Back to the future

Back to the future

The second main creation story, starting at Gen 2:4, starts in an unusual way.

It begins “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth, when they were created on the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.”

Now that’s probably not quite what your NIV text says, but it’s what the Hebrew says. The verse begins “Elle toldot”, “these are the generations”, and it’s the same phrase that we find in Genesis 5 and 10 where it reads “These are the generations of Adam”, or “These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth”.
So what we have here is a different sort of account to Genesis 1. This is a story about relationships, about genealogies.
It tells us why things came to be what they are today and traces the roots of people and places Now we’ll come back to this later, but first we want to note another difference in this story.

  • In the first creation account, God is referred to as Elohim, the mighty creator.
  • But in this second account, God is referred to as Yahweh Elohim.

God is not only the might creator, but he has a name, the four letter unpronounceable name we translate as Yahweh.
Now to describe God in this way means that we have to travel forward a couple of thousand years to the time of Moses. It is only in the book of Exodus, where Moses sees the burning bush in the wilderness that God reveals His name. In Exodus 3:13 we read: EX 3:13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, `What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.’ “

Now this name, signified by the Hebrew letters yod heh vav heh is unpronounceable. Once upon a time someone knew how to pronounce it but we have lost this knowledge over the centuries. It is translated usually as Jehovah, or Yahweh or in the NIV “THE LORD”. And it has its origin in God’s revelation of Himself to Moses. So this name, Yahweh, Jehovah, or however you want to pronounce it, is inextricably linked to God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Israel.
When God uses this name, He is reminding Moses of His promises and His faithfulness in keeping those promises by rescuing Israel from Egypt and bringing them into the Promised Land.

So what does that have to do with Genesis 2, and why does the writer suddenly start referring to God in this way?

Well, as we noted last time, Genesis is the first of the five books of Moses. These stories were written down several thousand years after they happened. Much of their meaning is derived from where the people of Israel are at the moment, in the desert and about to enter into the Promised Land. And their meaning is explained in terms of the difference between then and now.
It’s like going back to look at an old house you used to live in. What you notice most is not so much what it looks like now, nor even what it used to look like before, but rather you tend to focus on the changes. The green door used to be pink, and there used to be a shed around the side. The new owners have chopped out the mango tree with the swing and replaced it with a camellia tree.

So what used to be there has become mixed in with what is there now, and the stories refer both backward and forward in time to try to explain why things are what they are, and how our memories of former times fit in with today’s changed reality.
And so it is with Genesis 2. It deals mainly with the things that have changed since the beginning, so that we can get a better picture of where we came from, where God might be leading us in future, and why things at the moment are not like either of these. Remember that it is a genealogy and so it shows us our ancestors and the way things have changed.
And it’s in this context that the name of God as Yahweh becomes incredibly important to the people who wrote these stories down. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who defeated the Egyptians, freed them from slavery and is bringing them into a land flowing with milk and honey is the very same God who created the heavens and the earth.

Yahweh is also Elohim!

The faithful covenant God of Israel is also the mighty creator of the universe.
And the reason why Israel are travelling to the Promised Land is because that is how God intended them to live when He created humanity in the first place. So what we see in Genesis 2 is like a “before” picture of the world, with Genesis 3 being the “after” picture. In Genesis 3 we see the entry of sin into the world, and how it affected the key relationships which God had established. Genesis 2 deals almost exactly with only those relationships which changed and describes what they were like before sin ruined things. So let’s have a look at this chapter more closely. “No shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but mists came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground” Now let’s have a look at what is being described here. We are told that :

  • No shrub or vegetation had yet appeared
  • God had not yet sent rain upon the earth
  • There was no man to work the ground

Now all of these three elements deal with the effects of sin. In Genesis 3, after sin had entered the world, we are told that Adam will eat the “plants of the field” – no more luscious fruit-bearing trees in easy reach. As well, Adam was told “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” But here we are told that there was no man to work the ground. There was no curse on the ground that required the sweat of a man’s brow to work the ground and make it produce food. We are also told that God had not sent rain on the earth – rain was only mentioned when it became necessary to wipe out the sinfulness of humanity at the time of Noah. So we are being given a picture of what the world looked like before sin took its effect.
Next we read that “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Again we see the contrast between this image and the situation after the fall. When Adam is cursed, he is told that he will return to dust “for dust you are and to dust you will return”. The breath of God will leave Adam and he will return to dust. But that is not how it was meant to be.
When God created the world, he took the dust of the earth and created humanity, breathing into each person His very breath to give them life that was never meant to end. Death is not natural, and it’s not the way God intended the world to work – God created people for life.
In verse 8 we read that God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden, and there he put the man He had formed. So you get this image of God taking Adam from the dustbowl or whatever where he was created, and placing him in this garden as a deliberate act. God moved him from where he was and deliberately put him in the garden. So humanity was not meant to live as nomads wandering about in the desert, like the Israelites had been doing for the last 40 years, but our purpose was to live in the place where God had provided all of our needs – a place of abundance, flowing with milk and honey.
And so Moses is leading the Israelites to the place where God wants to put them – in a luscious garden, flowing with milk and honey. Verse 9 “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.”

God is taking His people to a special place that He has prepared for them where they will live under His blessing. So this garden is filled with beautiful trees bearing delicious fruit. In Deut 6 we read: DT 6:10 “When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you–a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant”
It’s God who has planted a new garden, and he is putting His people back where they belong. He has separated them out of Egypt, and he is populating His new garden with them. Just as he separated and populated His creation in chapter 1. But of course in the middle of the garden were two special trees: the tree of Life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and we’ll come back to those another time.

The story then goes on to talk about the river that flowed through Eden. GE 2:10 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 Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. Now we want to notice a couple of things about these rivers. Firstly, the location of these rivers remain a mystery, but there is plenty of educated conjecture to suggest that they ran from somewhere around Canaan in all directions. Certainly the Tigris and Euphrates still have their source not far from Israel today. Whether or not they are the original rivers is debatable and not the subject of the present discussion.

But what the text seems to suggest is that Eden was somewhere near the land which was promised to Abraham and his descendants, and there is a sense in which God is now placing Israel back in the garden through a new creation of the world. God is now putting the world to rights once again, reversing the effects of sin, putting humanity back into the garden to live under His blessing once again.

Secondly, we see that there was one river that flowed out from Eden and then formed four other rivers which flowed into all different lands. So we see that the blessing of refreshment and life originated in Eden and from there blessed the whole world (as it was then known, anyway). I don’t think it’s pure coincidence that this mirrors Abraham’s blessing which also was to flow from Abraham out to the whole world.
We see this same idea picked up later in scripture when it talks about the day when God restores all things and removes sin from His creation. In Ezekiel 47, we see a river flowing out from the temple (the place where God lives) and blessing the whole world. In Revelation 22 we see the same picture, complete with the trees of life. The presence of God in the world was a place that blessed the entire world.

Now in verse 15, the text takes an interesting turn. GE 2:15 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” – or “serve it and guard it”. Now this seems to be a repeat of verse 8, “God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden, and there he put the man He had formed” but in true Hebrew style, it is stated differently, to add another layer of meaning. The Hebrew word translated as “put” in verse 8 is different from the Hebrew word translated as “put” in verse 15. In verse 8, “sem” has the meaning of a deliberate act of re-location. In verse 15, however, the word “nuch” has a meaning of “moved to safety”, or “put aside to rest”.
It’s like the difference between when I put the sugar-bowl on the table, or when I put Nana’s special sugar-bowl up on the shelf out of the way of the kids. So there are distinct connotations of the Sabbath rest here. Adam is “put” into the garden to rest securely in God’s provision, to rest on the Sabbath with God as they enjoy the peace and beauty of creation together.

So now that Adam is safely in the garden, God gives him a single command. “Don’t eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because if you do that, you will surely die”. God alone knows what is good for Adam, and Adam is not to try to usurp God’s grace and provision. If Adam should try to become like God, then certain death would be the result.
And to demonstrate that God understands what is good for Adam, God says that it is not good for Adam to be alone. He needs a helper. So God creates all of the animals and brings them to Adam, but none of them are suitable. God then takes a rib from Adam’s side and creates a woman for Adam. Adam is delighted and we get the first serenade ever written: “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman (ishah) because she was taken out of man (ish).” Then we are told: GE 2:24 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

Man and woman are meant to complement each other and live in perfect unity as one person, and this is once again the before picture, to be contrasted with the bitter division and power struggle between the sexes that occurred after the fall. It’s interesting to note that whilst there is ish and ishah, man and woman, there is not yet Adam and Eve, but only Adam. When they are referred to, they are called Adam and the woman, or Adam and his wife, meaning two individuals, but there is only one proper name – only one separate identity, in a sense. It’s as if God is saying that Adam consists of ish and ishah, man and woman. Eve is only named, she only gets a separate identity, after sin enters the world.
Lastly we are told that the man and his wife were naked and felt no shame. Their unity with each other and with God was perfect. There was nothing hidden or deceitful in any part of their relationship. They were one flesh. But sin was to change all of that shortly afterwards.

Let’s think about all this now. We get these recurring themes in Genesis 2. This is what the world should look like, and what we see today is not what it was meant to be.
God created a world of beauty, justice, peace and love. But what we see today is a broken world that sometimes bears little resemblance to that pristine world. And so we ask, well what’s to be done about it? How do we get back to where we should be?
Well there is good news, firstly for the people of Israel who tramped through the desert with Moses and also for us today. For the Israelites, they could see that God was going to fix the world up again. And He was doing this by taking them out of Egypt and bringing them into the renewed Garden of Eden.
But like Adam in the Garden, they also had been given a command by God, in fact lots of them, but they could be summed up in two commands. They were to love God with all their hearts, minds and souls and love their neighbours as themselves. If they obeyed these commands, they would live in peace, security and abundance in the Promised Land. But if they disobeyed, then all the curses of the covenant listed in Deuteronomy would come upon them.
Now unfortunately, Israel went the same way as Adam, and disobeyed the commandments.

But God in his grace eventually provided a new Adam, his son Jesus Christ. This new Adam kept the commandments perfectly and did not give in to the devil’s temptations. And the new Adam took all the punishment that was due to the old Adam and all of his descendants, including us today, and nailed it to the cross, so that a new creation could begin on that first Easter morning, or as John describes it, on the first day of the week when a man appears in the garden (Jn 20:15).
Paul puts it this way when he writes to the Colossian church: “Col 1:15 [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. … For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

So the good news for us today is that God has begun re-creating the world through Jesus. He is fixing it up again and restoring the beauty, justice, peace and love that sin destroyed. The story that began amongst the trees in a garden also ends the same way. REV 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

The picture that we see in Genesis 2 is re-drawn in Revelation 22, where God has re-created the fallen world. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is gone and only the tree of life remains, bearing its fruit all year round. There is no longer any place in this new creation for sin. Jesus has chosen life for us and our story ends with life being the final destination. So, like the people whom Moses led through the desert, we too are on a journey to a place that God has prepared for us. A place that will arrive when heaven finally crashes into earth and the earth is restored to how it was meant to be; when death is swallowed up in life and the dead are raised to life again; when pain and suffering, heartache and tragedy no longer have any place in our lives, and when we are restored to full and intimate fellowship with the God who created us and saved us.

It’s hard to believe that sometimes, when we look around us. We feel the pain of broken relationships, the hurt and the anger when people let us down. We see the violence and the bloodshed of people and nations fighting against other people and nations. We see the horrific effects of pollution in our world, and the damage caused to plants and wildlife by the greed of people running massive global empires. The world looks such an awful mess at times, and the future looks hopeless.

Yet something inside of us keeps telling us that things aren’t meant to be like this.

We have these distant echoes in our subconscious of a world where beauty and truth, peace and justice are the norm. Something keeps telling us that the world was meant to be an incredibly beautiful place and people were meant to live in loving community with each other and the world.
It’s as if we all have a picture of Eden locked away in the back of our minds that keeps telling us “The world shouldn’t look like it does”. The world should look different.
And if that voice is there, then rest assure that it is God’s voice – telling us that this world can be different. It can once again be what it was intended to be.
And more than that, God has set about making sure that it will be. He has sent His son Jesus, his creative Word in the flesh, to undo the effects of sin and restore it to how it ought to be.

Elohim is also Yahweh. Our Creator is also the one who promises to bless us and lead us back into a world restored to its original beauty and peace. God wants us to return to Him. To give up our rebellion and return to Him so that we also can be re-made into the people He has created us to be. People designed to rest in His good creation. People who no longer have to fight against creation to make a living, but who can live peacefully in the care of their Creator, Re-Creator and Friend. God’s invitation is still open.

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