“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” – Genesis 1:1-2
“But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it, the owl and the raven shall dwell in it. He shall stretch the line of confusion over it, and the plumb line of emptiness.” – Isaiah 34:11
My first post covered the futility of mankind creating something whose purpose is to give purpose back to mankind. It ended with a recommendation: take your individual experiences, talents and desires and begin to create something – something unique to you, but which is guided by God’s plan. Tyler Joseph of the band twenty øne piløts says that in the beginning you might only come up with “Pointless curses, nonsense verses” but you must begin somewhere. Then, “You’ll see purpose start to surface”.
Nonsense in Genesis
I have no idea if Tyler had this in mind, but the Bible’s story of creation does start out with a “nonsense verse”. In Genesis 1:2, “without form and void”, is the English translation of “tohu va’bohu” in Hebrew. There’s a lot of debate about what these words mean, but I had a college professor who said that when Genesis was written, there were no appropriate words to describe the state of the universe between Genesis 1:1 and 1:3, except by inventing an onomatopoeia – a word that sounds like what you’re trying to describe. Thus, “tohu va’bohu” sounds like an echo in an open, empty space. Say it out loud – I’ll wait. While this may be the original purpose of the words, over time the phrase has come to represent empty things, things with no value or purpose. The phrase is used very rarely in the Bible since it has such a specific “meaning”, or lack of. In Genesis 1:1, God had created something, but it started as a useless something.
Fortunately, God wasn’t done, and all the forces of nature were designed and put in motion in short order. From the “tohu va’bohu”, structure and purpose “start to surface”. The laws of nature were written into the source code of the universe, and everything was “good”, conforming to God’s purpose. Wisdom “set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth”, was there, “like a master workman”, guiding the process Nothing in the universe was random.
Then came the Fall in Genesis 3: Adam and Eve – deceived by the serpent – decided they wanted to choose between good and evil on their own, instead of trusting God for direction. In consequence, two more creative forces were put in motion: rebellion and the curse. From this point forward, everything in this universe exists in a state between chaos and glorified perfection. The curse introduced something like the scientific concept of entropy – the tendency of everything to move toward a state of disorder. Nature itself would frustrate man’s ability to act as God-appointed stewards. No longer would everything be “good”.
In addition to the curse, mankind became inclined to make things that glorify themselves, rather than God. An early manifestation of this was the Tower of Babel, whose builders said: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” in Genesis 11:4. It was an attempt to establish a reputation independent of their Creator. To build a legacy. The punishment? God turned their words into nonsense (“babble”) by spontaneously inventing different languages and scattered them into multiple nations. Back to square one for them.
Nonsense in Isaiah
But Babel would return. A key theme of history from a Christian perspective is the progressive building of the Kingdom of God, and the destruction of all idols. The book of Isaiah is particularly centered on this theme. Judah, the Southern Kingdom of the Israelites, was under threat of conquest because of their lack of allegiance to God, and Isaiah repeatedly reminds them that they are God’s chosen and that all other nations are doomed. Isaiah begs them to rely on God and not on military alliances with these doomed nations for their salvation. In describing the future fate of Edom, a rival kingdom to Judah and an enemy of God, Isaiah says in chapter 34, verse 11:
“But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it,
the owl and the raven shall dwell in it.
He shall stretch the line of confusion over it,
and the plumb line of emptiness.”
Everything the Edomites built – their cities, fortresses, culture, political and economic systems – would be over-run by nature and decay. The animals would move in and chew through Deep Thought’s wires.
But what’s this about a “line”? Before iPhones had an app for that, a builder would use a string or rope to orient the next piece of construction to an existing piece or a marker. If orienting vertically, they would use a “plumb line”, or a string or rope with a weight on the end, to make sure the structure was level. Isaiah is describing construction equipment. Why?
Remember “tohu va’bohu” from Genesis 1:2? Here in Isaiah, “confusion” is a translation of “tohu”, and “emptiness” is “bohu”. The original audience would have instantly remembered these rarely used words and know that Isaiah is saying all the creative work of the Edomites will revert to its pre-Genesis 1:3 state. To empty meaninglessness. In case they missed the point, verse 13 says that thorns and thistles will grow over the Edomite strongholds and fortresses, referencing the curse of Genesis 3:18. Verse 15 piles on still further that the wildlife not only take over, but raise their young. indicating the permanence of the judgment. Nature itself gets to punish the Edomites for their rebellion. God says you can’t just build anything with the creativity He’s given you.
Isaiah’s point is not so much about the physical nature of the thing being created; Edomite buildings probably looked and functioned much like Judah’s buildings. He’s using physical terms to explain that everything has moral content, or purpose behind it. For the modern reader, the message is that all iterations of “Deep Thought” (see last post) and works that proceed from them are doomed to be cursed and essentially un-created. They are meaningless and have no value and can’t provide real meaning and eternal value for you. If you don’t believe that there is a Creator and won’t honor Him with your work, the very tools you use to build will be useless. If you think gravity “just exists”, why would you expect the Creator of gravity to honor your use of it? Creating something while ignoring the Creator and His laws is like building an airplane using a ruler that isn’t straight. Or while insisting that 42 is the answer to 5 times 7. I for one do not want to fly in that airplane!
A Sensible Foundation
Fortunately, this hopeless scenario is not the end. Amid all this doom and gloom, God continues to proclaim and execute His plan. Isaiah 28:16-17 says:
“therefore thus says the Lord GOD,
Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,
a stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:
‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’
And I will make justice the line,
and righteousness the plumb line;
and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and waters will overwhelm the shelter.”
While the “line” and “plumb line” of Edom was “tohu va’bohu”, the promise of God is a future world where “tohu va’bohu” is replaced by justice and righteousness. You can’t build anything meaningful if your starting point is meaningless and your construction materials are useless, which brings us to the “cornerstone”.
The cornerstone is the “square one” that the builders of Babel missed and had to go back to. A cornerstone is typically the first stone laid for a new building. All other stones and parts of the building are constructed in relation to it. If they line up with it, they’re in the right place. If they don’t, they’re not and the whole structure might be jeopardized.
In the New Testament, Isaiah’s “cornerstone” is identified as Jesus Himself – the “Answer” of the last post. He introduces Himself as such by quoting Psalm 118:22 – “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. Who are these builders who reject Him? In the words of N.T. Wright, at the crucifixion, “Jesus suffers the full consequences of evil: evil from the political, social, cultural, personal, moral, religious and spiritual angles all rolled into one” All the forces of Jesus’ time conspired against Him out of jealousy; they liked their creative freedom and power and wanted to keep it. So they conspired to kill Him.
If Jesus had remained in the tomb and there was no resurrection, there would be no Christianity. There would be no future heaven and no hope. Evil would have won, and the universe would have continued with unanswerable questions. The law of entropy would run its course, and all would eventually revert to “tohu va’bohu” – meaninglessness.
But this was also not the end. There was a resurrection.
Start Making Sense
Which finally brings my story to Pentecost, where we encounter two more creative forces: miracle and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Before Jesus was crucified, He promised the disciples the Holy Spirit, as their “helper” to accomplish His mission. As told in Acts 2, many disciples were gathered in Jerusalem, along with many travelers visiting for the Festival of First Harvest, one of the three major pilgrimage events. God wanted publicity for this event.
The Holy Spirit – the third person of the Trinity – rushed in like a mighty wind and manifested what looked like tongues of fire on the disciples, who were miraculously able to speak in other languages and preach the mighty works of God to representatives of many nations. All miracles in the Bible have a purpose – they are special reminders that God as Creator can do what He wants. As G.K. Chesterton said: “A miracle only means the liberty of God”. He made the laws; He can bend or break them. But He limits miracles, so we don’t rely on them. Each one is a lesson, not a promise of ongoing provision. (Thus, we still need Bible translators).
Pentecost is the anti-Babel – In Genesis 11, everyone had the same language and tried to build a tower so their kingdom would reach up to heaven, but God thwarted the plan by confusing their language. Here, God un-confuses the language, enabling His kingdom to come down to earth, to the many nations. In addition, the believers are anointed with this Spirit, and when God anoints, it is for a purpose. Through the Spirit, God’s justice and righteousness – the line and plumb line of eternity – come alive in man. God gives us His tools. Tools that do what He designed them to do. It’s as if God was saying, “Now you will build something that reaches up to heaven – something eternal”.
We all have nonsense in our lives (our own personal “tohu va’bohu”), but if we start with Christ as foundation and go from there as the Spirit guides in justice and righteousness, we each find our purpose. It’s not the size of what you create that matters, but whether it glorifies Christ who deserves our trust. We’re not here to “fix” the world, but to show it what heaven is like and what is possible there. The work will involve every dimension represented by the forces that Jesus defeated at the cross: “political, social, cultural, personal, moral, religious and spiritual”. He empowers us to bring more justice and righteousness to each of these arenas, each in a way unique to us.
You might not be a rock star or build a tower and city as at Babel, but your work will reflect His glory to this world. The Little Drummer Boy isn’t a great Christmas song because the boy was a fantastic drummer, but because he was using what little he had to honor Christ. The woman who put her only two coins in the offering may have created more eternal value than many kings because her sacrifice was made in faith.
All God’s people will inherit a perfect heaven and earth, but there is also a reward for contributions to the project, as Paul assures us in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, while summarizing the cornerstone concept:
“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (Emphasis mine)
All creative forces will be aligned to achieve perfection. There will be no more curse, just God’s power in complete harmony with the work of His people. The hope of this future is worth everything and simply not possible any other way, which brings us back, finally, to Pentecost. What was said in all those languages? “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” said Peter in Acts 2:38.
Repentance is the key to abandoning the existing building plans and adopting the new ones. Through repentance, God will build His kingdom. Repentance is the topic of the next post, God willing.
Future Topics: Mind Your Own Business, Learning from Chaos, Walking on Water, some song analysis, recycled posts from my old, defunct blog, and hopefully much more!
Thanks for reading – comment below and/or share if you want.
 Proverbs 8:22-31
 Perhaps 42 times? Sorry, already made that joke in the last post.
 I consider Isaiah 31:1 a summary of the book’s theme: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the LORD!”
 Judah would eventually succumb to Babylon (Babel all over again) and go into temporary exile. But ultimately every Babylon is doomed to the same fate as Edom.
 Further reading: Genesis 25:30, Obadiah
 Matthew 21:42
 N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, P. 92
 See John 14:15-20
 See Mark 12:41-44