This is the second week in our Origins series, our new series looking at the overall story of God. Last week we looked at Genesis one and what we discovered was that the very first chapter of the Bible tells us a great deal about the incredible lengths that God has gone to show us his love. If you missed last week’s message I recommend listening to it on line. It is filled with a good deal of foundational information, much of which will inform the rest of the series. But there are 2 items that I mentioned last week that I feel I need to reemphasize again this week before we look at Genesis 2. The first is that we believe that the author of Genesis was Moses, the great Jewish patriarch and secondly, that Moses wrote Genesis specifically to the Jewish people he had just led out of slavery in Egypt. These two things are very important. They give context to the entire book and they force us to ask questions like, ‘Why would Moses have thought it important to include this detail or that detail?’ and ‘How would the people first hearing these stories have responded to what Moses was telling them?’ It’s important to ask these kinds of questions when reading any part of Genesis… and it’s particularly true when looking at today’s passage which is Genesis 2:4-25. Grab a Bible (page 4) or pull up the app. Now, since we’re starting today in the 4th verse of Chapter 2, it means that we will essentially be skipping over verses 1-3 of chapter 2 and these 3 verses are the end of the creation story we looked at last week. These 3 verses tell us about God finishing his creative work and then resting. 2 quick things: the words for ‘resting from his work’ do not mean that he went on a vacation or that he took a breather. The word for ‘rest’ is ‘shavaya’ or, as we now say, ‘sabbath.’ It means to cease from one type of labor and to move on to a different situation. It doesn’t mean to stop everything, but it does mean to change the tenor of the things you are doing. And the word for ‘work’ here is the word ‘melekah’ and it is the word for a skilled craftsman’s work… this is not simple labor, it’s the work of someone highly talented. These two words, when used together as they are in these verses, often speak of someone of great skill finishing the work of building of a house and then moving on to the task of making the house a home. This is important to keep in mind: God never stopped working, he simply changed his emphasis from skillfully creating our world to making a home in our world.
Let’s look at Genesis 2:4 This is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth. The word that gives us ‘this is the account’ is the word ‘toledoth’ and it literally means something like ‘these are the generations of.’ This word is used 11 times by Moses in Genesis and it is the closest thing we have in Genesis to chapter markers. Every time you read, ‘this is the account of’ or ‘these are the generations of’ or even ‘these are the descendants of,’ Moses is saying, ‘This is the start of a new chapter… what you’ve read before is behind us and we are moving on to something new.’ So, in theory today we are starting something new! But what comes after this ‘toledoth’ in verse 4 is, I believe, the most debated section of the entire book of Genesis. What we find is new, but it is a very different account of the creation of the heavens and the earth; at least it is very different from what we read last week in chapter 1. In fact, there are enough differences between these two accounts that it can be confusing. These differences have led to a great deal of debate over what the verses in Chapter 2 are describing. There are 3 different thoughts on this. The first is that what we are about to look at is an expansion of the events of day 6; chapter 2 is a more detailed look at what happened on the most important day of creation: the day God created mankind. This position has long been the most popular position and it would work very well but for the vast differences in the details of these two accounts. But the people that hold this position feel that it is possible to work out the differences and they’re convinced that chapter 2 is nothing more than a deeper dive into day six of creation. That’s one thought. The second idea is that during Moses’ day there were 2 different creation stories circulating among the Jewish people… and Moses, not wanting to offend anyone, and not being sure which was accurate, just put both stories in his book even though they contradict each other in certain places. Can I say that I think this is ridiculous? I can’t imagine this being the case. But you may hear this theory from time to time, especially during ‘Bible documentaries’ on the History Channel. The 3rd idea is that Chapter one is a description of the general creation of all things and that Chapter 2 is the description of a completely different, specific creation event. Chapter 2 is the description of the creation of a place on earth for God to call his home… and this creation comes complete with the creation of a special garden, (and this isn’t a garden for vegetables; it is the park-like landscaping surrounding a palace or large home) and special animals to live within the garden and 2 specific people who are tasked with tending to this garden. In other words, we get the world formed and filled in Chapter one and then we see God creating a space on earth for his own home, with its own garden, its own animal menagerie, along with 2 special people in Chapter 2. I know this third suggestion may sound crazy, but I want you to know that the scenario of a ruler creating a special home among his people, complete with a garden and a zoo and all overseen by special caretakers, was exactly what ancient people expected to hear their rulers were doing. This was not only common in their world, it was expected. And the first readers, the Jews that had been freed from slavery in Egypt, would have resonated deeply with the idea that the first thing God did once he’d made the earth for them was to create a space, a special space where he could live among them. Again, I know this may sound whacky, but it may very well be that this is what we are reading about when we look at chapter 2. I am not going to be dogmatic here... except to say this: if you look carefully at all the historical, literary and cultural background material available to us, of the 3 choices we have as to what this chapter is describing, the third choice is the one with the least problems. I’m just being honest with you… we may very well be looking at the description of a second creation: the creation of 2 very specific, special people who were made to be the caretakers of God’s Garden. Okay, let’s look at the second half of verse 4. When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5neither wild plants nor grains were growing on the earth. For the Lord God had not yet sent rain to water the earth, and there were no people to cultivate the soil. 6Instead, springs came up from the ground and watered all the land. 7Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. As odd as this may sound, this description of springs watering the ground instead of having to rely on rain would have sounded like paradise to ancient people, especially those who lived in arid places and had to depend on unpredictable rainfall for just about everything. This made God’s initial creation sound wonderful. Also, the Hebrew word for man is ‘adam.’ Here we see a man, an adam, who is formed out of what is, except in the hands of God, an unformable substance: dust. Only God can form anything out of dust. And in this 2nd chapter version of the creation, unlike chapter 1’s version, Adam is alive and he is present before the plants and the animals have even been created. He is present, but sadly, he is alone, when we read, 8Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. 9The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There are 2 trees of note in this garden. The Tree of Life and The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We don’t know for certain if the fruit from the Tree of Life gave life to Adam or not. There will be a statement by God later in the story that sounds like the fruit from this tree could make people live forever. But this is all somewhat speculative especially since two trees of life show up in the Book of the Revelation, not as live-forever trees but as trees whose leaves bring healing… the kind of ‘life’ they bring is different in some ways than immortality. This is all too cryptic to get dogmatic here. But alongside this tree is The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and… well, not evil really. The word is actually ‘ra’, a word that means ‘bad’ as in ‘that which isn’t good.’ It is the Tree of the Knowledge of what is Good and what is Bad. Now, here in Genesis 2 we only learn that the tree exists and that Adam isn’t supposed to eat its fruit. But, later we’ll get a lot more on this tree.
I’m not going to read verses 10 -14. They tell us about the four rivers connected to the Garden of Eden. Eden, by the way means delight or pleasure. Two of these rivers we know and 2 are completely unknown to us. My guess is that the ancient readers would have known about all 4 of these rivers Moses speaks of here. But we only know about two of them. 15The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Adam has a home in paradise, he has a purpose, he has the freedom to care for this garden as his own and he has direct face-to-face contact with God. But, he also has one prohibition: not to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. People argue over whether Adam would have known what it meant to die. One thing is certain: Adam didn’t know anything about being ‘ra,’ bad. His entire universe was very good; it was ‘mohed tov’ in every way. 18Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” 19So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one. 20He gave names to all the livestock, all the birds of the sky, and all the wild animals. But still there was no helper just right for him. This is the first “not good” statement by God. God is showing us that he has knowledge of good and bad – bad not necessarily being evil, but not good, not practical, or beautiful; not being the best it could be. We have seen incomplete things before – the empty sea needing fish; the empty sky needing birds – now we have an empty garden that needs creatures to be the best it can be and we see an empty man who needs a helper to be the very best he can be. The word that is translated “helper” here is ezer. There is a lot that can be said about this word… but what is most important in this context is that it does not imply subordination at all. Nor does it mean someone of less knowledge or strength. This isn’t simply someone that just helps when they can. It is a strong word of equal dignity, equal position and equal, if not greater, strength! In fact, God is referred to as Israel’s helper (Eleazer) many times in the Bible and no one would say that God was Israel’s weaker subordinate. I say all of this because it is going to turn out that Adam’s ‘helper’ is Eve and since she is a woman, some portray this helper as having a lower position to Adam and nothing could be further from the truth. One other note. Adam naming the animals would have been an important detail to the ancient readers. Naming was power… only people in power could give names to others and the name someone gave to someone else was generally meant to say something about a person’s character. People’s names get changed all the time in the Bible both for good and ill. Here, Adam was most likely looking into the eyes of the animals God had made for him and naming them by what he believed he saw in their souls. We don’t know these names. I’m sure it would be interesting to hear what names Adam gave to the animals. What we do know is that none of these animals lived up to the demands of being a suitable, ‘just- right ezar for Adam,’ … not a one. 21So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. 22Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man. Just a quick word here. Rib is not a good translation. The word is ‘tsela’ and it is a word that means ‘side’ and it usually meant the whole of a person’s side – bones, flesh and internal organs. This woman was built out of about half of what the ancients considered the essence of our being. Interestingly, all the things that we attribute to the mind, our thinking, our creative instincts, our logic, all these things were thought to be resident in our core… in the main part of a person’s body. This, not just a single rib, is what God took from Adam to build Adam’s ezar. And look at what Adam says. 23“At last!” the man exclaimed. “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.’” Adam is legitimately worked up! Then Moses has a editorial aside… one that I find quite interesting. 24This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Truth is, in the ancient world men never left their father and mother… they brought their wives into their father’s family home. Moses is clearly talking about a deep, soulful, heart leaving of a man’s father and mother… A man is to side with his wife… she is his new top priority. A man’s wife is now one with him and she stands in a place of honor over everyone else including the husband’s family. And to be honest, this goes against everything we know of the place of a wife in most of ancient middle eastern life. Women rarely had this kind of honor. But God is up to something amazing here and he states his intensions for men and women in the next sentence. 25Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame. The actual Hebrew reads, “And they are both naked, the man and his wife (woman), and they are not ashamed of themselves.” The primary use of the Hebrew word that gives us naked, ‘arowm,’ is ‘to be without covering,’ and certainly this is a huge aspect of the meaning here. Plus, nakedness was a huge issue in the ancient Jewish world. If you look carefully at Jewish religious law and into cultural givens regarding nakedness, you’ll find that being seen uncovered in public brought tremendous shame. Why, even the ankles of the priests were to be covered. But, I want to widen out our understanding of ‘naked.’ I am 100% sure that this verse is talking about an ultimate sense of two people being naked together. They have, as it says, no shame… when it says they were naked it also meant that they were fully known, they didn’t have any ulterior motives, they had nothing to hide outwardly or inwardly. They were completely naked in every way we can imagine: physically, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. And in my mind, being naked and without shame in this way sounds about as ‘very good’ as life could get.
So, in chapter 2 we’ve seen the creation of a special man, the creation of a special place and a very intensive effort by God to create a special helper for this special man. And the end result is something that looks like paradise to me: a beautiful space, filled with beautiful plants and creatures, shared with helper who is completely open and trustworthy and all of this happening in the very presence of God. This was God’s design for us… this is what he built us for… and it is the design, I believe, he still has for us.
I have a couple of thoughts about all of this: first, I’m completely overwhelmed by all that God does for Adam in this chapter because it illustrates all that God does for you and me. If you list out all the verbs associated with God’s action in chapter 2, both behind the scenes and right in front of Adam’s eyes, all that he did for Adam to make his life very good: God made, he formed, he breathed, he planted, he placed, he warned, he realized, he brought and he caused just to name some of what he did. I’ve often heard that love is a verb. Love is something you do, not something you feel. Well, if this is true, and I believe that it is, then I don’t know that we can find a chapter anywhere that speaks more to God’s love for us than this one. This is God’s heart in action and I believe that the Jewish people that had just escaped from slavery and we, living in our modern world, have this chapter to remind us that God is always working, both behind the scenes and right in front of our eyes, to make our lives very good… not painless, but still all that very good can mean. It is important for me to hear that God is active… for me… that he is forming, planting, placing and causing all for my good… for my very good. This chapter says this very loudly. What I need to be doing is looking out for what God is doing; If I do, I am sure I’ll see that God is working for me continually.
Secondly, this chapter tells me that God never intended for us to live with shame.... In fact, I don’t believe God even created us with the emotional tools to deal with shame. What is true is that shame can destroy us in an instance; I feel that people having to live under the weight of shame is one of life’s greatest broken places. And knowing that God never intended for us to live with shame gives me hope. Now, I know that this chapter is describing the very best possible relationship between a husband and wife… I know this… and I am so very thankful for Jennifer, my wife and our wonderfully Eden-like relationship that I could burst… but, in my heart, I can’t imagine that God doesn’t want all of our relationships to be characterized by honesty and openness to the point of being without shame. Certainly, I believe that the physically naked stuff should be saved for husbands and wives, but all the other things that make living together wonderful, things like trust, and faithfulness and assurance, these are what God built us to experience. We were made to live without shame... and I believe that is still what God wants for you if you are living under the curse of shame. No shame sounds wonderful to me! But it also sounds close to impossible. Some of you are probably already thinking about next week when we look at Chapter 3… when we talk about why this wondrous picture of a ‘very good’ life has fallen apart. But I want to reemphasize a truth from this chapter that I don’t want us to miss: This picture of Adam and Eve living together without shame, surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation and able to have face-to-face connection with God is still what God desires for us. Never think that God has given up on this; he hasn’t! And I guarantee that someday he will again see his people, those of us who have surrendered our lives to Jesus, living shamelessly in a paradise of God’s making. And the reason I am sure of this comes right out of this chapter… back at the beginning of this chapter in verse 2 it says ‘On the 7th day God had finished his work of creation.’ God finished creating the most ‘mehod tov, very good’ world possible. And where is says, ‘God finished his work…’ the word in the Greek OT that tells us that God had ‘finished’ his work for us is Teleo. (it means to bring to completion a task. But, as we will see next week when we look at Chapter 3, sin entered the world and necessitated that God, himself, again step into chaos, the chaos we’d created this time, and make a way for you and me to find our way back to him. He did this by sending Jesus. Now follow this with me… and just before Jesus died, just before he made it possible for you and me, like Adam and Eve, to know what it feels like to be free from shame, as his last word on the cross, guess what Jesus said: , ‘It is finished.’ I cannot believe this is a coincidence. Jesus’ work was done and as we say often, his work on the cross gave us new life… just like Adam and Eve are pictured in chapter 2, we can now become new creations… free from shame. These connections all make sense to me… and they make me so thankful that God loves us enough to have done all of this very intentional work for you and me… and he did it all so that someday we can spend everlasting, shameless, very good days with him in his paradise.