|DEEP, THE |
English translation of the Hebrew term tehom. The deep constitutes the primeval waters of creation in
Genesis 1:2. This concept is echoed dramatically in
Psalms 104:5-7, where God is pictured as rebuking the waters of the deep, separating the waters from the mountains and valleys, and setting the boundaries for each. Creation includes the concept of bringing order by separating or dividing what is made, and keeping each in its proper place (Proverbs 8:22-31). This thought is expressed in an interesting metaphor in
Psalms 33:7, where God is said to have gathered the waters into a bottle (NRSV) and put the deeps into a storehouse.
In the account of the Exodus from Egypt, God's action in parting the waters for the Israelites to pass is expressed poetically as a dividing of the waters of the deep (Exodus 15:8). God held the waters in place as the Israelites crossed the sea, and released the waters when they reached the other side, shielding them from the Egyptians (Psalms 77:16-20). This was, theologically speaking, an act of creation—creating a people for the Lord, by freeing them from slavery in Egypt.
The waters of the deep can be destructive or constructive, curse or blessing. When the waters of the deep burst their bounds, the result is a flood (Genesis 7:11). At the extreme described in
Genesis 7:1, it is a reversal of creation which can only be checked when God again sends the wind or spirit (ruah) which began creation (Genesis 1:2) and closes the fountains of the deep (Genesis 8:1-3). Storms at sea are also associated with the deep (Psalms 107:23-26; compare
Jonah 2:6). In the poetry of the Psalms, the deep is a metaphor for the trials of life which seem overwhelming (Psalms 69:14-15). It could even represent the abode of the dead (Psalms 71:20).
On the other hand, the waters of the deep are a blessing, without which life could not continue.
Deuteronomy 8:7 describes the Promised Land as a land of brooks, fountains, and deeps, which irrigate the land so that grain and fruit can be grown (Ezekiel 31:4). When Jacob blessed his son Joseph with “blessings of the deep that lieth under,” he was attempting to bestow fertility on Joseph and his offspring and on their land (Genesis 49:25; compare
Deuteronomy 33:13-17). As blessing and as curse, the deep reflects as power which only the creator God can control (Psalms 95:4).
The Greek Bible or Septuagint translated tehom as “abyss,” bringing it into relationship with the pit, the abode of the dead (Romans 10:7) and place of evil spirits (Luke 8:31), including the beast of the apocalypse (Revelation 17:8).
Wilda W. Morris