Genesis 2:4-7 These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.
5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up- for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground- 7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
There is a lot going on, on the surface of this passage. There’s a lot more going on below the surface. For the glory of God and for help for us to live as God intends, we’ll consider some of the specific issues raised by this passage, the heart, and then the implications of the passage. The heart of this passage, I believe, consists of three key truths: (1) God is not one god among many, (2) God sovereignly rules over every aspect of creation, and (3) Mankind has a special place in creation. And the main takeaway, I believe is this: If we are to live lives of significance and satisfaction we must learn to live with God in a manner consistent with who He is, who He made us to be, and the reality of the world He made for us to live in. I hope to help you all see those things in the text over the next few minutes. That’s a lot of ground to cover. Let’s pray that God would help us cover it well and that it would result in greater worship and obedience.
SPECIFIC ISSUES WITH THIS PASSAGE
As I mentioned a moment ago, I want to begin by highlighting some of the specific issues raised by this passage. Good biblical scholars are all over the map on certain aspects of these few verses. Many hold differing positions on the things I’m about to point out; some even contradictory. I don’t want us to get lost in the weeds, but I do want to draw your attention to some of this passage’s issues as a means of strengthening your faith in the reliability of the bible and of helping you to recognize the sinfulness of your sin—both as a means of turning your eyes to Jesus. To that end, let’s quickly look at three issues raised by this passage.
The Form of the Passage
The first issue concerns the form/structure of the passage. When it comes to understanding the bible well, it is often a mistake to read too much into the literary features of a book or passage (like genre and structure), but it is also often a mistake to read too little into them. As I’ve mentioned more than once, God inspired both the content and the structure of the bible. For that reason, we need to do our best to gain a firm grasp of both.
Concerning the form of this passage there are two items of particular significance. The first is something I noted in my introductory sermon on Genesis, but just now shows up in the text; it is the toledot structure of Genesis.
The basic structure of Genesis consists of 10 sections indicated by a single Hebrew word: toledot (which means “generations” or “account”). It has been said that the toledot formula is “the very fabric around which the whole of Genesis has been constructed” (Ross, CB, 74).
This passage, as you can see, begins with the toledot phrase, “These are the generations”. This issue with this aspect of the structure of this passage is that scholars are divided over whether it should point backward or forward. That is, is v.4a a conclusion to the creation week (belonging with 1:1-2:3) or is it the introduction to what is to follow (belonging with 2:4b-4:26)? Although the term refers to the generations of a person in every other Genesis instance (Adam, Noah, Jacob, for instance), it also points forward in every other instance.
I believe it’s best to read the toledot as pointing forward (like the rest of them in Genesis), as an introduction to all that would become of God’s good creation (including its fall and search for rescue and redemption) but there really isn’t a lot at stake in this decision. I bring it up here it only to underscore how easy it is to miss things if we don’t slow down and read carefully.
The second aspect of the passage’s form is a bit more significant. It relates to the structure of v.4b and c. It is what is called a “chiasm”. Chiasms are used often in Genesis and throughout the bible. In cultures that were more oral than literate certain devices were often employed by authors (God) to make their writing more clear and memorable. A chiasm is one such tool. It is both poetic (in sound) and artistic (in shape).
These are the generations of…
and the earth
when they were created,
in the day that the LORD God made
the earth and
This matters because it’s another instance of something we might miss if we aren’t careful. The ESV helps us to see it by indenting it, but most people don’t slow down to find out why. This aspect of the structure also matters because it helps us to see what’s important in the passage (the center of a chiasm is the key; in this case that God created/made the heavens and the earth), because it helps us to see its harmony with chapter 1 (1:1-2:3), and because it helps us to see God’s love for us (that he would be so kind as to structure the passage in such a clear and memorable way).
And that leads us to the second set of issues raised by this passage.
The Relationship with First Chapter of Genesis
What, specifically, is the relationship between this passage—2:4-25—and 1:1-2:3? This too has been (recently anyway) the subject of much debate. Some have suggested that chapter 2 is a second account of creation by Moses. Similarly, some have suggested that it is a second creation account by a different author. Historically, it has been understood as an expansion or amplification of the sixth day of creation. Each of these possibilities (and others) have strengths and weaknesses, but because the traditional reading seems best, I’ll briefly focus on one specific issue surrounding it: the apparent contradictions between 1:11-12 and 2:5.
Genesis 1:11-12 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Genesis 2:5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up- for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground…
After a quick look at the two passages it might seem like, according to chapter 1, all the plants of earth were made on the third day (before man on the sixth day); while according to chapter 2, it appears that God did not make plants until after creating man.
As simply as possible, chapter 1 says that two kinds of plants were created on the third day: (literally) “grains seeding seed” and “trees fruitbearing fruit”. These two kinds of “vegetation” were made before mankind. 2:5 mentions a third kind of plant (a “bush” or “shrub”) and informs us that this kind of plant did not exist before mankind was created. It also clarifies something about the grains seeding seed (that did exist before mankind was created): they had not yet produced grain. This isn’t hard to see and requires no interpretive gymnastics.
I’d encourage you all to talk about this “contradiction” in your DGs (along with what appears to be a problem of too much water in chapter 1 and too little water in chapter 2, etc.). Here I simply want to point this out since this kind of thing does need addressing by God’s people, and assure you that upon a more careful reading there aren’t any necessary contradictions here or anywhere else in the bible.
And that leads us to the third and final issue this passage raises.
The Change in God’s Name
Throughout Genesis 1 Moses simply refers to God as “God” (Elohim). Elohim is the general term for God or gods in the OT. Beginning in 2:4 and continuing through chapter 3, though, (other than when Satan speaks), however, Moses refers to God as the “LORD God” (Yahweh Elohim). You might not believe the extremes that scholars have gone to, to explain this change. Historically, however, it has been understood that this was a means of making clear that the God of creation was not merely one god among many, and not merely Israel’s God, but the One True God. Again, this is a sermon so my purpose here is not to go into every argument and nuance; rather, it is to help you see that this is an issue that needs to be reckoned with by all careful readers.
But why am I bringing all of these things up here? Why did I mention these three specific issues raised by this passage? Why bring up the form/structure, the relationship between the creation accounts in chapters 1 and 2, and the change in God’s name? I bring all of this up to help you all see a few things:
- As Christians we need not be afraid to investigate such matters.
- God’s word is clear.
- Sin makes clear things appear foggy (and foggy things appear clear).
- When we recognize these things we must turn to Jesus for the help he promises and alone can provide.
Grace, our faith is a reasonable faith. Even if we aren’t always immediately sure how, our faith really is able to take into account all facts. Around 15 years ago, as a new grad student at the U., I had a class on the five main arguments against Christianity. I had been a Christian and a pastor for a few years at that point but I still remember feeling a bit nervous. What if something was presented that I couldn’t account for? What would that do to my faith? As it turned out, the arguments weren’t in the least bit persuasive and my faith only increased.
In a similar way, over the early years of my Christian life I’d occasionally come to a passage in the bible that I couldn’t imagine a reasonable explanation for. And yet every time with careful prayer and study, the Holy Spirit of God would make the passage clearer and clearer. That’s not to say that I fully understand everything the bible says or every way that our faith works out in the world around us; but it is to say that in looking carefully at the most significant challenges to the truthfulness of God’s Word and finding clear and convincing answers, I’ve lost any concern that there might be aspects of reality unable to be accounted for in the Christian faith.
On the other hand, sin does cloud our judgment—making the heart of our faith appear foolish to unbelievers and at times confusing even for believers—but sin, not God, his Word, or the world he made, is the problem.
The point, then, once again, is this: look to Jesus. He is our hope and light and rescue. In him we need not be afraid to look closely at the bible. We need not be afraid to consider the harder questions of the universe in light of the claims of Christianity. We need not shy away from the questions that come up in our bible reading or discussions with others (especially unbelievers). Instead, we need to simply and humbly admit what we don’t know what we don’t know, and then confidently and excitedly begin to seek answers. I can almost promise you that none of us are smart enough to ask a question that hasn’t already been asked and clearly answered over the past 2000 years. (On a side note, that’s what caused me to begin to read books.)
Again, then, I bring up these issues raised in this passage not to bog you down with details, but to encourage you in your faith and remind you that sin is the problem to which Jesus is the only answer.
With that, what, then, is the heart of this passage? With all of the issues aside, what is this passage really about?
THE HEART OF THE PASSAGE
As I mentioned in the introduction, there are three keys to understanding the heart of this passage. The first one is that the God of Genesis 2:4-7 is not one god among many. He is the One True God; the God of gods.
God Is Not One God Among Many
The God of this passage (Yahweh Elohim) is not the god of creation and fertility while other gods rule over other aspects of the universe. He is not even the greatest among many gods. He is Israel’s God and he is our God because he is the One True God. When Moses presented this book to the Israelites he wanted to remind them of the simple fact that all others “gods” (the many gods of their pagan neighbors) are imposters and will eventually be shown to be so.
In this passage, in pointing out once again that it was the LORD God who created/made the heavens and the earth (v.4), Moses was helping the Israelites (and us) to see the absolute uniqueness of God. He has no rivals and besides him there is no other. Would you consider that freshly this morning? I’m guessing that most of you aren’t struggling with Baal worship (or the worship of any other named god), but I’m certain that all of us are struggling with putting other things before God in our allegiance and affection. Just because our false gods aren’t usually called gods and look harmless in their TV ads doesn’t make them any less dangerous or any less of an affront to the One True God. Again, would you take a moment to consider this right now. As we move into the new year, what is the greatest challenge to your allegiance to God and what might you do about it?
God Sovereignly Rules over Every Aspect of Creation
The second aspect of the heart of this passage is that God sovereignly rules over every aspect of creation (vs.5-7). Not one part of creation is outside of God’s rule and control. Further, nothing God made is arbitrary God was not is not indifferent to a single aspect of his creation; everything was purposeful and personal. V.5 says that at one point in creation, there was no bush of the field and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up. Why? Because “God had not cause it to rain on the land” and God had not yet created man “to work the ground”. What was the solution? God brought a mist to water the whole face of the ground and “formed man from the dust of the ground.” Both the absence of things and the existence of things is said to be in the hands of God; according to the will of God.
Again, I ask, in what ways do you need the Spirit’s help to live in light of this? Where are you living in fear, where there ought to be peace in the promises of God? Where are you living in pride, believing that you know better than God, believing that God is wrong for not doing something as you would have him? Where are you doubting the goodness of God’s exercise of his sovereignty? The gospel is the good news that God is already working these things out in us, even as we go to God for help in them.
We cannot read this passage well and miss the facts that (1) the God of the bible is entirely unique among all other claims to deity, and (2) God sovereignly rules over every aspect of his creation. There’s one more aspect of the heart of this passage that I want to point out to you.
Mankind Has a Special Place in Creation
What Moses made clear in the first chapter, he made even clearer in the second chapter—beginning with our passage: mankind has a special place in God’s creation. We see this here in three specific ways.
First, the rest of creation is portrayed as dependent on mankind. As we saw in the last point, all of this was according to the sovereign will and reign of God; and yet we cannot miss that by God’s design there were no bushes or small plants bearing fruit because they both required mankind’s tending. This, as we’ve already seen, and will soon see again, is also a clue as to mankind’s unique purpose in God’s world.
Second, the word “formed” is unique to God’s creation of mankind. V.7 says that “the LORD God formed the man…”. This term indicates a particular design; like a potter with clay; like artwork (Ross, CB, 122). God’s creation of man was different from His creation of everything else.
The third way this passage helps us to see the special place of mankind in creation is through the unique means by which God made man. Like man, God blessed birds, fish, and livestock, creeping things, and beasts with the ability to multiply. Like man, God referred to those things as “living creatures”. Like man, God pronounced all of those things (along with everything else in his creation) as “good” and then collectively as “very good.”
Unlike everything else in creation, however, in this passage we God “breathed into [man’s] nostrils the breath of life” (2:7). For mankind alone the very breath of God made him a living creature. Further, “This breath brings more than animation to the man of earth; it brings spiritual understanding (Job 32:8) and a function conscience (Proverbs 20:27)…” and “it probably is this inbreathing that constitutes humankind as the image of God” (Ross, CB, 123). This is a very personal and special distinction between mankind and the rest of creation.
How might you better live this out today? What help do you need to live in the knowledge that your primary identity is not in your job, family, looks, money, talents, charisma, successes, failures, or sins, but in the fact that you were created special by God and even more in the fact that you were recreated in glory through faith in Jesus?
Again, the heart of this passage, even with all of its issues, is that God is the One True God, that God sovereignly reigns over every aspect of his creation, and that mankind has a special place in God’s creation. Individually, each of these things is jaw-dropping in nature. Collectively they demand our worship and obedience. And that leads to the final point of this sermon.
THE IMPLICATION OF THIS PASSAGE
What does all of this mean for us today? If we are to rightly understand it, how will we respond? Grace, this passage lays the foundation for us to see that if we are to live lives of significance and satisfaction we must learn to live with God in a manner consistent with who He is, who He made us to be, and the nature of the world He made for us to live in.
What are we to do in light of this passage? What are its implications? We must resist at all costs the temptation to believe in any man-made God or any self-made attributes of God. We must take God’s Word and earnestly study it and pray over it. What are we to do in light of this passage? We must resist at all costs the temptation to believe that we determine our own identity or nature. Instead, once again, we must give ourselves to God’s Word for these things. What are the implications of this passage? Because of it we must resist at all costs the temptation to try to carve out our own path of purpose and satisfaction in this world; but rather go to God’s Word. For in it alone God definitively and sufficiently reveals himself to us and us to ourselves. It alone is the authoritative source of knowledge of God, man, and the world God made. Having done this, having had our minds renewed by the Spirit working through the Word, we must ask God to transform our every thought word and deed; our every affection and allegiance.
The rest of the bible unpacks much of this for us (beginning in the very next passage). Indeed, everything we need to know isn’t in this passage or even in this book (Genesis). The bible increasingly helps us to know who God is, who he made us to be, and our place in the world. But this passage reminds us of the fact that above all God is glorious and we were made for his glory. Genesis 1-2 (along with much of the rest of the bible) teaches us the ideal, but Genesis 3 (along with much of the rest of the bible) teaches us that we have fallen woefully short of that ideal under penalty of death. Because no mere man or woman has ever lived with God, ourselves, or the world rightly, all of us stand condemned before God, guilty of treason and deserving of everlasting punishment. And yet, though this is what we deserve, Christianity is the good news that something else is offered. This good news is alluded to throughout the OT, beginning in Genesis 3, but it is not until the NT that we find out that the God-man Jesus, the second and perfect Adam, is our only and certain hope because he is the only and perfect sacrifice for our sins. Look to him in faith today, then, for fullness of forgiveness, fullness of joy, and fullness of life.
In conclusion, then, what can we do but praise God? What can we do but throw ourselves before God for mercy and in praise. In particular, would you consider taking some time today to read Psalm 104? This Psalm is a gift of God for his people to know how to rightly respond to the glory of this story of creation. Amen.