The Water and the Land

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. (Gen 1:1-2)

9 And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth." And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, a third day. (Gen 1:9-13)

According to old Hebrew cosmology, the earth that God created was just water. A roaring, teaming, chaotic mass of water. On the first day, God created light. Some see in this the creation of time; the separation of light from darkness is what defined a day. On the second day, God created the firmament (the sky) to separate waters above (waters above the sky) from those below (the sea). Some see in this the creation of space, in the act of creating "above" and "below." So, in these two days God created time and space, which is fairly consistent with a physicist's view of the world. On the third day, God created dry land. Actually, if we read the above carefully, God caused the waters under the firmament to move and make way for dry land to appear. This dry land was in the form of an island resting on the water, so if you dug deep enough, you would reach the bottom of the island and reach the water: a well. Likewise, the seas were the original waters and went down deep below the land islands. So on this third day, the land kind of sprang up on the surface of the water.

But on this third day the plants were created also. In old Hebrew cosmology, the plants are not exactly distinct from the land; the plants are the living part of the land. In creating such a living land, some see God having created life, in addition to time and space. These three – time, space and life – are the three basic structural elements of the world. On the remaining days, God filled up these three elements with things: timekeepers in the sky, birds in the firmament and fish in the seas, and beasts on the land.

Now let’s move on to Noah and the Flood. God unleashed the waters from above the firmament and the land was submerged; it was a new creation where all the world was only water. After some time, the dry land emerged from the water, as it did at the dawn of creation.

3 At the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters had abated; 4 and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat… 13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. 14 In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. (Gen 8:3-4, 13-14)

This restoration of the living dry land was a new creation of life. Let’s look at this from two perspectives. First, let’s remember that Adam was made out of this living land; in fact, the name Adamah means earth, land, dirt. Now, let’s note that the sea is still a remnant of the ancient Deep, those primal and chaotic waters that God created first. In Hebrew cosmology, those waters represented death; in fact, it was once believed that deep in the waters was Sheol, the place of the dead. The emergence of the living land from the waters of death represents something profound; not just life, but life from death: resurrection!

Now let’s see a Christian perspective. In his first epistle, St. Peter saw this same resurrection:

18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (I Pet 3:18-22)

Note that Peter saw the Flood as a type of baptism. Baptism is for the Christian a new life, a new creation, just like the new creation of the Flood. Note Peter says not to compare it to washing with water, but to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just as the land, the Adamah, rose out of the waters a living thing, so do we emerge from the baptismal waters with a new life. The baptismal water represents the old life which dies; it is a symbol of death. Emergence from the water represents life out of death: resurrection. This is why we submerge the Paschal Candle into water during the Easter liturgy; it represents Christ, and it’s emergence from the water represents His resurrection.

The most ancient method of baptism by immersion represented this more clearly, when the neophyte emerged from the water. We see this at Jesus’ baptism:

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15 But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; 17 and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Mt 3:13-17)

Jesus “went up immediately from the water,” that is, he emerged and so represented His own resurrection. The Church changed from baptism by immersion to a symbolic representation by sprinkling (we cannot submerge infants into water). The meaning is still there, however, and is essential to tie baptism to a new creation, a re-doing of the old creation.

A final note: In Peter's epistle above, he notes that eight persons were saved (Noah, his wife, this three sons and their wives). Why did Peter reference them as eight persons? As noted elsewhere, this number eight is used to symbolize the new covenant, the new creation.