Because the biblical books were handwritten, read aloud, and then hand-copied long before standardized printing, their authors and compilers needed a way to indicate divisions within the text itself. They often did this by repeating a phrase or expression each time they made a transition from one section to another. We can confirm that particular phrases are significant in this way by observing how their placement reinforces a structure that can already be recognized implicitly from other characteristics of a book, such as changes in topic, movement in place or time, or shifts from one kind of writing to another. Through line spacing, we’ve marked off sections of varying sizes. The smallest are indicated by one blank line, the next largest by two lines, and so on, up to four-line breaks in the largest books. We’ve also indicated key divisions with a large initial capital letter of new sections. Our goal is to encourage meaningful units to be read in their entirety and so with greater appreciation and understanding.
Zondervan. NIV, The Books of the Bible: Covenant History: Discover the Origins of God’s People (Kindle Locations 265-272). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam, no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame
The first section of Genesis (Genesis 1.1-2.3) demonstrated that God was the creator of the universe and he alone is God. The Creation story was a fatal blow against the pervasive story of polytheism in the ancient world. In Genesis 2.4-25, the author turns his attention to the creation of humankind. First, we are instructed about the creation of a male (Genesis 2.4-7). Then, we are told about the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2.8-17). Finally, we witness the creation of a female (Genesis 2.18-24).
The Creation of Male and Female (Genesis 2.4-7)
In Genesis 1.26-27, the creation of humankind, male and female, is recorded without any details. Now the creation of male and female and their first home is described separately. In Genesis 2.4 begins “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” This phrase occurs nine other times in Genesis (5.1; 6.9; 10.1; 11.10, 27; 25.12, 19; 36.1; 37.2). Each time the phrase is used, it narrows the focus of the narrative and turns its attention to the result of something previously mentioned. In this case, it moves from the creation of the whole universe to the creation of humankind.
The story begins (Genesis 2.4a) by pointing out that there was no life, growth, rain, or anyone to cultivate the soil. Against that background, God formed the first human. It is of interest to note that the text reads “Lord God” (Genesis 2.7). The combination of the personal name for God (Yahweh) and the general term for God (Elohim) appears often in this section (Genesis 2.4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 18. 19, 21, 22). In Genesis 1, the authorial emphasis is on one majestic God, not many gods, who spoke and creation takes place. The emphasis in Genesis 2.4-7 is more personal. The context turns from the galaxy to the garden. In this section, the first male is not pictured as one in authority as in Genesis 1.26-27, but as one who is under authority. He is a servant in a covenant relationship, thus, Yahweh is the proper designation for deity at this point. The two names together, Yahweh Elohim, express the First Testament conviction that God is both creator and Israel’s covenant partner.
To end the unproductiveness of earth, God molds a man/male from clay (Genesis 2.7). God is now pictured as a potter. He took some dust, better translated as mud or clay, and shaped the first human. This is a somewhat familiar theme in the First Testament (Job 4:19; 10:8; Ps. 90:3; 103:14; 104:29; 146:4). Nowhere in Genesis 2 does the author imply that dust is a metaphor for frailty? It simply says that dust was the raw material from which the first human was created. The word formed (shaped) is an artistic, inventive activity that requires skill and planning. The first human was not some afterthought of God, but a well-planned artistic invention that is unique. Just like he was unique, there really is no one else like you as the reader on the face of the earth.
Created from clay by God, the first human is still a lifeless corpse until God breathes life into him, the second act in the creation begins life. The idea from Philo forward that God impregnated some of his Godness into the human is not the meaning of this text. Rather, its original intent was to suggest that a human being existed as an undivided unity. Philo was a Jewish-Hellenistic philosopher who believed that the Pentateuch could be understood only through an allegorical interpretation of the text. That the first human became a living being is not to say that a living soul was placed into the created being but that as a living person he was a complete living being. The idea that man is made up of a body, soul, and spirit is ruled out. This is simply not available to the mindset of the Hebrew who would need to understand this story. It might be said that a person is created as a living being means that he is a person only in his living state. He cannot be made into an object of study apart from the living state in which he exists. In short, we cannot understand a human being by trying to understand each of some supposed part of his makeup. As God created this first person, we should understand that person as a complete and whole person. Many ancient cultures had stories of humans being created from clay with a combination of a divine being. We may note that the Genesis account notes that it is the creator-covenant God who gave life to the first human, not one of the many polytheistic gods of the ancient world.
The Garden in Eden (Genesis 2.8-17)
The first residence of humankind was a garden that was planted by God. The garden was located in the East in Eden but a specific location is not given. The use of the preposition “in” shows that Eden is understood as the name of the area in which the garden was planted. Elsewhere it is called the Garden of Eden. The name Eden means luxuriance, a place characterized by rich or profuse growth or a place producing or yielding in abundance. It was truly a paradise. For the author, it was a real place. In the telling of the story, the author changes the metaphor from a potter to a planter. This is to demonstrate that God is not the occupant of the garden but is the one who prepared it for humans.
The following verses (Genesis 2.9-14) elaborate on the description of the garden. First, all the trees produced fruit suitable to eat. Two of the trees are given particular attention: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of life is an essential mark of a perfect garden where God dwells. It is not part of the prohibition given by God to man. The terms “good and evil” are best understood in this passage as the capacity to make independent judgments concerning human welfare. What is forbidden to man is the power to decide for himself what is in his best interest and what is not. This is a decision God did not delegate to his creation. A human does not become a god whenever he makes his own self the center and only frame of reference for guidelines to life. When the first humans tried to act autonomously, they are attempting to be godlike. The second created item is described as a single river flowing out of Eden. The intent of this description is to demonstrate that the river of Eden also nourished the rest of the world with its life-giving water. The site of the garden is lost to humankind, which is the intent of Genesis 3.22).
In Genesis 2.15-17, the storyteller announces a prohibition given by God to his creation. God had created a human elsewhere and placed him in the garden (Genesis 2.15). The first created being was to take care of the garden. It should be pointed out that even before the fall, humans were expected to work. Paradise was not a place of idle unemployment. Real freedom comes within limits. The first humans were called upon by God to exercise restraint and self-discipline. Eat what you will freely but never eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God is not stingy. However, there is a boundary and if you choose to break it you will surely die. The punishment was death. Since there is not a statement by God that he rescinded the death penalty, we must look elsewhere to understand “you shall die.” The verb as used elsewhere (Gen. 20.7; Ex. 10.28; Num. 26.65; Judges 13.22; 1 Sam. 14.39, 45; 2 Kings 1.4; Jer. 26.8; Hos. 13.1) demonstrates that the verb does not mean instant death but that the process of dying instantly began.
The Creation of the first Female (Genesis 2.18-24)
It must be pointed out that no other extant literature in the ancient world preserved an account of the creation of a female. This makes the narrative of Genesis at this point unique. With the creation of a female, creation is complete. It is in this part of the narrative that we first encounter something that God determines is not good. God makes his evaluation and proposes a solution. Adam needed a helper, which was equal to him. The helper must be suitable for him. The word suitable suggests something that completes a polarity, such as the North Pole is suitable to the South Pole. One without the other is incomplete. When no helper among the animals was found, the text says that God built a woman from Adam’s side after God administered anesthesia to Adam. When Adam sees his new partner and exclaims that she is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh (Genesis 2.23), he is saying in an ancient way what is said in wedding ceremonies today under the statement “in weakness and in strength.” Bone can mean to be strong and flesh can represent the weakness in a person.
The narrator of this story breaks into the marriage ceremony and shows the reader what this last scene means. The male is to leave his father and mother. We must note that Adam had neither! He must cling to his wife. The terms leave and cling describe Israel’s covenant relationship with God. Israel would often reject her covenant relationship with God. In contrast, she would often cling or maintain the covenant relationship with God. Marriage then is to be understood by Israel as a covenant, not some ad hoc makeshift arrangement. The result of the covenantal-joined husband and wife was that they became one flesh. What is meant by this phrase is that man or woman by him or her self is not one flesh. The two make each other complete. While the word naked does mean physical nudity, we must also realize that there was no barrier of any kind that would drive a wedge between Adam and Eve. There was total transparency between this couple.
In Genesis 2, God creates two institutions. The first is law, the purpose of which is to teach one to live under authority. The second is marriage, the purpose of which is to teach one to live for someone other than oneself.
Community Discussion Questions
➡ |CDQ Info|
- Why is it important for you to understand that you are a unique person created by the artistry of God?
- Why do you think that God created male and female to be a community and how does that fly in the face of individualism in our society today?
- Why is it important to understand that we are to live under authority?
- Why is it important for us to understand that we are to live for someone other than ourselves?