In Genesis 1:2, we read, “the Spirit of God is hovering over the face of the waters.”
So this is before creation, so where does the water come from? Why does it exist before the first day? And if there is the “face of the water”, it seems there must be gravity somewhere? What is the state of the universe at this time?
This question provides an opportunity to show the importance of carefully reading what God has given us in His Word. It is far too easy for us to read Scripture without really thinking carefully about what it says. Several times in the gospels we read that Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Have you not read…” (Matt. 12:3; 19:4; Mk. 12:10; etc.) Of course, their eyes had passed over these Scriptures, they may even have memorized them, but had they really understood what they were reading?
We often speak of the “days of creation” forgetting that Genesis 1:1 reads, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” At this point, we can observe that there are two ways to understand this.1 Either Genesis 1:1 is a prologue which gives us simply an “abstract” of what is to follow, or it is, in fact, the initial creation. The phrasing of the question shows that the questioner is assuming the first of these options. If we assume the second option then there is no confusion. That is, Genesis 1:1 is describing the initial material creation. Water and earth are part of that material creation. A scientist might say that Genesis 1:1 describes the instantiation of all “matter, energy, space, and time.” What is so important about this view is that it shows the clear distinction between God’s creation of the material universe and the special work of preparing the earth for human habitation.
In addition, the distinct days with all their details provide in the form of a metaphor2 the work of God to bring about the New Creation represented by the seventh day. These days also represent God’s work in each of us as believers.3
So, after the material creation, we find in verse 2 the Spirit hovering over the surface of the water which covered the earth. It is very remarkable that water is the third most prevalent molecule in the universe. Furthermore, it is an inorganic molecule and so it is clearly not dependent on anything living to produce it. It is not at all surprising that the simple material creation of Genesis 1:1 would result in a planet covered with water. Typologically, this is significant because it represents a barren, lifeless condition. This is exactly what man is before God begins to work in his soul. This, too, is represented by the “hovering” Spirit. In John 3:5 we are told that we must be “born of water and the Spirit.” So, the amazing feature of Genesis 1:1-3 is that it so exactly shows the spiritual lifelessness of man and the necessary work of God through the Spirit to bring him to Himself.
I cannot leave this question without pointing out that the work of God on the first day is referenced by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:6 as a metaphor of the shining in our hearts of the light of the gospel. So, we have the plainest indication of the typological significance of the first chapter of our Bibles. I believe that the passage from Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 gives us a “table of contents” to the Bible as the record of God’s plan to glorify Christ by bringing “many sons to glory.” (Heb. 2:10; Col. 1:15–16)
1. Hebrew scholars may weigh in on one side of this argument or the other, but for us English readers we can simply use a good English translation to resolve the question.
2. An extended metaphor is often called a type. Hence, a passage may be said to typologically represent some other relationship. The story of Mechizedek in Genesis 14:18-20 is a type as described in Hebrews 7:1-3.
3. A. E. Booth, Eternity to Eternity: A Chart of the Ages. (Sunbury: Believers Bookshelf, unknown date).