Genesis one is probably not intended as true symbolism, yet it can be argued that hints of symbolism are present. The people of ancient times loved symbolism, and it was not uncommon for them to find double and even triple meanings in a word or phrase. In Genesis 1:2 the Jewish mind may easily have stepped over into considering the symbolic meaning of various elements of this passages to see if they might enrich the passage. When a passage that seemed to lean toward a literal, factual interpretation was also full of words that in other parts of their literature were commonly used as imagery, they would at least consider the possibility of symbolism to see if it added to the impact of the passage.


It is not hard to see why ancient peoples saw darkness as a symbol for evil, for danger, and for fear. It was during the darkness of night that robbers and other evil men did their evil works. It was at night that dangerous animals prowled about. Saying that darkness was over the face of the watery depths was a type of negative; it showed the need for God to act.


The face expresses what a person is thinking or feeling inside. In Scripture the outward expression of an internal attitude usually has to do with a relationship, either a close relationship, such as marriage, or a relationship with a huge disparity in authority, such as a ruler to a subject. In those contexts the face is used most often regarding expressions of favor or judgment. If this usage had any symbolism in it at all, it would have been stripped of the concept of relationship and would have pictured the water as hopeful, and expectant, knowing it had potential but needing God to act in order to bring out that potential.


The sea was seen by the ancients as dangerous and deadly. Sailors would leave and never come back. Storms were worse on the sea than on dry land. Also, since one cannot see very far into the deep water, one cannot know what terrible sea monsters may be lurking under there. The sea was often called the abyss, the place of death. The prior use of the term “darkness” seems to favor this being a symbol of foreboding and hopelessness, of danger and a lack of life.


In Hebrew “waters” only had a plural form; there was no singular form. However, it was used with singular and plural meaning, with context telling the reader what was intended. When the word “waters” was used in a plural sense, as we see at the end of verse 2, it represented an abundance of whatever was being talked about. If it stood alone, as it does in this passage, it simply means abundance in general.    The word for “waters” differs from the word used earlier and translated “sea,” “the deep” or even “the abyss.” The first one emphasizes the dark and fearful aspects of so much water, while this second reference emphasizes the potential held in so much water. The former seems to prohibit life, while the latter is life-giving. This is the first of many situations which demonstrate that God is good at turning negative situations into positive ones. It is also the first of many issues that involve two aspects pulling in opposite directions in order to create a final condition of balance.

Our lives can go one of two directions, they can be filled with turmoil, or filled with peace. If life is tumultuous, it is usually our own doing. We can choose to focus on the unknowns, the things we have no control over; or we can choose to seek God’s peace. In order to have peace we must place the unknowns in God’s hands, do our part, and trust Him with the results.