Please read Genesis 1:24-2:25 in your Bible. I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.
“Taxonomy” is the science of classifying plants and animals into various groupings. If I were to ask you which animal you think of that defies scientific classification, what might you say? Would you mention the duckbill platypus as an example?
The point simply is this; science has its own challenges. There are plants and animals that overlap different categories and/or have exceptional features; classifying them can be difficult.
In studying Genesis one and two, we face a similar problem. If we study the creation account with the intent of systematizing it, we are going to be thwarted by details that overreach our system or do not fit it precisely.
And yet, we – by faith – understand that there is a unity present, a coherent system of thought with a message God has intended for us to receive. So we start with the fewest preconceptions possible and do the careful work of allowing the text to have its own voice first. After we have heard Genesis as it original listeners (and readers) received it, then we adapt our preconceptions to fit what we have learned.
For example, we retain the preconception that God created. It is, after all, a central tenet of our faith. What we pitch is that the Bible and science have to agree. We set aside the notion that “Creationism” must be proven (with all the politico-social baggage accumulated by that movement) and learn what we can from the text about God’s creation of the world. We accept that the “How?” question will never be as important as the “Who?” question, and less important than the “Why?” question.
- Before creation: Only God existed (1:1-2).
- Creation, Day One: Separating day and night (1:3-5).
- Day Two: Separating sky and sea (1:6-8).
- Day Three: Separating the sea and the land; growing plants on the land (1:9-13).
- Day Four: Creating heavenly lights (1:14-19).
- Day Five: Creating animals for the sea & sky (1:20-23).
- Creation, Day Six: Creating life on the land (1:24-2:25).
First, creating animal life on the land (1:24-25). Verse 24 reads; LET THE LAND PRODUCE LIVING CREATURES, just as it said that THE LAND produced plant life in v. 15. That sentence made a lot more sense in verse fifteen as we all know plants grow out of the ground (generally speaking), but we’ve never planted a dog and had puppies grow in the spot. But – look ahead – what did God use as raw material for the man? Dirt. Also, as science informs us, animal bodies are, chemically, minerals and water. As we noted previously, the term LIVING CREATURES includes all animal life, whether its habitat is land, air, or water.
ACCORDING TO THEIR KINDS (24+25) develops this thought a bit. As is usual in this passage, these three divisions of animal kind is a functional one.
– LIVESTOCK = domesticated animals.
– CREATURES THAT MOVE ALONG THE GROUND = undomesticated animals that are prey.
– WILD ANIMALS = undomesticated animals that are predators.
Second, we come to the real focus of the creation narrative: creating human life on the land (1:26-2:25). The text relates eight important truths about the human race.
#1 = We were created in God’s image (1:26). The Heb word for IMAGE was defined as a physical representation of something that had no physical form. This was contrary to idol-worshippers who believed superstitiously that their idols not only represented the physical form of their gods, but also contained some of their spiritual essence.
As with the rest of the Genesis account, the emphasis is on function; the function of the IMAGE is for us to represent God in creation. God is a spirit and wants to be present in creation in a physical way, a way tangible to the five senses He gave us. So, being created in the IMAGE OF GOD means that you and I were created to represent God in our bodies. We are to reproduce, in daily life, the character and nature of God.
Theologians have haggled over the exact meaning of this word. (For example, In Genesis 5:3, Adam’s son Seth is described as the IMAGE and LIKENESS of his father. Since this is said about Seth at birth, this must refer to a physical resemblance; any similarity of character or personality would not be known for several years. Does this assert that the IMAGE is a physical resemblance?) I believe it’s not necessary to be specific or precise in or definition of this term any qualities that human beings possess but the rest of creation does not may be considered part of the IMAGE OF GOD.
The IMAGE is God’s intention that human beings be the part of creation that represents the Creator. Isn’t that enough of a responsibility? Paul linked the IMAGE with the “new self,” the life of a believer, and saw it as our responsibility to make God known.
– Epehsians 4:24 = …put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
– Colossians 3:10 = …put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
#2 = We were created to exercise dominion over creation (1:26, 28-30). This is a delegated authority. We do not, by virtue of being human, have any “rights” that make us rulers of creation. Like everything else, this is a gift from God. Though it has been misused by some people, being given RULE over creation is not an excuse for mismanaging it. Instead, it puts us in a managerial position, responsible for taking g0od care of the environment.
The blessing “BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY” is pronounced on all LIVING CREATURES, not just the human race. God blessed all the creatures he put on Earth; His plan was for the prosperity of all creation.
#3 = We were created from dust (2:7) and from a rib (2:18, 21-2).
The man was created from DUST. This Hebrew word refers to dry dirt; the loose, granular stuff you and I would call “topsoil.” It may seem contradictory that something given the honor of bearing God’s IMAGE should come from such humble beginnings: mere dirt. I should think that’s exactly the point.
However, this “earthen vessel” was not alive in that instant. The text tells us that the man became alive as God put His BREATH OF LIFE into it. This phrase always refers to the breathing that all living people do, implying what God did with Adam is not just a one-time event, but is how God bestows life to all of us.
The woman was created out of Adam’s rib. The Hebrew word for RIB is not anatomically precise. It can refer to a single rib, the entire rib cage, or a hunk of flesh and bone from the upper torso. Fortunately, we don’t need it to be precise because we’re not writing a book of anatomy. The point is that part of the man’s body was used to fashion the woman. As we will see, the stress is on their similarity, not their difference.
#4 = We were created to live in paradise (2:4-6, 10-14). The word translated as GARDEN is used to refer to a paradise. In our culture, the word “park” would be a more accurate translation; it is a place set aside for trees and other landscaping to create a peaceful nature refuge. The most prominent feature of any park is the trees and this one has two tree identified as being special. We’ll talk about them next month.
In the ancient world, kings spared no expense in creating these kinds of spaces. In fact, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The name EDEN is more than a point of geography; it means “abundant” and modifies the word GARDEN in the sense of “a garden of abundance.” The fact that the GARDEN is well-watered by four rivers that flowed out of EDEN is the explanation of its abundance. What we’re to learn here is God put the man in an ideal place; of all the places on the surface of the earth, this was the best habitat possible.
#5 = We were created to work (2:15, 19-20). Adam was not to just live in the GARDEN, he was to work in it. He is God’s partner in nurturing the life of the GARDEN, both plants and animals. This is evidence that it has always been God’s plan that work is central to human life. God didn’t simply provide for the man; Adam was active, working to grow and collect his own food. God commissioned Adam to name the animals. This served several purposes, one of which is to show that not all work is manual labor. God created us to do mental and manual work.
The Hebrew word for WORK is most often used in connection with labor done in service to God; in fact, some commentators would rather see this word translated as “worship.” We need to remember that we’re all created to work and that nearly all work can be a form of service to God. In our culture, we split work and discipleship, which often leads to a double standard; we have one set of behaviors for the workplace and another set for the church. This distinction is somewhat false and does not express God’s plan.
#6 = We were created to choose to obey God (2:16-17). God created people with the ability to choose; “free will.” This is also a delegated authority and the responsibility that goes with it is to choose to obey God.
We won’t go into any detail here, but will note only that God gave the man commands about work/worship and about one tree in particular; he commanded the man to leave it alone. This was not a complicated set of commands to keep. God’s plan was not to leave His people alone and let them figure things out for themselves. He identified obedience as the thing that leads to life. Jesus taught that obedience is the way we demonstrate our love for God (see John 14:15, 23-24).
# 7 = We were created for companionship (2:18-25). Another purpose God had in giving Adam the job of naming the animals was he would see that there were a male and female of each. But the text says twice for Adam THERE WAS NO SUITABLE HELPER to be found. The phrase “suitable helper” is one of those details I warned you about. It is hard to interpret as it is found only here in the Bible. The task has been complicated by centuries of misuse by persons trying to prove a paternalistic world view.
However the word HELPER is found repeatedly by itself in the Bible and is most often used in reference to God as our HELPER. Obviously, there is no diminished status associated with this word. A HELPER is not a second-class person. The word SUITABLE actually means “opposite.”
So a SUITABLE HELPER in this case, is the opposite sex. As all the animals had male and female genders, Adam needed a counterpart, a female, to be a completed species. This is true biologically, emotionally, and spiritually. The text give a rare commentary in verse 24 when the writer sums up God’s purpose in making Eve as a counterpart for Adam: THAT IS WHY A MAN LEAVES HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND IS UNITED TO HIS WIFE, AND THEY BECOME ONE FLESH.
In case we miss the fact that God created both male and female people, the text makes it perfectly obvious in 1:27, SO GOD CREATED MAN IN HIS OWN IMAGE, IN THE IMAGE OF GOD HE CREATED HIM, MALE AND FEMALE HE CREATED THEM. Both men and women bear the all-important IMAGE OF GOD. In this detail alone, but also in all of the creation account, the book of Genesis shows far more respect for women than the creation myths recounted in other ancient cultures. God wants us to know right from the beginning that male and female people are two sides of the same race.
Adam affirms this truth in v. 23. First, he emphasized the similarity of the sexes when he said Eve was BONE OF MY BONE AND FLESH OF MY FLESH. Second, he approved her suitability as his counterpart: SHE SHALL BE CALLED ‘WOMAN,’ FOR SHE WAS TAKEN OUT OF MAN. Of course there are differences between men and women that continue to this day; we’re not aiming at being so “PC” that we deny what is obvious. But those differences are matters of degree, not destiny. Men and women are to manage creation together.
#8 = We were created pure, without any reason to be ashamed. No less than four times (2:25; 3:7, 10-11) the account mentions Adam and even being NAKED.
In chapter two, Adam and Eve were NAKED but without shame. The point here is their innocence. As we observe with innocent children, nakedness is not a cause for shame.
In chapter three, Adam and Eve became ashamed of their nakedness after they chose to disobey God. The first sin brought the first sense of shame along with it.
Different Hebrew words are used in chapters two and three. In chapter three, the word used for NAKED is elsewhere used as a punishment, a sign of being abandoned, a penalty for sin. Of course, that comes after the disobedience of Adam and Eve and implies that their nudity was no longer a sign of inn0cence, but something they despised and felt was a punishment; a shameful thing.
The account of Adam and Eve speaks to our personal lives. Their experience is a symbol for what all of us experience as we grow up, the loss of innocence as we deliberately choose to do what we know is wrong.
Finally, the text revisits the creation of plant life on the land, elaborating that it was created to be food for the LIVING CREATURES (1:29-30: 2:5-6). Yes, I suppose this does imply that all animals and humans were vegetarians in the beginning. But be of good cheer – God later approved meat for our diet (see Acts 9:9-16)!
The GARDEN depicted in today’s text was a literal place that carried a function similar to that of the tabernacle, temple, and church; it was a place to meet God. It was a sanctuary where God’s people could go to worship Him. In fact, what’s clear in this creation account is that the human race is the primary part of creation. The details we’ve examined all week show that God created with human beings in mind.
God made people to take care of that sacred space and to dwell with Him there. God said that creation was GOOD and He blessed all the LIVING CREATURES He created to live in the world.
The one thing about it that was NOT GOOD was for the man to live alone in the GARDEN. God fixed that with the creation of the woman and everything was fine until sin entered the picture in the form of the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve.
Let’s not get ahead of the text. The second chapter ends with the affirmation that the week of creation ended with God’s plan perfectly in place. All was prepared for creation to work as a habitation for people. Adam and Eve lived and worked and served God, all without any SHAME.
- Creation, Day Seven: Instituting the Sabbath (2:1-4).