Genesis 2: The Second Story of Creation

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Scholars have debated for eons whether there is a connection between the first two chapters of Genesis. Regardless of the arguments, the fact is, these stories have been read together since the beginning of the Bible. The first one tells of the creation of the heavens and earth and focuses on God. The second part of verse 2:4 states that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, and put earth before the heavens. The next two chapters, then, will talk about the earth and focus on mankind.

"Lord God" is a combination of the Hebrew words Yahweh and Elohim. Previously, God had only been called Elohim. It is possible, however, that if the first chapter focused on God, the sovereign, transcendent being, and the next two chapters focused on mankind with a personal God, the effort was made to connect these two ideas. The names were placed side by side to indicate that God is both transcendent and personal.

The story begins by noting, "Bushes had not appeared on the earth. Plants had not come up in the fields." The reason given is that "the Lord God had not sent rain or a man to till the earth." Next, however, "there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground." Scholars argue over the proper translation of the word "mist." Several translate it as "river" or "underground stream." All agree that the source for this water was underground, not from rain clouds. This was not rain. This water welled up from below.

Then the Lord God "formed man of the dust of the ground." Scholars groan over this description, and overwhelmingly prefer the earlier account, where man was "created" with a word. He was just suddenly there. It is so much more inspiring than imagining God gathering dust particles. Here man is created from something that already existed. However, it doesn't have to mean actual dust. It could be referring to the basic elements—the kind of stuff that would be used as raw parts. And notice it does not say that God created man out of dust, but that he "formed" him, much like a potter forms objects at his wheel. This is quite a contrast from the account in Gen 1:27 where God made man as the crown of his creation, the one who shared in his care over his creation; this man is clay in his hands and totally dependent upon God.

This is also where we have the first pun. In Hebrew, it reads that God formed 'adam from 'adamah. A good English translation might read, human from humus, groundling from ground, or earthling from earth. The wording suggests a close relationship between man and the ground from which he came—perhaps this indicates a harmonious, mutually beneficial relationship.

Indeed, this earthling was nothing but a lump of clay until "the Lord God breathed the breath of life into him." Surprisingly, the word for breath is not ruah. The word that is used here only refers to the relationship between God and man. Only man is "inspirited" with God's breath in this way, and he becomes a living soul.

In continuing to demonstrate his care for man, God wanted to give him a safe place to live! He "planted a garden eastward in Eden and put the man in there, whom he had formed." Because the word "Eden" suggests "delight," the Septuagint translates this as "paradise." But no one to this day has ever come close to determining just where this might have been. We have to be satisfied with knowing it was in the "east."

Nor is it clear whether this garden existed before man was created or if God planted it especially for the man after he had been created. But that's not terribly important. The issue is that in this garden was "every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food." And it doesn't say there was just one of each kind either. One easily assumes that this was for man's enjoyment as well as nourishment. Two trees in particular are singled out for special mention. The first is the "tree of life" and the second is "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."

The tree of life is only mentioned twice in this entire account. The fact that there is a tree of life, however, suggests that the original man was mortal. He would need to eat from this tree to get immortality. There are no clues from the text on what is meant by the tree of life. Avid Bible students might recall several references to the tree of life in the book of Proverbs, and Revelation. In Proverbs the tree of life describes wisdom, the fruit of the righteous, or a wholesome tongue. In the book of Revelation, the tree of life is given to those who overcome challenges or those who follow God's commandments.

It is interesting to note that man was not given any special instructions about the tree of life. All we know so far is that it's sitting in the middle of the garden. The other tree given special mention is the tree of "the knowledge of good and evil." Like the tree of life, this one sits in the middle of the garden. We have even less understanding of this tree's purpose.

Man has every reason to be content in this beautiful garden. But gardens don't take care of themselves. Man was placed in this garden for a reason. He has to help care for it and then enjoy it. The words are "dress and tend." The word "dress" has the connotation of serve. Man is not in this garden to be served, but to serve. "Keeping" has the sense of guarding. Man, then, was given some responsibilities. But his work would hardly be overwhelming because this garden comes with an underground sprinkling system— in the manner of four rivers that water the trees just right.

Nor does man get to do whatever he wants. The Lord God said, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Wide-ranging permissiveness comes first. You are free to eat from any tree. It could be translated, "Of all the trees of the garden, eat! You shall eat/ but of the tree of the knowing of good and bad/ you shall not eat for on the day you eat of it/ die! You shall die." (2:16-17) The first line exudes caring, a mother's touch, if you will. The second command sets down the law like the authority of a father.

Next, God says, "I will make a 'something' for him." So God caused "a deep sleep upon the man and while he slept, He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that spot. And the Lord God fashioned the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman."

Woman has been created to be 'something' for man. The Hebrew word is ezer. It has been variously translated as helper or helpmeet. There has been a lot of discussion involving this word. It's not so much a translation problem. The issue is whether "helper" implies a subordinate position. In Gen. 1:26 God created man, male and female. They were both given dominion; they were treated in exactly the same way. But now, in this account, did God create woman to be in an inferior position from day one, to be a helper for the man?

This has created a lot of problems when applied to relationships involving men and women. Stories abound where women have been treated as "helpers," where their talents have been ignored, where they have not been on equal footing with men, simply because they were women. A logical question one might ask, however, is what kind of help is the woman supposed to be giving the man? So far, he has really only been given two jobs. He is to tend and keep the garden, and he has done some work naming the animals. Technically, however, he did have one more responsibility. In Genesis 1:28 the man and woman were commanded to "be fruitful and to multiply, and fill the earth." No doubt the man would find this quite impossible to do by himself.

Earlier on, God had said, "It is not good that the man should be alone," (2:18). Notice that he did not say it is not good for the man that he should be alone. He said, "It is not good." Good, then, for whom? How about for God's plan, for his creation? How is man going to fill the earth by himself? It isn't going to happen. So when God created the woman, the man burst forth with, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Again there is a pun with the words. Woman is issah because she was taken from man, ish. Now when 'adam was taken out of 'adamah, we acknowledged the pun, but also mused about the possibility of a deeper significance, that it might be saying something about the relationship of the man to the ground. Using the same analogy, perhaps this pun is also saying something about the relationship between the man and the woman; that it, too, is to be a harmonious, mutually beneficial relationship. Neither one can fulfill this command of God without the other. They have to work on this one together. Such a reading is enhanced by the directive that follows, that "a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."