God had (and has) a marvelous plan for His creation
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Genesis 2:4-25
God gave Adam life and a paradise in which to live and work (security)
God gave Adam meaningful work (purpose) and clear guidelines (structure)
God gave Adam the perfect companion (relationship)
God has proven His love for us; our job is to trust and obey.
Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils. Genesis 2:6
[Editor's note: this Bible study supplement started as a printed newsletter for teachers, which is why it is so text-heavy. I am slowly adding older lessons to our website.]
Getting Started: Things to Think About
When you do a search for “Paradise” you get this:
(and you get some other stuff; always be careful with a Google image search).
What do you think of as “paradise.” Everybody has different ideas, but it seems like all of them have in common water and lush plants. (Confession: those last two photos are not "paradise" results. But you can't tell me they're not just as beautiful.)
Genesis: the Context
One of the reasons why I can accept the possibility of Genesis 1 being more poetic than wooden-literal is the presence of Genesis 2. Moses has reported the creation of the universe, then he seems to repeat himself. Well, that’s actually what he’s doing. He’s re-telling creation as it pertains to humanity. We heard the grand sweep, now we hear the nitty-gritty of humanity (literally). Chapter 2 introduces all of the necessary conditions for understanding the Fall (chapter 3), which we will talk about next week: where did man come from? where did God put him? what are the stakes? Genesis 2 thus takes a more personal approach to God; God is “Elohim” in chapter 1, a monolithic term. In chapter 2, He is “Yahweh Elohim” - a God with a name.
This is the narrative introduction to the Bible Project studies of Genesis.
This Week's Big Idea: Where Is Eden?
This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? “Eden” is similar to an Akkadian term (more ancient than the Hebrews) for “plain.” It’s also similar to the Ugaritic term (equally ancient) for “garden of abundance.” In Hebrew, it means “luxury.” Cynics say that the Hebrews stole the term from their ancient neighbors. I say their neighbors learned the term from God’s name for Eden. A river flows from Eden to water the garden where God puts Adam, and it then feeds four great rivers. We know two of them: the Tigris and Euphrates are the foundation of Mesopotamia (“the land between the rivers”), the recognized birthplace of civilization. We don’t know about the Pishon and Gihon, although their description sure seems like the Nile. How could that even be possible? One possibility is we’re thinking about Eden wrongly. Many people associate “Eden” just with the garden. Certainly, kings would plant amazing gardens near their palaces and fill them with beautiful plants and animals, so that is the image we should have of the garden. But nowhere does Moses say that the garden is Eden. Rather, the garden is in Eden. My favorite explanation is that Eden was the term for the entire Fertile Crescent (the region in outline). It might be desert now, but archeologists have found evidence that it was once green and densely habited. So how could one river feed all of those rivers? Simple, really. If you take it seriously that there had not yet been any rain (and I have no good reason to think Moses is lying), then all rivers are fed by underground springs. Moses, understanding that God was the source of life, simply concluded that the massive river that fed the garden was also the source of all the great rivers running through the region of Eden. Works for me.
Part 1: Man Formed (Genesis 2:4-7)
These are the records of the heavens and the earth, concerning their creation at the time that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. No shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not made it rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground. But water would come out of the ground and water the entire surface of the land. Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.
I think these words are beautiful. It starts with a division marker (“the records of . . .”) which sets apart at least 8 distinct sections in Genesis.
Moses explains part of the mind-blowing account of creation, probably because he knew we would have a hard time with it. Without critters to pollinate or man to cultivate, propagating plant species would take an act of God. Well, that works out. So God watered/softened the whole earth and planted a garden in the region of Eden, and God "planted" His special creation (Adam) there. I mentioned last week that all of these conjunctions are simple conjunctions; they do not have to imply sequence. Moses is simply telling us where mankind came from. “Adam” is just the Hebrew word for “man.”
See below for more info about dust and life; the point here is both to beautifully capture God’s amazing process of creation of Adam and also to keep us humble. As we all know, we’re made from dust and to dust we will return. God Himself formed us, which is the same verb used of a potter. We are a product of divine craftsmanship; nothing else in creation can claim this direct operation.
Watch Out for Pitfalls. When you teach this, keep it on the main point. If someone tries to distract by talking about how this chapter is different from chapter 1, please nip it by explaining that we have started a new part of the narrative with a sole focus on humanity, which is the target audience of the book. It is not incompatible with Genesis 1; it simply presents a new focus. I would hammer away at how special human beings are. And that means all of us:
Dehumanization in the Modern World. Here’s why I think this is such a big deal. The new world we live in dehumanizes us. Just as colonials reduced slaves (in their minds) to pack animals, and Stalin and Hitler reduced soldiers to the weapons they carried, so our internet age reduces us to numbers and data. How are we dehumanized today? The less we really talk to each other, the more we think of people as their house or their car. Or for folks in social media, they are their avatar or their handle. The 24-hour news cycle reduces people to an endless flow of faces associated with their worst decisions, people we think we will never meet and so don’t really care about. And after a while we get numb to it all. How do we fight for humanity? Take the time to get to know the people around you. Talk to them. Sit with them. Listen to them. Shake their hands. Every person, including those different than you, is infinitely valuable creation in the image of God.
Aside: The Dust of the Earth
There are actually multiple terms for dust in Hebrew (it is a desert culture, after all). Moses uses a generic term, aphar. This is same term used in Job to describe mankind’s insignificance; at the end of the book, Job repents in dust and ashes (42:6). Tying Adam directly to the basest of creation (the ground) serves the double purpose of celebrating God’s creative process and humbling God’s greatest creation. Look at what else forms out of the ground in Genesis 1: trees and beasts. Our chemical/elemental composition shows quite a few similarities to that of the natural world, and this is why. God created us with the same stuff as rocks and cows.
What is different about us? God breathed life into us. That is the ultimate defense of the power of God. From Frankenstein on, humans have tried to create life, and we simply can’t. Only God can. Being created out of dust should keep us in our place, so to speak. Of course, that didn’t prevent early humanity from trying to make a name for themselves at the Tower of Babel.
Bonus Aside: “Living Beings”
To piggyback that idea, know that the word “living being” used of Adam here is also used of animals. KJV translated is a “living soul”, but that would be misleading because animals do not have souls for which Christ died. The Hebrew word, nephesh, properly means “something that breathes” which can apply to a wide range of things. But it does have special application to human identity. Remember that God told the earth to produce the living creatures, but He Himself breathed life into Adam.
Part 2: A Place to Call Home (Genesis 2:8-9, 15)
The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man He had formed. The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.
As further proof of God’s care for humanity and the world as God’s provision for humanity, God planted the garden for Adam. He did not tell Adam to do it. God provided a safe, abundant environment in which Adam could enjoy God and life. See above about where Eden is located to get my thoughts on all of that, but also note that that isn’t the point. We can’t go back to Eden. The presence of the guarding angels (3:24) implies to me that once Adam and Eve left the scene, God simply removed the garden from existence on the earth, not to be replaced until the new heaven and earth we read about in Revelation. Anyway, this lush garden is where Adam first woke up. Not bad, eh?
God created Adam at full physical maturity because he was immediately given work. The difference (and this is how I explain the obnoxiously long lives of the old days) is that the gene pool was perfect. Noah built the ark without machines when he was hundreds of years old. So we can’t get a sense of how old Adam was. Sorry, kids, it doesn’t help us with child labor laws.
Trees have been growing all over the world since day 3, but God specially placed the best of them in this garden in which He placed Adam. And God included two unique trees not found anywhere else on earth: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of life produced a fruit that extended life, clearly. Adam was not forbidden to eat from it. The tree of knowledge is a bit more obscure. We really don’t know what exactly that knowledge was. I see it more as a test of Adam’s trust. By eating it, he certainly launched himself and his family into a life of knowing evil, but we really don’t get the sense that he “learned” it from that tree. It was within him, and it came out of him when he fell to temptation.
And God gave him a very important job: take care of the garden. This is why I don’t think we will be worshiping at Jesus’ feet constantly in heaven. I think God will task us with maintaining heaven/earth—not because He needs our help, but because He knows we love to create. Work is not part of the curse.
The Point. The fact that the earth still exists at all and hasn’t been destroyed by some cosmic catastrophe is proof that God is still providing humanity with an amazing place to live and work. Have your group talk about the things they love in this world. We still have a beautiful home.
Part 3: A Warning Issued (Genesis 2:16-17)
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
God gave Adam one condition to live in this wonderful home. Think of it as the first covenant: follow this one rule and you can live in happiness forever. This part of the lesson is that simple. And I think it’s equally meaningful for all ages from kids to adults. When we’re told not to do something, how many of us are immediately tempted to do it? Sociologists have studied this, and as you might expect they try to downplay the power of temptation (mind over matter). Christian counselors have also studied it and found that temptation is worse among people who think they have their desires under control. Like, say, sociologists.
Teaching This Point. Know that the next lesson is about the Fall (Satan, temptation, and the choice to disobey) so you don’t need to go into much detail about that this week! However, you can set things up by asking your folks, “What are some rules/commands/laws/orders that you have always had a hard time with?” In other words, when someone told you not to do something, you immediately wanted to do it? For me, it was always when I didn’t appreciate or understand the consequences. Adam has no excuse here—God told him he would die. Can’t get any worse than that. Oh, wait, yes you can! Adam didn’t just “die,” he was separated from God, dead in his sin, and he took the whole world with him. I would say that’s worse than death.
Part 4: A Need Addressed (Genesis 2:18)
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.”
You’ll notice that the lesson doesn’t go into the rest of the verses about the creation of Eve. Feel free to do so. People have wondered why God created Eve the way He did, and I think the answer lies in the context. We finally have one thing that is not good in creation: Adam being alone. God then shows Adam every creature in the world (which he names) - could have taken months or years. And as God expected, Adam found nothing that seemed to be a suitable companion. The word for “complement” also means “suitable” or “corresponding to.” None of the animals, though we know they were good helpers (oxen) and friendly companions (dogs), corresponded to Adam. After this long process, Adam realized that too. So God put Adam to sleep and created Eve out of his rib. This process served some very important purposes. First, it helped Adam appreciate Eve, how special she was and important to him. Not just in the fact that he had seen every creature and realized their insufficiency, but also in that she was literally a part of him. Second, it helped Adam know what “helper” meant. It did not mean “help mate” or “play mate” or “work mate” but “help meet.” She could do for Adam what nothing else could: enable him to fulfill his calling from God. Remember the image of God? Creativity, relationship, and dominion. With Eve, Adam could have a meaningful relationship. With Eve, Adam could create life. With Eve, Adam would be able to take care of the world because he now had a suitable helper—not someone made from his feet that he would boss around, or someone made from his head that would boss him around, but someone made from his side to be his companion and partner.
I certainly have countless good things to say about my wife. When we met, we were about as different as two people could be. And in many ways, we still are. But we complement each other so very well. I would not be where I am today if she were not there to pick up my slack. If you think it appropriate, take some time to talk about marriage in your class, about the equal importance of husbands and wives and the how each marriage will be unique based on the unique gifts and skills God gave to those spouses.
Aside: Men Are from Mars . . .
They’re actually not. We’ve learned where men come from. In Tim Keller’s great book on marriage, his wife Kathy offers a chapter explaining the differences between men and women. I think it’s excellent and worth summarizing:
We can’t avoid the subject of gender roles just because it’s difficult and controversial. This affects how married people treat one another. We have to deal with it. Our culture seems to be going gender-neutral – no real difference between men and women (androgyny). Kathy says that being male and female is a part of how God made us, a part of our DNA. We are equal before God, but we are not the same. When God made Eve to be a “suitable helper” for Adam, Kathy says those words are better understood as an “opposite complement”, two pieces of the same puzzle.
In other words, God created husbands and wives to play different roles, and that’s not a bad thing. Sadly, sin destroyed the harmony of that relationship, turning male independence into domination and isolation, and female interdependence into co-dependence and idolatry. But that’s not what God intends. For obvious reasons, Kathy focuses on the wife’s perspective. She doesn’t see “submission” as a bad word. Instead, her submission to Tim is a gift offered, not a duty coerced.
Kathy gives two beautiful gospel connections. First, Jesus redefined all authority as servant-authority. The call of wives to submit to their husbands is not terrifying because they know what kind of leadership their husbands are supposed to offer. Second, Jesus “embraced the Other” in the most dramatic way possible. If God can embrace humanity, male can embrace female (and vice versa). And in fact, she believes that marriages grow *because* husband and wife are “like-opposites” (incidentally, this is how she understands and rejects the argument for homosexual relationships).
Here is where Kathy makes her most dramatic statement: the gender roles that we argue about today are largely American constructs from the 1950s. Cultures around the world have rigid rules for male and female stereotypes, but they aren’t biblical. The Bible really doesn’t give us a list of “jobs” for husbands and wives! The Bible simply gives us the basic roles: leader and helper. Wives are connected more with nurturing the children, and husbands are connected more with providing for the family, but those aren’t exclusive or absolute boundaries. And Kathy makes the correct observation that through most of history entire families worked *together* on the farm or in the shop. In other words, Kathy is comfortable letting individual couples work out for themselves exactly what it looks like to “lead” and “help”. So what do you think? I’d say that gives us plenty to talk about!
Bonus Aside: Eve—What We Know
Well, not much. The name means “life” which makes sense. She was the one Satan went after first, although Adam sure didn’t put up much of a fight. Paul thought she represented the weakness of humanity’s willingness to obey God (2 Cor 11:3). And that’s really it. But here’s what we know is not true. Yes, Adam gave up a rib for Eve, but their male children had a full complement of ribs. Eve did not have to chase off “Lillith” because “Lillith” never existed. Eve did not have sex with the serpent (the “serpent-seed” teaching present in some Pentecostal circles), of which Cain was the offspring. That directly contradicts biblical teaching. Like Adam, we know next to nothing about Eve. Will we see her in heaven? If she repented of her sin and asked for God’s forgiveness, understanding that she couldn’t do anything on her own to make up for it, I suppose we will.
Closing Thoughts: Summarizing and Teaching
The Importance of Trust. This is, I think, the most important application of the lesson (apart from how precious every human being is). Ask your group when they have been asked to follow a rule they didn’t completely understand.
· Ideas that came to my mind include: teaching little kids kitchen safety (they won’t understand the chemical consequences); teaching teenagers the importance of traffic laws (some of which we have taught them aren’t important by routinely disobeying them); giving instructions about power tools or machinery; warnings for medications; and so on.
God gave Adam a rule he didn’t understand, and that is what Satan used as the edge to get Adam to disobey. Rather than trust that God knew what He was doing, Adam doubted and then fell. As a result, the world is now a mess; I guess God was right to give that rule!
God Loves and Provides for Us. This is the flip side to that coin. God gave Adam and Eve everything they could have wanted: food, safety, beauty, fulfilling work, companionship, and love. They should have trusted God. Likewise, we should trust God today. Every breath we take, every morning we wake up, every answered prayer is a gift from God.
As a consequence of this lesson, we need to (1) thank God for the world He gave us and the amazing things He put in it. (Bring some pictures if you think of it.) And (2) we need to ask God to help us trust and obey Him. Bring the words to that wonderful hymn if it will help. Help us to recognize the boundaries He has given us that we may not like but know are there for our good.