Friday, July 26, 2019

The Covenant as the Internal Basis of Creation

In the first creation saga (Genesis 1:1-2:3), we learned about creation as the context of the covenant. The second creation saga (Genesis 2:4-25) does not simply repeat this or tell another story. It looks at the same story from the opposite point of view, at the covenant as the goal of creation.

Genesis 2:4-7

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (English Standard Version, here and following).

Immediately we have a new name for God: Yahweh Elohim, the God who with this name revealed himself to Israel. Immediately, then, the history of the covenant is anticipated here in the history of creation.

[M]ade the earth and the heavens. With this reversal of order the emphasis is upon the earth. Like the earth waste and void in Genesis 1:2, the barren earth here is rejected by God. This emphasis is intensified by the first mention of humans as those needed and therefore created to serve the earth itself as gardeners.

The first human is created from the as yet unwatered and untilled earth. This again emphasizes the total integration of man with creation—even if not denying his distinctive human form. Yet, while sharing earth with earth, and while sharing earth and divine quickening with other animals, man alone is quickened by God in a way so immediate and personal. By God’s grace alone, man transcends the barrenness of earth from which he is formed. By God’s grace, the earth will bear the vegetation planted by God through the service and work of the human gardener and with water from God. In this way, man will fulfill the meaning of his existence even as his service and work helps the earth to fulfill the meaning given it by God as well.

This twofold act of God in the creation of man, the forming and inbreathing, corresponds with the twofold act by which God creates Israel. Just as God established an immediate and personal relationship with the first human, so God will do so with Israel by entering into a covenantal relationship with his people and by blessing it with his prophetic Spirit. In this way the history of creation anticipates the history of the covenant and its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. For the well-being of the earth, God graciously sustains humans; for the well-being of the nations, God graciously will sustain Israel as sign and blessing. But just as humans die and return to earth, so Israel as a nation will slip into the welter of nations until its history is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Genesis 2:8-17

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 2:4b mentions the heavens, but then vs. 5-7 focus solely on the earth. Similarly, vs. 8-17 leave behind earth as a whole and focus on the garden of Eden. In vs. 5-7 we came to expect plants and rain; in vs. 8-17, we find the surpassing reality of trees and rivers.

What kind of place is Eden? Eden means “delight” and no doubt the garden is one: specifically planted by God, gushing with water, teeming with beautiful and fruitful trees, and containing even the tree of life. But Eden does not monopolize perfection. Havilah, for example, has the gold. Eden is a qualified paradise. Man is put there to work. Then there is that tree of the knowledge of good and evil from which it is forbidden to eat. So Eden from the beginning is not without its challenges.

Where is Eden? The mention of well-known concrete information—to the east, Cush, Tigris, Euphrates—indicates that a definite place, and not a utopia, is intended. Yet the vagueness of the other details means that while Eden is somewhere, and not nowhere, we cannot know just where it is. The passage points to a historical reality but not one we can empirically verify. It indicates the place that was our home but is no longer accessible to us.

In Eden a river bursts forth to water the garden and then splits to water the four quarters of the earth. From Eden, then, flows the river which allows the vegetation of all the earth to flourish. If we no longer enjoy Eden, we still live by the streams and eat of the fruit made possible by the water from Eden.

The garden is ordered; that is, it has a center and a margin. At its center stand two trees. In relation to them the human creature receives both a yes and a no. It may eat from the tree of life but doesn’t need to do so. That tree serves as a sign of the life graciously given by God to man and all creation. Had Adam and Eve eaten from the tree of life after sinning, they would have known a never-ending death with no chance of resurrection, so God mercifully expelled them from that possibility.

Unlike the tree of life, the other tree does not signify a reality but a possibility. Though not called the tree of death, that is the consequence of eating its fruit. To know good and evil means to decide, as God alone can, between cosmos and chaos. Eating the fruit means seizing the possibility of saying yes to what God says no. In his first words to man, God says no to this possibility and explains why. This no is God’s no to death.

In his own wisdom, God knows as Creator why he willed one thing and not another and therefore what is good and evil. Man’s life in fellowship with God means his free acknowledgment of God’s divinity and wisdom in making creation just the way it is. Will man be thankful for creation as created by God? Or will man insist first on knowing the option that God rejected in order to decide for himself whether creation is good as created? If he seizes that option, then like God he will have to know and be responsible for evil as well as good, perdition as well as salvation, death as well as life. But being only human and not divine, this divine knowledge and responsibility will necessarily poison him.

The positive meaning of this second tree is its call to man to praise and thank God as Creator. Man is to decide freely to obey God. This is not an equal freedom to obey or disobey. God freely gave man the gift of life, then freely set him amidst a special garden teeming with life, and finally asked him to decide to participate with God in life, to acknowledge God’s decision for life by freely obeying that decision.

In all this we find clear anticipations of the history of the covenant of grace. Like the garden of Eden, the land of Canaan is a fruitful spot between desert and sea. As man does not own but must be brought to the gift of Eden, so Abraham and then the Israelites are brought to and given the land of promise. So too the first two human beings and Israel are exiled from the home God had given them following their disobedience.

Genesis 2:18-25

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

     “This at last is bone of my bones
         and flesh of my flesh;
     she shall be called Woman,
         because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

The one theme of this section is the completion of the creation of man as male and female. As in the first creation saga, the significance of the creation of man as male and female in partnership is emphasized by a divine conversation in Genesis 2:18. As in the first saga, the creation of man concludes with the existence of male and female; this time, the man freely recognizes and affirms the woman as his companion. When she is acknowledged as such, it is not for lack of choice but through the free rejection of all the other animals as false companions.

The man fell deeply asleep. He did not participate at all in God’s execution of his own plan for male and female as genuine counterparts. Nor did the man even observe God’s act of creation.

As bone of his bone, the woman is as close and special to the man as a part of his own body. Because this bone was something taken by the Creator and not something donated by the creature, the man cannot lord himself over the woman. Though a rib is lost, the one from who it came does not remain impaired but, healed, finds wholeness only with the one who came from it. Finally the rib, once a dependent part, has been transformed by God into an autonomous whole. God brings the creation of man as male and female to completion by intentionally bringing the woman to the man. The man witnesses to his freedom for God by recognizing the woman as the true companion she was created by God to be. In Genesis 1, then, we find the goal of creation attained when God creates man in his image as male and female; in Genesis 2, we learn how this creation came about; in Genesis 2:24, we learn that marriage is the fulfillment of the relationship between male and female in the history of the covenant.

Oddly enough, the rest of the Old Testament, with one exception, regards marriage less in terms of the relationship between male and female and more in terms of the messianic expectation to be fulfilled in the birth of a son. The one exception: the Song of Songs. But the question remains: how could the writers of Genesis 2 and Song of Songs write of the covenantal relationship between male and female with such innocence? Only on the basis of another covenant which, though broken by disobedience, nonetheless remains valid by grace: God’s covenantal relationship with Israel.

Normally the Old Testament ignores the beginning and goal of this covenant and focuses instead on its center: the troubled history of Israel’s faithlessness toward God despite God’s faithfulness toward Israel. But not always. Old Testament witnesses repeatedly look at the origin and goal of this covenant, at the joyful and intimate relationship of Yahweh and Israel, and in doing so freely witness anew to marriage between male and female as its glorious sign. It is by reflecting on the beginning and goal of the covenantal relationship of Yahweh as Israel’s husband and of Israel as Yahweh’s wife that the authors of Genesis 2 and the Song of Songs write.

This witness of the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in the New. Jesus Christ has his genuine companion in the Church; with his disciples he is firstborn from the dead and as such they are with him as the firstborn of creation. This is why the man could be complete only with the woman. Members of the Church are those recognized and called as such by Jesus Christ. So too the man recognized and acknowledged the woman to be like him. In the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Church has its origin. So too the man had to fall into a deep sleep before the woman could be presented to him. Because of this, fulfillment of marriage is found in the relationship of Christ and Church: 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body (Ephesians 5:28b-30).

Copyright © 2019 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.