The Story: Life In The Garden

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So, how much does the world we live in resemble the world God created in Genesis 1?

To answer that, we are going to need more details about that world. Fortunately, Genesis helps us there. We may not find everything we want to know, but everything we need to know to follow The Story is there.

Genesis is written as a series of stories—each explaining what happened to someone or something from the preceding story.  In Hebrew, the beginning of each new story is marked with the word to®l§d≈oœt.  Literally, it denotes the account of a man and his descendants. The translation of this term varies in some passages, and among the various versions of the Bible.

After the original story of Creation, there are ten more stories in Genesis. Here is the beginning of each story in the NAS95 translation:

  • Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
  • Genesis 2:4   This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created…
  • Genesis 5:1   This is the book of the generations of Adam…
  • Genesis 6:9   These are the records of the generations of Noah…
  • Genesis 10:1   Now these are the records of the generations of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah…
  • Genesis 11:10   These are the records of the generations of Shem…
  • Genesis 11:27   Now these are the records of the generations of Terah…
  • Genesis 25:12   Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael…
  • Genesis 25:19   Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son…
  • Genesis 36:1   Now these are the records of the generations of Esau (that is, Edom)…
  • Genesis 37:2 These are the records of the generations of Jacob…

So, Genesis begins with the story of God’s creation of the Heavens and the Earth. That first story presents an overview, emphasizing God’s intentions for all of mankind and the world in which they would live.

Well, what happened to that creation?

The second story, beginning in Genesis 2:4 answers that. Here, we will meet Adam.

So, what ultimately happened to him?

Well, the third story, beginning in Genesis 5:1 will answer that. And so on…

Now, back to the question of the conditions at Creation. Let’s return to that second story, beginning in Genesis 2:4.

Here, the Story zooms in from mankind in general to two individuals—Adam and Eve. In their story we find out how God’s design was played out in the lives of the first man and woman.

Moses (the probable author of Genesis) begins by identifying some important characteristics of that time—things that were different than we might expect. There was no shrub of the field in the earth, and no plant had yet sprouted.

Some believe this contradicts the creation of vegetation as described in Genesis 1:11-12 (Day 3), but such a conclusion is, by no means, required.

In Genesis 1, three terms are used to describe the plants created—vegetation (desûe}), plants ({eœsíeb≈), and trees ({eœsΩ).  In chapter 2, only plants ({eœsíeb≈) is repeated. The other word here—a new word—is shrub (síˆîahΩ). It only appears three other times in the Old Testament (Genesis 21:15; Job 30:4, 7). In each place, it denotes a bush found in wilderness locations.

The verse then goes on to give the reason the plants and shrubs mentioned have not appeared yet—“for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground” (Genesis 2:5 NAS95).

Our approach to the passage will color our understanding of it. If we read Genesis as if we are reading a scientist’s lab notes, we might expect him to record everything he sees—all the important facts. Viewed from this perspective, Genesis 2 is a separate, independent set of observations. And these observations seem to contradict the other lab notes in chapter 1.

But we have already identified that Genesis is a story—a story about the Beginning—that is comprised of a series of telescoping stories. How does that change the way we read it?

Well, a storyteller will introduce details critical to the development of the story. Therefore, it is not surprising the second story begins an identification of such significant details.

There are no desert bushes in the earth. No plants of the field have sprouted (implying that they were present in seed form?). These are two distinct statements, as opposed to a single statement with two parts (i.e., there were no bushes, and there were no plants vs. there were no bushes or plants). Reasons are given after the second statement: the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.

So, these plants are plants that are cultivated. They have not yet sprouted because they are dependent on man. In this, we get a hint of man’s significance. He is more than one of the many parts of creation. His role is central. And there was no rain.

What about the wilderness bushes? Why are they mentioned?

When you think of bushes in desolate places, what comes to mind? Lush, landscaped shrubs? Or something more rugged? Perhaps something more along the lines of briers and brambles—like the thorns and thistles intorduced in chapter 3.

Not only are there no bushes nor plants of the field, but no rain has yet fallen either. While it may be connected somehow to man’s cultivation of the land, is it also possible that it foreshadows another important development? Might it anticipate the Flood?

All these details set the stage for developments yet to come.

But, we’re getting ahead of the story. For now, it’s enough to see that things were a bit different then. There were no wilderness bushes, and plants requiring cultivation had not yet sprouted. Rain had not yet fallen; the ground was somehow watered from beneath (NAS95 has mist, but the word literally means flow; NIV has streams. The word is a rare word, so clues to its meaning are limited, but it seems to describe streams coming from underground.)

In this setting, God forms man from the dust of the ground and breathes life into him. With man on the scene, God plants (as opposed to creating) a garden, and places him in it.

What was this Garden like? Well, to begin with, God filled it with trees. All kinds of trees. Every tree that was pleasing to look at. Every tree that was good for food. There was beauty. There was provision. In abundance.

Additionally, there were two particular trees—the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As tempting as it is to delve into the significance of these trees, we’ll simply note their presence, and let Moses continue the story.

In the Garden was a river, and it became four rivers, two of which are still critical to life in Mesopotamia. Ok, so?

For many years, the full significance of this statement was lost on me. But during the summer of 2011, we took a trip out to the ranch in West Texas where we deer hunt. Since it wasn’t hunting season, we went exploring. The land owner showed us some archaeological sites they had found on the ranch. You could make out a faint cave painting under an overhang and several bowls had been carved into the slabs of rock that form the landscape.

These bowls were particularly interesting. There was one up on top of the mesa, and a couple down in a draw, a bit below the overhang. These appeared to have functioned as mortars for grinding grain. But there was a fourth one in the middle of a stream nearby. It was unclear why anyone would put a mortar in the middle of a stream.

Well, that summer much of Texas was in the middle of a severe drought. When we got to the mortar “in the middle of the stream,” there was nothing that could be called a stream. There was only a thin ribbon of water trickling across the rock. And this bowl was right in the middle of that ribbon of water. It wasn’t a mortar at all. It was a catch–basin.

Which raises another question—why would anyone go to the trouble of chiseling a catch-basin in the rock like that? The obvious answer—because that is the only water around. It was precious.

See we take water for granted. We expect an unlimited supply from our faucet. Of all the drinks you can order at a restaurant, only water is free. But our casual attitude toward water would have flabbergasted the ancients to whom Genesis was originally written. Susan Wise Bauer describes their perspective in The History of the Ancient World:

ANCIENT PEOPLES without deep wells, dams, or metropolitan water supplies spent a large part of their lives looking for water, finding water, hauling water, storing water, calculating how much longer they might be able to live if water were not found, and desperately praying for water to fall from the sky or well up from the earth beneath.”       (Bauer, Susan Wise (2007-03-17). The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome (Kindle Locations 698-700). Norton. Kindle Edition.)

Water was critical to life. No wonder the earliest civilizations sprang up along the major river valleys of the world—the Nile in Egypt, the Indus in India, the Yellow in China, and the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia.

You’ll recall that these last two rivers—the Tigris and Euphrates—are mentioned in Genesis 2. They are fed by the river flowing out of the Garden. In the Garden was the source for the rivers on which all of Mesopotamia was dependent. Not only was there abundant food and beauty in the Garden; there was abundant water.

And by the way, one of these rivers, the Pishon flowed around a land rich with minerals. The gold of this land was good, and it was the land of the lapis lazuli, a precious gemstone, and of bdellium (it’s not absolutely clear what this stone was—it has been identified with pearls or as an aromatic resin).

Taken together, these verses describe a land of abundant provision—a place where life is good.

Into this Garden, God places man. But he is not there merely lounge in the shade and gorge on almonds and dates. He has a role to play—a responsibility, a significance. He is to cultivate the Garden (remember the plants that require his presence?) and to keep or guard it. As God’s representative, the Garden is entrusted to his care and dominion.

With this responsibility comes provision. He may eat freely from any tree of the Garden. Feast. Enjoy the abundance.

There is only one limitation; only one thing forbidden. Remember the specially–identified trees? One of them, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is off limits. Eat from it and you die.

Now up to this point everything has been good.  But now we find out that man is alone. And God says this is not good. So, all the animals are paraded before Adam in search of a mate.

Nope. None of them are suitable. So, God takes a part of Adam and custom-builds a mate designed especially for him. She will be more than a companion, she will be one who completes him, who will provide essential help in fulfilling his other role. Remember, in chapter 1, there were two parts to mankind’s commission as God’s representative—he was to subdue and rule over creation, and he was to fill the earth with more image–bearers; more who represent God.

At this point in chapter 2, we see nothing to hinder him in fulfilling the first part of that commission. Adam should have no trouble exercise dominion by cultivating and keeping the garden. But in relation to the second part of that commission—filling the earth with more who represent God—he is incomplete and doomed to failure without a helper.

Again, God provides. With the gift of Eve, Adam is now complete. Together they become husband and wife—one flesh.

The description of this original creation concludes with a startling detail—“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25 NAS95).

Naked and not ashamed. There in the presence of God, as He created them, they are unabashedly naked.

Our minds struggle to comprehend this. How can this be? How can they be naked in God’s presence without shame? Somewhere between then and now, The Story must have taken a dramatic turn.

But what must that have been like? To be naked and unashamed implies freedom from fear; nothing to hide. No embarrassing secrets, no threat of exploitation. Just unhindered intimacy between husband and wife; between mankind and God.

So here they are—the first man and woman, the first husband and wife. Their home is The Garden, a place of boundless provision and beauty. They have an identity—God’s representatives. They have significance—to rule as God’s representatives and fill the earth with more of their kind. And their lives are full—on top of the abundant provision, they share an unhindered intimacy with one another, and with God.

This is an existence unlike anything we have ever known. In the Garden they had Life. What happened?

We’ll look at that next.

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©Copyright Garth Oliver