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 does treat 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. Scripture does refer to certain stories as bearing the truth to us, with these stories being readily dismissed by unbelievers as legendary or mythological. Think of Balaam’s ass, or the creation account, or the star of Bethlehem. Well, here is another set.
“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 just 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 soon enough became symbols of great wickedness and insolent pride, usually associated with Egypt. And this is how and 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 so 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 (KJV)
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. Either way, when Job curses the day of his birth, he calls upon those capable of rousing Leviathan, which would unhinge everything, as being the ones who have the capacity to unravel everything. “Let those curse it who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up Leviathan” (Job 3:8, ESV).
And this is not just some ancient “old covenant” thing. Remember the red dragon with seven heads in Revelation, and which pursued 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. Things may appear to be orderly around you, but chaos lies under your feet, and it is chaos all the way down.
So consider the contrast. 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 back
So for the unbeliever, chaos is chapter one. For the believer, God is chapter one, and chaos comes later. And because it is in the palm of His hand, it is not really chaos.
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. For example, it is hard to imagine packs of hyenas roaming the outskirts of Eden.
So 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. The next glob that chaos spits out of its seething lake of magma might be an improvement. Maybe, maybe not. Such pagan religion is driven by a gamblers’ hope. And they have not stopped to consider that they have no standard by which to evaluate words like “improvement.” The rage that you see in the streets, wanting to burn it all down, is driven by this vain delusion.
“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).
That word for order in Colossians is taxis, a military term. Think regimentation. Christian worship should be disciplined, focused, intentional, trained, and powerful.
Rremember 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 never going to happen again. The world is going to be inundated, certainly, but it is going to be with the knowledge of the Lord (Is. 11:9; Hab. 2:14).
The gods of chaos are going to be cut into pieces, and it is going to be Christian worship that does it.
So we do not want an ordered worship service because we are tidy-minded people who simply want an ordered worship service. We want an ordered worship service because we are putting the world in order. We do not fight against flesh and blood, but rather with the gods of chaos.
“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).
So if we are talking about worship of the God of the Bible, disorderly worship, unstructured worship, froth and bubble worship, is therefore oxymoronic. Right worship is stable, structured, firm, and formed.
The nations of men, with all their tumults, are a great ocean. This is a figure that Scripture uses for them often. The oceans stand in for the turbulent transformations and upheavals among the nations of the world (Dan. 7:3; Rev. 13:1). And so the difference between structured worship that is God-centered, Christ-honoring, and Bible-believing, and worship that is not, is the difference between an island in the middle of the ocean, like Hawaii, and a huge raft made out of balsa wood.
Christ is the rock. Christ is the creator. On Christ the solid rock we stand.