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The human story reflects a contrast between what the Creator intended from the promise of His presence versus humanity’s violation of His will and purpose. This contrast presents itself as a clash between the righteousness of God and corruption of humankind found in the books of Genesis to Revelation.–Thus, an earth without form and void (Gn 1:2a) or tohu wabohu (Hebrew).

To apply the concept of tohu wabohu to contemporary Christianity first necessitates tracing its significance in the Old Testament context. Tohu Wabohu occurs twice in the Old Testament in a combined form after Gn 1:1: Jer 4:23 and Is 34:11. Without form (Heb: tohu) signifies wasteness—that which is wasted, laid waste, formless, a worthless thing, or empty place; while void (Heb: bohu) indicates an undistinguishable ruin, voidness, or desolate—something void and empty. The ancient Israelites viewed the opposite of the created order as something much worse than wasteness and emptiness. To them, tohu wabohu had the characteristics of an active, malevolent force (Jer 4:23; Is 34:11)—chaos signifying God’s judgment culminating in the Battle of Armageddon.  

Tohu Wabohu: Transformation From Wasteness and Emptiness (Gn 1:1)

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gn 1:1-2). When God brought the heaven and the earth into existence from nothing, the earth appeared tohu wabohu–without form and void, in other words, wasteness (tohu) and emptiness (bohu). The earth in its initial state could not sustain life. Elohim had created it as a forerunner for His inhabitants to commune with Him, their covenant God Yahweh. He transformed the earth by His own word from tohu wabohu to order and fullness, a place where He could dwell intimately in the midst of His people and they would come to know Him in relationship. Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden opposed Elohim’s actions of creation for intimacy and fellowship. The Lord God banished them from paradise to the hardship of a land filled with disorder and chaos “to till the ground from whence he was taken”(3:23). 

Tohu Wabohu: Primeval Chaos (Jer 4:23)

Scripture mentions another instance of tohu wabohu. Jeremiah 4:23 describes a land destroyed to the extent of primeval chaos as tofu wabohu. “I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.” Just as God created the earth without form and void to order and fullness, His signaled a return to tohu wabohu (barren waste, GNB) from the promised, plentiful land. 

While God remained the faithful husband, Israel (the northern kingdom) rejected Him as the spiritually adulterous wife with false gods, likened to a harlot (2:20). They committed two evils in His sight, “They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” (2:13 NIV) Israel refused to repent. Because of their infidelity and lack of repentance, Israel lost her freedom (3:1-5). Judah did not remain loyal as well, lukewarm wanting both God and Baal (3:11). Judah forsake the Lord and and turned to idolatry. The people no longer knew Him. Thus, God allowed the invading Babylonians army to decimate their land until it became a barren waste of complete destruction (tofu wabahu). Even the birds flew away. However, the Spirit of God remained. God promised the Messiah Who foreshadowed a restored land with the fullness of the Godhead.

Tohu Wabohu: God’s Judgment of the Nations (Is 34:11)

“But the pelican and the porcupine shall possess it, Also the owl and the raven shall dwell in it. And He shall stretch out over it, the line of confusion and the stones of emptiness.” Isaiah described the day of the Lord’s vengeance against all nations (Is 34:8 KJV). The prophet predicted God’s apocalyptic judgment resulting in tohu wabohu against the Edomites for helping the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and then occupying the southern tip of Judah (Ps 137:1; Lam 4:21-22; Ez 25:12-14; 35:3; 15; Jl 3:19; Mal 1:2-5) The line of confusion symbolizes the Lord’s judgment (cf. 2 Kgs 21:13). Obadiah also warned of no survivor left in the house of Esau because they prevented refugees from leaving and handed them over to the enemy (Ob 11-14). The Lord made Edom a burnt offering (Isa 24:21) and marked the ruins of Bozzrah, its capital, for confusion and chaos (34:11). Only wildcats and goat demons would inhabit it (34:14). This judgment affects all the nations in cataclysmic destruction of humanity ushering in the new heavens and new earth (65:17). God returns the earth to Himself in a perfect, eternal state.

Knowing God or Living in an Empty Place

“To whom hast thou uttered words? and whose spirit came from thee?” (Jb 26:4). Job responded with a true knowledge of God’s accomplishments to Bilhad’s misguided attacks. Then, Job illustrated the Lord’s divine grandeur, “He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing” (Jb 26:7). Job refers to without form as an empty place (tohu), which was chaotic and suspended on nothing but His will and purpose. However, God created earth for His inhabitation (Is 45:18d). To believers in Christ tohu wabohu may represent life in an empty place separated from knowing God, a metaphoric subsequent condition resulting from leaving their First Love. But, abiding in Him, fills that void with His presence.

Jan Paron, PhD

May 25, 2021

Bibliography

Custance, A. C. (2008). Without form and void. Retrieved from http://www.custance.org/Library/WFANDV/index.html#TableofContent