Author’s Note: I am preaching through Genesis on Wednesday nights. Here I will present edited notes in blog form. You can listen to the sermon below and download it here. May God be glorified and His people edified. Comments below if you like.
We come back now to the second chapter of Genesis. In Genesis 1 God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them six days. In the last study we saw in Genesis 2:1-3 that God had completed all of His work, so He rested on the seventh day and sanctified it. He made it holy. And we saw how what God did on that seventh day works itself out in the rest of the Bible through Christ. It is finished in Christ. We find rest from our works in Jesus Christ. We are made holy, sanctified, through Christ.
The rest of this chapter two is a deeper look at the creation of man, and what life was like in a perfect world. So read with me, Genesis 2:4-17…
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven. Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
This is the beginning, again, of an expanded account of God’s creation of man on that sixth day. More details are given here about man and where he lived. Yes, these verses come after 1-3, where the seventh day is talked about, but what we’ve read is meant to be complimentary, not contradictory. Explanatory, giving us more information than we got at the end of chapter one.
The fourteen verses we are dealing with tonight explain things in two parts. In part, we see creation revisited… creation revisited, and on the other hand we see provision given… provision given. We see creation revisited first. Verse four, we read, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.”
This is the first of ten of these “This is the account of” sorts of statements in the book of Genesis. Each of them begin a new section of the book, and the other nine all have to do with a person, like These are the generations of Noah, or Shem, all the way to Jacob in chapter 37. This is the only one of these introduction statements that doesn’t have to do with a specific individual.
And seeing as the next one of those statements doesn’t appear until chapter five, and since we’ve seen previous that Jesus associates the death of Abel in chapter four as something that happened in the time of the foundation of the world, you could rightly call this the account of the foundation of the world, from Genesis 2:4 (and really you could go back to Genesis 1:1 if you wanted to)… but from Genesis 2:4 to the end of chapter four.
There are three other quick things from verse four that merit our attention.
First, that phrase in the day is not accompanied by a number, like “the fifth day” or “the sixth day.” We also don’t see the words night or day or evening or morning. So the phrase in the day stands on its own here, and can refer not to one specific day, but a general time, such as the time, the days, of creation — the time of the foundation of the world. And that’s what it’s referring to.
Second, we see the word LORD here with big capital L and small caps ORD, which in the Hebrew is the name YHWH, the covenant name of God. And it’s the first such usage of that name in the Bible. And by the way, we see it all over the rest of chapter two.
Third, the words earth and heaven are in reverse order here, as if to emphasize that the focus in what is to come is going to be on events which transpire on the earth God has created, rather than the whole of creation (which includes the heavens).
And it’s the earth in focus in verses 5-6, specifically earth in the condition it was in immediately before man was created. And what do we find out here? Well, the picture we get is of an earth before there were any wild shrubs or cultivated grain, because 1) there was no rain yet, and 2) no man to till the ground. Instead, there was a mist that rose from the earth to water the surface of the ground. The writer, Moses in this case, is in a sense anticipating the flood that is going to be described a few chapters later. He’s giving us this information to help us understand that things used to be different on the earth before the Flood, and even more so before there was sin in the world.
In the post-Flood world we’re all familiar with ocean waters evaporate, the atmosphere circulates, and as we saw over the last half of February, it comes back down to the earth in the form of rain or sleet or snow. But before the Flood, with no rain, it would appear the daily water supply came from the evaporation of local water sources, like the rivers described a few verses later.
Even so, there is no man to till the ground, so the creation of man (and the flourishing of creation that comes as a result of the dominion over earth God gave man)… the creation of man is anticipated in verse six. We see it described in verse seven: “Then YHWH God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
That really is a fascinating statement — that man was formed from the dust of the ground — because it shows we are made from the same basic elements as everything else. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:47, “The first man is from the earth, earthy.” You wouldn’t think it to look at a rock and then look at us, but this is something science has actually proven, unlike the age of the earth. This isn’t speculation. It’s not theory. The building blocks of everything God created are also the building blocks of man.
There is sameness in all of creation, but… the big important different comes at the end of verse seven, because it’s only man of which it is written God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Now that’s not to say it wasn’t God who brought to life dogs and cats and giraffes and mosquitoes, but it’s only said of man that he directly received this breath of life from God and became a living being. This reiterates that man, and only man, was and is the pinnacle of God’s creation. Only man was created in the image of God. Only after creating man did God declare all of creation very good, then rest. God breathed the breath of life into man.
And he became a living being. He became conscious. His mind started working. His emotions, his will… everything about him starting working, because God breathed life into him.
Man wasn’t created and he wasn’t a living being until God made him from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him. There isn’t anything in the text to indicates this was metaphorical. It happened as Moses has written it happened. God did not take two ancient hominids and start with them. God created man, period. First Corinthians 15:45: “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” There was no man pre-Adam. Verses 4-7 then, here, back up what Genesis 1 says. In so doing, we see creation revisited.
Okay, so we see creation revisited, now we see provision given… provision given. God provides for the man what he is going to need. Not to survive on the earth. Man didn’t need to survive because there was no death. Man was going to live forever. No, what we see beginning in verse eight is God providing for the man what he will need to enjoy life, to have abundant life as it were.
First, in verses 8-9, God plants a garden in the east, in Eden, and places the man He formed there. And God causes every tree pleasing to the sight and good for food to grow, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The word Eden comes from a Hebrew word meaning delight, so the first thing the man would’ve seen would have been this delightful garden for him to live in. The first thing Adam would have learned is that his Creator loved him and provided for him abundantly.
Now, about the trees.
The first, the tree of life, was right in the center of the garden. And the fruit of this particular tree, if eaten regularly, would enable even mortal men, dying men, to live forever. Don’t ask me how because this tree cannot be access by men anymore… yet, but we know this from Genesis 3:22, where after sin enters the world God banishes man and woman from the Garden after they sin, because it’s better to physically die someday as a sinner the live forever by faith in the Seed, the Messiah, who would come, than it is to live physically forever as a sinner. It’s worth noting also that this tree of life is mentioned in Revelation 22:2. It will be growing in the New Jerusalem “for the healing of the nations.”
The second tree is, of course, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And whereas the tree of life would in some way lock in physical life, this tree would give the knowledge of good and evil. Or to put it another way, it would add the knowledge of evil to the already existing knowledge of good.
We’ll come back to this one in a minute, because it’s at this point we get what amounts to a parentheses in the text, in verses 10-14. We’re given more information about the Garden of Eden the river which flowed out of it and split into four rivers. We even get the names of the rivers and details about the geography around those rivers. And you may want to go to the maps in the back of your Bible for this, but the Pishon is described as flowing around the land of Havilah, where there is gold, and the Gihon flows around the area called Cush. We don’t know anything about Havilah, but the place name Cush is later associated with a region in Arabia, but also Ethiopia. Neither place has a river encircling it today.
The third river is called the Tigris in our English translations. It’s the Hebrew word Hiddekel, and this river is described as going east of Assyria, whereas the Tigris River of known history was on the west side of Assyria. Then there is the fourth river, the Euphrates, a name familiar to us today. Today, the Euphrates starts in Turkey and eventually runs through Iraq where it meets the Tigris and empties into the Persian Gulf.
Now the significance of being told about the rivers here is two-fold, I think. First, practically speaking it helps explain how the Garden received water. This must have been some river to split into four other rivers. There would have been plenty of water, then. Secondly, the place names… some of them are familiar to us, but without going into too much detail, the geography described in verses 10-14 doesn’t match up with what exists today, or any geography that is known to have existed.
Does that mean there is error in the Bible? I certainly don’t think so.
These differences can be explained by the fact they were the names of things before the Flood and familiar to Adam and those who would come after him, like Noah.
What happened at the flood? Second Peter 3:6: “The world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.” And there is really no way to humanly comprehend the destructive impact forty days and nights of rain, added to the great deeps from below opening up… there’s no way to comprehend the impact the Flood had on the world Adam knew. The world when Noah got off the ark was a much different place than the world he knew when he got on the ark.
The names given to these rivers and places in verses 10-14, then, would have been names from the pre-Flood world, names people like Noah knew, which were then used to describe rivers and places in a new geography, a vastly different world.
It’s not quite the same, but where did the name of our town, Carthage, come from? It’s a place name used of an ancient city in north Africa, in what is today Tunisia. And the town of Troy, twenty-five miles west of us, comes from the ancient city on the western shore of what is today Turkey. Ancient place names used for new places. This is the best explanation for names used for places before the Flood being used for places after the Flood, with a completely different geography.
That parenthetical paragraph about the rivers ends, then, in verse 15. God provided trees and fruit and rivers for water and everything the man would need. But there’s something else God provided man with that would lead to his flourishing, and that is responsibility… commands to obey. Verse 15…
Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
God provided not just for man’s physical enjoyment, but for his mental and spiritual enjoyment as well. God did not create man with the intent we would be our own sovereigns. We are always best off when we are obeying God’s commands. And here, the man would be responsible for cultivating, tilling, the garden… and keeping it, guarding it, maintaining its beauty, its order, so that everything would remain harmonious, just as God created it.
In verse sixteen, God draws man’s attention to all that He has provided for him, and this is also the first time we see the word for command or commanded. From any, or rather every, tree of the garden man was allowed to eat. Note here that God doesn’t prohibit the man from eating from the tree of life. It’s permissible, even good, for man to eat from the tree of life at this point, because man has not sinned, man is not a sinner yet.
Only one thing was prohibited for man: “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” God said. That was the one and only restraint. It’s this command which would test man’s love for God. And it’s a test man was created to pass. Adam, in his created state, could do this. Remember, God created man able not to sin, with the ability not to sin, with the capacity to obey, the capacity to love God apart from sin. So there was every reason for the man to obey God here. There was no reason for him to disobey. After all, he had every other tree in the garden, and every herb as well, to eat from.
Just not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If he were to take of that fruit he would have knowledge of evil added to his knowledge of good. And that word know doesn’t refer to just a cursory familiarity with evil, but intimate knowledge. It’s the same word used in Genesis 4 when we read that Adam knew Eve… and she conceived and bore sons. Eating this tree would give man intimate knowledge of evil, something contrary to God’s created order. He would know rebellion against God’s will, and as a consequence, in the day he ate from it… he would surely die.
Spiritual death, which would be followed by physical death. If there were to be disobedience again God, then decay and death would begin in his body and eventually overcome him. And we know this eventually came to pass, and is with us today. But in his seeing creation revisited in these verses, in his created state we see man having everything provided for him by God to enjoy life on the earth, and for both man and all the rest of the creation to flourish.
Next week we’ll see completion accomplished, but until then, by way of application tonight, something to take away…
What we’ve read tonight, beloved, and looked at, is a description of a world not very familiar to us anymore. What’s coming in chapter three, sin and death, has wreaked havoc on the order God created, the world God created. No, the world described in chapter two, which we’ll see more of next week, is unfamiliar to what we know. But… we see glimmers of it in the grace of God made known to us through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus we are able to enjoy life, even in a sinful world. We are able to have life more abundantly. And through Jesus we have the hope, the future certainty, that One day this present world will be destroyed, and we will live forever with Him in a new heaven and new earth. So by way of application, we don’t become too attached to this present world, but live today because all of the hope is in the next. We glorify God now, and obey God now, because of the certainty that, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we will get to glorify Him forever. So may we look at this world rightly, and the One to come rightly, and live in light of these realities.