psalmist accordingly looked forward to the day when

Egypt will be incorporated into Yahweh's rule: "shall mention Rahab and

Babylon among those who know Me" (Ps. 87:4).

 


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dr. Roy Zuck

Dallas Theological Seminary

3909 Swiss Ave.

Dallas, TX 75204

www.dts.edu

 

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: thildebrandt@gordon.edu