Creation (4): God and the Sea Monsters

I’ve gotten a lot of comments (OK, no I haven’t) from readers who were heartbroken because my series on creation stalled. But take heart– I’m back in the saddle.

The first five books of the Bible were written for the people of Israel who had come out of Egypt, wandered in the desert for 40 years, and were about to enter the Promised Land. It reminded them of all God’s mighty works for them: from creation, to saving eight people through the flood, to the promises to Abraham, to saving his people from the famine by sending them to Egypt, to bringing them out of Egypt where they had been forced into slavery.

So as the original audience read or heard Genesis, they were one generation removed from captivity in Egypt, and their ancestors had been in Egypt over four centuries. During that time they served other gods (see Joshua 24:14), and they continued to be tempted by syncretism, mixing the worship of the true God with that of false gods, throughout their whole history.

What does this have to do with the creation account in Gen 1-2? I’ve mentioned earlier that I believe Moses was the author of Genesis (backing that up will have to wait for another post, but let’s just say Jesus seems to have thought Moses wrote it). Moses, you’ll recall, grew up in Pharaoh’s palace, and we learn from Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 that he was “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.” There are several points in the creation account where it’s likely that the author is deliberately contradicting the Egyptian worldview in order to show that the God of Israel is the creator of the universe.

For example, Gen 1:21 says that God created the “great sea creatures”– in Hebrew it’s a plural form of the word tannin, a word that’s usually used of a scary creature that’s a hostile force. For example, in other Ancient Near Eastern myths the god Baal does battle with a tannin when he creates the world. What do we learn from Genesis? God created the tannin. He doesn’t have to battle anything, doesn’t have to fear anything. Whatever’s out there, he made. Another interesting thing about this word: it’s used twice of Pharaoh in Ezekiel, and in fact Pharaoh had a snake on his headpiece; it was one of his symbols. So Pharaoh uses the tannin as a symbol of his might, but again, Genesis 1 reminds us that God created the tannin. This is hammered home for Pharaoh in Exodus 7 when Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a tannin. And not only that, but Aaron’s tannin swallows up the snakes Pharaoh’s magicians conjure up. God is saying to Pharaoh: I am not afraid of you. I created you, and I can do with you what I want. And he is saying to Israel: No matter what you have heard, I am the only God, your Creator. As long as you fear Me, you need fear nothing else.

In the next post (or so) I’ll look at another example of anti-Egyptian polemic in the creation account.


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