Friday, October 27, 2006
So what are some of the differences that strike you here? Well, this may seem trivial — maybe not — but doesn't the author now reverse the sequence of "the heavens and the earth" (see Gen 1:1; 2:1, 4a) to "the earth and the heavens" (Gen 2:4b)? What does this say about the point of view of this second account? And where is all the focus on the "expanse" and the "waters above the expanse" that we saw in Gen 1? In fact, the focus is even a bit narrower than just excluding the heavens: it seems to exclude consideration of the sea as well. The focus here is on the dry land ("earth" in its narrowest sense) and specifically on "a garden in Eden" (v. 8 — for next time).
There are peculiarities to the description here that we did not see in Gen 1. For one thing, the narrator wants his reader to see how the condition of the earth prior to the creation (and subsequent fall) of humans was different from how it is in the "now" of the reader. Thus he uses the "not yet" (or "no ... was yet") phrase several times. Some commentators sense that, since it is this account that leads directly into the story of the Fall, the stage is being set for that event already. If so, then we have to restrict the apparent reference of some of the terms found here. "Shrub of the field" and "plant of the field" may refer to the thorns and thistles that are part of the curse on the earth resulting from the Fall. The sending of rain may allude either to the irregularity of water supply typical of human cultivation of plants, as opposed to the regular supply of streams rising from the earth to water the ground typical of a wild state of nature, or to the rains that brought the Universal Flood in Noah's time (a little less likely, I think). "No one to till the ground" is an obvious anticipation of the agricultural labor ("sweat of your brow") consequent upon the sin of Adam (Gen 3:17-19). And since in 2:7 it is Adam (not Eve) who is first created, the curse/consequences of sin upon Eve/women, namely pain in childbearing, do not figure in the description of the pre-Fall earth here.
All of this oblique anticipation of the appearance of humans and their eventual Fall leads to the actual statement of their creation. Whereas in the earlier account the creation of the two sexes was viewed as one act, here the creation of the first man precedes that of the first woman. It is important here that we avoid two errors that are so frequently made in current biblical study. First, as faithful servants of God we should not allow ourselves to be condescending or critical toward the Word of God as we have it. We should not criticize it for having a degrading view of women. Throughout Scripture it is clear that God values both sexes equally, but has different roles in mind for each. We will see this repeatedly in Gen 2-3, beginning with God's design for Eve/woman as "a helper designed for him", who ironically helps him to disobey God, an obvious perversion of God's intent for her. Secondly — and here I must tread lightly — neither should we twist the wording (and the intent) of biblical passages to make them conform to our concepts of gender equality today. Scripture exists in order to guide and correct us, not the other way around. If the Bible always simply echoed contemporary values, there would be no need to read it. And indeed that is the (consequent) behavior of most people today: they either don't read it, or only do so rarely in order to use it to support some contemporary social cause. This is a misuse of Scripture.
Now, how does the description of the creation of Adam in Gen 2:7 differ from that of the creation of humans in Gen 1:26-27? First of all, let us clear the ground by noting a distinction it does not make: just because in 2:7 only man (Adam) and not woman (Eve) is created, this does not mean that the description there focuses on male distinctives. But the following differences of emphasis are valid: (1) in 1:26-27 the text emphasizes how humans are like God (i.e., are in His "image"), whereas this emphasis is totally lacking in 2:7; (2) 1:26-27 focuses on the role of unfallen humans as God's vice-regents, ruling the fish, the birds and the earth animals, a role which Hebrews 2:6-8 reminds us was not fulfilled by fallen humans but is fulfilled by Christ; and (3) 2:7 stresses the dual affinities of humans even after the Fall — a material affinity to the physical elements of the earth (soil, dust) and a spiritual affinity to their Creator because of the bestowal of life in the form of the "breath" of God. We see, then, a much stronger emphasis in 2:7 on humans in their fallen (i.e., post-Edenic) state — another anticipation and preparation for the story of the Fall that is to come.
But, if all this is a bit depressing to the reader as opposed to reading 1:26-27, let us not miss the fact that there is a much greater intimacy in the relationship between the Creator and his human creation here: instead of the exalted but somewhat more detached creation of humans by the verbal decree in 1:26-27, here God is portrayed as the Potter working the clay with his hands to craft an object much more graphically identified with his own manual skill. The potter image recurs in the prophets (Isa 29:16; 45:9; 64:8) and finally in St. Paul (Rom 9:21) to refer to God' the Creator's right to control his creatures. I find much comfort from this image of God. Yes, we are a fallen race, but we spring from the very loving "hands" of God.
Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will,
while I am waiting yielded and still.
(A. A. Pollard, 1902).
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
A second fallacy has to do with the nature of what is meant by "rest". God obviously didn't get all tuckered out with the six days of Creation and needed a day in bed! The Hebrew verb shavat denotes "ceasing" from an activity, not recuperating from exertion. God finished His work: He didn't recuperate from it.
Typically, when we finish a big job, we like to celebrate. And if the job we have done is anything important, the celebration isn't just a binge, but an expression of our joy and satisfaction in the completion of a task well done. The handy-man (or handy-woman) stands off a bit from the new deck and admires it, perhaps with a cup of coffee in his/her hand. I like to think that something like this entered into what is described in Gen 2:1-3. At various points in the six days of Creation God pronounced his work "good", and in Gen 1:31 He surveyed the entire project and saw "that it was excellent in every way" (NLT).
But there is still more. God's Sabbath rest wasn't a finite period of time like the six days that preceded it! He didn't have to start back to work on "Monday"! Hebrews 4:1-11 tells us that God's rest from Creation is still going on!
All of this has great significance for believers today. Both God's work of Creation and His work of Redemption are finished works on our behalf. Neither can be appreciated fully except by faith in its Author. The true beauty of the heavens and the earth is only visible to those with faith in and love for the Creator-God (Psa 19:1-4; Rom 1:18-25). And the true glory of Redemption — of sins forgiven, membership in God's family, and assurance of eternal glory in Christ's presence — can only be appreciated by those who love and believe in the Savior-God. On the Seventh "Day" the Triune God "rested" from his finished work of Creation. Today the ascended Lord Jesus "rests" from his finished work of Redemption. The first "rest" was commemorated by the Sabbath (our Saturday); the second by the Lord's Day (our Sunday). On each of these days God's people were to gratefully remember and celebrate God's finished work.
Here it is the earth that brings forth the creatures, as on Day Five the waters swarmed with swarms of life. But there we noted that the verb rendered "brought forth" was not a birth term. In verse 24 the Hebrew verb is different but is not used in the Bible of either human or animal birth. Still, birth metaphor or not, the source from which both animals and humans derive is "the earth". Now we saw in verse 10 that, after he had confined the terrestrial waters in seas and lakes, God called the dry land "earth" (Hebrew erets). But we need not limit the source of animal or human life to dry land, since in verse 1 the same Hebrew noun refers to the planet Earth. The point of verse 24 is simply that living animals and humans are composed of bodies and "souls": the former derived from terrestrial matter, the latter given by God. When they die, their bodies decompose into the elements that made them up, and their spirits/souls return to God who made them (Gen 3:19; Eccles 12:7).
Verse 27 tells us that God made us in some profound way like Himself — this is what being in the "image of God" means. Theologians have debated the meaning of this statement for thousands of years. Some think the "image" consists in human personality, some think it is specifically the human conscience, others think it is the ability to serve as God's vice-regents over the other creatures (see v. 26 "they will rule"). What has always intrigued me is the inclusion of the statement: "He created them male and female" in v. 27, where God is described as making humans in His image. The poetic structure of the Hebrew guarantees that "he created them male and female" belongs to the thought of the preceding, and is not just an afterthought. Does our sexual polarity have something to do with being in God's image? Neither God nor angels (see Mat 22:30; Mark 12:25) apparently have sexuality in the sense that we conceive of it. Yet human marriage is supposed to fulfill each of the two sexes by giving them a wholesome and permanent channel for love. And certainly "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16). And if Richard Bauckham (God Crucified) is right, the very identity of God includes self-giving love, just waiting for expression in the sacrifice of the Incarnate Son. Something to think about, even if it doesn't fully explain the "image"!
God's blessing on the new humans is coupled with a command to fulfill their mission: to multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. This verse grates on the sensitivities of many today with social concerns: overpopulation and ecological abuse worry them. But the former (already fading into the background, even at the U.N.) has proven to be a false concern, while the latter is in fact included in the mandate. What do the ecologists think they are doing, if they are not trying to manage the Earth under the guise of "saving" it? Of course, it is a futile task, as Michael Crichton (State of Fear) and many others have shown: one just cannot begin to control the climates or the inexorable passing of millions of species into and out of existence. In a sense, God's mission for us is to try to manage that part of the Earth that is within our ability: to weed our gardens, recycle our trash, cultivate our crops, prune our fruit trees, grow our food. Beyond this modest mission we are simply not endowed by our Creator with sufficient powers. He controls the climate: He has put such control beyond our reach, perhaps like one puts poisons or firearms out of the reach of children. The ancients knew this very well. That is why they prayed for good weather and healthy crops. It is perhaps with this thought about humans knowing their limits and their limited mission that we fittingly close our brief meditation on the account of God's creating humans.
Because we know both our limitations and our mission, we are all the more dependent upon the God in whose likeness we were created and who has given us this mission and this blessing. With this in mind we work on, shovel in hand and prayer on our lips.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Here for the first time appears a Divine Blessing (v. 22). Not all of God's creative acts described here elicit such a blessing: "be prolific, multiply and fill the seas and the earth". The great variety of species, already at the dawn of life, has already been hinted in the words "of every kind" (v. 21). We are reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isa 45:18): "Yahweh created the heavens; he formed the earth; he made and established it. He did not create it to remain an empty and chaotic space (Hebrew tohu): he formed it to be inhabited". The heavens and earth were not supposed to be (as it were) empty rooms, but a home for the living beings that God would create and delight in. In this account the pride of place goes to the aquatic and avian life.
Today we marvel at the biodiversity of both spheres. It has been said that in today's science more is known about outer space than about the life on our own planet Earth. And what is true of life forms on the surface is exponentially true of life below the surface: in the ocean depths.
While St. Paul intended these words to apply in the sphere of redemption and forgiveness, they are equally true in the more mundane areas of biology: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! " (Romans 11:33).
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Genesis 1:14 tells us that God ordered that lights (more accurately translated, "luminaries" or "light-emitting objects") appear in the sky. As I noted in the last posting, this is part of the descriptive terminology used in this chapter, preparatory to identifying these features with their common names. "Light-bearing" or "light-emitting" is a very good term for the Sun, the Moon, the planets and stars. Whatever their roles in space, their only function from Earth's point of view is to project light. (The Sun's light (or "energy") is so intense that it also yields heat.)
God's next statement in v. 14 seems somewhat trivial to us moderns: they serve as time-locaters for seasons (Holman Bible: festivals) and for days and years. In other words, the heavenly bodies were the ancients' equivalents for the digital datebook reminders we use today. It told them that the time for sowing or harvesting was near. It told them that the time for festivals like Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles was coming up soon. Ancient calendars were lunar and solar: lunar to mark the boundaries of months, solar to correct the lunar calendar on an annual basis, so that it wouldn't get out of sync with the agricultural year. The Muslim calendar, being exclusively lunar and having no particular interest in agricultural seasons, is constantly out of sync with the annual seasons and with our Julian calendar.
In v. 16, finally, God decreed that two of these luminaries, the Sun and the Moon, should preside over the day and night respectively, giving light for human and animal activity in both periods. Since the light emitted (we would say "reflected") by the Moon is less intense, night-time is the more appropriate time for humans to sleep (Psa 3:5; 4:8; 127:2). The Psalmist reminds us that the Almighty God himself "neither slumbers nor sleeps", but is ever watchful over his creatures (Psalm 121:4).
You may ask yourself: "What do verses 16 and 18 mean by 'to rule over' (or 'dominate') the day, and … the night'?" In what sense do these heavenly bodies "rule"? Of course, superstitious astrologers have always thought of planetary configurations as influencing events. When someone asks you "What is your sign?" they think that being an Aquarius or a Sagittarius determines your personality, your happiness, and even your degree of success in life. God's Word never suggests such a thing. Instead, what is meant is that they watch over or preside over the two halves of the 24-hours rotation period of the Earth. In a sense, too, they by their light make possible all activities of those two periods.
Some animals are nocturnal, others diurnal. Humans are fundamentally "day creatures". But that does not keep us from enjoying the beauty of the night. The psalmist wrote: " The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard" (Psa 19:1-3). It isn't the constellations of the night sky that interest the psalmist: it is the magnificence of his Creator's handiwork. We should all spend less time glued to our TV sets in the evening and more time absorbing the beauty of our Creator's work.
By the way, I love the Church's collection of evening or vespers hymns. Here is one to close our meditation:
The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
The darkness falls at Thy behest;
To Thee our morning hymns ascended,
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.
We thank Thee that Thy church, unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.
As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.
The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ’neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.
So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away:
Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.
All this led them to make the sensational claim that Göbekli Tepe, which is located not far from Sanli-urfa (in the local popular Muslim lore believed to be Abraham’s birthplace, Ur), was a model for the biblical Eden. The story with the "Eden" claim can be read here. An earlier (1999) report, not so sensational and archeologically much more informative, can be read here.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
All of this reminds us that, although this first of two accounts of God's creating seems to follow a different sequence (humans created at the end [Gen 1:26-27] instead of at the beginning [Gen 2:7]) — a fact that has given rise to all sorts of unfounded criticism concerning "contradictions in the Bible", both accounts stress that in the mind of God the creatures come first and are the basis for the decisions of how the habitat will be designed.
Did you notice how each of the elements of God's creation is first denoted by a descriptive (almost antiseptically "scientific") label — "dry land", "collection of water" — and only after creation named by God with the traditional "non-scientific" labels "earth" and "seas"? It is as though God wants us to see his creation as something more than an arid technical term, but as the vivid, warm and personal and familiar names that a child learns to call them by. You can be much more comfortable and at home in a world that is not measured by the liter or the centimeter.
Beginning with v. 14 God starts to fill out the landscape with living things. You may think "Whoa! I thought we didn't get to the critters who live in these spaces until Day 4!" Well, in general that's so. But you see, the vegetation is seen here not so much as a living thing on the order of fishes, animals and humans, but as the provision for those living creatures. Fish eat aquatic plant matter. Some animals and all humans use plants as part of their diet, and perhaps originally (prior to the first sin) this was their entire diet. Do you remember that Isaiah prophesied that in the End-time "peaceable kingdom" of the Messiah the lion will eat straw like the ox (Isa 11:7)? This is an End-Time mirror of the Primeval (Edenic) State.
God first made the table (Earth = Dry Land) and then set it with food (plants) for the guests he expects. Some of the ancient pagan societies around Israel (the Hittites, for example) worshiped gods who were portrayed carrying the "horn of plenty", showing that they were thought to be the sources of bountiful harvests and rich yields of fruits and berries from which wine was made. Well, the Bible wants us to know that it is really He who has supplied humans with all these blessings. The "gods" of the nations are simply cheap impostors, trying to grab the credit that belongs only to the One God, who made heaven and earth.
And don't miss the way God sets up the plant world to be orderly. Charley Darwin may have thought he drove a spike into biblical faith through his theory of Natural Selection ("Evolution"). But that theory doesn't touch the genius of this Creation Account. The phrase "according to their kinds" isn't supposed to mean that there are never new species appearing, and others becoming extinct. This goes on all the time! Rather the phrase tells us something at once both simpler and more valuable: that farmers didn't have to worry that, if they planted wheat, it would sprout as asparagus! In other words, God created the very regularity, predictability and "natural law" that many skeptics think disproves God's existence!
You may not be a farmer, you may buy all your groceries at Dominicks. But I'm sure you can recognize how important it is for the world's traffic to run in lanes and stop at traffic lights. God gave us a world with order built into it, so that we might be able to use the brains he endowed us with to live wisely and safely and efficiently. The world envisioned in ancient paganism was totally capricious: the gods might choose to do anything on the spur of the moment, which made the pagan extremely insecure and bound him or her to constant rites to assuage the god's anger or to put him in a good mood.
How thankful we should be that on Day Three God established the order and regularity of space that gave us seas, lakes and rivers to bathe and fish in, and dry land to build our homes on and grow our food in! Quite the opposite of what is frequently claimed, it was biblical Israel and Christianity that paved the way for modern science. Had paganism prevailed we would all still be shivering in our huts, and muttering spells and sacrificing sheep and goats to ensure our food supply. Paganism dishonored the human mind: biblical theology liberated and honored the God-given mind.
Do you realize that most of our bodies are water? And how much of what we find necessary for existence — the air we breathe, the food we eat — is made up largely of H2O? Would life be possible on Earth without water? Most of the Earth's surface is consumed by oceans and lakes and rivers and perma-snow on mountain tops and at the two poles.
Now I'm not implying here that there is some super-scientific information here that the ancients would never have understood. Ancient Near Eastern kings knew water supply and water management was essential for the survival of their societies. In ancient Mesopotamia (Babylonia and Assyria) they expended huge amounts of public funds and public labor, just to assure the countryside of a reliable and salt-free supply of irrigation water. In ancient Egypt the Nile provided a plentiful supply, which was fortunate because it seldom rained in ancient Egypt! But the Nile flooding required mighty efforts of engineering to manage and distribute the annual inundation. Irrigation in Babylonia, Nile management in Egypt — what about the land we call Israel? In earliest times rainfall was supplemented by wells. Remember Abraham? He disputed with the local king Abimelech about his rights to use a well that Abraham had been using (Gen 21:25-31). Remember Isaac? Much of the little the Book of Genesis tells about Isaac is concerned with his digging and naming of wells (Gen 26:15-33). In the hill country where the densest Israelite settlements were to be found it was too high for irrigation. But in the period of the Israelite monarchy water had to be brought from distant sources to supplement the fickle and often meager seasonal rains. And much later in Jesus' day Herod and his successors constructed huge aqueducts to bring water to Jerusalem. Here is a photo of one of the reservoirs (pools) used in Judea by the Hasmonean kings (2nd c. BC):
Yes, water was very important.
Humans cannot live without water, nor can the animals that God was planning to create. But water has to be supplied in the correct proportions and at the right time. Too much water can be as detrimental to God's creatures as too little and too late. Floods have been major catastrophes for humans in all ages. A dam must have its sluices to release a controlled amount of water. What in the vivid poetic language of the Hebrew Bible are called "the windows of heaven" (Gen 7:11; 8:2; Mal 3:10) that God opens to send rain are like sluices in God's reservoir. They give the right amount of rain and at the right seasons. When God sent the universal flood to destroy the apostate world in Noah's days, he "opened the windows of heaven and broke open the floodgates of the lower waters". All of this beautiful language tells us that our God is in complete control of his well-designed universe and uses it to fulfill his purposes, which are always good.
In order to create the home for His creatures (remember what we said earlier about chapters 1-3 being the constructing of the framework?) God first had to provide a mechanism for the steady and periodic release and supply of water. This he did, creating an upper reservoir and a lower one. The upper reservoir, which we today call cloud formations, is expressed here as "the waters above the expanse". The lower reservoir, which we today call the oceans, lakes, rivers, and the underground water table, our biblical text calls "the waters below the expanse".
Let us not worry about exactly how the ancient reader visualized this Cosmos with its zones and divisions. That is not important. God was basically telling His people in this chapter how he planned for their home, how he planned to supply them in a periodic manner (rains in season, rivers rising and flooding the fields, etc.— Gen 8:22) with the life-sustaining water that they needed.
God — like what he did on this day — is truly "good"!
Monday, October 16, 2006
1:1 This sublime statement is not trivialized in the least by the fact that it may actually have been a subordinate clause: “When God began to create the heavens and the earth”. “God” (Elohim) is introduced here for the first time; yet the word needs no preceding referent. The readers know who Elohim is, even if he also is called Yahweh, El Shadday, Adonay (“my Lord”), and several other less common names. Since the verb “created” is singular, readers are not misled into thinking the formal plural alludes to multiple creators. The question of why he creates is not addressed. This is not a philosophical treatise, but a historical one. Not, of course, that we are to think of “Primeval History” (Creation to the Flood) as so simply and completely equivalent to writing a history of the reign of Hezekiah! The author here has no contemporary historical sources to draw on! He writes from divine revelation, some of which may have already circulated in the oral tradition of his time.
1:2 The two adjectives “formless and empty” (NIV; Hebrew tohu va-vohu) are structurally significant, in that the six “days” of Creation are arranged symmetrically, so that days 1-3 form one sequence, and days 4-6 another, with day 1 corresponding to day 4, 2 to 5 and 3 to 6. And it has been suggested that in days 1-3 God sets the framework of creation, while in days 4-6 he furnishes the framework with inhabitants. If this is so, then “formless” refers to the creation without a structure (“form”), and “empty” to its need for the structure to be filled or populated. The NRSV has obscured this important clue by merging the two Hebrew adjectives into a noun-phrase “formless void”.
Two other statements describe the unstructured and unpopulated world prior to the creative act of the first “day”: (1) darkness and (2) a hovering Spirit of God. The former is not so much a positive as a negative condition: darkness is the absence of light, and light will come from God. The latter indicates perhaps the readiness ("hovering") of God’s Spirit, seen as the executor of his willed command, to generate light and life at His command.
These sparse statements at the outset of the great account of Creation serve as a kind of analogy to the creation of new life in a believer. Without Christ he or she is in darkness, the darkness not being an independent condition, but one due to the absence of the light of Christ. We thought in the darkness of ignorance of God. We walked in the darkness of an unguided life. Before the infusion of Christ’s new creation our lives were totally unstructured and chaotic, characterized by the frantic pursuit of whatever we thought might bring us pleasure or at least distraction from our problems. We were “formless” (tohu). Before the gift of the Holy Spirit who populates our lives with the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22), our lives were empty (vohu)—cheerless desolate “rooms” needing filling with the warmth, love and comfort provided us by our Savior.
In the next few days, as we progress through the Creation Account, let us look for other analogies that God may have had in mind, to teach us through His creation of the plants and animals of our world how he also structures and fills our lives as His new creation. Amen.