DEEP/DEPTHS/ABYSS: tehohm. Noun. (Strong’s 8415).
Root: תהום / תהו
Sounds like: t’home
The Deep, in the Beginning
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void [tohu], and darkness was over the surface of the deep [t’hohm], and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
Tehohm is the 15th Hebrew word of the Bible. It was there “in the beginning” (so to speak). It was also connected to the tenth word in the Bible, tohu, meaning formless, confusion, emptiness. God took the formlessness and created tehohm: the deep recesses of the earth. This was a place that held onto some of the descriptors associated with tohu, a place of chaos and confusion.
To the early Hebrew people of the Ancient Near East this was how the earth was laid out. There was the dry, visible, land and then there was the the deep dark unseeable recesses that were filled with water… the unknown places that lie on the ocean floor.
According to Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God moved over the surfaces of the deep and God issued light to illuminate the darkness. It was the first indication that we were safe with this Creator. He had power over the darkness and He had control over the deep. The scary places weren’t so scary, with God on our side.
YHWH was there in the beginning, and the Spirit of God was there, and according to the book of Proverbs something, or somebody, else was there:
Proverbs 8:1-3, 23-32
Does not wisdom call, and understanding lift up her voice? On top of the heights beside the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gates, at the opening to the city, at the entrance of the doors, she cries out:
“…From everlasting I [Wisdom] was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. When there were no depths [t’hohmoht] I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills I was brought forth; while He had not yet made the earth and the fields, nor the first dust of the world.
When He [YHWH] established the heavens, I was there, when He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep [p’neh t’hohm], when He made firm the skies above, when the springs of the deep [t’hohm] became fixed, when He set for the sea its boundary so that the water would not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth; then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men. Now therefore, O sons, listen to me, for blessed are they who keep my ways.”
Wisdom was there before the depths were created on earth, and Wisdom was there when YHWH “inscribed a circle on the face of the deep [p’neh t’hohm]”, and when He fixed “the springs of the deep [t’hohm]”, and set a boundary for the waters. YHWH did all this with the Spirit and the “master workman” at His side. All of this gives us a raw picture of the creation of this planet, from the rugged depths of the sea to the craggy mountain tops.
High Places and Deep Places
When we think of the depths, we don’t often think of God being there. In fact, a common theme in the Bible identifies that YHWH’s earthly abode was on a mountain top (Psalm 48:1, Psalm 68:16, Psalm 87:1) , as far away as one could be from the depths. According to the Psalmists, YHWH created this beautiful earth with high places (mountains) that reach to the heavens and great deep places (the bottom of the sea). These two extremes were often paired together:
He [YHWH] established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter forever and ever. You covered it with the deep [t’hohm] as with a garment; the waters were standing above the mountains. At Your rebuke they fled, at the sound of Your thunder they hurried away.
The mountains rose; the valleys sank down to the place which You established for them. You set a boundary that they may not pass over, so that they will not return to cover the earth.
He sends forth springs in the valleys; they flow between the mountains; they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they lift up their voices among the branches. He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works.
At one point the whole earth was covered in water, even the mountains were under water, but at God’s command the waters fled and the mountains, now exposed, needed water which God provided through springs, dew and rain:
YHWH by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the deeps [t’hohmoht] were broken up and the skies drip with dew.
There was water below, in the deep, there was water dripping from the skies… YHWH had compartmentalized the waters:
By the word of YHWH the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps [t’hohmoht] in storehouses. Let all the earth fear YHWH; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.
A God who has that much control ought to be feared, but in Noah’s day nobody feared YHWH, and so YHWH used the waters to lead His people back to Him. When Noah was faced with the flood, YHWH opened the storehouses and all the waters of the deep came back to the surface.
Noah and the Waters of the Deep
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep [t’hohm] burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened. The rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.
The floods didn’t just come with a gentle rain from the sky… water came rushing from above and below. The wicked of the earth perished and there was no way to hold back the waters, until God decided to put an end to it:
But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided. Also the fountains of the deep [t’hohm] and the floodgates of the sky were closed, and the rain from the sky was restrained; and the water receded steadily from the earth, and at the end of one hundred and fifty days the water decreased. In the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat.
The waters went back to the deep, and by resting on the mountains of Ararat Noah and his family were as far away from the depths as they could get.
The Wicked to the Depths
Then they [Jesus and the disciples] sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. And when He [Jesus] came out onto the land, He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs.
Seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.” For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had seized him many times; and he was bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard, and yet he would break his bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.
And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They were imploring Him not to command them to go away into the abyss [Greek: abysson].
Now there was a herd of many swine feeding there on the mountain; and the demons implored Him to permit them to enter the swine. And He gave them permission. And the demons came out of the man and entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
There’s a lot going on here, under the surface. Notice that the demons did not want to go into the abyss. Instead, they suggested that they be sent into a herd of swine that was feeding on a mountain, a place far from the abyss. Yeshua allowed this, but the pigs, in a panic, went over the edge of a cliff and fell into the lake. They died in the water and sunk to the depths of the sea. By their own doing they fell into the abyss… the very place they begged Yeshua not to send them.
In the Tanakh (Old Testament), the deep darkness was often associated with death and Sheol (the grave), and the place where the wicked would dwell and the God-rejectors would be annihilated.
Ezekiel 26:19-21 (see also Ezekiel 31:15-17)
For thus says the Lord YHWH, “When I make you a desolate city, like the cities which are not inhabited, when I bring up the deep [t’hohm] over you and the great waters cover you, then I will bring you down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of old, and I will make you dwell in the lower parts of the earth, like the ancient waste places, with those who go down to the pit, so that you will not be inhabited; but I will set glory in the land of the living. I will bring terrors on you and you will be no more; though you will be sought, you will never be found again,” declares the Lord YHWH.
It was a harsh reality. Under God’s command evil would perish in the abyss and never be found again. The apostle John had a vision about the greatest evil, the serpent, ha-Satan, going into the abyss:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss [abyssou] and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss [abysson], and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer…
Moses, and the Deeps congealed in the Heart of the Sea
Wandering through the deep wasn’t necessarily a death sentence with YHWH on your side. The deep played a very big part in the story of the Hebrew people escaping from Egypt. In their joy they sang a song of victory:
Exodus 15:1-5, 8-13
Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to YHWH, and said, “I will sing to YHWH, for He is highly exalted; the horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. YHWH is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will extol Him.
YHWH is a warrior; YHWH is His name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; and the choicest of his officers are drowned in the Red Sea. The deeps [t’hohmoht] cover them; they went down into the depths/the bottom [bi-m’tsoloht] like a stone.
…At the blast of Your nostrils the waters were piled up, the flowing waters stood up like a heap; the deeps [t’hohmoht] were congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my desire shall be gratified against them; I will draw out my sword, my hand will destroy them.’ You blew with Your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters.
Who is like You among the gods, O YHWH? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders? You stretched out Your right hand, the earth swallowed them. In Your lovingkindness You have led the people whom You have redeemed; in Your strength You have guided them to Your holy habitation.
This story of Moses and the Hebrew people escaping slavery in Egypt, and toiling in freedom in the desert, was a commonly repeated theme in the Psalms. It was a part of their heritage that they were never to forget. Immortalizing the moment in poetry was a way to preserve their legacy, from the Passover…
Psalm 135:6, 8
Whatever YHWH pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps [w’kal t’hohmoht]… He smote the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and beast.
…to the crossing of the Red Sea…
Psalm 77:16, 20
The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were in anguish; the deeps [t’hohmoht] also trembled… You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
He rebuked the Red Sea and it dried up, and He led them through the deeps [ba-t’hohmoht], as through the wilderness.
…and the need for water in the wilderness…
He split the rocks in the wilderness and gave them abundant drink like the ocean depths [ki-t’hohmoht].
Even the prophet Isaiah spoke of the miracle at the Red Sea, when YHWH led them through the exposed depths:
Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses. Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock? Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them, who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths [ba-t’hohmoht]?
The Hebrew people walked in the deep, on the bottom of the sea, to escape their enemies. And although Isaiah was describing a powerful past event for the Jewish nation, he was also a prophet, looking forward into the future:
Was it not You [YHWH] who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep [t’hohm rabbah]; who made the depths of the sea a pathway for the redeemed to cross over?
So the ransomed of YHWH will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, and everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Just like that great day of redemption when they left Egypt behind, YHWH would one day return and allow the redeemed to cross over the deep chasm and come into His presence once again.
This was the great beauty of YHWH’s plan. Just like the first Passover, Yeshua would free His people from oppression. He would become the Passover Lamb to give true freedom to every human being who wandered on this planet, whether they were wandering in the high places or the deep places.
1 Peter 1:18-20
…you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Messiah. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.
Through the sacrifice of Yeshua on the cross, YHWH would open a dry pathway in the depths for His people (all who had a relationship with Him)… but the wicked (like Pharaoh and his armies) would fall into the wild, chaotic, wilderness of the depths and sink to the bottom like a stone.
Suffering: Deep calls to Deep
Many humans have felt that they live in the depths of despair, and those in the Bible were no different:
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. O my God, my soul is in despair within me; therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep [t’hohm el t’hohm] at the sound of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me. YHWH will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God my rock, “Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.
To get to the beautiful place we sometimes first have to wander through the deep dark place, but we are not alone. YHWH takes our hands and leads us through the depths of our lives, safely and securely. This was a lesson that Job had to learn the hard way. He suffered much in his lifetime, and called on God to explain Himself… and God replied:
Job 38:16-19a, 30-34
YHWH to Job: “Have you entered into the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep [t’hohm]? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you understood the expanse of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this. Where is the way to the dwelling of light?…
…Water becomes hard like stone, and the surface of the deep [t’hohm] is imprisoned. Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth a constellation in its season, and guide the Bear with her satellites? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, or fix their rule over the earth? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that an abundance of water will cover you?
Job was one of YHWH’s beloved. He had nothing to fear. Yes, he had been through terrible dark times, but he was not alone. What lurked under the surface of the deep was a prison, but YHWH had a plan to release the captives, including Job. Through the Messiah, YHWH would take people out of the depths and place them on the mountaintop (much like Noah).
Yeshua and the Deep
Yeshua came like a great physician.. a physical, spiritual, and mental healer. He would take those living in dark places and expose them to the light. When Yeshua began His ministry, He sought out people who would follow Him and help Him in His mission to set the captives free from the depths:
Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him [Jesus] and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep [Greek: bathos] water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.”
When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signalled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.
Yeshua had complete control over the depths and all that was in it. He commanded the sea and it brought forth an abundance of fish. He followed that miracle up by commissioning His disciples to find those lost in the depths, catch them, and bring them home to the Father.
And who were these people that He chose to be His followers? He chose broken people, far too familiar with the depths of sorrow: social pariahs, misfits, prostitutes, tax collectors, zealots and poor fishermen.
Up from the Depths
Every human has had his or her moment wandering in the depths… and many stay stuck there, unable pull themselves out. But YHWH has always had a hand waiting to pull us out of the deep:
O God, You have taught me from my youth, and I still declare Your wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come. For Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, You who have done great things; O God, who is like You?
You who have shown me many troubles and distresses will revive me again, and will bring me up again from the depths [u-mit’t’hohmoht] of the earth.
YHWH was, and is, a reviver and redeemer:
Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters; they have seen the works of YHWH, and His wonders in the deep [bi-m’tsulah]. For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths [t’hohmoht]; their soul melted away in their misery. They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to YHWH in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet, so He guided them to their desired haven.
YHWH saves! He didn’t just lift them up, He also guided them home.
Folks, we are not alone… God is here, wandering with us in our dark moments on this earth, and one day, when we inhale our last breath, with our exhale we will go home and see YHWH face to face in the beautiful mountainous Garden we call heaven.
The ever-so-grumpy Jonah, if he was here today, could attest to YHWH’s saving hand. He was literally drowning in the depths, but he cried out to his Creator, and YHWH saved him:
Then Jonah prayed to YHWH his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said, “I called out of my distress to YHWH, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice.
For You had cast me into the deep [m’tsulah], into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep [t’hohm] engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit, O YHWH my God. While I was fainting away, I remembered YHWH, and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple. Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness, but I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from YHWH.”
It seems like, today, humanity is drowning, but YHWH has always had a plan to bring His people back to the surface. Paul understood suffering (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)… and he understood that YHWH was with him from the depths of despair to the highest mountain of joy. No matter how deeply lost we are, we are cannot be separated from God or His Messiah:
Who will separate us from the love of Messiah? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth [bathos], nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Messiah Jesus our Lord.
God Sees You in the Deep
Everything God did, after the fall, was for the salvation of His people… the Hebrew people have walked through many depths: the great flood, slavery in Egypt, marching through the depths of the Red Sea, the Assyrian threat, the exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, the Greek invasion, Roman occupation, medieval scapegoating, pogroms and the holocaust. But through it all YHWH was in control of both the heights and the depths, and while creation moaned, His plan of salvation, redemption and freedom stayed firm:
Habakkuk 3:10, 13a
The mountains saw You and quaked; the downpour of waters swept by. The deep [t’hohm] uttered forth its voice, it lifted high its hands. …You went forth for the salvation of Your people, for the salvation of Your Anointed [l-yesha et m’shikheka].
No matter where you are in life right now… soaring on the mountain tops and or in the depths of the sea… you cannot be separated from YHWH if you love Him. You can wander, but wherever you are, God sees you.
Hagar was the concubine of Abram, and Sarai, in her jealousy, bullied her horribly. In her despair Hagar ran away:
Now the angel of YHWH found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur.
A spring of water, coming up from the depths, is where Hagar was found. The writer pointed that out intentionally. She was found in an arid wilderness that was fed only by the depth. There the angel of YHWH spoke to her and promised her a son and innumerable descendants. After this beautiful promise of life, (in a place that seemed almost lifeless except for what the depths could provide), Hagar gave YHWH a name:
Then she called the name of YHWH who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees” [attah El-Roi]; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.
Hagar was seen by YHWH; He saw her in the depths of despair and lifted her up. YHWH, El-Roi (the God who sees), is with you, right now. He sees your pain, He sees your suffering and He has a plan for you. Your life will not remain in the depths; you will be raised up to the mountain place of YHWH and see Him face to face. Do not despair, there is beauty at the end of your mortal story.
Next week: naked