Genesis 2 (Creation Story Number Two)
The first five books of the Old Testament; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are foundational to the Christian faith. Genesis is the most significant and the most problematic. Early Genesis offers the pre-historical foundations that salvation history would later be built upon. There are many ways to interpret Genesis but for our purposes we are going to assume five things:
People of faith will interpret Genesis differently We don’t all have to see this material the same way and for some of you that realization will be your most significant gain from this series.
Early Genesis is not myth but it is also not history or science. Genesis is most hotly criticized by those attempting to make it into something Genesis never claimed to be. Genesis is truth told in the form of story. Though we can’t date the primeval stories, we can attempt to date the final edit and place the stories in time and space rather than “in a land far away” or “once upon a time.” If you like to play pin the date on the ancient literature, I would think a final edit of Genesis somewhere around 1400 B. C. to be a better guess than most. It could have been earlier and some scholars have it as late as the Exilic Period in Babylon which would put it in the mid 500’s B.C. If you like to play where in the world was the Garden of Eden, the text today names the Tigress and Euphrates Rivers and Eden really just means “eastward,” so modern Iraq is a really good guess.
Genesis will outlive its critics. Our passage today is very different than the creation story we examined last week. The creation story in chapter 1-2:4a used the more generic Hebrew name Elohim for God, was very careful of theological implications, depicts a God who creates long distance and seems more concerned about conveying careful truth than entertaining his audience. Some Bible scholars call the author of this narrative P for his priestly approach to the material. Conversely, 2:4a-3 uses the more specific name for God Yahweh, seems much more interested in telling a popping good story and presents a God who creates up close and personal. Some Bible scholars believe this was written by a separate author and call the writer of this material J for his use of the name Yahweh for God. Be clear, we are not talking about two gods; we are talking about two names describing different aspects of one infinite God.
We must seek to engage Genesis without modern bias. The name Genesis comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament and means, “origin.” In Hebrew, the book is called, “Bereshith” roughly meaning, “Beginning.” If we are to discover what God is trying to say, we have to hear with the ears of the ancients.
It says what is says. Since Genesis is told in story form, it is not surprising that parts are incredible in the most literal definition of the word. Frankly, the very stories that most trouble us most are no doubt the parts the ancients would have liked most! In chapters two and three we have naked people, mystical trees, uncharted rivers, stories of adventure and riches, a death threat, the invention of anesthesiology, the first medical surgery, a talking snake and the invention of the fashion industry with a particular emphasis upon leather goods. You have to stay playful to engage early Genesis. Uptight people will miss the primordial forest because God just won’t stop making trees.
Today we discover a fascinating pattern: 1) Creation 2) Provision 3) Choices 4) Consequences
7 God shaped man from dust and breathed life into it. And man became a living thing. 1) Creation. Again, this is not a debate as to whether God is, this is a testimony to what God has done. Gordon Wenham writes, “Man is more than a God-shaped piece of earth. He has within him the gift of life that was given by God himself.” Man is made from dirt in this narrative. God did not create additional human-stuff, he already had all the ingredients so he didn’t have to run to the store. If Elohim was distant and created with words in chapter one, Yahweh is up close, personal and gets his hands dirty in chapter two. Man was formed in shape and substance but there was one thing missing; man was not alive. To achieve this goal, God had to breathe into him. If man is the painting, the land is the canvass and the relationship between the man and the land is important throughout the Old Testament. The Word Biblical Commentary states, “(Man) was created from (the land); his job is to cultivate it and on death he returns to it. It is his cradle, his home, his grave.” There is no understanding of the modern position of Israel without this theological understanding of man’s relationship with the land.
9 And the Lord planted delicious fruit trees in the garden 2) Provision. Here God reorders his already spoken existence and plants the garden with his own hands. This what we would call an orchard and you only plant an orchard if you plan to stick around a while; God has given man this garden for the long haul and not only that, but the fruit is attractive and delicious. If you are wondering what kinds of trees might have been in the garden, the climate would suggest palm date, olive and fig. The one kind of tree that would not have been in the garden is an apple tree. The climate and soil are all wrong. Some experts think the forbidden fruit was most likely a pomegranate.
At the center of the garden was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil It is interesting that man was not the center of the garden, the trees were. This strongly suggests that the story is not primarily about the man or the woman; they are only important in their relationship to life and the moral play with their Creator. We often think it is all about us but this verse makes it clear there is something bigger going on! Among the fruit trees were the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is the second tree that concerns chapter two and all of the sudden, “Houston, we have a problem.” If there is a tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and no sin is yet in the world, from where did evil come? The great thing is that I don’t think we have to do theological gymnastics to address this one. With the later prohibition upon eating the fruit of this tree; the dual concepts of good and evil begin to emerge from the primeval dust. Simply put, good is obedience to God and evil is disobedience. Theologians debate as to whether the Hebrew word translated “knowledge” contained in the tree is sexual, moral, intellectual, epidemiological, spiritual or theological but I think the debate fuels my argument that the tree is all these things and more. This is one high octane tree…
15 And God placed man in the Garden in Eden to till it and care for it 3) Choices. God planted the garden with his own hands, showed Adam how to do it right and then turned things over. For all of you folks convinced that having to go to work is a result of sin in the world, you will want to re-calibrate your thinking. God loved his job and wants us to feel his pleasure in our work! The idea in our culture that people tolerate what they do for a living 40 hours a week and then jump into TGIF mode with a 12 pack of beer and a lottery ticket at Huck’s late Friday afternoon is utterly alien to Genesis. God works. People work. Work is a good thing.
The first job description given to humanity was to till, tend and care for the garden God had made. The Garden was God’s gift to humanity. Tending it was humanities gift to God. Man is established as a steward of the garden. It wasn’t his garden so he was expected to care for it in the precise way God desired. My friends we are simply stewards of what God has entrusted to us. We are not just stewards of our possessions but also stewards of our minds, our bodies, our attitudes, our relationships and the earth itself.
16-17 But the Lord warned, “You may eat any fruit in the garden except the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of its fruit you will die.” 4. Consequences. Adam was uniquely free but freedom without boundaries is anarchy which always leads to bondage. Kenneth Matthews writes, “But freedom has no meaning without prohibition; the boundary for Adam is but one tree.” Ironically, with God’s single command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; good and evil are De Facto established. The first responsibility of a steward is to not rob the master. When we want things that are not ours to have, nothing good ever comes of it. And when we acquire those forbidden things that we covet so badly, we invite painful complexity into our lives. Here is the deal; one way or another, now or later, eating forbidden fruit will kill you.
18 God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a companion to help him.” Adam was surrounded by paradise but he was still alone; all of the rest of creation was good but this situation was only “goodish.” This also points to the absolute love of God for the man and his well-being; God didn’t just want the man to be a steward of the garden, he wanted him to be happy.
19 So the Lord created animals and brought them to Adam to be named Man was lonely so God created…pets. Herein lays another Genesis problem, in this chapter two account God created man, planted the garden, created animals and then created woman. It does not line up with the creation sequence in chapter one. That is why we can’t get caught up in trying to make stories into science or history. In this account, man takes authority over nature by naming the animals but first he gets a name himself. Adam is simply Hebrew for “man” so it would be like naming your dog, Dog. Names are as much a part of creation as the trees and the fish.
20-22 But there was still no suitable companion so God made a woman from Adam’s rib and brought her to Adam God put Adam to sleep, did a rib transplant and formed woman. In the same sense that Adam was made from the dust, the woman was made from the man. She was enough like man to be his companion and enough different to capture his interest. When God was all done, He let Adam take a look.
23 Adam said, “At Last!” In the playful nature of Genesis, the first thing Adam says is the literary equivalent of “that’s what I’m talking about.” She utterly captivated him! The literal translation of the Hebrew phrase is, “a helper opposite him” or “matching him.” The idea of a helper contains the concept that Adam is to be both assisted and completed by the woman; what one has the other needs and what one needs the other has. They are the perfect set.
24 And this explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife and the two become one The word translated leave is one of identification; a man shifts from primarily being identified as the “son of” to becoming the “husband of.” With marriage he moves from Beta in his father’s house to Alpha in his own house but since to the Hebrews there is no understanding of personhood apart from community, he and his wife are joined to become one new family. This builds upon his family of origin but also celebrates limitless new possibilities for the couple. This limitless potential is expounded the New Testament where marriage serves as a metaphor for the union between Christ and his church.
25 Adam and his wife were naked but felt no shame In the Hebrew, nakedness is so associated with guilt and humiliation that this is the only Old Testament reference to nudity without those profoundly negative elements. Literarily this parallels Acts 4:36-37 and serves as a apex (of good) and a transitional story. The Spirit-filled church was born, empowered and cooking with gas. The final story of chapter four involves Barnabas who sold a field and gave the apostles all the money for the work of the church. This story is the pinnacle of the Acts church narrative but also provides the foundation for the Ananias and Sapphira story that introduces its own fall. With Adam and Eve naked and unashamed, the good creation stands before us but even with this magnificent picture, the stage is now set for a fall. For the Genesis writer, we can’t understand what we have lost until we comprehend what we once had.
Genesis forces us to determine what is and what is not a deal breaker for us in our Christian faith. Frankly, this is far harder work than dancing with the narrative. Let’s look at four questions. 1) Is it a deal breaker if Genesis was written much later than is traditionally thought? I personally like the idea of an earlier Genesis writing than a later Babylonian one but it is not a deal breaker for me. 2) Is it a deal breaker that Moses is the sole author of the first five books of the Bible? Authorship of this book is not a deal breaker for me either. Moses never personally claimed to write the entire five Books of Law, precede Adam in the creation or keep writing after his own recorded death in Deuteronomy. Let’s not die on the hill of claiming for Moses what he never claimed for himself. 3) Is it a deal breaker if there was not literally a guy named Adam and a woman named Eve? Let me be clear, I believe there was a guy named Adam and a woman named Eve because that is what it says but if I one day am in heaven and I don’t see a guy named Adam and a woman named Eve in permanent press fig wear, I won’t ask to check out. 4) Is it a deal breaker if Creation is just a campfire story and God did not really create the earth? Now we have a deal breaker! The big idea of Genesis is contained in the first verse of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” How God created and when God created are open to speculation. But any understanding of creation that does not begin with an all powerful and creating God is an attempt to do what John Calvin called, “Obscure the glory of God.”
As we get our hearts around creation, we may wonder with Steppenwolf if we were, “Born to be Wild.” We may wonder with the Bee Gees, “How could love so right turn out to be so wrong?” We may wonder with Joni Mitchell why on earth would we “pave over paradise and put up a parking lot?” That, my friends, is what we are going to talk about next week!
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois