Image source: Victorian Funfair
And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
~ Genesis 1:2 (ASV)
"Waste and void" (or "formless and void") translate the Hebrew tohu v' bohu. Tohu (TO-hoo) denotes chaos, confusion, and disorder. (Think of the ruins left in the wake of a disaster so destructive that the rubble leaves no distinguishable form of what it once was.) Bohu (BO-hoo) denotes the void of utter emptiness, not unlike a vacuum.
If Genesis 1:1 describes God creating the raw ingredients with which He is about to form something good, Genesis 1:2 gives us an idea of what those ingredients look like before He speaks life into them. One might surmise that God’s Word uses "tohu bohu" in a manner similar to English reduplication, when a wordplay is coined for a singsong and often disparaging effect.
Consider the low class, even trashy nature that "riff-raff" conveys about a person. "Mumbo-jumbo" devalues words as gibberish, while "boob tube" rightly describes a proliferation of nonsense. And when the character of our actions is less than intelligent and careful, we use the phrases "pell-mell," "willy-nilly," "topsy-turvy,"—or perhaps the more sinister "helter-skelter."
Whatever the expression's pre-1600 origin, or its use to name the British spiraling slide, "Helter Skelter" is best known as the raucous, violent Beatles song produced in Paul McCartney's deliberate effort to create a sound as dirty and raw as possible. Little wonder that mass-murderer Charles Manson saw in the song a prophecy of an apocalyptic racial war which he attempted to trigger—that he and his followers might emerge as rulers of a postwar world.
Interestingly, the Bible also uses the "tohu bohu" wordplay to describe a postwar landscape. If waste and emptiness precede God's creative intervention, they likewise trail the His retributory intervention.
For the LORD has a day of vengeance,
a year of recompense …
He shall stretch the line of confusion over it,
and the plumb line of emptiness.
~ Isaiah 34:8,11 (ESV; also see Jeremiah 4:23-26)
Except for the intervention of God, each of us is riff-raff, our words are mumbo-jumbo, and our lives are "topsy-turvy" at best or "helter-skelter" at worst.
This is particularly true of that confused void before Christ, before we received His words of life. If we become distracted by this world, and find ourselves on another helter-skelter, downward-spiral slide, we can trust that He longs to once again speak life into the empty chaos.
Gracious Father, apart from You, we are worse than nothing. In You, we have all that is good. Please draw us, every day, to abide more closely with You.
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Copyright 2012, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.