The Hebrew verb machah, as in Genesis 6:7, 7:4 and 7:23, has a more specific meaning than merely to destroy; it means to expunge or blot out. God expunged or wiped out every living animal from the face of the ground. The underlying metaphor is that of erasing symbols of writing from a clay tablet. As the biblical scholar Gordon Wenham noted: ‘Since water was sometimes used for achieving this result (Num 5:23), the very word chosen perhaps hints at how the complete annihilation of mankind will be secured.’ (Links and further reading give references.)
- To blot out as from a book, the most common meaning. FW questioned how effective erasing actions are in practice: ‘Although such a blotting process may have been intended to leave no evidence, often evidence did remain of something having been obliterated.’ Traces of chalk will remain when a teacher wipes a blackboard, or traces of pencil lead when someone rubs writing from a piece of paper. However, an unintended failure to carry out the full, strict sense of the verb is hardly relevant. The verb itself conveys the disappearance of something as a result of a surface being wiped clean.
- To blot out the name or memory of a people. Thus Exodus 17:14 and Deuteronomy 25:19 refer to the blotting out of the remembrance of Amalek, promised in the first instance, commanded in the second. FW say that while artefacts of the Amalekites may be lacking, some evidence of their cities probably remains. However, destroying a people’s artefacts (as in I Sam 15:3) is a different thing from blotting out their remembrance. The remembrance of a people could be extinguished without the total obliteration of their possessions, and there is no reason to think that, by the 9th or 8th century BC, anyone could remember the Amalekites (cf. I Chron 4:43). Psalm 9:5-6 gives an indication of just how absolutely God intended the destruction of a nation whose remembrance was to be blotted out:
You have rebuked the nations, you have destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name for ever.
The enemy have vanished in everlasting ruins;
their cities you have rooted out;
the very memory of them has perished.
- To blot out sins. Isaiah 44:22 states that “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist.” FW: ‘By analogy, a recently dispersed cloud or mist can at least potentially be evidenced by dampness or dew on the ground or vegetation. Theologically, although provision for sin itself has been made by atonement (a covering over), by forgiveness, by propitiation, by removal, and by blotting out, evidences of that sin usually do persist.’ Yes, but the question is whether the transgressions themselves were blotted out, not the ‘evidence’ of them. While the sin of David’s adultery with Bathsheba was recorded for perpetuity in the book of II Samuel, in the divine book of David’s life the sin was completely blotted out, as a result of repentance on David’s part and forgiveness on God’s.
- To wipe. II Kings 21:13 states that God will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria (the northern capital, which had been destroyed by the Assyrians) and wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. FW: ‘Evidence for this destruction has been archaeologically verified on numerous occasions.’ That may be true, but II Kings 21:13 does not say that Jerusalem itself would be obliterated. As the next verse makes clear and as was later to happen (II Kings 25:11), it says that Jerusalem would be wiped clean of its inhabitants.
- To blot out in the general sense of destroy. Four passages are cited: Nehemiah 13:14, Proverbs 6:33, Ezekiel 6:6 and Proverbs 31:3. The Nehemiah verse (ESV: “Do not wipe out my good deeds”) is in line with uses which refer to blotting out as from a book. Proverbs states that the disgrace of the adulterer will not be wiped away, again, similar to the concept of blotting out sins from a book of judgment. Ezekiel states: “Wherever you dwell your cities shall be waste and your high places ruined, so that your altars will be waste and ruined, your idols broken and destroyed, your incense altars cut down, and your works wiped out.” FW: ‘Though the idolatry itself was blotted out by God, evidence of this former idolatrous worship still exists.’ But ‘works’, as in English, primarily means deeds or labours (Gen 5:29, 20:9, 44:15 etc), which may or may not result in physical works (cf. Ex 23:24). After their exile the Jews ceased to worship idols and the prophecy was fulfilled. Finally, Proverbs 31:3 speaks of kings being wiped out as a result of giving their strength to women. FW suggest that the sense should be understood from 31:4-5 and take 31:3 as a warning that drunkenness will lead to loss of royal position. However, verse 5 does not say that kings will suffer from being addicted to strong drink, only that their subjects will. Verse 31 is speaking about the effect of consorting with immoral women, which can lead (though the sense is hardly clear) to venereal disease and sterility.
There then follows something of a conjuring trick. FW say that, according to some, machah means to obliterate ‘without any evidence remaining‘, whereas in real situations evidence of a thing’s previous existence always remains: proper exegesis contradicts the interpretation of obliteration ‘without a trace‘. Again, ‘evidence’ is not tantamount to ‘trace’. Although a birth certificate may constitute evidence that a body exists, it does not constitute the physical remains of the body. No one has ever suggested that machah meant to obliterate without ‘evidence’ of the destroyed thing.
FW suggest that fossils are ‘evidence of His holiness etc’ because they testify of the Flood. This is to presuppose that they are, in fact, remains of creatures destroyed in the Flood. Normally, the consequence of death is that animals return to the dust from which they came. A well-preserved fossil, on the other hand, may be the nearest thing in this world to immortality. Think of the amphibians and reptiles from Archer County, Texas, the birds, crocodilians and dragonflies from Solnhofen, the mammals from Messel complete with hair and stomach contents. Far from evoking sober reflection on past and future judgement, they evoke wonder and delight.
In Genesis 6:7 and 7:4 machah is coupled with the phrase ‘from the face of the ground’, in Genesis 7:23 with the phrase ‘from the earth’. The nearest grammatical parallels in the Old Testament are therefore passages which include a phrase stating that something was blotted out ‘from’ or ‘out of’ something. These are Exodus 17:14, Deuteronomy 9:14, 25:19 and 29:20 (from under heaven), Judges 21:17 (from Israel), Exodus 32:32f and Psalm 69:28 (out of a book), Nehemiah 4:5 and Jeremiah 18:23 (from God’s sight), and Isaiah 25:8 (from the face). These are also the nearest semantic parallels: the verb’s object being the thing wiped away, not the thing wiped. (The English language works in the same way: contrast ‘he wiped her face’, for example, with ‘he wiped the tears from her face’.) In no case is there a suggestion that we should entertain the idea of traces remaining.
- Erasing from a scroll was normally effected by washing, and this action appears to be a basic meaning of mhh (see Haran, 169). Since wiping off or out implies the complete removal of whatever is in view, mhh is often used with great effect for both Yahweh’s judgement and salvation.
- In terms of judgement, the vb. is employed to described the complete removal (and thus destruction) of life by the Flood (q., Gen 7:4; ni., 7:23), the complete obliteration of the memory of Amalek (q., Exod 17:14), and the total removal of the name of the wicked generally.
- In terms of salvation, mhh is used in the promise of God’s wiping away tears from all faces (q., Isa 25:8) and the assurance that sins have been wiped out (q., Isa 44:22; also, q., 43:25; cf. q., Ps 51:1, 9[3:11]).
The phrases ‘the deep’ and ‘the great deep’ (tehom rabba) are used interchangeably (Gen 7:11, 8:2). The adjective ‘great’ simply brings out the deep’s immensity.
There are a number of Ugaritic texts in which the term thm, ‘deep’ is found parallel to the term ym, ‘sea.’ One finds the phrase ‘a source of the rivers [nhrm]’ in parallelism with the phrase ‘the channels of the deeps [thmtm]’. The context of this Ugaritic text indicates that the expression ‘the source of the rivers’ refers to the waters that have their origin primarily from the rains which feed the rivers. The expression ‘the channels of the deeps’ seems to refer to the upwelling of the waters from the earth. Another text … speaks of a 7-year drought ‘without dew, without showers, without the upsurgings of the deeps [thmtm]’. The ‘showers’ are the waters from above, namely rain, and correspondingly ‘the upsurgings of the deeps’ refer to the waters from below (thmth), namely the waters that gush forth from subterranean sources.
The deep was conceived as essentially one body of water. Today the interpreter perceives a duality, where present-day oceans are distinct from lakes and rivers, and the latter are supplied by rain-water. In English an ‘ocean’ signifies a vast expanse of water beyond the land. In Ugaritic, and also in Hebrew, the equivalent word signified the waters around and under the land.
The emerging consensus is that the parallel line is a more subtle literary device than previously thought. The new paradigm for understanding parallelism is development rather than equivalence. The biblical poet is doing more than saying the same thing twice.
he led them through the deep as through a desert.
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps.
and the sea says, “It is not in me.”
FW go on to cite Psalms 104:6 and 148:7, Job 41:31, Proverbs 3:20 and 8:27-28 as examples of tehom referring to oceanic waters (English sense), since the immediate context is the waters of creation. This is largely true of Job 41:31. Psalm 104:6, however, refers to the deep before the emergence of dry land, and is therefore not relevant. Psalm 148:7, similar to Psalm 135:6 (above), is also unilluminating.
by understanding he established the heavens;
by his knowledge the deeps break forth,
and the clouds [or skies] drop down the dew.
It is therefore not correct to conclude that tehom most often refers to oceanic distinct from subterranean depths. Moreover in some passages (Gen 49:25, Deut 8:7 and 33:13, Ps 42:7 and 78:15, Ezek 31:4 and 31:15, Amos 7:4) tehom does refer to underground sources of water.
Psalm 24:2 categorically states that the earth was founded upon the seas and established upon the river, ‘seas’ as in Genesis 1:10, ‘rivers’ as in Genesis 2:10, 13 and 14. FW claim that the verse may mean simply that the land is at a higher elevation than the sea, and advance the same interpretation for Psalm 136:6, which says that God spread the earth upon the waters. They imply that this must be the meaning, however vacuous, because the present earth is known not to be founded upon the seas. However, as Paul Seely remarks, this is to base interpretation on the conceptions of modern science rather than historical and grammatical exegesis. The primary meaning of the preposition al is ‘upon’ and translated thus by all the major English translations. Other occurrences of the verb yasad (‘found’ or ‘set’) with al all require this sense (Ps 104:5, Cant 5:15, Amos 9:6).
Dahood translates ‘ocean currents,’ with reference to Ugaritic (Psalms I, 151). But Ugaritic does not clearly support such a translation, and elsewhere Dahood has recognised the more appropriate translation of Ugaritic nhr, namely ‘river,’ or perhaps ‘river current’.
There is no hint anywhere in the biblical flood narrative that the flood comes by means of the ocean. On the contrary, the flood is said to come by torrential rains and violent outbursts of subterranean waters. Contextually the waters of which the ‘flood’ (mabbul) consisted is made up of ‘rain’ (7:12) and ‘the fountains of the deep’ (7:11; 8:2), the subterranean waters.
The cataclysm in Genesis begins with the eruption of all the mayenot, springs or ‘fountains’, of the subterranean deep. Some creationists suppose that these must have been primarily oceanic springs and that the Flood was caused by an excess of sea water as the springs erupted. However, mayan denotes a terrestrial spring. Wishing to validate their preferred geological model FW identify two instances (out of a total of 23) where this normal meaning might be called into question: Proverbs 8:24 and Job 38:16.
when there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the very first dust of the world.
When he established the heavens I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the springs of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman.
|fountains abounding with water
|circle on the face of the deep
|springs of the deep
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.”
|Intervention by God
|Structure of the earth (dry land)
|Enclosure of the sea
|Succession of day and night
|Places underneath the earth
|Places of light and darkness
|Snow, hail, lightning(?) and wind
|Rain and thunder
|Ice and frost
Since vv. 17-18 refer to the depths of the earth, it is obvious that v. 16 in the same stanza also refers to the depths of the earth. Every determinable use of the related terms mayan and ayin accords with this under- standing. So do verses elsewhere which associate the underworld with water (Ps 69:15, 88:6, Ezek 31:15).
Genesis 2:6 describes the earth as it was originally created, with the word ed referring to water which rose up to the surface (Tsumura 1989). A suffusing moisture went up from the earth (eres) to water the entire face of the ground (adamah). Deuteronomy 8:7 and Psalm 78:15 indicate that the source of the moisture was the deep. The deep was the source of Eden’s rivers (cf. Ezek 31:4,15), and in this sense the primeval earth was established upon the rivers (Ps 24:2). The earth was underlain by ‘storehouses’ of waters (Ps 33:7) in order that it might be irrigated by these ‘deeps’ (Prov 3:20) and blessed by them (Gen 49:25, Deut 33:13). There is no evidence that ‘the fountains of the deep’ signified springs under the oceans.
Let there be a scarcity of plant-life to satisfy their hunger.
Adad [the rain god] should withhold his rain,
And below, the flood should not come up from the abyss.
Below, the flood did not [rise] from the abyss.
The womb of the earth did not bear,
Vegetation did not sprout. […]
It is important not to bring uniformitarian assumptions to biblical statements about how the Earth was originally constituted. Today neither the subterranean deep nor the fountains of the deep exist as such. The deep consists only of seas and oceans which lie beyond the land, and the land is watered by rain, not springs fed from primordial subterranean reservoirs. We live on a different Earth.
When Genesis 7:11 refers to the eruption of all the fountains of the deep, the picture is of ‘water gushing forth uncontrollably from wells and springs which draw from a great subterranean ocean’ (Wenham 1987). Geologically, this is a much more credible picture. Had the deep in question been under the sea, the two bodies of water above and beneath the sea floor would have simply intermingled, with little net change in sea level.
Finally, a few words on the range of the Hebrew word eres (‘earth’). It has three primary meanings: first, the whole planet, distinct from the heavens (Gen 1:1, Job 26:7, Ps 135:6f, 148:7, Hag 2:6b); second, the dry land distinct from the seas (Gen 1:10, Job 38:18, Ps 24:1f, Prov 3:19, Isa 44:24); and third, a land or country (Gen 2:11, 4:16, and 10:11.21). When God calls the dry land ‘earth’ in Genesis 1:10, the word has a different sense from the sense in Genesis 1:1.
The Bible does not explicitly say whether the dry land consisted, as now, of more than one continent. Genesis 1:10 and Proverbs 8:27 imply a single landmass, and it would certainly have been easier for Noah if he had not had to cross seas or oceans to collect examples of every kind of animal. The dry land emerged at Creation on the same day as the waters were gathered ‘into one place’, a phrase difficult to reconcile with present geography. Wenham suggests that the dry land enclosed seas geographically within it. However, this does not explain why ‘seas’ is plural when ‘place’ is singular. Although one may argue that ‘sea’ and ‘seas’ are interchangeable (e.g. Jer 15:8 and 33.22), they are demonstrably interchangeable only when the plural is used poetically, just as either singular and plural can be used in poetic contexts in English.
For these reasons it makes better sense to understand the waters being gathered from within the earth rather than from around it. Job 38:8 speaks about the sea bursting forth from the womb, as from the earth’s interior, just as the firmament was formed by a vertical separation. The earth came into being ‘out of water and through water’ (II Pet 3:5). The seas were gathered ‘as in a jar’ (Ps 33:7). Before that point there were no seas, only waters, formless, undifferentiated and uncontained.
The six days of Creation climaxed with the creation of man, the one creature made in the image of the Creator. To him dominion was given over every creature and even over the earth. Thus when wickedness had spread so far that all flesh had become corrupt, God determined to destroy not only man but everything which had been polluted through him, including the earth (Gen 6:11-13). He did away with polluter and polluted alike: the dry land and every creature that moved on the dry land. Through the same waters out of which the earth had been made ‘the then world, having been deluged with water, perished.’ (II Pet 3:6) We live now on a different earth.
- Where eres means dry land distinct from seas, it generally denotes the whole land (see examples above). This is particularly clear where there is an explicit contrast with seas or heavens: just as one does not here conceive of the seas or the heavens in two dimensions, so one does not think merely of the earth’s surface.
- Genesis 6:13 and 9:11 refer to the destruction of the earth, not (as in Gen 6:7 and 7:23) of the ‘face of the earth’, or the ‘face of the ground. Similarly, while the force of the Hebrew word (shachath) can vary, depending on context, from ‘mar’ or ‘corrupt’ to ‘destroy utterly’, the use of the same word in 6:17 and 9:15, where it is equivalent to machah (‘blot out’), suggests that complete destruction is intended.
- The mention of the deep from which the surface springs were supplied induces one to think of the earth three-dimensionally. By their explosive release the waters destroyed the earth from the bottom up, shattering its entire fabric.
- The present ocean crust is geologically young, no older than Jurassic. The entire pre-Jurassic ocean crust has been replaced, and more than once. If this is true of the entire thickness of the ocean crust, it becomes inconsistent to suppose that the cataclysm, which was expressly intended to destroy the earth rather than the ocean, scoured only the face of the earth.
- There are biblical grounds for associating the opening of the windows of heaven with bombardment by comets or asteroids, on the analogy of what is prophesied for the days before heaven and earth are renewed (Isa 24:18f, 65:17, Hag 2:6, Rev 6:12-14). The Moon testifies to extremely intense bombardment at the beginning of geological history. The corresponding period on Earth has no rock record, presumably because whatever land existed at that time was destroyed.
- Had the continental basement had remained intact, with the offscourings resettling on the basement, some of the animals caught up in the sediment-laden waters would surely have been fossilised. Many fossils are in fact the result of catastrophic region-wide flooding. Genesis, however, says that all animals were blotted out. Only the destruction of the entire earth could have blotted them out and prevented fossilisation.
- The pre-Flood earth was inundated through the eruption of vast reservoirs of water under the earth, not through marine waters.
- All terrestrial life was totally erased, so that fossil remains of such life, found in rocks continuously from the Middle Palaeozoic onwards, must belong to a period after the Flood.
- If the pre-Flood earth was totally destroyed, the boundary marking the onset of the Flood must lie beneath the present crust, and Creation Week rocks no longer exist.
In all these respects the Flood model promoted by the Institute for Creation Research (Austin et al. 1994) conflicts with the biblical record. (1) It postulates that the Flood began with the floor of the oceans breaking up and water spilling onto the land in a marine transgression. (2) It supposes that the rocks of the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic, which include fossils of terrestrial animals, were formed during the Flood. And (3) it identifies a large part, if not most, of the geological record as either originally created rock or sediments deposited in the period between the Creation and the Flood.
It also conflicts with a vast array of non-biblical evidence, such as successive horizons of organically formed carbonates, in-situ reefs and encrusted hardgrounds, buried in-situ roots, buried in-situ forests, tracks, burrows, nests, eggs and faeces left by living animals, none of which are compatible with the idea of a global flood going on at the time.
It is perhaps no coincidence that in failing to satisfy the biblical evidence, conventional diluvialist geology equally fails to satisfy the geological and palaeontological evidence. The judgement which came upon the world in the days of Noah was not primarily an erosional event, and fossils are not the remnants of pre-Flood life buried in eroded sediments. The earth was suddenly and totally destroyed. The earth we live on today is new land, generated primarily by volcanic action after the Cataclysm, and its fossils are the record of life gradually recovering, in a world that continued to be unstable for many thousands of years.