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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Chaos

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The transliteration of the Greek word “chaos .” In the Old Testament, several Hebrew words convey the idea meaning emptiness, waste, desolation, and void. Hebrew verbs denote sinking into obscurity, becoming nothingness, or falling prey to weakness. In Isaiah 24:10 , God announced judgment on the whole earth. This included breaking down the city of chaos so that no one could enter. Through God's power, the line of desolation and the plumbline of emptiness are stretched over Edom (Isaiah 34:11 ). In Jeremiah 4:23-26 , the land is described as desolate, formless, void, and without light, a wilderness unfit for habitation. En route to Canaan, God cared for Israel in a howling wilderness waste (Deuteronomy 32:10 ). God's power caused mighty leaders and princes to wander in the pathless wastes (Job 12:24 , Psalm 107:40 ). Job compared his friends to waterless riverbeds that had lost themselves in nothingness (Job 6:18 ). Later Job longed for a place of deep shadow, of utter gloom without order (Job 10:21-22 ).

In Hebrew thought, however, the most prominent concept of chaos is that of the primeval disorder that preceded God's creative activity. When “darkness was upon the face of the deep,” God through His word destroyed the forces of confusion (Genesis 1:2 ).

Throughout the Scriptures, chaos is personified as the principal opponent of God. In ancient Semitic legends, a terrible chaos-monster was called Rahab (the proud one), or Leviathan (the twisting dragon-creature), or Yam (the roaring sea). While vehemently denouncing idolatry and unmistakably proclaiming the matchless power of the One Almighty God, biblical writers did not hesitate to draw upon these prevalent pagan images to add vividness and color to their messages, trusting that their Israelite hearers would understand the truths presented.

God demonstrated His power in creation graphically in the crushing defeat of chaos. He quieted the sea, shattering Rahab, making the heavens fair, and piercing the fleeing serpent (Job 26:12-13 ). His victory over Leviathan is well-known (Job 41:1-8 ; Isaiah 27:1 ); Leviathan and the sea are at His command (Psalm 104:26 ). In creation He curbed the unruly sea and locked it into its boundaries (Job 38:1-11 ). He stretched out the heavens and trampled the back of Yam, the sea (Job 9:8 ).

A second use of the chaos-monster figure involved God's victories at the time of the Exodus, using the term Rahab as a nickname for Egypt. Through His power God divided the sea and crushed Leviathan (Psalm 74:13-14 ). He calmed the swelling sea and smashed Rahab like a carcass (Psalm 89:9-10 ). By slaying the monster Rahab, God allowed the people to pass through the barrier-sea (Isaiah 51:9-10 ). Mockingly, Isaiah called Egypt a helpless, vain Rahab whom God exterminated (Isaiah 30:7 ). The psalmist anticipated the day when Rahab and Babylon would be forced to recognize God's rule (Psalm 87:4 ). In Ezekiel 29:3 ; Ezekiel 32:2 , the Pharaoh of Egypt is called the river-monster that will be defeated at God's will.

Thirdly, the chaos theme is implied, if not used, in the New Testament depicting God's victory in Christ. In the Gospels Christ confidently demonstrated mastery over the sea (Mark 4:35-41 , Mark 6:45-52 ; John 6:16-21 ). In Revelation, when the ancient serpent, personified as the satanic dragon, rises out of the sea challenging His kingdom, Christ utterly defeats the adversary forever.

So, beginning with Genesis 1:2 , when God conquered the formless waste, and continuing through all the Scriptures, God's mighty power over chaos is shown repeatedly. Finally, the triumphal note is sounded in Revelation 21:1 , “there was no more sea.” A new heaven and new earth are proof once again that chaos is conquered!

Alvin O. Collins


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Chaos'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/c/chaos.html. 1991.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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