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Sermon preached on Genesis 2:4-17 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 02/12/2023 in Petaluma, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
We’ve worked through the prologue and we now enter into the first main section of Genesis. I remind you that each section begins like we see in verse 4, “These are the generations.” This one is a little interesting because the others will mention the generations of a specific individual and then tell you something about that person and of their heritage and legacy. The language of generations is especially a genealogical reference and in fact the future sections will especially talk in terms of the offspring of the person under consideration. But here, in verse 4, it’s essentially the language of the offspring of the heavens and the earth. That’s a bit metaphorically put, but basically its describing that after the heavens and the earth were formed, here is then the history of the first humans on earth. Indeed, today we will only talk about one human, Adam, as God makes him and puts him in the Garden of Eden and begins to interact with him there.
Let us begin then in our first point to start with the LORD God. Verse 4 tells us something about God for the first time in the book. It tells us that God is the LORD. Let me explain what I am referring to. Up to this point, Genesis had spoken about God in terms of “God”. It used the generic Hebrew word for God, which is Elohim. In the beginning, God, Elohim, created the heavens and the earth. But now when you get to 2:4, it speaks of the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. And you will notice in the pew bibles, that the English translation is placed in all capital letters, L-O-R-D. This is a translation convention uses by many English Bible versions to tell us that the Hebrew here is not the generic word for lord, which would be Adonai, but rather the personal name that God told Moses at the burning bush, typically pronounced today in Hebrew as Yahweh. So, when your Bible has the word lord in all capitals, then that LORD is referring to this name of God, Yahweh, in the Bible. By the way, some in history have pronounced that Hebrew word as Jehovah, though Yahweh is likely the more accurate pronunciation. So, in 2:4, it says that Yahweh Elohim made the earth and the heavens.
Let me make sure you are appreciating the significance here. While the word Elohim is a generic word for God, the name Yahweh is specific and personal. Many of the pagan nations back then would have been fine using the word Elohim to speak of their deity. But they would not have used the name Yahweh. Again, remember that Genesis was recorded by Moses in the context of God’s special redemptive work for Israel. God redeemed Israel from Egyptian slavery and he used Moses to do that. God first appears to Moses to call him to that task at the burning bush that burned but was not consumed. There, God first identified himself to Moses as the God of his fathers, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But Moses then asks God if he has a specific name that he can tell Israel. So, God answered him in Exodus 3:14, “I AM WHO I AM,” and then in the next verse says for Moses to tell the people that Yahweh, the God of their fathers, has sent you to save them. Yahweh, then is a shortened version of “I am who I am,” which is basically expressing the same self-existence of God that we noted when we studied Genesis 1:1. But the main point is that Yahweh is a specific and personal name that God revealed to his chosen people just before he redeemed them out of Egyptian slavery.
So then, while the word Elohim, God, is generic, the name Yahweh is personal and specific. The name Yahweh draws us to think of how God at the Exodus had come down from his heavenly throne to interact with his people that he had chosen to have a special relationship with. That same name is emphasized as God covenants with Israel at Mt. Sinai when he gives them the Ten Commandments. In other words, the name Yahweh really conveys a personal, redemptive, and covenantal aspect of how God has related to humanity. It is the name we especially think of when we think of how God has condescended to interact with us humans.
And so, 2:4 actually brings together both names, Yahweh Elohim, the LORD God. That is actually not that common in the Torah, but it is used exclusively and repeatedly here in this section of Genesis 2 and 3 where Adam and Eve are created and interact with God in the Garden of Eden. I think it makes great sense to see the name Yahweh used here for the first time as we see God begin to interact with his people in a personal and covenantal way. To use Yahweh in such context instead of just the generic name for God (Elohim) is very consistent for how Yahweh is used in the Bible. But for Yahweh and Elohim to be paired up like this here, says something wonderful. It says the same God who condescended to redeem and covenant with God’s people at the Exodus, is the same God who made the heavens and the earth. The language here of the LORD God, Yahweh Elohim, makes us understand that the same God who is the Creator is also the same God who relates to and interacts with humanity, particularly as a redeemer and savior as we’ll go on to see. That personal interaction begins here in this chapter as we now turn to look at God’s making of Adam.
Turning then to verse 5 we see that the account of Adam’s creation is prefaced by mentioning that there was not yet any bush of the field in the land nor any small plant of the field. Some have wondered if this conflicts with chapter 1 which placed the creation of vegetation on day 3 and the creation of man on day 5. But, surely this is not meant as a contradiction but rather honing in on the creation of mankind and the agricultural work that would follow, beginning in the Garden of Eden. This verse doesn’t deny the existence of all vegetation in all places but it does note a lack of some specific cultivated agriculture in the area of Eden. Verse 5 explains why such cultivated agricultural was missing there, because there was no man to work the ground, as well as the LORD God had not yet sent rain – though there was some mist or spring. You see, as we saw in chapter 1, a key work of mankind will be agricultural, and that work is going to begin here at Eden.
So then, in verse 7, the LORD God forms Adam from the dust of the ground and breathes into him the breath of life. The unique creation of mankind in God’s image is complemented with this unique description of the means for how God created the first man. There is something both humbling and uplifting here about our creation. On the one hand, we are reminded of the fact that physically we are but dust of the earth. As the saying goes, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And yet the LORD God himself is the one who formed us, and the language here is like a potter making something out of clay. The creator of all things gave us such attention to so wonderfully even artistically form us and shape our physical bodies like this. And then he breathed into us the breath of life. That is when we became alive, and it is a reminder that we have both a physical, material aspect and a spiritual, immaterial aspect of our existence. On a side note, we don’t see any room here for theistic evolution of mankind here. It doesn’t say that God somehow made man out of some previous life form. No, he took non-living matter and breathed into it a living spirit.
Thinking of Adam being formed like this, I can’t help but make two comparisons to Jesus as the second Adam. The first comparison is to think of the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing life to both. In the Bible, spirit and breath are closely related concepts in the Bible and you can’t help but think of the Holy Spirit’s role here in giving life to Adam as God breathed into him. Similarly, we think of the Holy Spirit’s key role in giving life to Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary so that Jesus’ humanity comes to be a living being through an act different that ordinary human generation – Jesus, the second Adam. Neither the first or second Adam are born via ordinary generation like the rest of humans, but a work of God’s Spirit brought them life.
A second comparison between the first and second Adam comes to us in 1 Corinthians 15:45, and comments on this verse. It says, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” Paul there is comparing our existence in Adam physically, that in this life, we are dust like him. But Paul then speaks of Jesus in terms of his resurrection-life, and that if we have now found our existence in Jesus, he brings us new life. Paul is referring to the eternal resurrection life of the age to come, that just as God breathed into Adam in this age to give us life, so too Jesus as the second Adam breathes into us the Spirit life of the age to come. Remembering what we in the first Adam reminds us that we will return to the dust. But that gives us opportunity to remember how we now in the second Adam can also have a future of resurrection-life. Such life is unto a new spiritually-sown body that will never know any corruption.
So then, after the LORD God forms Adam here, notice his interaction with Adam. In verse 15, the LORD God places him in the garden to work it and keep it. Man will be able to work the ground and continue to cultivate it to expand on the work the LORD God had already done. On a side note, we see that work is not something inherent to man’s fall into sin. Work is a good thing and in fact I believe even in glory we should expect to have some sort of work that we’ll be doing. Here, the LORD God also covenants with Adam in verse 16 with what we describe as the covenant of works or covenant of life – I’ll have more to say of that in a future sermon. So, for now, we see some of that personal and covenantal interaction already here between the LORD God and Adam in the Garden of Eden.
Let us now in our third point turn and think specifically about this Garden of Eden. Notice the beautiful description we find here. Once God finishes his work in it, it is this place with rivers and trees and lush vegetation beginning to sprout forth. Verses 6 and 10 speak of all the water, between a mist or spring and then the river that becomes four rivers. In terms of vegetation, the garden is planted in verse 8 and then verse 9 the LORD God has all these different kinds of trees, surely both fruit and nut trees. Of course, there are these two special trees that we will talk about in a future sermon, namely the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And so, when we speak of paradise, the Garden of Eden is one place we naturally think about.
Beyond the mere physical qualities of Eden, theologians have been right to recognize it as a holy temple of sorts. Biblically, an earthly temple is a place of God’s special presence among man, where man and God meet, especially for man to worship God. Here we see God and man interacting together, and in the weeks ahead, as we keep studying through this over chapters 2 and 3, we will see this all the more. For example, next chapter in 3:8, the presence of the LORD God will be specifically described as being there in the garden, describing his walking in the midst of it. There is a holiness seen even after they Adam and Eve fall into sin, that they are expelled from the garden and no longer allowed to enter it, and even the job to guard it is taken away from them and given to angels. In fact, the language of Adam to guard and keep the garden is later used elsewhere together like that to refer to the priestly service and upkeep that the priests would do in the tabernacle of Israel (Numbers 18:7). Furthermore, when Israel later had its tabernacle, and after that a physical temple in Jerusalem, they both had architectural similarities with Eden and ways that they echo back to Eden. For example, for all three, the entrance into them was from the east. When establishing the tabernacle, the lampstand in front of the Holy of Holies was fashioned like a tree, which has been thought to reflect the Tree of Life, along with other garden-like imagery on it. Then in Solomon’s temple, 1 Kings 6-7 describes various garden-like imagery décor as well. So, the tabernacle and temples draw the mind back to the paradise of Eden. Eden is a place not just for the first man and woman, it is a place of God, even as elsewhere in Scripture it is called the Garden of God (Ezekiel 28:13) and the Garden of the Lord (Isaiah 51:3). Thus, it is a sort of temple as a holy and wonderful place of man meeting with and enjoying the presence of God.
Now as we talk about Eden as such a place, I think we should remember back to chapter 1. There, God had said that man was told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and then reign over it. I think we should see that in context here with man first put here in Eden. We’ve already begun to see that there is something of a sense of a subdued creation here in Eden, with its cultivated agriculture, and with everything under man’s watch and care. And so, we notice the rather lengthy description of verses 10-14 that describe the four rivers that flowed out of Eden. We don’t know the exact location of Eden given this description, particularly because there were probably some significant geographical changes after the flood. But one point I think we can take from the description of Eden having all these rivers flowing out from it is that it is a perfect setup to expand from there through the earth. There would even be wonderful treasures in store for them to find along the way, like the gold and other precious stones mentioned in verse 12.
So, the sense you get is that they would start here from Eden and spread out from there. God told humanity to increase and expand through the earth, and subdue it along the way. And I think we should understand that essentially they should be expanding that which is Eden throughout the world. As this happens, this temple of Eden of God with man would be expanded literally throughout the earth. This would be man in the image of God in the full, and it would be man in covenant relationship with the LORD God in the full.
Now the bad news in that, we’ll see next chapter how they don’t end up realizing this goal, at least with this present creation. Man’s fall into sin gets them expelled from this Edenic temple. While humanity would indeed still reproduce and increase and fill the earth and work to subdue it and rule it, it is still in Milton’s words, Paradise Lost. The holy place of God and man dwelling together on earth in submission to God and his image on earth, was lost when they fell.
But to clarify, this is why the tabernacle and the temples had some of this Eden imagery. The tabernacle and ultimately the temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem were essentially a sort of a beginning of a restoration of what was lost at Eden. It was a beginning of man’s redemption to ultimately yet realize God’s worldwide Edenic-temple vision.
And yet as we keep seeing in the Bible, what was there in Jerusalem with the temple, was only a type of something greater to come. It showed that God yet desired to have this vision realized. But the earthly Jerusalem and its temple would not ultimately usher that it. That became clear when Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed – twice now. But Ezekiel prophesied a rebuild of an even more amazing temple. And likewise, Revelation picks that up and also prophesies of such, though in different terms. Ezekiel puts it more in terms of a physical temple, while Revelation puts it more in terms along the lines of Eden, even with the Tree of Life returning. These seem to both be describing how when Christ Jesus returns, he will usher in the consummated new creation and it will be God and man together on the new earth, of a paradise even greater than what we read of here in Genesis 2. Revelation even goes as far to say that then there won’t be a temple, because the Lord God and the lamb will be its temple. In other words, the whole thing will be one big temple setup on the new earth, literally heaven come down to earth, because God and Jesus will come down to be with us his saved people forever.
In conclusion, let me give us as the church of Jesus Christ a fitting application. While I just made the point that in the end we’ll be in a final temple in the new creation, think of how we see that idea here and now in advance. During this period, the New Testament says there is no longer a physical temple on earth for God’s people. Instead, it says that the church of Christ is God’s temple on earth.
So then, we as Christians should seek the church be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, and bring all the world under submission to Christ as king. To clarify, I’m speaking of advancing the church on earth, not taking over civil governments. We are to seek to grow the church through gospel evangelism and discipleship, calling people to be saved out of this fallen world and made citizens of a heavenly kingdom. While the fullness of that will not be realized until Christ returns, we are called nonetheless to work toward that. Let us look to work and guard and expand the church which is temple of God on earth while we await for Christ’s return to usher us into the new creation.
Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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