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The First Home, The First Marriage -- a study of Genesis 2

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

Will Adam trust God and God's vison for Adam's life?


Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Genesis 2

In this chapter of firsts, we see God's instruction to Adam to care for the beautiful world God has given him. And we see God's challenge to Adam to trust God's rules and boundaries for Adam's life. And finally, we see the capstone of creation in which God gives Adam the perfect complement to his own existence, a wife who corresponds to him in every way.

Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame. (2:25)


When Last We Covered This Passage

Our curriculum takes us through the Bible every 8 years. We're not covering exactly the same verses as in 2015, but there's some overlap I will refer to.

In that post, I focused on/suggested --

  • Paradise

  • Where is Eden?

  • Dust

  • A great chapter from The Meaning of Marriage

You'll see some recycled material from that post, but there will be plenty of new stuff (the world has changed a shocking amount since 2015).


Getting Started: Things to Think About

This week's passage covers so many critical (and relatable) topics; you could go to so many different ideas for an opening discussion.


The Most Beautiful Gardens in the World

Do you like to visit gardens? I certainly do.

If you're a garden person, why do you like to visit gardens? For me, it's simple. I love flowers. I love birds. I love water features. I love manicured lawns and bushes. But I really don't like yard work, and my schedule is weird. So, I love to enjoy other people's hard work!


For this post, I'm going to pick on one garden in particular that I think demonstrates my point: the Dubai Miracle Garden.

I never cease to be amazed at what money can accomplish. This combination of millions of flowers, hundreds of laborers, and 200,000 gallons of water per day is a marvel. The garden closes during the four summer months but is otherwise a major tourist attraction.


Where am I going with this? This week's passage takes us to the Garden of Eden, where mankind started in the most beautiful garden in history -- one that he didn't have to cultivate at all (because God did the "heavy lifting"). It's why I think humans are attuned to gardens. Imagine living in a perfect garden that somebody else takes care of ...


Your Backyard Garden Dream

Maybe you don't like to visit gardens as much as you like to care for your own. I know many of you have green thumbs because you love to show me pictures of such-and-such beautiful plant, or you love to share fresh produce from your garden. What do you love about your backyard garden?

Backyard gardens are big business (as many of you know!). There are hundreds (thousands?) of websites devoted to helping you make your backyard beautiful --

What do you find so rewarding about your garden (or planters)? (I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised to discover that gardening is good for your mental health.)


Again -- it's no coincidence that the very first human woke up in a cultivated garden. God could have put Adam anywhere, but God chose a garden.


Famous Pairs

Or you could take a totally different approach to your icebreaker. You can make this a pop quiz and choose pairs based around your group's interests.

  • Peanut butter and ____

  • Charlie Brown and ____

  • Abbott and ____

  • Sherlock Holmes and ____

  • Woody and ____

  • Bert and ____

  • Phineas and ____

  • Lady and ____

  • Macaroni and ____

My purpose for this exercise would be to focus on positive or constructive relationships where the partners make each other better. This week, our focus is on the very first pair -- Adam and Eve. Eve was the perfect complement to Adam; she corresponded to him in every way God found important. (Unfortunately, it would not be enough for the pair to resist the withering temptation from Satan, but I think part of the point of Genesis is to demonstrate that no human can resist Satan without relying on God's strength.)


What Makes a Marriage Work?

This topic can turn into its own lesson, which is why you may not want to use it, but a big part of this week's passage is about the importance of Eve to Adam. God's solution to Adam's loneliness was a woman, and for all intents and purposes, they were the first married couple (we use Genesis 2:23-24 in most Christian weddings).


We've covered "marriage" as a topic in depth multiple times --

and often in the context of sexual morality. (We will see just how devastating the line is -- "they were both naked, but they were not ashamed"). What do you remember about those discussions? What would you say is most important for a healthy marriage?


Write those things down and keep them in mind for our discussion of Genesis 3!

 

This Week's Big Idea: Why Did God Create People?

Part of our challenge this week is simply the fact that we know what happens next. We know that the very next thing that we hear about Adam and Eve is how they fell into temptation. That leads to all kinds of questions --

  • Why would God put a "forbidden tree" where Adam covet it?

  • Why would God allow the serpent in the garden at all?

  • Why would God create Adam and Eve in the first place?

Have you ever wondered those things? For starters, slow down and read those questions again. Don't they sound like they're blaming God for Adam's sin?


We'll talk more about this next week, but let's get your gears turning by getting into your own head. Do you have children (or have your seriously thought about having your own children)? If so, why did you have children?


Questionable reasons: peer pressure, societal good, accidental, self-fulfillment, "seemed like fun". Better reasons: desire to be part of a family, desire to help the future of humanity, part of the human experience. And of course those perspectives change after you've actually had children.


But here's what I think would be more instructive to get us thinking about this topic: why do people not have children? With plummeting birth rates, this is a more frequently surveyed topic. Here's a Pew study from 2021:

Most people answered "they just don't want to". Other studies have dived into other reasons. This one from CNN mentioned "not wanting the responsibility of being a parent" and "liking their life as it is". This one from Psychology Today mentioned people not wanting to bring more people into the world to make a bigger mess of things. Many surveys pointed out the increasing number of adults who have no desire to have kids. (As a parent, I certainly have had fears of "doing a poor job parenting".) (Here's a Business Insider article that basically promotes the DINK lifestlyle.)


Now let's take that and apply it to God.


For starters, let's admit that we cannot "comprehend God" or be able to understand what's He's thinking. But God gave us the Bible to tell us what we need to know about Him, and the "image of God" we've been created in gives us hints and glimpses as to "how He thinks".


#1: God did not need to create us. He was not "filling some void" with us.

#2: God knew everything that would happen before He created us.

#3: God still created us knowing it would cost Him His Son. He did it anyway.


We can draw some important inferences here:

  • God wanted to share this beautiful creation with us.

  • God believed that our "free will" was worth the pain it would create.

  • God values the "highs" of love above the "lows" of loss.

Note that that doesn't really answer the question of "why". It's like wondering why God chose to make the sky blue and the grass green; it's just right.

What we can draw is that God did not let a fear of the future dissuade Him from acting out of love and a desire to share that love. As parents, we have to make incredibly difficult (and sometimes gut-wrenching) decisions about "how to parent" -- what to teach, how to punish, what to prioritize, how to make the most of our short time. We could circumvent all of that "trouble" by simply choosing not to have kids.


God did not make that choice. He believes we are worth the "trouble".


But more on this next week.

 

This Week's Bonus Big Idea: Manhood and Womanhood

Remember how I said last week that a lesson on Genesis 1 would be more controversial for some groups than others?


Well, let's ramp that up this week. Let's talk about gender identity.


In Genesis 1, we learned that God created people to be male or female, and in Genesis 2, God dives into some of the differences between men and women (that gets ramped up even more in Genesis 3).


Your group might not have any confusion about male or female, but just in case, let me make you aware of this wider (and not entirely coherent) discussion. This therapy website lists 20 genders. This medical site lists 74 genders (!!?!). I say that to say this -- if anybody in your group brings up "other genders", they're probably talking about this stuff.


God created humans male or female. The reason there is confusion, jealousy, or rivalry related to our biological gender is a result of sin, which we will talk about in Genesis 3. I'll refer you to this statement (Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) for more:

As for the rest of it, it reads like a bunch of word games. And I know I've played into that when I've talked about this topic in public -- I don't like saying the word "sex" around kids (call me old-fashioned), so I use the word "gender" interchangeably. But if you read those gender sites, you'll see a lot (a lot) of effort to create a difference between "sex" and "gender".


Here's where I get confused about the confusion: the way these "genders" are described sound a lot like "personality", and I wonder what we're really arguing about. It seems that some of the architects behind this gender "revolution" are exploiting the power of labels -- namely their ability to label somebody else and thus make that person a part of their camp.


But let's be fair and honest: the societal conditions in which those things have been exploited happened under the guidance of people who also used labels very heavy-handedly. Classic example: boys play football; girls take home-ec. But what if a boy likes to cook? In a system of rigid labels, that boy can be convinced "you must not be a boy". And here we are.


For the purposes of this week's lesson, I'm going to ask all of our groups to start with Jesus' statement:

But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. (Mark 10:6)

God, who created us, made us male or female. I don't know what else you want me to say. Next week, we will talk about how sin took the good and beautiful thing that is being male or female and created confusion and contention. But this week, we're going to just talk about God's perfect plan for humanity.

 

This Week's Final Bonus Big Idea Which Doubles as a Where We Are in Genesis: The Difference between Genesis 1 and 2

You will read in some (liberal-leaning) commentaries that Genesis 2 is a separate account of creation and that the editor of Genesis indiscriminately put the two chapters together, not realizing they were different. People who promote this idea point out that God is named Yahweh in chapter 2 (look up "the documentary hypothesis" if you need help falling asleep, er, want to learn more) and that some of the details are different between chapters 1 and 2.


You can guess that I believe that to be hogwash, so what do we do with this?


Let's start with the structure of the book of Genesis. The editor (Moses) uses a phrase to move the narrative along: "this is the account of"/"this is the record of"/"these are the generations of". The Hebrew phrase more or less means "this is what became of". Here are some examples of where the phrase is used:

  • 2:4 These are the records of the heavens and the earth, concerning their creation.

  • 5:1 This is the document containing the family records of Adam.

  • 6:9 These are the family records of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among his contemporaries; Noah walked with God.

  • 10:1 These are the family records of Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. They also had sons after the flood.

  • 25:19 These are the family records of Isaac son of Abraham.

The phrase is used to introduce what follows.


Yes, Genesis 2:4-7 parallels Genesis 1:1-3:

  • 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

  • 2:4 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, 5 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. 6 But mist would come up from the earth and water all the ground. 7 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.

But if we keep reading in Genesis 2, we see that the focus is now on this man and woman. In other words, Genesis 2 describes creation as centered around humanity. "This is what happened with those two people we just met in chapter 1."


That explains the changed name of God. In chapter 1, Moses introduces his audience (remember that the Hebrews in Moses' day were rather ignorant of who God was and who they were in relation to Him) to the creator God of the universe -- Elohim. But in chapter 2, Moses tells his audience that God created humans to have a personal relationship with them, and God has a personal name -- Yahweh -- to reflect that intimacy.


You might remember this incredible exchange from Exodus 3:

13 Then Moses asked God, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what should I tell them?” 14 God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the Israelites: The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.

God introduces Moses to the name "Yahweh".


[Translation Note: when you see "Lord God" in most English Bibles, that's a translation of the Hebrew Yahweh Elohim.]

 

Part 1: The First Home (Genesis 2:7-9)

7 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. 8 The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he placed the man he had formed. 9 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.

Oh dear, there's so much to cover. I'll just go in order.


Formed

This word is used of an artist and his creation. A favorite example is of a potter forming (fashioning) a piece of clay into a bowl (or whatever).


Dust

This is actually a common image of mortality in the Bible:

  • Gen 13:16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth,

  • Gen 18:27 Then Abraham answered, “Since I have ventured to speak to my lord—even though I am dust and ashes—"

  • Num 23:10 Who has counted the dust of Jacob or numbered even one-fourth of Israel?

  • Job 42:6 Therefore, I reject my words and am sorry for them; I am dust and ashes.

In other words, don't get hung up on "what kind of dust". The point is that humans are made of the "stuff of the earth" (which is why we share so much genetic material with other animals, who are also made of the stuff of the earth!). Angels are made of something else, and we don't know what that is because the Bible is not about them.


The thing to note here, and the thing which separates us from the animals, is this God-breathed "breath of life".


Breath of Life / Living Being

These are two different phrases describing two different things. The phrase "living being" is also used to describe the animals. If you have a pet, you know that animals have personalities and moods and interests, similar to people. That's this "living being" thing (nephesh). It is not "soul" here. That's the "breath of life". (In other parts of the Old Testament, the word nephesh is used for what we think of as "soul".)


Living things have a body and they have "life". For all their wisdom, scientists can't tell us what "life" is or what's the difference between a living body and a dead body. But humans have something additional -- a "soul" (and to be technical, that "soul" is the "image of God", but it's referring to much more than just the part of us that will live forever).


Eden

Our lesson passage skips the verses that describe Eden (2:10-14). Those verses have confused many people. And that's probably because the people are thinking of a map like this one:

I don't think we have to do that. "Eden" refers to an entire region, not just the garden. Personally, I think "Eden" refers to the entire Fertile Crescent, from the Persian Gulf to Egypt. (This entire region is known as the "cradle of civilization".) Remember that there are no rains yet; everything is fed by underground springs.


A friend of mine suggested that the Garden of Eden was located in the same place as future Jerusalem (which will be the same location as the "New Jerusalem" in eternity). I absolutely love the symbolism of that, but the descriptor "east" (if from the perspective of Canaan) would suggest otherwise. (If from the perspective of Sinai, then maybe.)


Garden / Orchard

In part of Eden, God planted a garden (could also be "orchard" -- trees are what's described). Note that all of the trees here are described as being pleasing to the eye and desirable for food. The main point is that God cultivated this garden, but more on that in the next section.


Tree of Life / Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

Grammatically, this phrase is parenthetical -- an aside. It's a "keep your eye out for this". Of all of the beautiful trees in the garden/orchard, two have special attention drawn to them. One produces "fruit which gives life" (which is most likely what "tree of life" means). By that logic, the other produces "fruit which gives the knowledge of good and evil". What does that mean? That's the million dollar question, and no one fully agrees. It could mean that people did not have the capacity for moral good or evil at creation (but if that's true, then how did Satan tempt them?). More likely, its talking about the capacity for moral discernment, but that seems to be a part of "the image of God". So, what is this tree? I think the answer comes in what God says about it. And that's in the next section.

 

Part 2: The First Rules (Genesis 2:15-17)

15 The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, 17 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.”

There's still a lot of passage to cover, so you'll probably have to make some of the same uncomfortable decisions that I am -- what to gloss over so as to make sure you get to the end of the passage.


God gave this man two instructions: "work" the garden and "watch over it". Note that the "hard work" of cultivation -- the blood, sweat and tears -- doesn't come in until after the fall. God did all of the hard work for this garden; Adam just had to maintain it.


Two observations:

  • God created Adam at "working age"; when people ask me how old we will be in heaven, I answer "however old Adam was at creation".

  • In this perfect Garden of Eden, being a vegetarian was the expectation. Those God-grown plants provided all of the nutrients Adam (and all of the animals) needed.


And there's one rule. One very simple rule.


That helps us know that the primary purpose of this tree is a symbol of trust. Will Adam trust God and God's vison for Adam's life? Here's the simple way I think we can describe it:


God would have given Adam moral wisdom and discernment over the course of Adam's life, but at God's "pace" and plan. But this tree offered Adam a way to get that knowledge faster and on Adam's terms. More to the point, it would enable Adam to conclude that he could create his own definition of "right and wrong".


Uh oh.


This is where your parenting experiences come into play. Have you ever had kids buck against your rules and boundaries? (Or, as a kid did you ever buck against the boundaries placed on you?) Kids truly believe that they can do a better job determining for themselves what is right and wrong / good and bad. As a parent, your job is the "ease them into" that stage of life where they truly are making those self-determining decisions.


And if they leave home early, they'll learn those lessons "the hard way". (And that's exactly what's about to happen to Adam.)


The phrase "you will certainly die" is quite ominous, but also confusing. We know how the story goes; we know that Adam disobeyed God, but he did not "certainly die". I strongly encourage you to hold off on this discussion until next week -- we will cover it in depth.


In a nutshell, this command boils down to "will you trust Me to order your life?" And that's why God put this tree in the garden. God gave Adam the ability to choose to disobey God; what does that freedom mean if there is not a legitimate opportunity to exercise that choice?


This Bible Project video is helpful:


 

Part 3: The First Need (Genesis 2:18-20)

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.” 19 The Lord God formed out of the ground every wild animal and every bird of the sky, and brought each to the man to see what he would call it. And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the livestock, to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal; but for the man no helper was found corresponding to him.

Let me start with this note: most of the words we use to describe Eve -- partner, companion, helper -- fall short of the Hebrew terms. The Hebrew word is ezer (think Eben-ezer), which comes with a strong connotation of indispensability. In modern terms, a "helper" is some kind of underling. But an ezer is an equal, invaluable, necessary "part of the team".


That's where the Hebrew term for "corresponding to" comes in. The Hebrew word (kenegedo) literally means "according to the opposite of". In other words, "in a way that complements in every way". We don't have a simple way of saying this in English. Eve is suitable for Adam. Eve corresponds to Adam. Eve matches Adam. Yes, she "helps" him and is a "partner" to him, but the full meaning of the word takes all of those connotations. More on this in the next section.


"Adam naming the animals" is a favorite for artists.

And if you think about it, it had to take a while, right? Surely this could have taken days or weeks, as many animals as there were.


[Brief aside: the Creation Museum went to great length to point out that God didn't have to create every species of dog (for example) in the beginning. It's possible that we're only talking about a few hundred distinct species of birds and land animals.]


[Bonus aside: don't get hung up on the explicit order of events. That's clearly not the focus here. The focus is on humankind and our relationship with the world we have been put in; this passage does not contradict the order of events in Genesis 1 because it does not give sequential notes at all. These are simply the things that happened.]


And forgive me for indulging my silly side, but the idea of "naming something" is extremely humorous to me. I've been forever ruined by a clean comedian I like who has released a series of videos on "naming things" (here's a compilation) --

After enough animals, did Adam just start throwing out random syllables just to get this task over with?


On a serious note, the ability to name something in the ancient world was associated with power over it. I mentioned this recently with the respect to how the Babylonians renamed Daniel to Belteshazzar. (And I've hinted at this in why it's such a big deal that certain parts of our society are giving out so many labels to groups of people.)


Verse 20: the section instance of "the man" is the first time the word appears without the definite article. You have probably learned somewhere along the way that the Hebrew word for "man" is "Adam". Before this point, the Hebrew always refers to him as "the adam", which is why it's often translated "the man". But here, we are given the option of considering it Adam's "name". There's a bit of an argument among Bible translators exactly where we should stop calling him "the man" and start calling him "Adam". I vote for here in verse 20.


The point of this passage is to reiterate that Adam isn't like the other animals created out of the stuff of the earth. He has "the breath of life" in him; he has been made in the image of God. I love my dogs, and I consider them my faithful companions. And yes, there are days I would rather spend time with my dogs than with people (can I get a witness?). But that's the point -- it's because dogs are not people.


God created Adam to need other people. And that's completely in line with who God is -- God is a perfect Trinity of three Persons -- Father, Son, and Spirit. He has always existed in perfect relationship, and this strongly implies that He created people also to exist in relationship. We have multiple layers of relationships -- our relationship with God, and our relationship with one another.


But there is something very special about this second person in particular ...

 

Part 4: The First Marriage (Genesis 2:21-25)

21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. 22 Then the Lord God made the rib he had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 And the man said:
This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called “woman,” for she was taken from man.
24 This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.

All of the other creatures were created out of the stuff of the earth. But for someone suitable for Adam, God created her out of "the stuff of Adam".


David (our FBC pastor) often points out in his wedding ceremonies that God did not create Eve out of Adam's head (to rule over him) or his feet (to be trampled on by him) but out of his side, close to his heart.


The Hebrew word often translated "rib" actually just means "side". Later, Adam does refer to "bone of my bones", which makes us immediately think "rib", but that has caused no shortage of embarrassment to the excited young Bible scholar who claims that men have one fewer rib than women. (Aside: even if Eve was created with Adam's rib, that wouldn't men that all men have one fewer rib -- just Adam.)


This is also called "the first surgery" and "the first anesthesia" (lots of firsts in this book).


The point seems to be the unique relationship between Adam and Eve. God could have formed her out of the dust of the earth like Adam, but He chose to form her out of a part of Adam himself. It's special and beautiful. There's an old wedding song with the line, "Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again." It's so mysterious.


Adam's line in verse 23 has the connotation of relief and excitement. It seems that he has been naming many animals for a long time. But in Eve he has found something totally different. Something refreshing and exciting (in their most positive connotations).


Note another first: this is the first recorded human statement.


Your leader guide says that the Hebrew word for "female" (ishshah) is the feminine form of the word for "male" (ish). I've read some Hebrew scholars who claim that the two words are not etymologically related -- that "woman" isn't a feminine version of "man". The two words are independent but related. I kinda want that to be true because that would cleanly capture the differences between men and women.


Verses 24-25 are an aside. Moses isn't suggesting that Adam said those words then; rather, he's using the connection between Adam and Eve to explain to the Hebrews why they do marriage the way they do. (This is why I consider Adam and Eve to have had the first marriage, even though God doesn't walk them through a wedding ceremony in the text 😊)


This gets into a massive concept that we don't have a lot of time to develop (my notes are already too long) -- what were the early Hebrew traditions of marriage, and how were they different from the surrounding cultures?


Let me just say this, based on this text:

  • In marriage, a man leaves the "home" of his father and mother and starts a new home with his wife.

  • In marriage, the woman is the equal / indispensable / perfectly corresponding partner for the husband.

  • The first marriage was between one man and one woman, and it was to be the prototype for all future marriages.

The phrase "one flesh" only occurs here in the Bible. It's certainly appealing to Adam's "flesh of my flesh" declaration. We can probably take it to mean that in marriage, two people become as if "blood relatives". This is more than just a legal declaration; God "knits" two people together in marriage is a way that is, well, mysterious.


And that gets us to verse 25, which is the unsung most important verse in this section -- Adam and Eve (husband and wife) were naked and unashamed.


Later in the Bible, nakedness is a recurring idea -- it is connected with vulnerability and exploitation. Even today, it is very difficult to think of nakedness in positive terms. So, this verse gives us a fleeting glimpse of "what could have been" in human relationships. It's incredibly profound if you stop and think about it.


And it's all about to go wrong.


As Christians, we have the advantage of seeing how Jesus redeemed everything that went wrong. He made the way to repair the brokenness of "male and female". And we are given a glimpse of a heavenly future where there is no more rivalry, no more shame, no more exploitation.


In Genesis 2, we are reminded of what can be -- a perfect relationship between husband and wife, a perfect relationship between man and God, a perfect relationship between people and the world we live in.


Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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