Tohu va Bohu is the Biblical Hebrew for waste and emptiness. If you plan and then invent anything from an Art Museum to an animal-friendly Zoological Park, not only would you avoid such a condition, but to the contrary, you’d want them to flourish and be overflowing with abundance.
Tohu va Bohu is the Hebrew expression for without form and void. It reminds me of my father, who used to repeatedly exclaim Lampedusa. I had no idea what he was talking about; I thought it was just something he made up, then years later I found out it’s an island, about 200 km south of Sicily, Italy. Like from here to Timbuktu, referring to faraway places, which is a city in the country of Mali. Likewise, tohu va bohu is an idiom often used, not realizing where it comes from or its implication. It is used at the beginning of Genesis and in only two other contexts which follow:
(Origin of the Universe, chapter 7.3)
Here are both appearances of the coupled words tohu va bohu, a condition that is akin to the aftermath of a tornado or tsunami. Frightening but real. Many people have already gone through such hell.
5 For my sword (God’s) shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.
11 But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion (tohu), and the stones of emptiness (bohu)
Jer 4:17-18, 20, 22-23
17 As keepers of a field, are they (enemies of Jerusalem) against her round about; because she (Jerusalem) has been rebellious against me, says the Lord.
18 Your way and your doings have procured these things unto you; this is your wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reaches unto your heart.
20 Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled: suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment.
22 For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.
23 I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, (tohu) and void; (bohu) and the heavens, and they had no light.
Isaiah is referring to God’s judgment of Edom because of their evil behavior. In the other context in Jeremiah, the prophet uses both figurative and literal language to describe the depravity of God’s people as well as the whole earth and reveals the devastating outcome. In both cases, tohu va bohu.
תֹּהוּ tôhûw to’-hoo; from an unused root meaning to lie waste; a desolation (of surface), i.e. desert; figuratively, a worthless thing; adverbially, in vain:
KJV – confusion, empty place, without form, nothing, (thing of) nought, vain, vanity, waste, wilderness.
בֹּהוּ bôhûw bo’-hoo; from an unused root (meaning to be empty); a vacuity, i.e. (superficially) an undistinguishable ruin:
KJV – emptiness, void.
Whether the translators use: confusion and emptiness or without form and void, tohu va bohu, we see it’s a downright lousy condition to characterize anyone or anything. And there’s one major cause of this: the malignant mental outlook, or in Biblical terminology, the cesspool spiritual state of the occupants. The five verses of Jeremiah pinpoint the prevailing attitude: rebellion, wickedness, bitterness of heart, destruction, foolishness, sottishness, lack of understanding, evil, a wretched report card.Bible translators rendered TOHU: Confusion, emptiness, without form and void. It’s a downright lousy condition. There’s one major cause: The malignant mental outlook, or in Biblical terminology, the cesspool spiritual state of the… Click To Tweet
When earth reaches a particular stage of wretchedness, this causes tohu va bohu, in this case, intervention by God or His agents to put an end to this evil, like turning over a new leaf, clearing the rubble to get a fresh start. I don’t want to digress here but remember the meaning of bara–creation (H1254)–we saw it means both make fat and cut down. Sometimes to build and prosper, you have first to cut down and clear away the rubble; this is what is happening in Genesis 1:2 before we see the light of day in verse 3.
As we go through the development of God’s plan, we’ll see this phenomenon of the downward spiral into confusion, followed by the turmoil of destruction, which gives way to a new dawning of light. This pattern happens over and over again. We’ll be dwelling on this point, and we’ll plot just a few of these ups and downs. You can do a personal study of this point.
As we have seen, the original creation was majestic and magnificent, and now we see, for some unmentioned reason here, that same earth has become unsightly and ugly. Notice this easy-to-understand verse that clearly states why God created the Earth and, by implication, its pristine state before one of these downward slides from splendor to tohu va bohu stupor.
For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he has established it, he created it not in vain, (H8414 – tohu) he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else.
Decidedly, at the outset, the earth was not in tohu va bohu in the least. It became this way.
I’m insisting on this point because it is something most people have never heard. Yet, it is fundamental to the comprehension that science and the Bible are not at loggerheads concerning the length of universal existence. It all fits together, and each tiny fragment of information has its part to play. We’ll be discussing some of the events that took place on Earth during the 4.5 billion years of its existence–of which humankind’s presence is but a minuscule sliver of this time.
Tohu and bohu are not natural phenomena. They are neither the way God creates anything nor the state God wants to see them in. He is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) but beauty and peace. So if God is not at the origin of this stinking mess, who is?Tohu and Bohu are not ‘natural phenomenon.’ God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33), but beauty and peace. So if God is not at the origin of this stinking mess, who is? Click To Tweet
5 The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.
6 Therefore has the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.
7 The new wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merryhearted do sigh.
8 The mirth of tabrets cease, the noise of them that rejoice ends, the joy of the harp ceases.
9 They shall not drink wine with a song; strong drink shall be bitter to them that drink it.
10 The city of confusion (H8414) is broken down: every house is shut up, that no man may come in.
Not a pretty picture, granted, but we have to call a dime a dime. Let’s not be the proverbial ostrich. There is a penalty to pay for changing and breaking laws (verse 5). What law existed and who transgressed the law in Genesis 1:2, leading to the tohu va bohu that engulfed the earth?
This blog post is an excerpt from chapter 7.3 of the book Origin of the Universe
Further Bible Study
It’s time to see these contexts for yourselves in the Bible and read and verify what it says. Use UnlockBibleMeaning.com and navigate to Isaiah 34:5, 9, 11 and Jeremiah 4:17-18 and the other verses in the blog post
Look at Isaiah 45:18 “…He created it not in vain…” (H8414). Find this verse in Strong’s and display all the verses with this Biblical Hebrew word tohu. Read the approximate 18 verses, See how H8414 is translated using: confusion, empty place, without form, nothing, (thing of) nought, vain, vanity, waste, wilderness.
Here’s the exercise. Tell the story of tohu: There’s enough information just in the translations to tell us what the CAUSE of tohu is. What happens when tohu exists. What is the result of tohu va bohu?
There’s no need for commentaries, interpretations, theories. The meanings–via the various translations–tell an incredible story. Understand just this one word helps us comprehend the entire Bible narrative. If you don’t see it, that’s fine, A bit of patience and we’ll get into much more detail.
In reading these verses about tohu va bohu, some might think that God is responsible for this waste and emptiness. Carefully read Jeremiah 4:18. It very specifically tells us what the cause of tohu is, and it is not God.
Dig Deeper into The Explanation
Join The Explanation Newsletter to stay informed of updates. and future events. No obligations, total privacy, unsubscribe if you want.
The Explanation series of seven books. Free to read online or purchase these valuable commentaries on Genesis 1-3 from your favorite book outlet. E-book and paperback formats are available. Use this link to see the details of each book and buy from your favorite store.
Since you read all the way to here… you liked it. Please use the Social Network links just below to share this information from The Explanation, Tohu va Bohu Signifies Confusion and Void – A Horrible State to Be In