Bible Studies on Genesis 1–11 Lesson 6: Placed in the Paradise God Planted


In the previous lessons we have briefly explored the various parts of the creation that God made on the several days of the creation week. The creation of mankind crowns God’s masterful work, and God concludes the week with His rest.

History under the LORD God

In this section of the Bible another name for God begins to be used. In most English Bibles it is “the LORD” (Jehovah in the ASV). This is the Name based upon the four letters YHWH, the so-called Tetragrammaton (i.e., four-letters). This is the Name that God reveals to Moses in Exodus 3 when he asks God (speaking to Moses from the burning bush) who it is that has sent him. God tells him that “I AM” has sent him. “I AM who I AM” is the God who came to Moses in remembrance of His covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is the God who has heard the cries of His people in their slavery in Egypt. This is the God faithful to all of His promises, no matter how many they are or when they were made.

The usage of this personal divine Name at this point in the text is significant. God reveals through Moses that the God who rescued the Israelites from Egyptian cruelty and brought them to Mt. Sinai to give them His covenant law, is the same God who created the world, created mankind, planted the Garden of Eden, and gave man the task of exercising dominion over all creation. The LORD God is thus not a local deity. He is the universal Lord, and He was so from the very beginning! The true God is the only God, and He will not share His glory with any other false gods.

In an earlier lesson we pointed out the presence of the phrase, “This is the account …” (Gen. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9). The word used for account has the sense of “what became of” or “what came forth from.” How well that fits here! God describes the creation of the heavens and the earth, and then He proceeds to reveal the history that flowed forth from this creation. As Aalders (Genesis, I, 82) says concerning the phrase “when they were created” (Genesis 2:4), the “history of the world commenced the moment creation became an accomplished fact.”

One creation, two accounts?

Genesis two is often described as a second account of creation, one that disagrees with Genesis one. But we are not allowed to pit Scripture against Scripture. Instead we are challenged to listen carefully to the text. face the “hard questions,” and allow the whole to help interpret and explain the particulars. The clearer parts must shed light on the more difficult to understand passages of God’s Word.

In this connection we should remember that Scripture passages at times allow for recapitulation, on the one hand, and anticipation, on the other hand. By recapitulation we mean that the Bible in historical passages sometimes goes back, one might say, and repeats or focuses on things already described and narrated. But the focus will have a distinct purpose, something like casting a spotlight on some person or event that may be almost casually mentioned before. On the other hand, when the Bible anticipates later developments, it may very well give the briefest mention of them at an early point in the story, and only later expand on them. One might say that certain verses serve as “headlines” (grand summaries) and other verses are “sub-headings” or the fuller story.

Genesis 2:5 is sometimes said to serve as a description of the third day of creation (gathering of waters into seas, appearance of dry land and plants). Along with that view, it is said that ordinary earth processes must have been operative at the time of creation. Admittedly Genesis 2:5–7 raises questions in the mind of the serious student of Scripture. A search of the many commentaries on Genesis shows a wide range of understandings, some of them appear responsible within the contexts of Scripture, while others are quite unacceptable (e.g., Genesis is mythical).

But we may well ask whether ordinary earth processes were operative during the creation of the heavens and the earth. If the creation week were a series of ordinary days in chronological sequence, how could ordinary processes be present, at least for every element of the creation? The creation week is without parallel and without precedence! By extraordinary words, God brought things into being that were not there before.

Genesis 2:5-7 looks both backward and forward to what is in the text of the Bible. Verse 5 refers to the shrub of the field, the wild plants that can grow in a dry region only after they have received sufficient rain. But initially there was no rain! The plant of the field (verse 5) refers to that kind of vegetation that grows best when it is cultivated by human beings. But initially there was no man! Instead of rainfall and mankind there was a stream or great flow of water over the whole surface of the earth. Some translations say mist in verse 6, but this is almost certainly not the meaning of the word used in the original language.

If anything, Genesis 2:5–6 sounds more like the condition of the earth on day one or day two rather than day three. Thus this passage is briefly looking back, but it does so in such a way as to anticipate what is to follow. Genesis one has man as the final creation of God, but Genesis two points to man as the reason for the whole creation. In other words, Genesis two picks up the grand story, following a brief recapitulation, and now the text focuses on man. Genesis 1:26–28 tells what man is (image of God) and why man is (to rule and have dominion over God’s creation-kingdom). Man is made as the reason for the rest of the creation. He is made as its worker, its tiller and its caretaker. We will encounter the “plant of the field” again when we come to Genesis 3:18 (God’s judgment against Adam).

The formation of man (2:7)

This section is a complement to Genesis 1:27–28, where Scripture reveals that man is created in the image of God, and that man is made male and female. When man was originally created, the LORD God took the dirt on the earth, and He made an “earthling” (the original language has a “play on words” here). God is pictured here as a Potter who molds and shapes the clay of the ground into that creature who will be His image-bearing ruler and governor over the totality of the earth. Someone has suggested that the earth is mankind’s “cradle, his home, his grave.” It will become his grave after our first parents’ rebellion against God.

The text of Scripture also reveals that man is made a living being through the in-breathing of the LORD God Himself. The warm intimacy of the picture presented here for us cannot be avoided. True, the Scripture speaks in the kind of language that we would call anthropomorphic. This means that God is presented in the form and manner of a human being, although He is, always has been, and will forever be the transcendent and majestic God. With the breath of God, man comes to life in a manner that almost has the intimacy of a kiss. The second Adam, Jesus Christ. will be betrayed with the intimacy of a kiss, but He will later breathe on His disciples near the dawn of the new covenant era and say, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).

Man is made body and soul from the beginning. The ancient Greeks taught that the soul was a divine spark trapped inside the cage of the body. Hinduism claims that the body is merely a shell, something like a candy wrapper to be discarded at death. Death, says Hinduism, is liberation from the body. Scripture reveals something quite different. The very fact that we are made body and soul from the start, prior to the fall, already implies that the redemption of man will require the resurrection of the body as an essential element of our salvation. Salvation is not an escape from the human body. Jesus Christ paid for our sins and broke the tyranny of the Devil so that we might belong to Him, body and soul (d. Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1).

Genesis 2:7 reveals two things to us. First, mankind is clearly part of the creation itself. Both mankind and the animals are described as “living beings” (see 2:19). He, like the animals, must depend upon the vegetation of the earth for food. He breathes the air to live, and like all mammals, mankind has hair. Many more similarities could be mentioned.

But in the second place, mankind is utterly unique, according to God’s Word. Only he is made in the image of God (1:26, 27). Only he has the manner of his creation described, the recipient of God’s in-breathing. “Dust of the earth” cannot refer to any kind of animal ancestry because later in Genesis 3:19 we read that God says, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” At death, man does not revert back to being some kind of animal! Just as Genesis one tells us of the diversity of all creatures “in the beginning,” so too Genesis two undercuts and refutes any and all understandings that would suggest evolutionary development of the human race.

God the Gardener (2:8, 9)

In order for man to have a place to live, the LORD God now plants and prepares a garden toward the east in the land of Eden. This is man’s initial home, Paradise par excellence. The text mentions trees of all kinds, and then mentions two more trees. Thus the inspired narrative is allowing us to anticipate the issues that will come to prominence in Genesis 3. The trees please both the eye and the palate. Man’s physical well-being and his aesthetic pleasure are God’s concern in His every preparation for our first home. In the beginning, nothing could be better!



Rivers and rocks (2:10–14)

Genesis 2:10–14 has caused some scholars to scratch their heads: why are these verses in the Bible? What purposes do verses 10–14 serve? They almost seem to break up the flow of the narrative because verse 15 appears to pick up naturally and easily where verse 9 left off.

But in fact this description enhances our understanding of the Garden planted in the land of Eden. The river that divides into four streams suggests that Eden was on a mountain. A comparison with Ezekiel 28 seems to confirm that when it draws an analogy with the king of Tyre: “You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you…you were on the holy mount of God” (Ezek. 28:13a, 14b). There the mountain reference is explicit. In any case, such rivers would have served to ensure the life of the plants. The Garden of Eden was well-irrigated.

Furthermore, we know at least two of these four streams (or rivers) today: the Tigris and the Euphrates. Their origins are in the Ararat mountain region of Armenia (Armenians believe that the Garden of Eden was in their land!). Is it not interesting that following the Flood, the ark carrying Noah, his family, and the creatures with him lands on a mountain in Ararat?

The river Pishon flows through the land of Havilah where there is gold, good gold. Moses’ readers would have recognized in this description the fact that God made great wealth available in the beginning. Throughout the history of His salvation, gold plays a very important role as a means of currency as well as an important component of jewelry (hence, beauty). Abram was rich in gold (Gen. 13:2). The Syrian king Ben-Hadad received Judah’s treasury of gold and silver from King Asa (I Kings 15:18). The fact that gold had high value can be seen when the Psalmist says that the LORD’s iudgments were more desirable than “much fine gold” (Ps. 19:10a; d. Ps 119:72, 127; Prov. 3:14; 8:10, 19; 16:16). John describes the city of New Jerusalem as “pure gold, like clear glass” (Rev. 21:18b). From the Garden of Eden to the eschatological (final) City of New Jerusalem (the gift of God to His own people), gold is portrayed as a very valuable and beautiful commodity. Even so, God’s Word and His wisdom still exceed all the finest gold.

Work and worship

The LORD God places the man He formed in the Garden for a purpose. This place was man’s home, but man has household chores to perform. Paradise was not a retirement home! It could not be. because the dominion mandate of ruling and subduing the earth (Gen. 1:26, 28) clearly implies that the man would have many tasks to perform in the creation-kingdom. Governing the Garden is an active calling.

Genesis 2:15 uses two verbs to describe man’s responsibility: cultivate (i.e., work) and take care (i.e., keep, guard). The word cultivate means to work the earth (till the ground), but it implies far more. Cultivation of the soil means to work the ground in such a way that it brings forth the desired food but also other natural products. Development of the earth’s resources for the greater glory of God is meant. Extending the thought carries us to the entire range of cultural enterprises that make up life within the kingdom of God.

Psalm 2:11 and Psalm 100:2 use the very same verb (cultivate) to describe service to the LORD. “Serve the LORD with gladness!” Here the reference is to the worship activities of God’s people. It is striking that the same word can be used for both work and worship, for both culture and cultic activities (by cultic I am referring to matters of liturgy and formal worship). We as Reformed Christians believe with all our hearts that all of life is lived coram Deo, before the face of God. Abraham Kuyper reminded us that not one square inch in the whole universe of human life falls outside the kingship of Jesus Christ. Christ sees the whole and He says, “It’s mine!” Therefore, to worship the Lord on Sunday must lead to work for the Lord throughout the week.

The covenant of God’s favor

The word covenant is not used in the Biblical text in Genesis 1–2. But we do not go far afield if we discuss the idea of covenant already at this point in the Bible. Clearly the elements of a covenant are in place here. God has taken the sovereign initiative here. He has lovingly established a relationship of friendship and favor with that one creature, man, who will rule as a vice-regent (governor) over the creation-kingdom. God loves the man, and the man must respond in love and faithfulness to his God. Man is free to eat everywhere, from all the trees of the Garden of Eden. God is not stingy with us! But there is a prohibition: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is off-limits. Should the man cross this boundary, then death is a certainty. Man is called in this covenant of favor to believe what God has said and to glorify Him by obedience.

Points to ponder and discuss

1. What is meant by biological evolution? What is theistic evolution? What are the reasons some people believe in evolution? Does the Bible allow for (theistic) evolution? Why or why not? (Give Scriptural reasons for your answers.) Can the doctrine of creation, especially the creation of man, be isolated from other teachings of Scripture? (Think here of the doctrines of Christ, of salvation, of eschatology.)

2. What are some of the effects of an evolutionistic worldview in our society? How important is this issue today in the church, in education, in medical ethics and other areas?

3. Scripture reveals that work is good, a calling from God. How does our (North American) society view work? How might lotteries and gambling undermine the Biblical view of work? Why are some people lazy, and why are some people workaholics?

4. At one time the United States was on the gold standard to back its currency. The Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire) had gold coinage for 800 years with virtually no inflation in that period. What is it that backs up or supports the value of money today? What causes inflation and deflation? Should the government print more paper money in order to solve economic difficulties?

5. What are various Christian attitudes toward involvement in culture and cultural enterprises? (Think in this regard, for example, about Roman Catholic and Anabaptist or Amish approaches to life in the world.) What is the historic Reformed view of involvement in cultural activities? Can Christians be legitimately involved as Christians in politics, the arts and entertainment. business life, the world of science?

6. God prepares the Garden of Eden as a paradise home for man. Man is put there to work for God. But then God puts before man a test in regard to eating or not eating. Why does God do this? What do we learn about our God in these several actions of Genesis 2:4–17?

7. What do you understand by the word covenant? Is the covenant used in different senses in Scripture? Why do some Christians narrow the idea of covenant down to refer only to their children. baptism, and perhaps Christian education? Isn’t covenant broader than those important things?

Mark D. Vander Hart