Sunday, July 24, 2016
Though many believe the temptation of the serpent and resulting failure of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 to be the first crisis recorded in all of the Scripture, there is one that proceeds even this. It involves man’s loneliness prior to the creation of woman. Though the Garden of Eden on day 6 was a perfect place, it was not yet complete until man met woman for the first time and entered into a special relationship. In Genesis 2:18-25, we read about how this episode of “boy meets girl” unfolds by means of four actions God takes on man’s behalf.
God Recognizes a Need-2:18-20
Everything God created up to this point in the Genesis account has been identified as either “good” or “very good” by Him. However, here, in verse 18, God describes something as “not good” –“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’” (2:18a). Man needed a companion. The skies had the celestial bodies and the birds, the sea had the fish, the land had the animals and mankind; however, mankind was not yet complete in and of itself. While everything else had what it needed to serve its function, mankind was missing something integral to his.
It is important to acknowledge that God is the one who makes this evaluation of the human condition. This demonstrates that God understands what is good for man better and before even he does concerning his own condition.
However, what is so bad about being alone? As man is made in God’s image, he was created to be in relationship (inasmuch as God exists in relationship with himself and is therefore a relational being). Therefore, for mankind to maximize his creative potential, not only is he to have a relationship with his Creator, but he is also design for relationship with other co-equal members of the creative order. As the animals were not equal to mankind in either form, dominion, personality, intellect, or constitution, mankind was missing a necessary ingredient required to make him whole—someone to relate to on a personal level. “Isolation is not the divine norm for human beings; community is the creation of God” (Matthews, 213).
Another reason that mankind was incomplete by himself involves the calling upon him to “be fruitful and multiply” and by proxy “fill the earth and subdue it…” (1:28ff). This, no matter how hard Adam may have tried, could not be executed on his own.
Thankfully, God does not just identify this incompletion, He seeks to rectify this lack and provide mankind with what He calls a “helper”—“I will make him a helper suitable for him’…” (2:18b). Before one misinterprets the term “helper” here to mean something less than what Adam was, consider this: God himself is called a “helper” often in the Psalms (Pss. 20:2-3; 12:1-2; 124:8). Moses even speaks of God as his “helper” (Ex. 18:4). Therefore, though “helper” is intended to convey a sense of support and aid, it is NOT to connote inferiority to Adam.
That this is the case is supported by the phrase “suitable for him” (2:18b). This indicates correspondence between man and woman and equality between the two in terms of their constitution. In other words, woman is just as human as man is (made in the image of God as a radically unity of spirit and body with all of the blessings and responsibilities appertaining thereunto).
With these considerations in mind, it is incumbent on the responsible reader of this text to conclude that “there is no sense derived from the word [helper] linguistically or from the context of the garden narrative that the woman is a lesser person because of her role…In the case of the biblical model, the ‘helper’ is an indispensable ‘partner’ required to achieve the divine commission” (Matthews 214).
Though God recognized this need for mankind in the beginning, Adam fails to do so until sometime later. Before woman was created “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what He would call them, and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name” (2:19). This description is used by Moses to convey two things. First, it contrasts the creation of all of the creatures in this world with the unique creation of woman. Though all of the beasts were formed “out of the ground” and even Adam was “formed…of dust from the ground” (see 2:7), woman is created in a very different way.
Second, that Adam named all of the creatures is one illustration of his dominion /rule over them as a superior created being (inasmuch as he alone is made in the image of God)—“the man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field…” (2:20a). To this day, in many situations, naming something gives the “namer” authority over that which is named. This is exactly what is being depicted here. Adam’s naming of the animals suggests that he was their manager.
However, eventually on that first busy day of Adam’s existence, in the midst of the parade of animals that were trotted out in front of him, he eventually realized “there was not found a helper suitable for him…” (2:20b). Here, Adam catches up to where God already was in understanding that for him to really do his job and subdue the earth as instructed, he required help of the most important kind. Due to her unique beginning and distinction as human, woman “is not of the order of the animals over whom the man is to dominate; she will share in the responsibility of dominating the creative order” (Matthews 215-16). However, for the time being, like a dancer without a partner, Adam stood there unable to fulfill God’s calling.
God Fashions a Woman-2:21-22
“So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place,…” (2:21). Woman is created as a result of a surgical act of God. As in any surgery, the one operated on is put to sleep—here called a “deep sleep.” Once asleep, God alone goes about His work in creating the woman. His tool is a rib taken from Adam’s side. This demonstrates that she was of the same substance as the man and underscores the unity of the human family—having only one source.
“The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man…” (2:22). Much care and craftsmanship was used to form the first woman. “Fashioned” depicts God here as a builder who constructs the woman from the raw resource derived from the man. The word used here is a frequent term for building edifices, but it occurs only once in early Genesis—here. As with “formed” in the description of Adam’s creation earlier (2:7), the same kind of care and attention is given to the creation of woman.
The significance of God using the “rib” to fashion woman pertains to the man and woman’s unique fit for one another as companions sexually and socially (as they are made of the same thing—though very much different).
Following this special creative act, God “brought her to the man.” This suggests that woman was a gift. She is both Adam’s first gift and greatest gift—better than the stars, sea, trees, fruit, animals, rivers, etc. With the advent of the woman the garden became a true paradise as it was at that point that God’s creation became complete.
God Introduces Woman to Man-2:23
Upon receiving this gift, Adam, I imagine very enthusiastically exclaims, “”this is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh…”(2:23). Immediately, Adam is able to recognize that this woman, unlike all of the other creatures, was like him and therefore capable of relating to him personally, intimately, etc. and, by proxy, capable of helping humanity reach its fullest potential and satisfy the calling of God. The first ever community was created in this first ever episode of boy meets girl.
Upon meeting her, Adam names her, “’she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man’…”(2:23b). This is an act of leadership and authority, but not of the same kind as Adam demonstrated over the animals, for, the woman is given a name that is a variation of Adam’s own—“woman.”
Adam explains the meaning of her name in the last clause of verse 23—“because she was taken out of man” again highlighting her source. However, commentators have also noted the wordplay between adam (“man”) and adama (“ground”) at 2:7 and 3:19 and ish (“man”) and isha (“woman”). The ending “-a” indicates feminine gender in Hebrew. However, the “–a” ending also on occasion indicates direction—specifically “to” or “toward” (Jobling, Meier). In the case of adam—adama, “man” returns to the “ground” during the lifespan. In the case of ish—isha, “man” moves toward the “woman” in the context of marriage when he is “united to his wife” and they “become one flesh” (Matthews, 219). This conclusion is supported by the final action God takes in this passage.
God Constructs an Institution-2:24-25
In God’s final creative act of chapter 2, He constructs a sacred institution—marriage—“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (2:24). Other translations render this verse “a man shall forsake his father and his mother and cling to his wife.” This suggests that within the context and process of marriage, one loyalty is severed while another one commences (Hamilton, 181). That the man is the leaver and cleaver again suggests a leadership role as, at least as this verse is portrayed, he is depicted as making the initial sacrifice of separation.
Not only that but “be joined to” or “cling” conveys a covenantal relationship shared between the husband and wife. Monogamy is clearly intended as “leave” and “cling” are terms commonly used in the context of covenant, indicating either covenant breach or fidelity (see Deut. 10:20; 11:22; 13:18; 28:20; 30:20; Josh. 23;8 Hos. 4:10). In other words, the emphatic terms demonstrate that the bond of marriage is especially powerful and significant—not a happenstance contract thrown together and easily ripped to shreds.
Once committed to each other, the two “become one flesh” (2:24). In other words, the husband and wife do not leave their parents to an isolated or independent existence, but to a dependency and responsibility toward one another. “’One flesh’” echoes the language of v. 23, which speaks of the woman’s source in the man; here it depicts the consequence of their bonding, which results in one new person” (Matthews, 223). As I often say in the marriage ceremonies that I conduct—“no longer are you a man or a woman, you are a husband and a wife. This means that your very identity as husband is wrapped up in your relationship to her as your wife and yours as a wife in your husband.” Two becoming one is illustrated in human sexuality in which two individuals form one expression of love and union. Though physical intimacy does not exhaust all that marriage is, it is an illustration of this point.
The institution created in the context of the perfect garden was a wondrous thing to behold. This much is conveyed in the next verse—“and the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (2:25). The original audience associated nakedness with guilt or shame. However, because there was no sin in the world, even Adam and Eve’s bare bodies were nothing to blush at; they were a beautiful expression of the freedom and openness afforded them in the perfection of Paradise and in the context of their marriage.
In this passage, the first ever crisis is answered in the most brilliant way. Adam’s need for a companion and helper to aide in achieving his God-given calling is met with the most uniquely made creature yet—woman! In so doing, God creates a community in which mankind is able to thrive and an institution by which mankind is able to procreate and subdue the earth! In addition to all of the principles concerning marriage and unity that this passage obviously endorses, something even more fundamental is being communicated here. When God comes through, He does so in abundant ways! Here, in the midst of Man’s loneliness, He gives mankind a helpmate and establishes an entire program for others to follow in which the human race can enjoy the very same kind of relationship that Adam and Eve shared here. This passage also serves to highlight mankind’s need for relationship. Whether God allows you to seek relationship in the context of marriage or in a community of believers, recognize that it is not good for men or women to be alone. They are designed to relate to one another and, together, relate to God.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
One of the recent troubling movements afoot in our world today involves a group of people who call themselves sovereign citizens. Those belonging to this group believe themselves to be outside the boundaries dictated by law and order and free to do as they please. In fact, Gavin Long, recent murderer of the three Baton Rouge police officers considered himself a member of this society that is considered by the FBI an existential domestic radical threat. It is, to be sure, a very real anarchist movement that is gaining traction, especially among the up-and-coming generation. A skepticism toward authority and very real hatred for rules is not only characteristic of more radical leaning groups like these; it is becoming the norm in our society.
So how should Christians understand boundaries, rules, authority? Thankfully, the book of Genesis reveals a surprising and often overlooked principle pertaining to this very question. In Genesis 2:10-17 two sets of boundaries are described by Moses as existing before sin even entered into the world. In other words, authority, commands, and boundaries were originally not encumbrances that were required purely to manage chaos, but divinely inspired parameters given to make for the greatest good that was possible in a newly created universe. Let’s learn more as these boundaries are delineated in this passage.
THE GEOGRAPHIC BOUNDARIES-2:10-14
Scholars tend to view verse 10-14 as an extension of verse 9 as the two describe different components of the garden (verses nine discussed the trees while 10-14 discusses the rivers). It becomes exceedingly clear from this passage that Eden’s garden was rich in minerals and splendidly fertile with flowing waters. The description given here, although complementary to what immediately precedes it, is supplementary material Moses’ used to accentuate “the narrative’s motif of resplendence” (Matthews, 207). Moses will again pick up the train of thought later in verse 15 that he left in verses 8-9.
Rivers were understood as absolutely essential to life in the ancient world. Even to this day, most middle-eastern cities, truly, most major cities anywhere, are built near a flowing water source. Rivers have been and continue to be important for irrigation in farming and nourishment for inhabitants. Nowhere was this more true than in Egypt—the very kingdom the Hebrews had just exited. There, the Nile River was worshipped as a life-giving source. This is why it proved such an incredible tragedy when God used Moses to turn the water of the Nile into blood. Therefore, when Moses suggests that Eden possessed a river that “divided and became four rivers,” he is not just providing an accurate description, but a comparison between the pagan nation they just left and Eden. Not only that, but the comparison also implicates the God who created Eden with four rivers as better than the God’s of Egypt and its single river.
As it pertains to the four rivers mentioned in this narrative, two are well known while two are not so easily identified understood. The first two “Pishon and Gihon” are hard to pinpoint as there are little to know historical aides that pinpoint exactly where these rivers were—“the name of the first is Pishon, it flows around the whole land of Havilah” (2:11). Though, one might say, the “land of Havilah” should help indicate where this river used to flow, even this is of little to no help as many possibilities for the location of Havilah are possible. However, to focus on the historical/geographic location of these rivers is ill-advised as this is not Moses’ point. Instead, Moses is simply highlighting the richness of the Garden of Eden as witnessed in its multiple water sources and other natural resources—“where there is gold” (2:11).
Moses continues to describe that “the gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there” (2:12). That the gold is “good” is reminiscent of chapter 1 in which everything God created was called “good.” Not only that, but the gold also testifies to God’s excelling provision of the first couple. Why not through a little gold into the mix and some precious stones to an already perfect paradise?
However, the images of “gold” and “onyx” probably called to mind something else for the original Hebrew audience as these two elements were used in the furnishings of the tabernacle and on the priestly garments (Ex. 25:1-9; 1 Chr. 29:2). “Gold overlay finished the sacred furniture of the tabernacle (Exod. 25:11, 17, 24, 31). Particularly important was the ‘onyx’ stone of the priestly ephod, upon which were inscribed the names of the twelve tribes (Exod. 28:9-14), and the onyx of the high priest’s breastplate (Exod. 28:20).” (Matthews, 208). This indicates that even at this early juncture in history, God’s presence was accompanied by precious and powerful elements. In fact, what was prescribed for the temple later is probably a direct reference to the perfection of paradise that is required for a holy God’s presence. When God’s people built a temple, they were building a temporary homage to the Garden of Eden in which God was able to move about freely.
Next, Moses describes the other boundaries of the garden, “the name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates” (2:13-14). Here, again, the second river is unknown to today’s scholarship as is the land that it is said to surround (as there are argument for both an African Cush and a Mesopotamian Cush). However, what is clear is that Moses assumed his audience knew to what area he was referencing. Not only that, but Moses is making a historical claim in identifying these rivers and their respective locations. These were, in other words, real places, not fanciful metaphors.
This is evidenced by the fact that while many are unsure about Pishon and Gihon, there is little to no question concerning the Tigris and Euphrates River as these remain important waterways to this day. In fact, not only are they well known today, but along with the Nile, these two would serve as the future boundaries that were given to the land pledged to Abraham (Gen. 15:18). As these boundaries here were assigned to Eden, successfully marking Adam’s jurisdiction, so too was the Promised Land so marked and consigned to Abraham and his future descendants (the very same descendants to which Moses was originally writing this).
As one commentator has pointed out, “there is no magic in Eden. Gardens cannot look after themselves; they are not self-perpetuating. Man is placed there to dress it and keep it” (Hamilton, 171). Moses reveals as much when he says, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (2:15). In other words, God placed man in a special environment for a special purpose and this purpose involved work. “Work is a God-given assignment and not a cursed condition” (Matthews, 209). It was not until sin spoiled things that a day’s work turned into a daily grind.
This verse demonstrates that from mankind’s inception, humans were designed to be cultivators and keepers of what God bestowed, busying themselves with the kind of work that makes something great out of something good. Therefore, to refrain from this responsibility when capable or to do nothing with whatever God has richly bestowed is to live in a way that is not only uncharacteristic of a person of God, but uncharacteristic of the human race as originally designed.
Mankind, as it pertains to his time, is to make much out of what God has given. This is the way God intended for mankind to spend his days.
However, another boundary pertaining to mankind involves the moral options he was able to endorse. Because the Garden of Eden was a good place, “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely’…” (2:16). This is the first of 25 times in Genesis that a command is given. What is important to recall here is that God is incredibly generous with the permission that he gives to Adam. Remember, all of the trees were pleasing to the eye and good for food (see 2:4-9), why not allow Adam free range to partake of these things?
Such an allowance reiterates what has already been so beautifully represented—that God is a gracious God. He created a perfect universe, he grew an amazing garden, and he populated that garden with incredible fruit-bearing trees. All of this he gave to humanity—his most special and unique creation—and said “you may eat freely.” “This strong affirmation indicates that the provision of God for the first couple is plentiful and to be enjoyed liberally by them” (Matthews, 211). As it compares to the next component of the options given to mankind, it is important to recognize that from the beginning, God’s grace far outweighs His prohibitions.
In comparison to all that God allowed, God does withhold one thing from mankind—“but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die…” (2:17). Why does God make this prohibition? Because God was not satisfied with good—He desired something great! A good universe might include a race of people who blindly choose to do good because that is all that they can do. A great universe would include a race of people who freely choose to do good when they have an option to do otherwise.
Notice too, that mankind is the only creature given this kind of moral boundary. This is because of mankind’s uniqueness as being made in God’s image. Because of mankind’s special constitution, humans are moral beings and therefore responsible for making moral decisions. Here, God provides an opportunity for mankind to make the right decision and to make that decision freely. In so doing, God is giving those whom He called “very good” (1:31) the opportunity to be great.
As it has been said—“Good isn’t good enough if it can be better, better isn’t good enough, if it can be great.”
To that end, God gives humanity every reason to obey this command. First, as already revealed, he gives mankind free use of every other tree in the Garden of Eden—only one is withheld. I’m sure that Adam and Eve (who will be introduced in just a few short verses), had plenty to keep them satisfied and occupied, especially considering that this is paradise we are talking about. Second, God gives them the grace of a sharp warning, “for in the day that you shall eat it, you will surely die” (2:17). How is that for a reason not to do something. Though this may seem harsh, what better way would there be for God to keep His people in check than with the threat of death? The threat of death was intended by God to prevent death and keep Adam and Eve from going near this single kind of tree.
Something similar is witnessed when I threaten my children with punishment. The more important the infraction, the more severe the potential punishment—not so that I can see the punishment enacted, but in hopes that I never see the punishment enacted.
Ultimately, these two sets of boundaries as presented in the Garden of Eden were intended by God to provide not only the best for His greatest ever creation, but to pave the way for the very best from them as well. The garden and the commands both to work and refrain from the tree of knowledge of good and evil demonstrate that even in a perfect world, there are divinely appointed limits. These limits are not intended to keep humanity from knowing abundance. Quite the contrary, they are intended to pave the way for the greatest abundance. Man was designed as a cultivator and a free moral being. Such precious gifts require the boundaries necessary to keep mankind within God’s perfect will.
Applied today, Christians are not those who seek to be their own authority or those who desire unlimited freedom. Instead, Christians are those who submit to the authorities God has appointed. Christians are those who are not advocating for total anarchy but those who are following the Lord’s will and His ideals. After all, a world without fences would be a world riddled with injured or tragically killed children/animals. Thank goodness that God’s Word provides us with the guidelines and boundaries necessary for a meaningful, lasting, and abundant life both for now and forever. To live without boundaries is to live outside of mankind’s design and open the door to all kinds of havoc, just as the victims’ families in Baton Rouge.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Last week as I spent time with family and friends in Texas I couldn’t help but catch myself telling and retelling stories of things that have happened to me since my last visit in an effort to catch everyone up to speed. Though the crux of the stories I shared rarely changed when they were repeated, inevitably the flavor and nuances of the tales did change as the same details were shared with new force. The more exciting or important the story, the more the story was repeated and the more attention was given to present the important elements with more compelling clarity.
The same is true of Moses’ desire to share the story of creation. Though we have already covered the description of creation as presented in chapter 1, Moses, in an effort to inform and inspire the people he led in the wilderness, retells the same story in a way that further explains some of the details pertaining to creation’s most important elements. In this case, the star of God’s creation was mankind (see 1:26ff). Therefore, in Moses’ retelling of the story, mankind again takes center stage, only this time, more is learned about how he was formed.
So without further ado, let us enjoy the creation story again and observe the three parts of Moses’ second take on this fascinating epic.
The Proclamation -2:4
As mentioned already, in chapter 2 Moses retells the story of creation in a way that highlights only some features of what has already been disclosed earlier in chapter 1. Though different, the introduction given in verse 4 illustrates how this passage and Genesis 1 are parallel (inasmuch as the same words are used and repeated throughout chapter 1)—“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven” (2:4). Though this is the second edition of the creation story, this verse contains the first instance of “Lord” (Yahweh). Combined with “God” (Elohim), this title in verse 4 acts as a kind of linchpin that bridges chapter 1 and 2:5-4:26 (as “Elohim” is used almost exclusively in chapter 1 and “Yahweh becomes dominant in chapters 2-4). What is unique about “Yahweh Elohim” (Lord God) is that this two-titled reference is repeated 20x in chapters 2-3 in an effort to demonstrate that the covenant leader of the people of God (Yahweh—the God that the Hebrews in the wilderness were familiar with) is the same wondrous deity who created the universe (Elohim).
In verses 5-6, Moses skips the first days of creation and picks up the story in this retelling to what the earth was like before the creation of the first man. According to verses 5-6 there was no “shrub of the field” and “no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground…”(2:5). The reason for the lack of plant life, in spite of the subterranean water source was that there was no man yet living to till the soil. In other words, God created vegetation in such a way that its fruitfulness, in some ways, depended on mankind’s management and dominance. This description sets things up perfectly for Moses will reveal in verse 7.
However, for now, according to verse 6, “a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground” (2:6).
Many commentators are at odds concerning how to interpret these verses and how they compare to the days of creation in chapter 1. Though by day three vegetation was created on the earth (1:11-12), the words used here in verse 5-6 (“field” and “ground”) and their respective translations are not intended to refer to the same thing. Instead, “field” (sadeh) is often used in the Old Testament for pasture land or cultivate ground (Gen. 29:2; 30:16; 37:7; 47:24). “Ground” often is used in connotations pertaining to soil, which is cultivated by human enterprise (2:7, 19, Matthews 194). Therefore, while vegetation existed before day 6, the tracks of land necessary to cultivate a crop or harvest were not in existence before man was alive to farm it.
One other thing worth mentioning is that “ground” (adama) comes from the same root as the name given to Adam—the first created man who is introduced on the scene next.
It is clear from the literature here that, like in chapter 1, mankind is given special focus. While in chapter 1, mankind was introduced as the grand fortissimo (1:27ff) following a long crescendo (1:6-25), here the creation of mankind is emphasized by the craftsmanship with which God makes his greatest product—“then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (2:7). In a brilliant paradox, God’s most glorious creation is manufactured out of the humblest of elements—the “ground” (adama). Not only that, but mankind was made out of the very thing that he would be instructed to till (2:15)—rendering him especially suited for his task of cultivation.
Not only that, but mankind and beast share in the same physical properties with one very important description. Unlike the plant world, both animals and humans are described as living (2:7; 7:22). Both animals are considered “living creatures” (1:20-21, 24; 2:7; 9:10). However, “the source of animal life is attributed to the ‘ground’ (2:19) from which the animals came forth ‘in a moment.’ But the man was ‘gradually formed,’ and his fountain of life was the divine breath—‘and God…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’ (2:7) (Matthews 197). This description sustains the prominent place mankind maintains in the narrative as his life force comes from the Creator Himself!
Additionally, “breathed is warmly personal, with the face-to-face intimacy of a kiss and the significance that this was giving as well as making; and self-giving at that” (Kidner, 60). This unique formation produces a unique relationship that mankind shares with his Creator. Humanity is special in God’s eyes and therefore worthy of a special creative act complete with intimate attention and time.
As a result of God’s breath, “man became a living being…” (2:7b). Such an image becomes a precedent that is consistently upheld throughout the remainder of the Old Testament. Job 27:3 states, “As long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils.” In Deut. 20:16; Josh. 10:40; Job 27:3, to possess the “breath of life” or “breath” is to be alive and in 1 Kings 17:17, the absence of it describes the dead. Also, in Ezekiel 37:9-10, it is the breath of God that reanimates dry bones.
Ultimately, that God’s breath was used to animate mankind means that he is totally dependent on God for what is most essential to life. Though a glorious creation, mankind is infinitely inferior to the God who created him. Moses, in retelling the detailed version of mankind’s creation, hoped that his people would recognize that as God sustained His people with manna and quail and deliverance, so too does He sustain them on an infinitely more fundamental level.
However, mankind as a “living being” (nephesh hayya) also speaks to the radical unity within mankind as a disjointed “soul” separated from the body was not central to Hebrew thought (contra Plato). In fact “living” (nephesh) has a semantic range that includes: “life,” “person,” “self,” “appetite,” and “mind.” In this context, most of these connotations fit as all speak toward identity and selfhood. Ultimately, as this passage demonstrates, mankind does not possess a “nephesh” but rather is a “nephesh” with a body. A possible translation of this verse might read “and man became a souled body.” Nothing else in the universe can claim this status!
Not only did God create man with a special constitution, He created a special environment in which man was to thrive and live out his God-given potential as cultivator and manager—“The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed,…” (2:8). No other created thing is given special treatment like this. It is clear from the text that God holds a special place in His heart and will for humanity as they are gifted with the blessing of this special garden.
The Garden of Eden suggest that God holds mankind in high regard and the phenomenon of the garden also establishes God’s commitment to order, work, beauty, and cultivation. As each of these qualities are witnessed in any arboretum, so too are these assumed of the most perfect Garden of Eden. Again, God is depicted in Genesis thus far as a God who brings order out of chaos, is not afraid to work, always trends toward beauty, and seeks to bring about the cultivation of His creation. As those who were made in His image, mankind needed a platform on which to put its unique gifts to good use. God had an empty universe, mankind is given a garden.
“Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,…”(2:9). Teaming with potential, the Garden of Eden was a veritable smorgasbord of plant life. Not only was it beautiful beyond belief (pleasing to the sight), its fruit was “good for food” (2:9).
I want you to picture the beautiful gardens you have come across in your lifetime either on a garden tour you have attended, on a vacation you took, in a magazine, or perhaps even in your own backyard. No matter how quaint, elegant, or aesthetically pleasing the image you are thinking about now is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the view that Adam and Even shared in Eden. Now I want you to think about the sweetest fruit that you’ve ever bit into—the juiciest peach, berriest berry, crispiest apple, tangiest pineapple, etc. Now imagine what that same fruit would have tasted like without sin in the world—the same sin that took a toll on vegetation and our bodies and keeps us from knowing what a perfect fruit tastes like. These are the fruits that Adam and Eve enjoyed whenever they wanted. It hung over them in large clusters on low branches and grew on the most fertile vines you could ever imagine. All of this God gave to Adam and Eve!
Included among the foliage in the Garden of Eden was the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—standing as powerful and concrete images of the potentialities that were present, though, at this point, not all realized in the world. At this point in the narrative, these trees act as a foreshadowing of the next chapter, but they also echo what God stands over and above. Inasmuch as life, good, and evil are depicted as created trees in God’s garden, God stands in a position in authority over these. He is the giver of life, the ultimate good, and the standard by which all evil is judged. These reminders stood around Adam and Eve in their garden as trees do in a park.
Ultimately in this retelling of the creation story mankind is depicted as a souled body, especially made and planted in a uniquely prepared environment. If in the first chapter of Genesis we learn of mankind’s superiority over all creation because of his being created last and being made in God’s image, in Genesis 2 we learn of mankind’s unique and intimate relationship with God as it was God’s breath that animated mankind’s humble form and God’s garden that man called home.
This would have reinforced the promises made to the Israelites in the wilderness. The same God that had saved them from slavery and promised them a land flowing of milk and honey was this same God who prepared a special place for His first couple. God has always been about preparing a place for His people that is exceptional, wondrous and perfect.
In fact, this is true for His people today. Inasmuch as the people of God have new life breathed into them through the Holy Spirit, they too enjoy a special relationship with God and can hold fast to the promises that one day we too will enjoy a perfect paradise—a paradise that is described in Revelation 21-22 as a place comparable to the Garden of Eden. Therefore, be encouraged today if you are a human being—for you are a souled body—a truly remarkable mixture of matter and spirit. Be encouraged today believer—for you have a paradise awaiting you!