What was God doing at the moment of Creation in Genesis 1:2?
Your Bible translation might say God’s spirit was “hovering” (NIV), or it might say the “wind” of God “swept” over the deep (NRSV).
But the poetry of Genesis 1:2 could also just as easily be translated that God’s spirit was “dancing” over the waters of Creation.
Word Study Time!
Both of the Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek words for “spirit” is the word for “wind” or “breath.” In Hebrew the word is “ruwach” and in Greek it is “pneuma.” But let’s not think just in terms of “breath.” Sometimes the Bible describes God’s divine wind as a “whirlwind” such as in 2 Kings 2 when the whirlwind carries Elijah to heaven, or Isaiah 66 and Jeremiah 4 when it comes like a tornado to wreak havoc on sin. Creative, life-giving, saving, destroying, …God’s spirit can do it all.
In Genesis 1:2, this power is described as “hovering” or “moving” or “sweeping” over the waters of chaos. The Hebrew word for “hovering/sweeping” is “Rechalph” and describes a motion that can be translated as “move, shake, flow,” even “brood,” or “tremor with a sense of anticipation.” (That’s the beautiful thing about Hebrew, it gives you choices in English which can lead you to new understandings.)
So how did I get to “dance”??
Wellll… it started when I asked myself, “If you wanted to poetically describe a person as “shaking, moving, fluttering” (i.e. “rechalph-ing“), what might you say they were doing?” And “dancing” is one possible answer. Dancing is also one of the synonyms for these movement words when you look them up in an English thesaurus (one of my “go to” tools for opening up my mind).
Word Studies and Thesaurus musings often create strange coincidences and cool discoveries, and that’s what happened when I decided to look up the Hebrew word for “dance” (“raqad”) which my thesaurus suggests as a synonym for “rechalph.” I found it meant “leap” or “skip” …and providentially, one of the places “raqad” is used is in Psalm 26.
Check out these excerpts from Psalm 26 and pinch yourself if they help you imagine what God was doing over the waters in Genesis 1:2.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
6 He makes Lebanon skip (DANCE) like a calf
8 The voice of the Lord SHAKES the wilderness;
9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to WHIRL,
10 The Lord sits enthroned (lit: “abides like a king”) over the flood
(Ps 26, NRSV, and anybody remember the story of David dancing like a boss in front of the Ark of the Covenant? I do!)
Call it the “whirling hover dance,” or the “Lord of the Dance” (or something tamer if you like), but certainly God was excited to be creating the universe at the moment Genesis 1:2 says his spirit was hovering or sweeping over the deep.
Have you ever been so full of love that you were literally SHAKING (rechalphing) with anticipation?
The Lord of the Dance has…
⇒ Read my full word study on “dancing” in Rotation.org’s “How to do a Bible Word Study” teacher training article.