Alive in the Garden | Genesis 2:4-17

Though we were told explicitly that the seventh day was the final day of creation, the bulk of chapter two reads much like an alternate tale of the creation of mankind. For some scholars, this has led them to believe in the documents theory of Genesis, which claims that the book was written by multiple authors whose writings were compiled together much later. However, there is no reason to view this section of Scripture as conflicting with the verses that we have studied thus far. Instead, the narrative of the seven days of creation serves as the broad overview of God’s creating work, while the current verses of our focus provide a closer view of the creation of humanity.

THE LORD GOD // VERSE 4

This verse marks the beginning of the first major narrative section of Genesis with the words “these are the generations”. The same phrase is used ten other times as well throughout the book, each time to mark a new arch of Genesis’s story.[1] Furthermore, the rest of the verse serves as a transitory bridge between the broad and narrow focuses of Genesis 1 and 2, and it poetically does this in chiastic form. This means that the components of the verse mirror one another. Here is an outline to help, using the key words of the verse:

(A) heavens
(B) earth
(C) when they were created
(C’) in the day that the LORD God made
(B’) earth
(A’) heavens

This poetic form of structuring is frequently used throughout Genesis, as even this section of Scripture through chapter three is organized in this fashion.

Also, significant about this verse is the usage of a new name for God: LORD. We have already discussed the meaning and implications of Elohim as denoting the majestic glory of God, but now we are introduced to what is often called the personal name of God: “Yahweh” or sometimes “Jehovah”. While God is more generic, Yahweh is the specific and glorious name for the God of the Bible. Together, Elohim and Yahweh are by far the two most common names of God throughout the Old Testament. Thus, it is important when reading our English translations to understand that whenever we see the word “LORD” in all capital letters that the name Yahweh is being used. In fact, translators’ reasoning for using LORD gives light as to what meaning is implied at its using. Throughout the history of the Judaism, this name of God was considered to be so holy that the people would completely avoid speaking it for fear that they would use it in vain. However, this posed quite a problem since it is used so often in Scripture, which was regularly read aloud to all the people. Thus, the reader would say Adonai (the actual Hebrew word for Lord) instead of Yahweh during the reading of Scripture. Building upon this tradition, most English translators opt to use LORD.

Yahweh, therefore, seems to reflect primarily the holiness of God. Holiness, after all, is a term that only truly belongs to God, the characteristic of God that the Bible is most emphatic to express. Ancient Hebrew did not have underlining, bolding, or italics, so in order to provide emphasis they used repetition. This is significant because God is described as being holy, holy, holy.[2] Though God has many other glorious and wonderful attributes, only holy is used thrice in repetition. Therefore, every time that we see LORD throughout the Bible we should be quick to recall that God is holy, unique and separate from all others. Paradoxically, it also denotes the intimate personal nature of God. It is no mistake that Elohim is used throughout Genesis 1, where the focus on creation is large and epic in scope. Yet Yahweh is primarily used in Genesis 2, in which the perspective has greatly narrowed to accentuate the intimate dealings between God and humanity.

THE BREATH OF LIFE // VERSE 5-7

As mentioned briefly in the opening section, many people today view chapter two as distinctly separate from the creation account of chapter one. The description of the land and field not yet yielding shrubberies and other small plants has led some to consider this a contradiction to the first chapter. There man was created after the plants, but here it seems that man is created before them. However, this is not the case; the words “bush” and “small plant” indicate exactly what they are: particular types of plants. Instead, it seems that verses 5-6 are providing a flashback to the condition of the world before the creation of man. And the picture appears to be wanting. The reason given for the nonexistence of the shrubberies is apparently dryness, as it had not yet rained nor was man there to irrigate. The conditions appear to be incomplete without humans. However, God does provide for His fledgling creation by causing a mist to rise from the ground.

Though we were told in chapter one that humans were created in the image of God, we do not get a sense of how intimate that creation really was until now. Verse 7 sheds further light upon the special distinction of humanity from the other creatures.

First, notice that mankind’s position as image-bearers of God did not negate our lowly origin. It is fitting for us to always remember that we are fundamentally dust, lest we think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Since the ancients of Moses’ day were prone to believe that humans were descendants from the gods, our earthly beginning certainly sets us in our proper place.

Second, God formed the first man from the dust of the ground. Even though we are dust, God displayed His love by molding us into creation like a potter molds clay. There is a certain thoughtful and artistic care invoked from this statement.

Finally, the LORD breathes the breath of life into man, which makes the human a living creature. God graciously takes dust and forms it into a creature that would reflect Him. This means that, at the end of the matter, we are nothing more than dust that has been infused with the grace of God.

It is also important to note that when God exalts man from the dust, there is abundant life; however, when man exalts himself in chapter three, there is only death, a returning to the dust. The work of God breeds life, but sin will always reap death. Thus, in our sin-dominated and fallen lives, we can give thanks to God that He has done this process a second time through the work of Christ. Like Adam in the beginning of this verse, the ingrained sin within each of us left us nothing more than dust spiritually (and, eventually, physically). As the dust of the ground had no way of forming itself into a living creature, we had no hope of coming to life out of the death that our sin purchased for us. However, just as the breath of God came into man so the Spirit of Christ came into us, making us new creatures in Him!

THE GARDEN OF EDEN // VERSES 8-15

Another act of grace is given to the man by God creating a garden home for him to dwell within. God does not simply create man and then leave him to fend for himself; instead, He provides for the man a paradise home. Most people tend to imagine the garden and Eden to be synonymous terms; however, Eden is likely a region upon the earth with the garden only covering a portion of that land. Nevertheless, the emphasis here is certainly upon the joy and goodness of the garden. The name Eden means delight or pleasure, and He causes pleasant and good trees to fill the garden. Thus, the LORD has spared no expense for the first man by giving to him a garden that is pleasant, good, and full of delight.

The final compound sentence of this verse is rather mysterious. After God causes all the trees to spring up into the garden, two particular trees are mentioned as being in the midst of the garden. Both are trees of significant importance since they are the trees of life and knowledge of good and evil. Very little is known about these trees except for what chapters two and three of Genesis say, which is limited. Thus, we will not divulge into too great of speculation. We know that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the only tree that God forbids to be eaten, and that the result of Adam’s eating of the fruit results in the entering of death. As for the tree of life, we only know that it was not forbidden until after the Fall. We will discuss both trees to greater degrees as they are mentioned further in the narrative.

Next, we find in verses 10-14 a surprisingly detailed description of the garden’s geography. Though some like to view the garden in Eden as figurative or metaphorical, the description’s usage of proper names for rivers and regions (which the audience likely knew) grounds this account into reality. Of the four rivers mentioned, two are still in existence today (the Tigris and the Euphrates) and are located in Mesopotamia. Thus, the garden seems to have been in the general area of the Promised Land. Personally, I have a slight hesitation of attempting to give a certain geographic location for the garden because the Flood could likely have changed the landscape significantly or even moved Noah into Mesopotamia. However, the theological significance is clear. The garden of Eden was defined by the favor and blessing of God, and the Promised Land was meant to serve as a representation of that grace being restored to Israel.

Of course, even in the Promised Land and under the Mosaic covenant, the people still rebelled against God time and time again. Jesus, however, is the perfect fulfillment of the grace and blessing of God returning to humanity. In Christ, we are not only restored to paradise with God (as in Eden), but we now have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High. Eden was full of gold and onyx, and the Promised Land flowed with milk and honey, but in Christ, we find the fullest joy and delight in knowing the Creator God as our Father.

Once more, in verse 15, we are told that God placed man in the garden of Eden, yet two aspects make this account differ from that of verse eight.

First, though the putting of man in the garden is translated the same way in English, this verse uses a different Hebrew word than verse eight. While the word used in verse eight is the normal term for putting an object somewhere, the word in fifteen gives an added connotation of rest and safety. God did not merely throw man into the garden, but rather He lovingly placed him there, knowing that it was the best place for him.

Second, man’s purpose in the garden is made known: to work and keep it. These two verbs make man’s role in the garden distinctively priestly. In Numbers, God will command the Levites to the minister and guard the tabernacle, which are the same two words as given to Adam in the verse.[3] Thus, the tabernacle and the temple were both means of bringing humanity back into the presence of God as they were in Eden. Though man is given the task of working and maintaining the garden, the central goal of man is worship. Just as the tabernacle was worked by the priest and was the center of worship, so it is with the garden. Man’s working and keeping of the garden was simply the primary way that man worshiped God in the garden. Obedience to God’s commandments is always one of the highest forms of worship.

Finally, consider two more thoughts on Adam’s task in the Eden.

First, work is not a product of the Fall. As humans, we have been created to be productive and hard working. This is a good thing. However, as we will see in the next chapter, the Fall will fundamentally shift man’s relationship to work.

Second, the garden, along with the tabernacle and temple, is foreshadowing of the work of Christ. The crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ accomplished at once far more than all the sacrifices offered in the temple or tabernacle. By Jesus’ sacrifice, communion with God was restored and even made better. Jesus is a better Eden and temple because through Him the Holy Spirit now dwells within believers!

THE EDENIC COVENANT // VERSES 16-17

The LORD’s commandment to man here is sometimes called the Edenic covenant. Like all other covenants in the Bible, this serves as an agreement between God and man. Also like other covenants, there are two basic components: provision and restriction. First, God graciously permits Adam to eat the fruit from any tree in the garden. These are all trees that we previously described as being pleasant to the sight and good for food. Second, God restricts one tree. Out of the abundance of provision, God provides one prohibition, a means of testing the faith of the humans. Tragically, Adam and Eve will come to view this one tree as being pleasant to the sight and good for food. Such is the human heart. We desire that which is most poisonous to our souls, while repeatedly spurning the gracious love of God.

This is also the first mentioning of death. The phrase “in the day” is idiomatic for expressing certainty, so combined with the word “surely”, God is doubly declaring the punishment for disobedience. God is just and fair. Though it may seem a bit extreme to punish humans so severely for a seemingly minor disobedience, we must understand who is issuing this command. The nature of this commandment is nothing like a mom instructing her child against a second cookie; this God spoke light, land, and stars into existence. There is no such thing as petty disobedience against God. There is only cosmic treason against the LORD Most High. Thus, God is completely just in extending the punishment of death because of disobedience. By this, His grace is also further accentuated. We deserve death, but He freely imparts to us life, through the death and resurrection of His Son.


[1] The others can be found in these places: 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2

[2] Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8

[3] Numbers 3:7-8

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