4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven. 5 Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth; and there was no man to cultivate the ground. 6 But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. 13 And the name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. 15 Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” [NASB ‘77]
Genesis 1:1 through 2:3 gives an account of all of the creation days. Starting in 2:4 the author puts a microscope on the sixth day and explains the events of that particular day in more detail. This text is controversial in that its style of writing is different from the opening section and some facts – on the surface – seem to contradict it. Because of this, skeptics say the two accounts must have been written by two different authors who took different approaches to the creation events (thus proving that the biblical account cannot be trusted for accuracy). While there are certain difficulties between the Chapter 1 and 2 descriptions, nothing in either text directly contradicts the other or cannot be explained satisfactorily. The author simply chooses to summarize the sixth day initially and then go back to more fully explain its events. The methodology is sound in that it gives the reader an understanding of the creation days as a whole but also makes sure he gets the significance of the male/female relationship as well as the background to man’s fall.
This is the first occurrence of what Moses will utilize throughout the book to mark new sections of the story. He uses the motif of “These are the generations…” (translated in this verse by the NASB as This is the account of…). In future verses it will serve to move the story from one generation or age to another. Here it simply marks a break from the overall creation story back to the sixth day. It is not, as some claim, the introduction to an entirely different account of creation as a whole.
Verse 5 on first reading seems to directly contradict the events of the third day listed in verses 11 and 12 in Chapter 1. There Moses says the earth brought forth vegetation and trees after their kind. Here it sounds as if nothing has actually sprouted at all – nothing has grown because there is no rain and no human to cultivate the ground.
The mention of rain and cultivation is the clue that this verse discusses something different than what is said about Day 3. This seems to refer to wild plants that sprout during the rainy season and to cultivated grains (some commentators see a reference here to what the earth will look like after the fall with weeds and ground that needs cultivation by the sweat of man’s brow). These do not yet exist because there is no man and no rain. If this is the case, it means verse 5 is more specific in what it describes than what is listed in 1:12. The purpose of the description is to lay the groundwork for man’s creation.
Verse 6 is also somewhat hard to understand because it is not clear if it describes a positive situation or a negative one. Some kind of mist or flowing spring or flooding river or perhaps even a rain cloud rises up from the ground and waters the land (the word translated mist in the NASB is used only one other time in the Bible – Job 36:27 – so the exact meaning is unclear). Whether this watering is positive or negative depends on how the verse is understood. Is this verse meant to be a solution to the no-rain situation described in verse 5 or does it explain another aspect of the no-rain situation described in verse 5? If it is the former, then it means that God addresses the first problem – no rain – in this verse and addresses the second – no humans – in verse 7. In this case the verse almost has to refer to some kind of rain cloud that rises up from the earth and brings rain (and it is interesting that in the Job usage it goes along with rain). If it is the latter, then the author is saying that instead of rain – which would cause growth – the land is inundated with water in such a way that growth is not possible. The flooding rivers/springs need man to control them through irrigation (but would this mean that something in creation is not good?).
Regardless of how exactly verses 5 and 6 are interpreted, verse 7 is the main point of this section. In the midst of the conditions mentioned in the preceding verses God forms man from the dust of the ground. He forms him as a potter would form something from clay. God forms man’s body and then breathes into his nostrils the breath of life. Man comes alive and is the sole creature made in God’s image (1:27).
After God makes man He makes a specific place for man to live. He plants a garden toward the east, in Eden. He places man in the garden and causes all kinds of beautiful and fruitful trees to grow in it. Included with these trees are two that are notable – the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Moses obviously foreshadows the events to come by mentioning these trees. Their mention, however, should cause the reader to pause. What is the point of putting these trees in the garden? Why not simply plant a great garden and put man in it and then have a nice story where everybody lives happily ever after?
Ultimately it is difficult to answer these questions but certain thoughts are worth considering. First, the tree of life – what is its purpose? Does its existence mean that man even in his pre-fall state is mortal (to dust he will return)? Does he have to eat from the tree of life to forestall natural aging and death? That seems contradictory to the truth that the penalty of eating from the other tree is death. Perhaps the tree is in the garden but has no real purpose before the fall. Something else to think about – notice that God does not forbid man from eating from it. Does that mean Adam and Eve enjoy its fruit before the fall? Several times the text says all the trees in the garden save one have fruit that is good to eat and there is no reason to think they avoid it. But if the humans do eat from it, does that mean that instead of granting immortality it simply extends life? That would put a different nuance to 3:22 where God guards the tree from fallen man lest man eat of it and live forever. Perhaps it extends life and God knows that if man has access to it he can continue eating from it and have de facto immortality. Yet another possibility is that man eats of it before the fall but it has no effect because he is not subject to aging and death. Or – and this is the last or – man simply does not eat from it at all because it has no attraction until after he is sentenced to death. Lots of questions without satisfactory answers, but questions that are fun and worthwhile to think through.
What about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? This also is difficult to know for certain but an understanding of God’s purposes may shed light on its existence. Perhaps the best way to understand it is to see it in the broader context of creation as a whole. Why did God create at all? To bring glory to Himself. All of Chapter 1 points to this and the seventh day especially seems to highlight God taking His place in His cosmic temple as the pinnacle and purpose of creation. We also know from other texts that God’s agent in creation is the Son and – as Paul tells us in Col 1:16 – all things were not only made by Him but also FOR Him. So with this in mind – and since Rev 13:8 could be interpreted to say that Christ died before the foundations of the world – the reason for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil may be to ensure that God will bring the ultimate glory to Himself through redemption. By putting the tree in the garden He ensures the need for the greatest act of love and holiness that could possibly occur and which will bring the greatest amount of glory to Himself – even more than creation itself.
These verses describe the land around the garden and also its location. Since several of these places are now unknown there is no way to know for certain where the garden is. It could be that the garden exists in what will become the Promised Land.
God places the man in the garden so he can cultivate it and keep it. Two things are instructive about this verse. First, it shows that work exists before the fall. Sin will make work much harder and much less satisfying, but work itself is not one of its ramifications. Second, the words describing the work are the same as those that will describe the duties of the priests in the tabernacle and the temple (Num 3:7-8). This seems to imply that more than agriculture; man’s duties involve a priestly role in keeping the garden as a kind of temple to God. Along with being a paradise for man’s residence the garden is a temple for God’s worship. Interesting that before sin the most wonderful place in the world is set up for the worship of God.
God commands the man regarding the trees in the garden. He tells him he may eat of any tree – notice that this includes the tree of life – except one. He may not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If he eats from it he will die.
Several things about this command are worth noting. First, God does not hide what the effect of the tree will be on whoever eats from it. He has named it for what it does so the man does not have to wonder. He does not just point to a mystery tree and say, “Whatever you do, do NOT eat from that one.” He names it very clearly so man – especially one working with a pre-sin intellect – has a good idea of what it is all about. Second, God gives this command to Adam before Eve is created. This speaks to Adam’s role as the leader in the relationship which will become even clearer in the account of her creation. God will not instruct Eve personally but will leave it to Adam to instruct her in His stead. Third, the threatened punishment seems to be a death sentence more than a promise of instantaneous death. The certainty of death is sure, but the timing of death is not necessarily immediate. The lack of immediate death for Adam and Even after they eat the fruit leads some to assume God means spiritual death rather than physical, but there is no reason contextually to limit the sentence in this way.
As this section ends, man lives and breathes and is in a paradise made particularly for him and set up so he has purpose and meaning. He knows what his responsibilities are and knows what he is and is not allowed to do. He has every enjoyment at his fingertips and is a perfect man in a perfect world with a perfect mind and perfect body. Not only that, but he has ongoing fellowship with his Creator as a priest tasked with keeping the Creator’s holy temple. Even in this apparently perfect situation, however, there is still one thing missing…