Out of the Cloud

There are plenty of places in the Old Testament where language is used which suggests the undoing of creation. This de-creation imagery is mostly in reference to God’s judgement on sinful people or nations. Look at Jeremiah 4:23-26, for example:

I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the air had fled. I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

Some of the prime elements of this de-creation language are the shaking of the earth, the failure of the heavenly bodies to give light, and death (See also Isaiah 13:10, 13; Ezekiel 32:2, 6-8). In many cases, the language is figurative rather than literal– in Jeremiah 4:23-26, Jeremiah describes the defeat of Judah by Babylon in these terms, where we have no biblical record of earthquakes or darkness. The thrust of this de-creation language is to say that the cataclysm of judgement the Lord is bringing is earth-shattering, world-ending. It’s terrifying to read now; I cannot imagine the impact this kind of language would have had on the people to whom it was originally written.

Psalm 18, seen in this way, is pretty amazing. In this Psalm, David cries out to the Lord for help because he is once again in trouble: “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help” (verse 6). The Lord hears David, and what follows is de-creation language. “Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry” (verse 7). God is described as rending heaven and earth to come to Psalmist’s aid. He bows the heavens, riding on thick darkness; he sends forth hail and fire; he lays the foundations of the earth bare– all to rescue David, “because he delighted in me” (verse 19). I think the force of all this imagery is to communicate the lengths to which God will go to rescue the one he loves. God loved David so much he tore creation down to save him.

While most de-creation language is figurative in terms of the sky being covered in darkness and the earth shaking, there is one place where these phenomena are seen quite literally.

“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour… and the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:45, 51). To save his people in whom he delights, God rent the heavens and came down. The earth shook at his coming, and the stars withheld their light. When Jesus died, the world came to an end.

And three days later, he walked in a garden, not in the cool of the day, but in the dawn of a new day, a new creation.

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