If you want to listen instead of/along with reading:
Now that we have read the first creation story, let’s move on to the second. Yes, that’s what I said, the second creation story. Genesis 2:4b and following is not an expansion of the first account, but a second, different account of God’s creation of the world. So why two stories? The traditional academic answer is that these are from two different sources. I think that is true, but the point for me is that now they are both here in a text that I believe to be inspired by God. So if one is “true” does that make the other one “false?”
I would argue that both are God-inspired and both say something important about God and God’s relationship to creation. Since I believe both are gifts of God, I don’t think it is a matter of which is “true” and which is “false” – I don’t think either is intended to give a “scientific” explanation of how God creates, but a theological interpretation of what it means for God to be Creator and for us (and everything else) to be part of creation.
The first account emphasizes creation through the Word of God, God’s transcendence, the ordering of life, things like that. The second account emphasizes that God is intimately involved in creation; that God “gets God’s hands dirty” so to speak. Both those things are true about God, but they are hard to say in one story.
What is interesting to me is that, even though these are from two different sources, I think that in the juxtaposition we see both commonalities and contrasts that enhance our understanding of God. I will show you what I mean in a little bit.
Question for reflection: Does it bother you to think about 2 creation stories?
As you read Genesis 2, look for the following things:
What is the order of creation? How and why is it different from that in Genesis 1?
What does God think about God’s creation?
What other similarities and differences do you see in the two accounts?
So – on to the text . . .
Verse 2:5 starts back at the beginning. There is not one to work the ground, so no plants, animals, etc. yet. God causes a little rain to fall on the dust, takes some of the resulting clay and forms a little clay person. There is a play on words in the Hebrew in 2:7: the adam (person) is formed from the adamah (ground). In English we might say the earthperson is formed from the earth. The image (and verb) used is that of a potter working on a wheel. But the little clay person isn’t alive until God blows into the person’s nostril’s the breath of life. I personally love this way of expressing God’s imparting of life.
A brief excursus on life and death, living and non-living:
When I was in the science lab, I sometimes watched organisms die under a microscope when we added certain substances to the slide they were on. It was odd to think that one moment this little organism was what we call “living” and that the next moment it was what we call “dead.” Physically the change was very small. Some processes stopped working at the molecular level and that is what caused the death, but at some level the living organism and the dead one were exactly alike.
As a pastor, I have been with people as they die and that sense of the breath leaving them is very real. I understand on a scientific level that breath is not the only indicator of life, but I also understand why ancient peoples talked about the breath of life. That is the visible expression of the difference between life and death. But I also am struck by the fact that there really is very little difference between a living human body and a dead one.
We have a lot of trouble defining the boundary between life and death (or between living and non-living) on a medical or scientific level. We also have trouble on an ethical/moral level – we struggle with abortion because we are not sure if the fetus, while clearly living human tissue, is considered a live human. We struggle with when to “pull the plug” because it is not clear that maintaining the “breath of life” artificially is the same thing as really keeping somebody alive.
All of these issues are raised for me when I contemplate what it means for God to make us out of the substance of the ground and to breathe into us the breath of life. I don’t have answers for all the questions raised, but I am convinced of the need to wrestle with the issues.
When you think about being made in the image of God, when you think about having the “breath” of God, what do you think it means? Do you think it makes a difference for our morality or ethics if we think of people in these ways as opposed to being merely the random products of a meaningless universe?
Back to the text:
When God breathes into the clay person the breath or spirit of life, the clay person becomes a living person or nephesh. In Hebrew a nephesh, which often gets translated as “soul” is a word that means a being full of passions and appetites, a “self” in the deepest sense of the word – maybe the “essence” of self. It is a word used of both humans and animals.
Now that God has made a living being, God can plant a garden because now there is someone to take care of it (Genesis 2:15). (Note how the verbs in this creation story are action verbs; God is doing, not speaking.) This garden is a wonderful, beautiful place and in the middle of this garden God plants, not one, but two trees – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. We will talk about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the next post. What is important for now is that God gave the person a job – humans were created for a purpose – and God gave the person a command – don’t eat the tree in the middle!
Did you notice that in Genesis 2, in contrast to Genesis 1, the first comment that God makes about God’s work in creation is that “it is NOT good.” Specifically – it is not good for a person to be alone. God sees that the person needs a suitable or fit helper or partner. Sometimes that word “helper” or ezer in Hebrew, is seen as a subordinate person. However, in most cases in the Hebrew bible the word refers to God, so this is clearly not a reference to a subordinate! (If you want some references, look at:
NRS Deuteronomy 33:29 Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph!
NRS Psalm 10:14 But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan.
NRS Psalm 30:10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!”
NRS Psalm 33:20 Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield.)
The making of the animals is God’s first attempt to provide a helper. Nothing suitable is found, but the person gets to name the animals, just as God has named things in Genesis 1. So God causes a deep sleep to fall upon the person – the kind of deep sleep that in Hebrew connotes a religious experience. And God takes a side (or rib) from the person and forms another person. This time the verb conjures up the image of a toolbox – God “builds” the woman. Now, for the first time, the words used are those that are specifically male and female. The ishah (or woman) is taken from the ish (or man). You can see that the words are related in something of the same way that they are in English. So the adam was taken from the adamah, and now the ishah is built from the ish. Kind of a nice parallel.
When God gives the woman to the man, the man is overjoyed and breaks into song (as Dr. Bill Power used to say): “Here at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”
Reflect on this statement for a while. What do you think that this says about:
the relationship between men and women?
the difference in the human-human relationship and the human-animal relationship?
The text also comments that a man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife. Now we know that is not true in the physical sense. Sociologically (or maybe anthropologically?) speaking, women were the ones who left home when married, not men. This is because women’s skills were transportable and men’s were not. Men were tied to a particular plot of land, but women could take the products of the land and turn them into food, clothing, housing, etc. in any setting. So, if men do not leave physically, what is the sense in which they leave? Those of you who have heard my sermon on marriage already know what I think about this, but it is worth pondering.
The last thing this account says is that the man and woman were naked and not ashamed. The word for naked also means “vulnerable” or “open to harm.” What does this say about the nature of “ideal” male-female relationships? Or do you think it says anything at all?
[I asked you at the beginning of this post to think about the similarities and differences between Genesis 1 and 2. So let’s talk for a moment about how this version of the creation of humanity relates to that of Genesis 1. In Genesis 1, humans are made in the image of God; here the emphasis is on the close relationship of humanity with the earth and with the animals. In both, humanity is given a purpose – to care for the earth and everything in it. In both the need for male and female humans to be in relationship is a strong theme – in Genesis 1 because they are made at the same time in the image of God; in Genesis 2 because God notices that it is not good for the person to be alone and so makes a unique partner. In both God gives the humans a command, in Genesis 1 in the form of a positive command – be fruitful and multiply – in Genesis 2 in the form of a prohibition – don’t eat the fruit! In the stories that follow, humanity fails at keeping both of these commands.]
Lots to digest here. This post is very well-done and I thank you for that. It helped my understanding.