Today we’re going to transition from last week’s story of how God created all things to zoom in on the story of the creation of man. Our passage this week, while beautiful, is somewhat mysterious. At least it was to me. It includes details that make the story seem mythical, like the two trees, Adam and Eve being created from the dust and the rib. And leaves out other details we’d like to know like what was it really like for Adam and Eve to live and work together without the effects of sin in their lives? Because, as you know this is the only passage in the Bible where we see people living and working together without sin. This passage teaches us what our lives were supposed to be like.
Though they seem almost mythical, the details that Moses includes in this passage tell us how man was created and what he was created to do. What good roles did God give man in the beginning? The things that stand out the most in this passage and have the biggest implications for us are our role as workers and our role as wives. Now, I recognize that not everyone in here is a wife. If you’re not, this text still has a lot to say to you as someone made in God’s image for God’s purpose. I don’t think the point of this text is that being a wife is a woman’s most defining characteristic. But God’s design is that most women be wives, and the end of our passage speaks specifically to the husband-wife relationship. We don’t want to make the mistake of applying the end of chapter 2 to relationships between men and women in general.
Before we focus in on the roles of worker and wife, I want to look at other key elements in this passage that are foundational for our understanding of the book of Genesis, and the Bible as a whole. These are things that came up in the homework1 and I want to go a little deeper with them. If you open your Bibles to the end of Genesis 1 or your notebooks to page 25, I’d like to just walk though the text with you noting three things.
After the seven days of creation, which is really a prologue to the book of Genesis, we come to 2:4. “These are the generations of…”. This phrase appears 11x in Genesis forming a literary backbone to the book. Both GENEsis and GENErations have the same root word meaning “origins”. This repetition of generations throughout the book is how Genesis got it’s name. It’s the genealogies that connect and tie the book together. Now, after you read each genealogy, the text afterward zooms in on one of the descendants. So for example, after we get the genealogy of Adam, we get the details of the story of Noah, after Terah, we get Abraham. And after Abraham, we get the stories of promised sons. Each of these descendants carry on the line of people whom God has separated from the rest of humanity to be his chosen people. That line continues through David and Solomon, all the way to Jesus Christ.
But this first genealogy is unique. These are the generations of…what? The Heavens and the earth! Since when did the heavens and the earth beget children? Just this one time, as Adam actually came from the dust of the earth. So this first section follows the pattern, too. We get the story of creation and then we zoom in on one chosen descendant. What struck me for the first time this week is that Adam is the first and only thing so far that God didn’t create ex nihilo (out of nothing) Adam is not spoken into existence like the rest of creation. He is created from the stuff of the universe and God breathed life into his nostrils. Why? Partly this is a reference to what he is created to do: he is created to work and to reign over God’s creation. In Genesis 3:23, God says that Adam is to work the ground from which he was created. I’ll talk about this more later when I come to our role as workers. Also, I’ve always thought that being created from the dust was a reference to our humility before God. I mean, what’s more humble than dirt? But when I did some reading, I found out that isn’t what’s in view here. There is a sense of our mortality here. Unlike God, we are from the dust and to dust we will return (says Genesis 3:19). But the idea of man being raised from the dust actually connotes significance in the OT and in the literature of Moses’s era. It’s like saying “to be raised out of poverty, to be elevated to royal office or to find life”2. This interpretation affirms chapter 1’s view that man is to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. And the rest of verse 7 confirms this in saying God put breath in his nostrils because at that time “breath of nostrils” was a royal reference. Man is raised from the dust to reign under God in His good world.
This has implications for our work on earth, but also it has implications for the value and separateness of human life above all others. Human beings are NOT a more advanced animal as our secular, humanist friends say. We are created in God’s image, given many God-like attributes like all those you checked off in question 31. We are created separately from the animals, raised to life out of dust and given divine breath, able to have a relationship with our creator. No animal can do this. This means that to God, and to those who believe God, every conceived HUMAN life has value and dignity at every stage or level of ability.
God has created us to rule over His creation like Him, not as corrupt rulers who work only for our own benefit. Think back to what you wrote for question 51 – the qualities of a good ruler. This is how God rules us. Even here at the beginning in the Garden, God cares for His people. He gave them every tree that is pleasing to the eye and good for food. God’s leadership and good human leadership cause others to flourish.
The good and beautiful trees God gave them in the beginning of verse 9 leads us to the two most significant trees in the Garden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Bible references the tree of life more than the other: here, in revelation and pictured in the lampstand in the tabernacle. There may be others. It’s significance, is that God is the author and the controller of eternal life. It is his to grant or withhold. Immortality is not a God-like quality He gave Adam and Eve to use at their discretion. When Adam and Eve are in the garden with the tree of life, they will not die. After they are banished from the garden, they do. The tree of life is also in the new heavens and the new earth where those in God’s family will live eternally with him.
Next is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It’s less talked about in the Bible, but it plays the more significant role in Genesis. What does this tree mean? I always thought that it symbolized an intellectual knowledge of good and evil. Like Adam and Eve didn’t have a category in their minds for what is wrong or bad. But that’s probably not the case. As one commentator put it, Adam and Eve were morally innocent, but not morally ignorant3. The story of the fall in the next chapter actually doesn’t make sense if Eve didn’t understand what it meant to obey or disobey God. So it’s not that they didn’t know right from wrong. There are differing interpretations on this one, but I was helped by this quote from a commentator. He gives a lot of Biblical support for this position, which I don’t have time to go into now. You can ask me afterward. Here’s a snippet of what he says:
“What is forbidden to man is the power to decide for himself what is in his best interests and what is not. This is a decision God has not delegated to the earthling. This interpretation also has the benefit of according well with 3:22, [when man does eat from the tree, God says] “the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” Man has indeed become a god whenever he makes his own self the center, the springboard, and the only frame of reference for moral guidelines. When man attempts to act autonomously he is indeed attempting to be godlike2.
Other commentators might tell you slightly different things about the nature of this knowledge of good and evil, but the main point here is clear. God commanded them not to eat from this tree and that was for their good. We all deeply know the consequences of their disobedience. Adam and Eve tried by their own efforts to be like God by disobeying and eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The truth is, loving and obeying God are what make us like Him. They thought eating from this tree would make them wise. But as Proverbs tells us, the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. Trying to be like Him or to gain special wisdom apart from Him only leads to disaster as we’ll see next week.
Moving on to verse 10 – one of my first questions on this passage was why give us the geographical location of Eden? After reading and researching, I think the main point was that it was a real place. It was not some mythological netherworld. Eden existed on earth near a location which would have been somewhat familiar to the Israelites. We, many years later, also have heard of some of these landmarks (e.g. Tigris and Euphrates). This tells us that, unlike other pretend deities, God actually communes, has a relationship with, meets with his people on earth. He did in the garden, he did it in Moses’ day in the tabernacle, in the promised land and later God meets with His created people on earth in the person of Jesus Christ. Finally, believers in God will be with Him in the new heavens and the new earth.
Okay, now that we’re through with those points, let’s take a look at what this passage has to teach us about being workers and wives. First, let’s look at work. Work, it turns out, is not a result of the fall (though it may feel like it at times!).
When sin and evil enters the world in the next chapter, God curses work, and it becomes toilsome and at times futile. That’s the reality that we live in now, too. But work in itself is not bad because God is a worker. God actually worked the ground to create Adam showing the importance of work in the life of mankind. Because we are made in his image, we are supposed to reflect God by the fact that we do work and in how we work.
Though all God’s creation was good, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t need care and cultivation, even in the garden of Eden (see verse 15: The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work and keep it). That’s what Adam and Eve and their children were supposed to do, to work and keep Eden and to make the whole world like Eden. All the world was supposed to show the beauty and goodness and glory of God. God’s glory was to be reflected in the good work and the good workers. Though we’ve moved away from a society where virtually everyone is employed by working the earth, our jobs, whatever they are, aren’t that different. In the way that Adam had to do what it took to make a plant’s life flourish, we do the same thing in our homes – by our work creating a place for the lives of those in our families to flourish. This can also be true whether you work at a school, an office, a supermarket, a gym, a hospital, or in government office. Yes, your work provides money for you and your family, but this passage would challenge you not to view it as merely that. By working well for God’s glory, you bring benefit to others and you get to show something of what God is like.
If you’d like to think more about what it would mean for you to work for God’s glory, I’d encourage you to listen to the audio from a conference we hosted at Hinson in the spring called the Gospel at Work. This was a conference not primarily about sharing the gospel at work (though it included that), but about what viewing and doing work from a biblical perspective and includes practical helps like career planning, what to do when you’re discouraged at work, how to measure success, etc. You can find those talks at thegospelatwork.com, click on “resources”.
Let’s move on to finally our role as wives. You could write a whole talk and more just from verses 18-25 on what this passage says about the perfect husband and wife relationship, about what God intended for marriage. And, actually, I did that back in February when we did a First Thursday on Biblical marriage. So if any of you are particularly interested in that topic, let me know and I’d be happy to send you my manuscript or point you to some better resources. Because there is so much here, I’ll list a few without going into detail: we see the first thing not good (even before the fall) about God’s creation is that Adam is alone in his task as a worker and image bearer of God, we also see the woman is given as his helper, that man and woman are to leave their biological family as their primary relationship and to be united to each other, that they are to be one flesh, naked and not ashamed. Many places in the OT and NT interpret and develop these themes. As I mentioned, I don’t have time to go into all of these right now, but I want to focus on the aspect of marriage: the idea of a wife being a helper to her husband and of the husband having a kind of authority over his wife. I’m not focusing on this one because it’s my favorite or because it’s the most controversial, but because it’s actually the most prominent in this passage, so I think it’s important. It comes out in this text in three different ways: 1) God says Eve is a helper fit for Adam, 2) Adam names his wife, and 3) she is created from his rib, bone of his bones, flesh of his flesh.
Adam was made to work the ground from which he came. Eve was made to help her husband from whom she came. Like man, the woman has a role in creation. As a fully equal image bearer of God, she is to image God in how she lives and works, but also in how she helps her husband if she has one. That she came from Adam, from his rib, tells us something. I like how this well known quote from Aquinas puts it: “For since the woman should not have ‘authority over the man’ (1 Tim 2:12) it would not have been fitting for her to have been formed from his head, nor since she is not to be despised by the man, as if she were but his servile subject, would it have been fitting for her to be formed from his feet.4” She is formed from his side, showing their unity and complementarity. Though under his leadership, she is fit for him as a companion.
Adam also names her. Remember back in chapter 1 all the times that we underlined “God called” (the darkness night, light day, the dry land earth, the waters that were gathered seas, etc.) and we noted that in naming His creation God shows his authority over it. God giving Adam the animals to name is also significant in showing that Adam has authority over those animals. Now Adam names Eve’s gender “woman”. It’s clear, he doesn’t have the same authority over his wife as he does the animals. Remember back in chapter 1, God also created both man and woman equal image bearers. But make no mistake, in God having him name her, he is giving Adam a leadership role. We still have that system today: only parents get to name their own children. We name them and have authority over them in a way that no one else does. That doesn’t mean that we get to do whatever I want with them. They are ultimately God’ and they have equal value before God. But it’s clear from this passage God sets up an authority structure for the family, for the good of the family.
If you chafe at this notion, allow me to suggest that you may think of authority in the way that it’s been affected by sin. That hasn’t happened yet in our passage. Authority hasn’t yet been abused or abdicated. Think back to your answer again to question 5 – what characterizes a good ruler/authority? It’s an authority that’s meant to exist for the flourishing of those under him. A man’s responsibility is to image God’s good authority in his authority over his wife. God’s design for the husband/wife roles in marriage is that a husbands’ leadership would bring blessing to the wife, that it would never be the kind of authority she would want to escape from. In the same way that God lovingly cares for his creation, and Adam lovingly cultivates the earth, so he is to lovingly cultivate and care for his wife.
For the woman’s part, she has to be willing to be led, to be a helper. To not make life only about her comforts and her interests, but making her husband’s priorities her priorities. To help him in his obedience to God and to the work that he’s been called to do.
Finally, if you still struggle with this idea of Adam’s authority over Eve and a wife’s submission to her husband, consider the example of Jesus Christ. He was equal to God in every way, in essence God, yet he also submitted to God in every way. Remember these familiar words from Philippians 2 (ESV):
“[Jesus Christ]6…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [let those words also cause you to think ahead to next week, where Adam and Eve would think equality with God was a thing to be grasped], 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Your husband, if you have one, is accountable to God in the way that he leads and cares for you. He is supposed to image God and imitate Christ in laying down his life for you. That is a sobering and weighty responsibility. I’m not sure I would want that responsibility! We are supposed to be like Jesus in the way we honor their leadership, in the way that we serve and help them. Will our husbands always see and appreciate that? Maybe not. But God sees. And God loves to exalt the humble, like He did with His Son. Let’s pray.
1We are following the curriculum “Women’s Bible Study: GENESIS: In the Beginning. A Study of Genesis 1-11”. Jen Wilkin. 2010. http://jenwilkin.blogspot.com/
2 Hamilton, Victor P. (2010-08-04). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament) (Kindle). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.
3Mathews, Kenneth; Mathews, K. A. (1996-01-10). The New American Commentary Volume 1 – Genesis 1-11. B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
4Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiae (1a, 92, 3c)