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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 2

 

 

Verse 1

‘Thus the heavens and the earth were finished and all the host of them.’

This use of the word ‘host’ is unusual. Here it signifies the totality of creation, including sun, moon and stars, the different types of vegetation, fish, creatures and animals, and man, everything contained therein. Nothing remains unfinished. Every part has its place and it is completed to the last dot.

Note that ‘the heavens and the earth’ refers back to verse Genesis 1:1. Thus what has been described is the detail of the fulfilment of that verse. This would seem to confirm that ‘heavens’ in Genesis 1:1 primarily meant the material heavens


Verse 2-3

‘And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had made, and he rested (ceased work) on the seventh day from all the work which he had made. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because that in it God rested from all his work which God had created and made.’

Note the distinction again brought out between ‘created’ and ‘made’. There is a clear distinction in activity. God both created and made. First He created the matter which He then through some unexplained process fashioned into our world. Then He created life and again proceeded over time to ‘bring forth’ various living creatures. And finally He created man with the ability to know God and pierce the spiritual realm, to be ‘like the elohim’.

“Finished the work which He had made.” It was complete. We would say ‘had finished’. Nothing remained to be done.

“God rested.” Elsewhere God’s resting is seen, not as suggesting a need for recuperation, but as indicating His permanent condition in His dwellingplace as He presides over creation and receives man’s worship. In His ‘resting’ He is present in His creation overseeing all that goes on and accepting man’s homage. Thus in Isaiah 66:1 a, having identified heaven and earth as his royal dwellingplace YHWH asks Israel: “What manner of house will you build for me and what shall be the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1 b; cf. 2 Chronicles 6:18; 2 Chronicles 6:41 ff; Acts 7:49). And their reply should be that the only place suitable for His rest is in the Heaven of heavens to which men should look in worship. In the same way David spoke of his desire “to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of YHWH and for the footstool of our God” (1 Chronicles 28:2), while Psalms 132:7-8 further exhorts, “Let us go to his dwelling place, let us worship at his footstool. Rise up, YHWH, from your resting place, arise from the ark of your strength” (Numbers 10:35-36). And it adds in verses Psalms 132:13-14, “for YHWH has chosen Zion, He has desired it for His dwelling --. This is My resting place for ever, here I will dwell”. It is true that the verbal root used here is menuchah (“rest”), and not shabath, but menuchah is the verb used of ‘rest’ in Exodus 20:11 of God’s seventh day rest.

It is interesting that no ending to this day is ever mentioned. No reference is made to ‘the evening and the morning of the seventh day’. This must surely be seen as deliberate. God’s ‘week’ is over and there will be no repetition. The seventh ‘day’ does not end, for there is no eighth day. The work of creation is complete and God has no further work to do. He has seen it as ‘very good’. This is yet another indication that we are not thinking of ‘natural’ days. The suggestion of God resting is thus anthropomorphic, simply meaning that He ceased His creative activity, and indicative of the fact that all now being completed He can take up His position over the Universe. In other words He ‘ceases work’. There is no indication that God is tired.

There may also be the thought here that God has now appointed someone to take care of His creation, man, so that the necessity for His direct action has ceased. The writer may indeed be thinking in his own mind, ‘and then ........ His rest was broken by man’s failure!’

It should especially be noted that the description of the final day is solely in the writer’s words. God does not Himself act or speak. It is the writer who describes the seventh day as the culmination of the work of creation, as the ‘day’ on which God ‘finished his work, and rested’. Previously when God is said to have blessed, this is followed by His words explaining the blessing, but there are no words of explanation here. It is the writer who sees it as a day blessed and hallowed by God because it was the day when the work was finished.

But notice that he does not connect this with the observance by his people of the Sabbath (a word probably taken from sabat = cease, desist), the day when they too cease work. There is in fact no suggestion that the pattern is incumbent upon mankind, and it is noteworthy that no suggestion of the Sabbath appears elsewhere in the book of Genesis. The Sabbath would later arise from this idea, not this idea from the Sabbath.

The question whether man was able to keep count of days and observe the seventh day before he was able to count and calculate does not therefore arise. It is only later when the account of creation in six ‘days’ followed by a day of rest has become an accepted part of worship, that recognition of the day follows, and it is seen as applicable to daily life. We are never told when this was. Thus there are no specific grounds for seeing this as ‘the institution of the Sabbath’.

“So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.” This is the writer’s comment. It may refer to a later gradual recognition of the seventh day as a day for worship, so that it has become officially recognised by the writer’s time, or indeed to the later sanctifying of the day in the time of Moses, for it is not said that God blessed it at the time, as He had the living creatures. Or it may simply meant that as the day on which nothing further needed to be done it was a blessed day, and was uniquely different from the others.

The first known application of the Sabbath as a strict day of rest is in the time of Moses (Exodus 16:1-36). There the people were gathering the manna provided by God on a daily basis, and they were forbidden to keep any until the morning after. But on the sixth day they were to gather two days supply (Exodus 16:5). This is the first introduction of what would later (Exodus 20:11) be instituted in God’s covenant, the day special to God. When the leaders of the people come to Moses to point out that the people are gathering two days supply on the sixth day (gathering for more than one day has previously caused problems), Moses at that point explains the law of the Sabbath.

Had the Sabbath already been strictly in practise these leaders would have known this and would not have expected people to gather on the Sabbath. This suggests that, although up to this stage it may have been generally observed by custom, it was at this point that it became in its strict state a newly ordained institution. Later God would relate it to the ‘days’ of creation (Exodus 20:11). The wording with which it is expressed in Exodus 20:11 suggests that by that stage this creation account had been written under God’s inspiration, and could thus be used as a pattern of, and justification for, the Sabbath. Note that Deuteronomy 5:12-15 and Ezekiel 20:12-21 both stress the connection of the giving of the Sabbaths with the deliverance from Egypt and not with creation.

So in Exodus 16:1-36 the leaders on the one hand are not aware of the strict observance of the Sabbath, but the people on the other are aware of some kind of distinction, suggesting a conception which was not yet fully formed.

This does not necessarily mean that there had been no recognition of the seventh day previously, only that it had not previously been strictly related to total cessation of work. It may well be, possibly again arising from the Creation story, that the seventh day was previously looked on as special , although we have nowhere else any earlier indication of it. The Sabbath was in fact unique to Israel and is not paralleled elsewhere (despite numerous attempts to suggest otherwise). There is no ‘race-memory’ of a Sabbath.

(The Babylonian ‘sabbatum’ was not in fact a day of ceasing from work, as various labour contracts demonstrate, and those things that were excluded on the ‘sabbatum’ were excluded because of the danger of ‘ill luck’ not because they were work. Furthermore the Babylonians had a ‘five day’ week).


Verse 4

‘These are the generations of (or this is the history of) the heavens and the earth when they were created.’

This apparent colophon suggests that the account was once recorded separately on a clay or stone tablet.


Verses 4-24

Man’s Establishment and Fall (Genesis 2:4 to Genesis 3:24) TABLET II.

Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 form a unit distinguished by the fact that God is called Yahweh Elohim (Lord God), a usage repeated, and constantly used, all the way through (apart from in the conversation between Eve and the serpent), a phrase which occurs elsewhere in the Pentateuch only once, in Exodus 9:30 where it is connected with the thought that the earth is Yahweh’s. It thus connects with creation. This distinctive use sets the account off from the rest of Genesis as standing by itself.

The use may be in order to stress the closeness of man’s relationship with the Creator at that stage, or it may be in order to link Elohim the Creator of Genesis 1 with Yahweh the covenant God of Genesis 4 onwards. (In general we must beware of laying too great a stress on the use of particular divine names in the Pentateuch as other Hebrew texts and the versions such as the Septuagint and the Syriac often differ with the Massoretic Text in the use of such names. However there can be no doubt that in the Massoretic Text there is in this passage this distinctive use of Yahweh Elohim, although the versions sometimes have simply the equivalent of Elohim).

The use of a dual name for a god was not unusual in the Ancient Near East. We can compare in Egypt ‘Iir-Sedjmy’, ‘Amen-Re’, ‘Mentu-Re’, ‘Sobek-Re’ and at Ugarit ‘Aleyan Baal’. Baal was also known for example as ‘Baal Melkart’. It is true that Baal meant ‘Lord’ and that in one sense this is saying ‘Lord Melkart’, but Baal, like Melkart, is a god in his own right and would be acknowledged as such by the Phoenicians. Indeed Yahweh Elohim - where El is the name of a god but was also used to depict ‘God’ - is a very similar combination. C. H. Gordon cites a number of further examples of the use of compound names for gods in Ugaritic and other literature.

The focus of the account is found in the words of God in 3:14-19. These words are based on a theophany (manifestation of God in some way) in which God declares His covenants with the man, the woman and the snake, the background to which is given in these chapters. This passage is therefore in ‘covenant form’ and once probably stood on its own as originally an oral ‘record’ of the above covenants, before being incorporated into the wider framework, initially possibly the framework of Genesis chapters 1-11. While general history was not always put in writing in smaller tribes, covenants were put in written form from the start, and once writing was known covenants like this would be recorded because of the importance they had with regard to their relationship with God.

It is even possible that it was first incorporated into a larger record from Genesis 2:4 to Genesis 5:1, along with the two smaller covenants with Cain and Lamech, this whole record bearing the colophon ‘this is the history of Adam’ (Genesis 5:1), before being incorporated into Genesis chapters 1-11.

The continually recurring phrase in Genesis ‘this is the history (toledoth) of --’ demonstrates that much of the material, if not all, is taken from tablets, as ‘this is the history of’ is typical of the colophon (heading or footnote) found on tablets to identify them. Mention could also be made of certain repetitive phrases found in Genesis which are typical of links between such tablets.

It is extremely probable that at some stage these early ‘covenant’ tablets were incorporated into a series of tablets making up Genesis 1-11, which almost certainly once formed a unit, paralleling a similar ‘history’ of Atrahasis, recording matters from creation through the flood and beyond, which is found elsewhere. Although the similarity is only in structure and basic form, the parallel does serve to demonstrate the existence of such epics around the time of Abraham. Thus it may have been at this latter stage, when it was incorporated into Genesis 1-11, that this initial group of covenants was brought together to form a ‘history of Adam’, possibly attaching the colophon at the end from one of the tablets from which they were taken.

The account is remarkable both for its simplicity and the absence from it of mythical material. The seeming naivete of it is deceptive. It is a work of brilliant insight and understanding, and while the story appears straightforward enough to the casual reader, the writer deliberately introduces undercurrents which the discerning reader cannot ignore.


Verse 7

‘And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.’

The word for ‘formed’ is, among other uses, used of the potter shaping his material, and the writer, who by a quick reading of the rest of the narrative is shown to be a master of presenting his content in folksy fashion, is using it anthropomorphically to depict God’s creative work as skilful and creative. But he carefully avoids making the thought too literal. There is no detailed description of how God did it. His language is illustrative not literal. His aim is rather to show the twofold side to man’s creation, the aspect which ties him firmly to earth and the aspect which brings him in touch with heaven. In one sense man is of the earth, earthy. He is of the dust of the ground, made up of the same constituents as the animals. In the other his life is inbreathed by the breath of God. He has life from God.

Man (adam) is made ‘of the dust of the ground (adamah)’. He is outwardly made of earthly materials. His name Adam will ever remind us of his earthly (adamah) source. He is made of common materials, like the rest of the world, of the ‘adamah’. But where he is unique is in receiving the breath of God in the way that he does. How this ‘forming’ took place then is not described or limited. It merely tells us that there was man and his final origin was the dust of the ground. It is the end product that concerns the writer, not the process.

The fact that this is breathed ‘into his nostrils’ warns us against seeing this as an imparting of the divine spark, but the fact that God breathes into him at all, something that He does not do with the animals, demonstrates that this new life is intended to be seen as something unique, a ‘something other’, that makes him distinctive from the rest of creation. He is not just an animal, he possesses something extra, something that comes directly from God. This confirms what Genesis 1:26 means by ‘the image of God’. He has received ‘spirit’ (neshamah - breath, spirit). Compare Isaiah 42:5 where both neshamah and ruach (spirit) are used in parallel when connected with man; and see also Job 27:3. He is uniquely a ‘living being’ in a sense that no other is.

Later the animals are said to be made ‘out of the ground (adamah)’, thus the writer possibly introduces the term ‘the dust’ here to keep some form of distinction between man and animals and to warn against too close a connection between ‘adam’ and ‘adamah’. It is a reminder that while man is a receiver from the ground he is also a receiver of the divine breath. He is not quite so closely identified with ‘the ground’ as the rest of creation. Or it may simply be in preparation for the fact that dust he is and to dust he will return (Genesis 3:19).

While it is true that in Genesis 7:22 neshamah is used of animal life and they also are described as ‘living beings’ (nephesh chayyah - Genesis 1:24), here the use contrasts with the forming of the animals in Genesis 3:19 and is thus distinctive, and nowhere is it said that God directly breathed into the animals (the use of ‘breath’ in Ecclesiastes 3:19 is totally different. The emphasis there is on earthly life). In one sense the relationship between man and animals is close, in another it is distinctive.

“The Lord God” (Yahweh Elohim). This use of the dual name is rare outside Genesis 2 and Genesis 3, and is only found elsewhere in the Pentateuch in Exodus 9:30 where it is connected with Yahweh as creator. The combining of divine names for a god is not unusual in ancient literature (see above). The writer wishes to stress that the Elohim of creation is Yahweh (‘the one who is’, or ‘the one who causes to be’ - see Exodus 3:14). No other is involved. It has also been suggested that here we have the combination of the God of creation (Elohim) with the God of history (Yahweh) as creation moves into ‘history’. See for this Psalms 100:3 where Yahweh is Elohim, Who has made us (creation) and is our shepherd (history).


Verse 8

‘And the Lord God planted a tree-covered area (gan - possibly a “place shaded over” i.e. by trees) in Eden, eastward, and there he put the man whom he had formed.’

The word ‘planted’ is a vivid anthropomorphism. God caused it to grow.

The word ‘gan’ signifies a protected place of fruitfulness. The use of ‘garden’ is fine as long as we do not over-press the word, and rather recognise that it was not a cultivated, enwalled garden, but a fruitful, tree-covered area of land set apart by God for man’s use. Ezekiel 31:8-9 brings out something of the nature of the trees in the ‘gan’ in its exaggerated praise of Pharaoh.

Note that it is a tree-covered plain ‘in Eden’. Eden is the country in which it is found, not the name of the ‘gan’. The name may be taken from the Sumerian ‘edin’ meaning plain. Later, because it is in Eden or in ‘the plain’, it will be called ‘the gan of Eden’ Genesis 2:15. ‘Eastward’ may signify that it was in the east of Eden, or that it was eastward from where the writer was.

Again we remember that Hebrew verbs are not exact as to tense. They indicate rather completed or incompleted action without indicating when the activity took place. Thus it is not necessary for us to assume that man was made before the ‘garden’. The writer is not describing the order in which things were made, but is bringing them in as they apply, and stressing that God had made them too. He is saying ‘God did this’ and ‘God did that’ without meaning they happened in sequence. We who are more chronologically oriented could translate, ‘now God had planted a tree-covered plain in Eden and there he put the man whom he had formed’.

So God has made good provision for man. Unlike later, man does not have to search out his food or work for it. The place where he first becomes man is fruitful and plenteous, self-producing, and provides plenty of shade. (LXX will describe it as ‘Paradise’).


Verse 9

‘And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, also the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowing good and evil.’

Here we have ‘made to grow’ instead of ‘planted’, confirming what we have said above. He not only put them there but made them grow. God is sovereign over every part of His creation. No labour was required from man, they grew of their own accord under God’s hand. Indeed we need not doubt that the Garden was ‘made to grow’ before man was formed so that his home was already ready for him.

The verse brings out God’s concern for man. The trees not only provide sustenance, but they are also pleasant to look at. God is concerned not only for man’s palate but for his aesthetic enjoyment. This is one question atheistic evolution has never explained. Why is the world on the whole so beautiful? The writer gives us the answer. It is for man’s good pleasure. (The principle still applies even if the beauty is in the eye of the beholder). Again we note that the concern is not with the creation of vegetation, but specifically with God’s provision for man. The trees are specially chosen for their usefulness to man.

Note that it is not speaking of all trees but of those suitable for man’s dwelling place. This is not general creation, but specific to man’s own needs.

The trees of ‘life’ and of ‘knowing good and evil’ are mentioned at this point to stress that they are two among the trees of the garden. In themselves, apart from their function, they are nothing special. The tree of life is mentioned in many stories elsewhere, but always as inaccessible to man. It is only the Lord God Who wants man to have everlasting life. In those accounts it regularly provides life by its fruit being continually eaten. The fact that man has to be excluded from the tree to prevent him living for ever suggests it had a similar continuing function. Thus it would appear that its fruit is seen as containing some element which prolongs life to a great extent. This is not scientifically impossible, although we may regret that it is no longer obtainable. In other stories it conveys immortality once and for all.

This tree is stated to be ‘central to the garden’ because to God and the writer it is the all-important one, although the phraseology includes the tree of knowing good and evil as also being in the midst of the garden. Later the tree of knowing good and evil will be seen by the woman to be the central one because it is the one that possesses her mind.

Note how ‘and the tree of knowing good and evil’ is almost tacked on to the sentence. It is added like this as a means of stressing it. This is done deliberately to bring out the sombre note lying behind the reference, for the writer knows what is to come. One can almost hear his voice changing as he pauses and then adds AND THE TREE OF KNOWING GOOD AND EVIL’.

Later it is confirmed that this tree is also ‘in the midst of the garden’, but the writer here wants the bare statement to be pregnant with meaning. This tree does not offer men special knowledge. It offers knowledge of a unique kind, indeed of a kind that man does not want, the knowledge by experience of what is good and what is evil. Such knowledge can only be found by committing evil. Then and then alone can the distinction be fully clear. The eating of the fruit would be a specific, open and deliberate act of defiance.

While ‘knowing good and evil’ can in some contexts be a way of saying ‘having wide knowledge’ (2 Samuel 14:17), it is clear that it means more than that in this passage because of the context which is all about learning about evil. Compare Deuteronomy 1:39; Deuteronomy 30:15 - the latter being especially appropriate as linking good with life and evil with death. (Indeed the wider meaning may suggest the knowledge of this story misinterpreted). As we shall see later the tree was not put there as a temptation. It was there as a reminder to man of God’s supremacy. Both trees were intended as a blessing.

Thus in the ‘centre’ of the garden is the tree which is the source of everlasting life and the tree which is a reminder of God’s sovereignty, a kind of sacred grove where man can commune with God and be reminded of His goodness.

The plain of Eden is now put in a more specific historical setting, to bring out both its fruitfulness and its riches.


Verse 10

‘And a river flowed out of Eden to water the plain, and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon, it is the one which flows round the whole land of Havilah where there is gold, and the gold of that land is good, and aromatic resin and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon, it is the one which flows around (or meanders through) the whole land of Cush, the name of the third river is Hiddekel (Hiddekel is the Tigris), which flows out of Assyria, and the fourth river is the Euphrates.’

The descriptions show that the author intended the place to be approximately identifiable, if not certain, and his description of Havilah suggests that he had a good knowledge of it. Gold was plentiful in the mountains of Armenia, and in Babylon. Bdellium (bedolach - aromatic resin?) and onyx stone (?) are not clearly identifiable. In Numbers 11:7 manna is said to look like bdellium and this has made some suggest it means pearls.

Havilah is elsewhere mentioned in connection with Arabia (Genesis 25:18; 1 Samuel 15:7), which is associated with aromatic resins, but this may well be a different Havilah. In Genesis 10 Havilah is related to both Ham, through Cush (Genesis 10:7) and Shem, through Yoktan Genesis 10:29). The name may thus be connected with two differing tribes.

The river that waters the plain splits into four after it leaves the plain. The last two rivers are well known. They were the lifeblood of Mesopotamia. Thus all will know that the river that flows through the plain is a fruitful river. The other two rivers are unidentifiable to us. Rivers change their courses, and many cataclysms and floods have taken place which have changed the courses of rivers.

The attempts to make them rivers that encompass the world owe more to speculation than to exegesis. We have no reason to think that at this stage the rarely used number four (unlike three, seven and ten) meant anything other than that. The Cush mentioned in connection with the Gihon is not necessarily the Sudan or Ethiopia. It may refer to Kassite territory (Akkadian kassu), East of the Tigris, or indeed to a Cush unknown to us at all. In Genesis 10 Cush is the ‘father’ of Nimrod, who was connected with Babel, Erech and Archad in the land of Shinar (the Babylon area), and who built Nineveh (Genesis 10:8-12). Havilah also is the name of a son of Cush, but we know nothing further about him, and it may be a coincidence and not significant. The place was, however, clearly significant to the writer. What is probable is that the descriptions indicate to us that Eden was in the Mesopotamian region, possibly in the Armenian mountains, which are the source of the great rivers.

The reference to gold and precious things demonstrated that man had every good thing available to him (he is not restricted to the garden). The mythical Eden mentioned by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 28:13) had jewels in the trees, but here they are firmly rooted in nature and real. This is a real place.


Verse 15

‘And the Lord God took the man and put him in the Tree-covered Plain of Eden to serve and to guard.’

Notice that the man has already been ‘put’ in the Plain in Genesis 2:8. This stresses again that the writer is not thinking chronologically. One event does not necessarily follow another. While he is telling us what happened it is not in sequence. In Genesis 2:8 his being placed there is mentioned so as to show how God has provided for him. Here it is mentioned to stress God’s purpose in putting him there. We would translate, ‘the Lord God had taken the man ---’. This is a clear example of how Hebrew tenses express either completed or incomplete action and are not showing chronological sequence. It is also a clear example of the delight in repetition of early Hebrew narratives. When men had to remember narratives with no library to hand such repetition was invaluable.

The man is placed there ‘to serve and to guard’. Trees do not need to be tilled, and it is doubtful if there is here any thought of pruning. The purpose in putting man here was to act as priest and king. ‘Serving’ God is later the task of priests, and the ‘guarding’ connects with his having dominion over the wild beasts in Genesis 1:28. It is the latter who may cause depredations in the Plain. So the man is there to maintain worship of, and obedience to, God and to protect God’s handiwork on His behalf.

It is true that the word for ‘serve’ is the same as that in Genesis 2:5, but there it refers to ‘working’ the ground whereas here that idea cannot be in mind. Here we are dealing with trees, not cultivated plants. It is of course possible that we are to see ‘to serve and to guard’ as almost synonymous, service to God seen as indicating guarding the Plain, but leaders of family tribes were regularly priest and king, and it is probable that this verse is looking forward to his establishing his family tribe.


Verse 16-17

‘And the Lord God commanded the man saying, “You may freely eat of every tree in the Plain, but concerning the tree of knowing good and evil you shall not eat of it, for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die”.’

God’s provision is wide and generous. The man may eat of anything grown in the Plain, including the Tree of Life. One tree only is forbidden to him, the tree of knowing good and evil. This tree is a symbol to him of God’s over-lordship. It is like a sacrament. Every time he sees the tree it will remind him that there is One Whom he must obey, One Who is his Lord. Though man is lord of the earth, he will recognise that he is subject to the Lord of Heaven.

The tree was not intended to be a temptation. As ‘lord’ over the whole world how easily Adam might have forgotten God, but this tree was a reminder to him that his lordship was subject to God, and the fruit a reminder that all his provision came from God. It said, ‘remember that there is One by Whom you can be called to account, and Whom you must continually obey’. The tree and its fruit were a sacred symbol, something to br regarded with awe.

Indeed he can come to the tree and ponder on the goodness of his Creator. From this point of view it was a gift of grace. And by continuing in obedience man would gradually grow in an understanding of goodness, which would be a great blessing. But to eat of it would be an act of rebellion, for he would be apprropriating to himself what was God’s. And the man would then experience evil, and thus become experimentally aware of good and evil in a catastrophic way. The verb ‘to know’ never for the Israelite means to know intellectually. It means to know by experience. The man would know evil in contrast with good because he would experience it.

We need not see it as meaning that there was anything magical in its fruit. It was simply that it was the test of man’s willingness to obey God. The consequence of disobedience would be death, for it would signify that he had rebelled against God, and in such a state he could not be allowed to live for ever.


Verses 18-20

‘And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helper who is suitable for him (literally ‘as in front of him’)”. And out of the ground the Lord God formed (or had formed) every beast of the field, and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field, but for the man was not found a helper who was suitable for him.’

The context now brings out that all God’s intentions towards the man are good. First we note God’s concern that the man should not be alone, and not only so, but that he should be fully provided for with someone suitable for him and worthy of him i.e. on a level with him. Then we are informed that God, Who had formed the living creatures out of the ground, now brought them to the man so the man could name them. Notice that the domestic animals, the cattle, are not said to have been brought. They are already there. This confirms that we are to see ‘formed’ as pluperfect, and only mentioned as secondary in connection with the bringing (as otherwise the ‘forming’ of the domestic animals would have been mentioned as well).

But we notice here immediately what is not said. It is not said that the animals are brought to find out if they are suitable. Indeed it is impossible to conceive that the writer suggests that God keeps trying to achieve a suitable companion and failing. He has far to high a view of God. The idea is rather that the animals are ‘brought’ to be named and that, in the course of that, their unsuitability is incidentally emphasised. (Note the indirect form of ‘there was not found a suitable helper’).

By naming the living creatures the man is shown to have rule over them. At the same time he is entering into some kind of relationship with them so that they would provide him with some kind of companionship. But, of course, none was suitable to be his life companion, as everyone had known would be the case from the start. It was not expected that a suitable helpmeet would be found, for this is just the writer’s way of emphasising the fact that the animals with which the man came in contact were not in fact suitable as complete companions. We note that the creeping things are not included. They would not be subject to man’s dominion.

We are not necessarily to see in this that the man stood there while God literally brought the animals to him. This could have occurred through the course of many days in the pursuit of his activities, with God causing him to come in contact with the animals one by one. The writer’s style is simple and homely which would appeal to his readers. The verbs in this verse are all in the ‘imperfect’ signifying incomplete action and suggesting this occurred over time.

Note that while the verbs in this verse are ‘imperfect’ following a waw consecutive, which some scholars have tried to suggest can only be rendered in the pluperfect when connected with a pluperfect, there are other examples where this construction is clearly used in a pluperfect sense. The waw consecutive can refer backwards as well as forwards when this is clear from the context. Thus in the light of the context of Genesis 1 we must see ‘formed’ as referring backwards to when they were made before man. The verse does not say here when the animals were formed, only that they were at some stage formed preparatory to bringing them to man. The emphasis here is on the bringing, the making is just background to stress that they were also made by God. Hebrew verbs are not necessarily chronological. (Note again that no mention is made of the ‘forming’ of the domestic animals, it is the bringing and naming that is primary).

“Was not found.” - ‘matsa’. Note that there is no subject. It is therefore indefinite - ‘there was not found’. It is not God who was looking for the suitable companion.


Verse 21-22

‘So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept, and he took one of his sides and closed up its place with flesh. And the side that he had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.’

The deep sleep, when God will do something exceptional and a mystery is about to be revealed, is paralleled elsewhere (compare Genesis 15:12) although the parallel is not exact as Abraham was conscious. The stress is on the fact that the creation of the woman is a mystery.

Note that the word translated ‘rib’ in most versions, is almost without exception translated ‘side’ in the Old Testament. It was later tradition that inaccurately turned it into a rib. The description, which avoids detail, is of some remarkable process by which the woman devolved out of the man. The process and the method are not revealed.

The writer is always careful to avoid the excesses of mythology. This is ancient philosophy. What he is trying to demonstrate is not the method of her production but that the woman is seen to be man’s equal, for she is one half of him, his ‘other half’’. So the woman is both his helper and his equal. In New Testament terms the man is the head of the woman as Christ is the head of the church, and we cannot avoid here in Genesis the idea that the man has some kind of extra status, for he is the one made by God to act on God’s behalf on earth, and she is the helper. But the woman is his close helper, and equal in all except that status.


Verse 23

‘Then the man said, “This one at this time now is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, this one shall be called Woman (isha) because this one was taken out of Man (ish)”.’

The woman is not just produced from one of his ribs, but is made up of his flesh and bones. The man names the woman, thus once more establishing his position over her, but this time the ‘woman’ is given a name similar to his own. The naming is an act cementing a close relationship as well as revealing his special status. While she too is subject to him, she is also his close companion. (Ish and isha do not have the same etymology. Their connection is in sound. The original word play would be in anothe language than Hebrew). Note the threefold repetition of ‘this one’ (zoth) signifying completeness and uniqueness.

“At this time now” - RSV translates ‘at last’. Here was one at last who could stand on a par with man as his helpmeet.


Verse 24

‘Therefore will a man leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they will become one flesh.’

It is because of this close relationship between a man and his mate that that relationship supersedes that of his parents. When they enter into sexual union they become one, bound in a relationship closer than any other. Family loyalties still hold, but the loyalty between a man and his wife is primary. Notice that sexual relations are treated as normal and good (in spite of the euphemism ‘cleaves’). There is no suggestion anywhere in this account that sex is to be seen as somehow sinful.

The fact that the man is said to leave his father and mother indicates that here a new unit is forming. There will, of course, still be family ties and responsibilities, but essentially by marriage the man is stepping out to form a new unit with his wife which is unbreakable, and complete in itself. The impression given is that a man will have one wife.


Verse 25

‘And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.’

This does not primarily mean naked before each other, but naked before God. Their state of total innocence meant that they were unashamed of who and what they were. They had nothing to hide from, and no need to fear God’s scrutiny. They could, as it were, ‘look God in the eye’. They were totally open to God and to each other in body and soul. It was an indication that all was well with them.

Later being ‘naked’ before God would be seen as a terrible situation, for it meant that all their sins were revealed. It was terrible because they could no longer ‘look God in the eye’. They were too sinful. But there was no fear of this here. See Isaiah 47:3; Lamentations 1:8; Ezekiel 16:36; Ezekiel 23:18; 2 Corinthians 5:3; Hebrews 4:13.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/genesis-2.html. 2013.

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