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We do not pay enough attention to foundational myths. This is the case both with the fanciful myths of the unbelievers and the genuine myths that are recorded for us in Scripture. While many myths are false, and Scripture treats the word in that way, with myths being described as pernicious, false, and unedifying (1 Tim. 1:4, 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4; Tit. 1:14; 2 Pet. 1:16), the phrase true myth is nevertheless not oxymoronic.
“So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:21, NKJV)
“In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; And he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea” (Isaiah 27:1).
“For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: Thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness” (Psalm 74:12–14).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXTS
In Scripture, the great dragons of the deep were creatures, and they were formed on the fifth day. They are called tanninim, sea monsters, great sea dragons. Not only so, but God made leviathan for fun. “There go the ships: There is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein” (Ps. 104:26).
But in a fallen creation, these sea monsters became symbols of great wickedness and insolent pride, usually associated with Egypt. And this is why God is described as conquering and defeating them. The exultation over God’s victory over Leviathan in both Isaiah and Psalms is a triumph over Pharaoh. And in a related example, there was another great sea monster was named Rahab. And God describes the crossing of the Rea Sea, and the defeat of Egypt, in terms that are reminiscent of Jehovah’s conquest of that sea dragon.
“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; Awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; That hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?” (Isaiah 51:9–10).
The defeat of these sea dragons might be a symbolic description of God dealing with Egypt decisively, or perhaps it is using a primal battle between Jehovah and these sea creatures as an image for describing what He also did to Egypt. When Job curses the day of his birth, he calls upon those capable of rousing Leviathan, which would unhinge everything. “Let those curse it who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up Leviathan” (Job 3:8, ESV).
This is not just some ancient “old covenant” thing. Remember the red dragon with seven heads in Revelation, and which pursues the woman with turbulent flood waters (Rev. 12:3-4, 15)
In order to understand all this more fully, we have to grasp the fundamental contrast between the believing and unbelieving mind at this point. For the believer, God is the ultimate and personal starting point. For the unbeliever, the foundation is chaos. Everything began with chaos, and threatens to return to chaos.
The scriptural account begins with God speaking. God speaks, and as a result there was an earth that was formless and void, and then God shaped it according to His good purposes.
But unbelievers do not begin with the Word that was with God and was God, and so they must in some manner begin with the chaos. In the ancient pagan myths, as in the Enuma Elish, it begins with water, and—long story short—Marduk kills Tiamat the watery goddess, and creates heaven and earth out of her carcass. Then man is created to help the gods keep order, and to keep the chaos at bay.
- Infinite personal God > Formless & void (tohu wabohu) > Ordered cosmos . . . or
- Chaos > Apparent order and design > Ever present option of lapsing
STRUCTURAL DEFECT OR REBELLION?
In the biblical view of the world, when God created all things, He pronounced all of them good(Gen. 1: 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). This would include the sea dragons of the fifth day (Gen. 1:21). Nothing whatever wrong with them. But after the rebellion of man, after we ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the whole created order fell with us. Man was the driver, creation the car, and we crashed it into a tree. This is why the whole creation groans (Rom. 8: 22), looking forward to the day when the sons of God are to be revealed. But some parts of this crashed creation order became identified with the great rebellion. It is hard to imagine packs of hyenas roaming the outskirts of Eden.
But it is important for us to distinguish the two visions. For the Christian, the problem is sin, and the solution is the gospel and right worship. Civilization is fragile, but it is fragile because of sin. For the unbeliever, civilization is also fragile, but it is fragile because of the underlying chaos. This whole thing is built on chaos, chaos is the foundation. In addition, because the unbeliever has no ultimate standard of order, his only hope—when things get intolerable—is to drive it all back down into shambolic chaos again, with the desire that we might get luckier next time. Such pagan religion is driven by a gamblers’ hope.
“Before there was earth or sea or the sky that covers everything, Nature appeared the same throughout the whole world: what we call chaos: a raw confused mass, nothing but inert matter, badly combined discordant atoms of things, confused in the one place” (Ovid, Metamorphoses).
THE ORDER OF CHRIST AND THE CHAOS OF SIN
According to the gospel, the problematic issue is what man did in his rebellion. The problematic issue is not the very nature of the created order itself. And this is why our worship is so important.
“For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, He created it not in vain [to not be chaos, tohu], he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:18).
“Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). We want nothing to do with those who walk disorderly (2 Thess. 3:6-7, 11). “For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ” (Col. 2:5).
But remember that in and through the church, God is remaking the cosmos. We are the new way of being human in Christ. And that means we are worshiping God here, this morning, as the sea wall that is holding back the raging flood that wants to inundate the world. But God promised—ironically, with a rainbow—that this was not going to happen again.
“And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22–23).