What was God doing and feeling 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 given the poetic nature of Genesis 1, God’s spirit can be understood as “dancing” over the waters of Creation, and that reveals a whole ‘nuther perspective than “brooding” or hovering.
Word Study Time!
First, this is God’s Holy Spirit we’re talking about –God’s force and movement, and as we know, both the Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek words for “spirit” are the words for “wind” or “breath.” In Hebrew the word is “ruwach” and in Greek it is “pneuma.” But this isn’t our breath we’re talking about, it’s God’s! And sometimes the Bible describes God’s divine breath 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, or Acts 2 where it’s a mighty rush. God’s Spirit is creative, life-giving, saving, destroying, rushing, shaking. Sometimes it’s a gentle whisper (after it comes like fire, earthquake, and wind) as it did with Elijah in 1 Kgs 19. But rarely does the Bible describe God’s presence/Spirit as “brooding” or just hovering.
In Genesis 1:2, the creative Spirit of God is traditionally translated as “hovering” or “moving” or “sweeping” over the waters of chaos. The Hebrew word for “hovering/sweeping” is “Rachaph“ (רָחַף râchaph) and describes a motion that can be translated as “move, shake, flow,” even “brood,” or “tremor with a sense of anticipation.” (Hebrew has a lot fewer words than English, so a single Hebrew word is often repurposed in scripture to express different meanings –which makes translating Hebrew quite fun.)
“Rachaph” can also mean “soft/relaxed” …which sounds like how I dance. Was God’s Spirit “swaying” or slow-dancing over the waters? Perhaps! The point is WE HAVE CHOICES, and these choices can help us gain new insights.
How then did I get to “dance”??
This is how: If I told you that a person was “shaking, moving, flowing, and fluttering” (i.e. “rachaph-ing“), you might say they were experiencing a seizure OR that they were dancing.
Indeed, “dancing” is one of the English synonyms for many of the possible English translations of the Hebrew “רָחַף râchaph. Check it out for yourself using an English thesaurus (one of my “go to” tools for opening up my mind to new ways of understanding scripture).
Word Studies and Thesaurus musings often create strange coincidences and cool discoveries, and that’s what happened when I decided to look up another Hebrew word for “dance” (“raqad”) which my thesaurus suggested as a synonym for “rachaph.” I found that the Raqad means to “leap” or “skip” …and providentially, one of the places “raqad” is used is in Psalm 26 which describes THE MOVEMENT of GOD.
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)
There’s yet ANOTHER word for dance in the Old Testament. And anybody remember the story of David dancing like a boss before the Lord as he processed with the Ark of the Covenant? I do! In 2 Samuel 6:14-22 David “karar-ed” before the Lord –which literally means he WHIRLED.) Yes, there are many Hebrew words that describe movement and things like “dance” and taken TOGETHER, they suggest a more dynamic presence than the forgettable English translation of “hovering.”
Pictured Right: The Arabic word for “dance” is a wonderful pictogram. Arabic is related to Hebrew and is based on Aramaic –Jesus’ language.
Have you ever been so full of love that you were literally SHAKING (rachaphing) with anticipation?
Have you ever been swept up in the excitement of creativity? The whirlwind of the creative process? The emotion and drama and quaking excitement of that moment when the curtain begins to open?
The Lord of the Dance has…
God dancing over the water moves me to see God as a Divine Artist, full of joy, full of ideas, full of possibilities and hopes as his brush begins to touch the canvas,
–or whose toes begin to tap.
Rather than the typical interpretation of “power and majesty,” I hear the voice of “joy” in Creation and can see it in my mind’s eye.
If you’ve ever danced for joy, or spun in circles with your child, or slow danced with the love of your life –you know something of what God felt like in Genesis 1.
⇒ Read my full word study on “dancing” in Rotation.org’s “How to do a Bible Word Study” teacher training article.