Order from Chaos through Boundaries

Boundaries -- order from chaos
Boundaries — order from chaos

I was listening to something last night on the way home that made me think.

When we are introduced to God on the first page of the Bible, we see Him creating. But shortly thereafter, He is turning chaos into order. How he does that is interesting: He does it through establishing boundaries.

At first, the earth is tohu and bohu and is uninhabitable. But man cannot live in chaos and disorder, tohu and bohu. Such a state is not fit for habitation, and God intended the earth to be inhabited (Isa. 45:18).

I noticed some time ago that there seems to be a structure in the Genesis 1 account. Well, there are several structures, but in particular, each day of 1-3 seems to be devoted to establishing a domain for inhabitants to come in days 4-6, and each in order. Day 1 involves establishing the domains of day and night, whereas Day 4 involves populating those domains with the sun and the moon and stars. Day 2 involves establishing the domains of the waters below and the waters above, and on Day 5 God creates the sea creatures to live in the waters below and the birds who fly among the clouds above. On Day 3 He establishes the land apart from the waters and fills it with vegetation, and on Day 6 He creates land animals and man to enjoy that realm.

Days 1-3 seem devoted to crafting places and domains of habitation that are, in turn, filled in the same order with their inhabitants.

That said, how does God establish the domains? How does He craft those domains out of the chaos?

He establishes them by setting boundaries where there were none. He takes what was total darkness (Genesis 1:2) and sets a boundary between Day and Night. He takes the waters and sets a boundary between what will be below and what will be above. He takes what was completely water covered and sets a boundary between dry land and the now-divided seas.

A major task of crafting order from chaos is setting boundaries. And perhaps it follows, then, that creating chaos often involves the removal of needed boundaries.

I think we see this theme in many places. God is angered at the spiritual chaos of Israel and says that part of the problem is that her priests have not taught the people to distinguish between the clean and the unclean, the holy and unholy (Ezekiel 22:26) — a failure to draw proper boundaries. God set boundaries between Israel and the other nations around her, not just physical but through command and ordinance, to create a “space” where He could work with her and craft her. In fact, God set the boundaries of the nations of the world earlier in the history (Acts 17:26), to create families of men according to His desires, much like some might create a beautiful, orderly garden on their property. In Babylon at the Tower, the people opposed that order for one of their own choosing (Genesis 11:4), in which the people remained together in opposition to God (certainly a form of chaos), so He manifested the boundaries He wanted through their speech, forcing them to naturally create the order He desired in the world.

God defines what is orderly in sexual relations by defining boundaries not to be crossed (Leviticus 18). Crossing those boundaries causes chaos in the realm of sexual and family relationships and an “anything goes” mentality, much like we are seeing more and more of today. In fact, that awful and immoral (and as we highlighted, irrational) Australian “lesbian ad” we discussed yesterday was all about trying to convince people through emotional appeal to ignore boundaries.

How do we craft a safe, orderly world for our young children? We create boundaries for them. How do we teach them to have an orderly world of their own as adults? We teach them to create and establish boundaries of their own.

Anyway, just a thought! I had never seen that before — that God’s creation of order out of the tohu and bohu chaos in Genesis 1:2 was through the establishing or restoration of boundaries. Seemed interesting.

16 thoughts on “Order from Chaos through Boundaries

  1. obeirne

    Hello, Mr. Smith: Thank you for this brief overview of this subject. God obviously hated the chaos and confusion wrought by Satan and his demons on the earth physically at that time. In that week He put things in order. For a considerable period we have been entering am age of increasing tohu and bohu spiritually. The great rebellion concerning which Dr. Meredith delivered a powerful sermon recently, the time of the ultimate chaos and confusion, is drawing ever closer as those with their eyes opened can see and understand. We must be prepared to deal with it. God is going to put all in order again.

  2. Kathy Hall

    What a wonderful commentary! If only people would read the Bible with an open mind and obey it. “O taste and see that the LORD is good, Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Psalm 34:8). The other day, I had some Greek yogurt with strawberries mixed in and my 6 yr. old wrinkled up her nose at it. I told her how good it was, but she wouldn’t try it at first. After watching me enjoy it, she decided to give it a try and loved it! God’s Word is that way – the proof is in the living of it. The boundaries God sets for us are a recipe for a sweet and beautiful life. I so look forward to watching everyone and everything blossom under the rulership of Christ!

  3. You’re not the first to notice the creation of order from chaos and then the population of what is bounded, in Genesis 1 – this is commonly noted in self-described “biblical creationist” literature. The argument there revolves around the nature of the chaos.

  4. Thanks — actually, I have seen it elsewhere, also, and was listening to a discussion of the “literary framework” view of Genesis 1 when someone else in the discussion brought up the idea of boundary setting in Days 1-3. It hit me then that boundary setting was possibly being pictured as a key element in the achievement of order.

  5. I ran out of time as I’m writing from my iPhone (one of my chief tools these days for making order out of chaos). Anyway, what I wanted to say is that I have no doubt at all that you’re right about the application in principle – in both directions for that matter.

    “The melody” that marks tohu wabohu in the Masoretic Text (wrote the late Suzanne Haik-Vantoura) “oscillates, as if deprived of a base.” To be precise, it oscillates tonally between precision and imprecision (chaos) and then inverts completion to imprecision (disorder). Each tone has a consistent meaning for underlining the verbal action. Yes indeed, in context we speak of the removal of boundaries – not of something merely “unformed and unfilled”.

    And here’s the real kicker for me: i realized recently and forcefully that the later biblical authors meant their references to the relevant Hebrew words to be understood in the light of Genesis 1:2, melodic accents and all – not the other way around as we’ve done heretofore (even in your article for the TW Magazine not long ago). The reason why people lost sight of this was because they lost sight of the priestly “reading tradition”, which was preserved intact but which wasn’t deciphered until beginning 1900 years to the year (!) after the Second Temple fell. 🙂

  6. Thanks, John. Without touching on the use of melodic accents to interpret the text (about which I think you know I am an agnostic), I just want to comment on the fact that I have understood from the beginning (no pun intended, but enjoyed nonetheless) that the later authors were purposefully harkening back to the Genesis 1:2 account and have explicit mention of that belief in some sermons and Bible studies. I still believe that their use can help us to understand the possible implications of the wording of Genesis 1:2 in considering why they made such a connection. It is not a matter of an inaccurate reversal of influence as you seem to characterize it–rather, a recognition of the fact and a mindfulness of what the Author behind the authors might be trying to say about such states.

  7. Steve

    Your comment about establishing order in the household. Exactly. Children thrive in homes where there are set rules and boundaries. That’s why it’s so important for parents to be consistent, not rule by their whims of the moment.

  8. I will get back to you on what still seems a consistent way of interpreting – but elsewhere. The intent is legit as we sought to interpret an unclear verse by clear ones – my point is that the biblical authors had no such concern. And I don’t yet see an acknowledgement of that in anything we’ve ever written – but will double-check to see whether I’ve missed something.

  9. Thanks, John. I’m not sure, though, what needs to be acknowledged in what we’ve written. I don’t think the biblical authors were trying to clarify anything like we are doing, because I don’t think it was unclear for them. So I suppose I am not sure why there is anything that we need to acknowledge in what we’ve written that hasn’t been. What’s to acknowledge?

  10. John from Australia


    (as you have mentioned before that it would not be appropriate, as it is your blog, to link to my website).

    you may be interested, for yourself, in this booklet that also looks at Genesis 1:

    “Ezekiel’s Temple in the Plan of God – Order out of Chaos – from Genesis to Revelation”

    (“Creation and Eden” begins on p.8 of hardcopy)


    Regards John

  11. Lisa P.

    Thanks for your posts as always! I just thought it was interesting, You said “Day 1 involves establishing the domains of day and night”. Having young children myself, one of the first things to set in order with newborns physically is sleep. In my experience, it usually takes a week or two to get babies acclimated to the general idea that sleep time is at night! (Sleeping through the night is a whole different animal!)

    Until the little munchkin figures out this vital concept the household is at a supreme state of chaos! It always amazes me how much we learn from little people, and what wonderful spiritual lessons we learn in a state of sleep depravation! Hope you enjoy a restful and organized Sabbath.

  12. Hey thanks for the post, Mr. Smith

    Interesting topic… brings to mind a story I heard a few years back (can’t remember for certain where) about an elementary school that had its fences around the property removed because some “group” of people thought the fences were too confining for the children. What they found though was that after the fences were removed the children all congregated close to the doors of the building – they were afraid of being out in the school yard without the fences being there.

    Before that, the kids ran and played and did kid stuff like kids do all over the school yard, and it seems like if I remember the story correctly they decided to put the fences back up, and when they did the kids went back out and played in the yard, away from the security of the doors again. Like the boundaries actually made the kids feel secure.

    Hope you’re doing well…

  13. Ally

    Thank you for this insightful post. And thank you for always digging for more inventive ways to describe God’s glorious universe (physical and spiritual)

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