Sermon: A Garden in Eden (Genesis 2:4–25)
Listen to the Sermon:
This morning we continue our sermon series in Genesis we will be looking at Genesis 2:4-25 then we’ll consider this text.
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.
5 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, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 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. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 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.
10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 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.”
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. Genesis 2:4-25, ESV
This is the word of the Lord.
Have you ever played the game Taboo? It’s a pretty popular game. It’s kind of a team game where you draw a card, or someone on your team draws a card. There’s a word printed on that card and if you’re the one drawing the card your job is to get someone on your team to guess the word that you were saying. The catch is that there are other words that are taboo that are forbidden for you to say as you say that.
So, for example if you drew the card yellow mustard, you might get something like a ketchup that you can’t say, or condiments, or maybe a hot dog, any word that is closely associated with that word. Which makes it very hard for you to say things that get other people to catch what you’re trying to get them to think.
Now if you were playing that with me and you knew me particularly well, I could say something that would make no sense to anyone else which would be to say, “oh this is my arch nemesis.” Which of course makes no sense, why would any sane person declare yellow mustard to be his arch nemesis? I did it in college to be a goof, I guess. I like mustard, but yellow mustard is just so boring that I called it my arch-nemesis and kind of ran with it.
If you knew me in college or knew me well enough to know my story, you would be on the same page with me. We would be able to talk in a language and share a commonality where you would know exactly what I was talking about.
Or if I drew Chewbacca, I wouldn’t be able to Hans Solo or Wookie or Star Wars or anything like that. Instead I could say, “oh this is what my hair looked like in college also.” You’ll be pleased to know that I have since shaved my head and that’s better for everyone, so you’re welcome for that. For a time, I did grow it out and I looked like a pretty ugly version of Chewbacca.
So, in other words, this game of taboo really doesn’t test your knowledge of the English language so much as it tests how will you know other people. Also, how well you can have a common story that you can draw upon, a common language to be on the same page with someone to be able to read each other’s mind.
When it comes to the question of what the nature of a human being is, that’s a tricky question. Throughout history there have been wildly divergent answers given. To some people human beings are essentially gods, they are the highest rationalists’ beings in the whole world, and they are to be worshipped or at least we shouldn’t worship anything else because we are like gods.
To other people we are dirt, we are nothing but groveling worms. We are a product of the accidents of history, an accidental gas explosion in the accidental spontaneous generation of life in the accidental fortunate series of mutations to bring us to where we are and to whom we are.
Why is it that all of us who share a common nature have such widely divergent about human nature? Or for example about the work that we have? It’s both one of the most glorious things that we do and also one of the most drudgery things that we do.
What about marriage? Why are there such widely diverse views on marriage? If you don’t believe that they’re widely diverse views on marriage, just see how often marriages fail. Clearly people are bringing into their marriage’s different conceptions of what that marriage ought to be.
Well in this text God gives us a commonality, a shared ground. We can get on the same page only about the entire story of the Bible, only about the scope of human history, only about where we are going ultimately, if we start from this same place. Now what makes it particularly complicated is that in the next chapter sin is going to enter into the world. Again, unless we know where we started from, our shared common beginning and origin, we can’t really figure out how sin twisted us.
From there we can’t really figure out what God’s solution would be unless we come back to this text that grounds us in a common place about the nature of human beings in their being in existence, about our work, and about that foundational bedrock institution of humanity, marriage.08:52
So, let’s look at this text. This is fascinating stuff. In Genesis 2:4 we read,
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. Genesis 2:4, ESV
Now this introductory phrase into our passage this morning is important for two reasons. First of all, when we read these directions of the heavens and the Earth, what the author here is doing is tying together the story from Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 of creation. Now when I say Genesis 1, I’m using it a little bit loose it because I’m also talking about what goes through 2:3 and when I talk about Genesis 2, I’m talking about verse 4 through 25.
Genesis 1:1 through 2:3 is the entire first account of creation, the seven days how God created the heavens and the Earth. Here in Genesis 2:4-25 we get a different story. It’s not a contradictory story, they aren’t competing narratives of what happened at the beginning. The complementary, they work together. Here we see well just as in Genesis 1:1, “in the beginning God created in the heavens and the Earth.” Here in 2:4 we’re reading about the generations of the heavens and the Earth.
The second reason this phrase, “these are the generations of the heavens and the Earth” is important is that we’re going to see this phrase, “these are the generations of,” over and over again through the course of the Book of Genesis. That is used about 10 times in the Book of Genesis. Each time there’s a pattern to it. Usually it is used of people, this is the only place where it’s not used for people. First, we meet the person, we’re just sort of told something about them and typically the narrative skips a little bit beyond that person.
Then the narrative rewinds and says okay now let’s zoom in and spotlight this person and tell about their generations, their descendants, where their story goes. Both in terms of their genealogy, sometimes it’s just a genealogy, and also in terms of how their story unfolds.
So here we’re told you’ve already met the heavens and the Earth in Genesis chapter 1, now we’re going to see how the story unfolds. What’s remarkable about this is that we aren’t generally another creation story of all the heavens and the Earth, we are told specifically about the human beings. Again, their nature, their work, and their marriage.
This spotlights and signifies that the most important thing, the pinnacle of God’s creation is the human beings. Everything else, we read in Genesis chapter 1, nothing else was not made in the image of God. Nothing else was made in the likeness of God, like the human beings are made. God put the human beings in dominion and authority over all the rest of creation. We’re seeing that same concept told to us from a different perspective.
Now when we get to verse seven where we read,
7 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. Genesis 2:7, ESV
We’re getting information that we didn’t get in Genesis chapter 1. These aren’t competing stories, we just getting a zoomed-in account. We read two things in particular about how God created human beings that sets the human beings apart.
Number one we see God’s artistry in the formation of the human beings. This word for formed here in Genesis 2:7 is the word for a potter making a piece of art, a pottery. Particularly in the book of Isaiah we read often how God is the potter who formed the Israel. That image goes all the way back here, God formed as a piece of art, as a piece of pottery, the first man Adam.
The human being is a picture of God’s artistry, but also the object of God’s intimate affections. We read here not simply that God spoke, and the man existed, but we read that the Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living creature. That’s a terribly intimate image, it’s God doing CPR on this man, breathing into his nostrils.
We don’t read any kind of other similar statement about anything else in creation. Again, the spotlight of the generations of the heavens and the Earth points to human beings. The human being as the object of God’s artistry and of his of his intimate affections. The human being is everywhere presented here as like God. As noble and dignified and worthy of all honor and respect, out of all of the rest of creation. Human life is sacred because it is meant to represent, to show forth, to display God’s own image.
Yet we also see in this something else, that we are people of dust. That’s not a terribly exciting connotation, you were made out of dirt. What’s going to complicate this further is it in Genesis chapter 3 after sin enters the world, it’s not only that we come from dirt, but it’s also that to dust we shall return one day return in death.
We are noble and like God, we show forth the image of God in the world, and yet we are feeble and fragile. Our origins are in the dust and our future is in the dust.
That’s quite a contrast, that’s a paradox. If we don’t understand the origins of humanity as the pinnacle of God’s creation, but also not gods. We do not run our own show, we do not call our own shot, we are the creatures of our potter in heaven. Then we will fundamentally misunderstand our nature, our story and the nature of God’s redemption in the gospel. We have to start here.
Well we see something similar about the work of the human beings. Looking for 2:15,
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Genesis 2:15, ESV
We read that the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden. Here’s the mission given to the man Adam. The man is supposed to work the Garden of Eden and to keep it.
Well a couple of things about the words here. The word “put”, the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden. It’s hard to bring out the nuances of that word with a corresponding English word. The idea here has to do with rest. What the text is saying is that God caused him to rest, he brought him to rest in the Garden of Eden. Yet, he caused him to rest by giving him a mission of work to do. What this tells us is that originally, we were given work to do is human beings. Our nature is built in with this concept that we should be working, but the work that we do now is very different from the work that God gave Adam in the Garden of Eden.
Right now, our work is infected by the curse of sin. When sin enters the world, well look over the page of Genesis 3:17-19,
17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:17-19, ESV
All of our work whether you are farmer or something else is cursed. We have to work hard at it by the sweat of our brow. We aren’t going to accomplish as much as we might have because our work is fundamentally not restful anymore. Not because work was originally unrestful, work was originally restful. Now because of sin, work is toil. We have to separate those ideas.
Come back to the work that God called what to do, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it”, Genesis 2:15. We read two things, to work it and to keep it.
Those words are also incredibly important. The idea of working and keeping show up again and again for the rest of the Bible, so we have to kind of pin them down here.
The idea of work, we will start there, could be in a variety of ways. It could have the idea of a cultivation, an agricultural cultivation. In fact, this word is going to get ironically reversed again for the end of Genesis chapter 3. If you peak ahead and look at Genesis chapter 3m after the fall of sin, 3:23, “for therefore Lord God sent him out of the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.” That’s not the way it was supposed to work.
Here we read about a cultivation and we’ll talk more about what that means, but it’s a restful cultivation. It’s not the toiling sweaty kind of cultivation that human beings have to do after the fall, as we see in Genesis 3:23. It could mean work or cultivate, it could mean the idea of serve. From here on out when you see the word servant in the Bible, that’s going to be this word in a noun form. In that sense it could also mean the idea of to worship, if you serve a God that means you are a worshipper of that God. Actually, the name Obadiah, if you know someone in Obadiah, that’s “Ovid” which is servant of “Yahweh”, the servant of Yahweh, a worshipper of Yahweh is what the name Obadiah means.
It could mean anything from to cultivate like you would work in the garden, except not on the toiling way which will have to talk about a little bit more, all the way to something like worshipping Yahweh. Let’s come back to that.
The next phrase that we get is the idea of keeping the garden. This phrase also could be translated in a couple of different ways and we have to look at the range of meaning here. The idea of keeping could also mean to guard or to protect. Again, this word is going to be ironically subverted at the after the fall in Genesis 3:24 we read,
24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24, ESV
Man has fallen and unclean and he must be kept away from the Garden of Eden and the tree of life, which is contained therein. It also could mean a sense of keeping like keeping the law. Everywhere you read in the rest of the Bible about keeping the law, it’s using this word for the word keep. Which is why in the very next verse, look at verse 16 of chapter 2,
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, Genesis 2:16, ESV
This is the first law. Adam’s law is not extensive, but he’s called to keep it. He’s called the keep out, to guard the garden from the corrupting influence of anything evil or impure that would enter into it. Like a serpent who would directly challenge the law of God in the next chapter. He failed at keeping the law.
So, to work the garden and to keep the garden. What’s fascinating about these two words through the rest of the Pentateuch specifically, and they’re about 15 places where they show up together, is that these are priestly words. The priests are the ones who are working in the context of the tabernacle and who are keeping the tabernacle pure and undefiled and holy because Yahweh dwells there.
This tells us something incredibly important. That Adam is here is described as the first priest in the first temple worshipping Yahweh. That’s his role, that’s the work he is given. Everything that we read about the description of this Garden in Eden tells us something about what the temple is like. We read in verse 8 that this is a garden in Eden, then we read in verse 10 that a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden. So, in other words the garden is the general part of the Eden, but also Eden is distinct from the garden.
Think of it like Bellevue is a part of Omaha in terms of the overall metro area, but Bellevue is different from Omaha proper. I live in Bellevue and I can’t get a library card for Omaha Public Libraries, which is a really sad part of the curse I have to say.
I think that illustrates the relationship of Eden, to the Garden in Eden. They’re similar but they are distinct. The work that the man is supposed to do, he lives in the garden which is the holy place. Later on, in the tabernacle you’ll find garden imagery, you’ll find a lamp stand that looks like a tree, the Tree of Life. You’ll find the bread of the presence, which is the food that the priests eat, just like all the fruit from every tree that the priest Adam is supposed to eat in this Garden.
It’s the antechamber, the room just outside the most holy place, where the Ark of the Covenant is, where God himself dwells. The work that Adam is given is probably, as you read, this to expand the boundaries. Not in a toiling agricultural, plant and irrigating and harvest kind of way but you expand the boundaries of this garden.
Why? Because soon the man is going to get a wife. Then the man and his wife are supposed to be populating, to be fruitful and multiplying, with new image bears. So, the boundaries of the temple are supposed to keep expanding until they fill the whole earth as more and more image bearers fill up the garden, which expanded farther and farther in the earth. In that way the whole Earth would be filled with the glory of God, through his garden, his temple, and his image bearers filling up the whole earth.
Now you and I, our work is a cursed by sin. We toil in a way that we were never meant to. We bring for thorns and thistles when we’re trying to bring forth plants of the field to eat. In the same way, by the same token, our work is still toward that purpose.
Some of you have a difficult time, and before I did this pastor job, I actually worked for a company that did apartment marketing. Now think of how radically insignificant that job is. Apartment marketing, who cares? In fact, we were attacking a very small niche, my company and I. What we were doing was we were expanding the economy, we created 20 jobs that didn’t exist before, we created products and helped house people.
We did something that may not have been saving the world or caring for orphans or for being a pastor, it’s just a different vocation. What we were doing was creating, in one small way, creating a world in which more image bearers could exist. Even through the simple act of extending the economy through creating a new company.
You still do that whether you work in a company or whether you’re a doctor or whether you are a police officer or whether you were are raising children in the home, whatever you doing your work is designed to continue the work of filling in this world. It corresponds to the filling that God did on the on the 4th and 6th days of creation.
This idea of keep, even though in our work of filling we are resembling God, this idea of keeping tells us that we don’t call our own shots, we don’t work in the way that we feel that we ought to work, we do so in a way that God defines, that God orders, that God gives us principles about how to do it. When we stray from those, we bring upon ourselves a curse.
What about marriage? In verse 18 of Genesis chapter 2 we read,
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.” Genesis 2:18, ESV
That’s a striking statement after reading seven times, “and God saw that it was good”, in Genesis chapter 1. Here we read, “it is not good for the man to be alone.” So, God says I have to make a fit helper for him. So, God parades all the animals that he had created past the man and the man names the animals, as an expression of his authority and dominion over them.
In verse 20 we read,
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. Genesis 2:20, ESV
Of all the animals, no one is a fit helper for Adam. So, God put Adam in a deep sleep. Then he takes a rib, or something from the side doesn’t necessarily mean a bone, then closes up its place with flesh. Then the Lord God takes the rib and builds it, the language is of a construction image, he builds it into a woman and brought her to the man.
The man looks at her and says,
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.” Genesis 2:23, ESV
So, the woman is the fit helper here. When we read something about marriage, let’s break this down. What is God teaching here? What does it mean to say that the woman is a fit helper for the man, because let’s be honest that sounds more than a little demeaning in our current context? Maybe you are from an environment where frankly that sounds flat out abusive, because you’ve maybe undergone and abuse of this principle. I’m very sorry for that. This text does not teach abuse. It teaches something pretty remarkable about the man and the woman.
Through the rest of the Bible, helper, is not typically used to describe a woman anymore after this point. It’s typically describing God. We sang, “Oh God our help from ages past.” That doesn’t mean that God is the assistant helping the mighty executive to fetch his coffee or something like. That that means that God is doing for his people what his people cannot do for themselves.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1, ESV
Again, that is not a demeaning image. That means that God is doing for his people what they can do for themselves. The woman is not given to the man because of her weakness, but because of the man’s weakness. The man is given a mission to work and keep the temple of the Garden of Eden, but he can’t do it alone. Quite simply he can’t reproduce on his own, he needs a fitting helper in that way.
Beyond that, she is called a helper in an extraordinarily high way. There is absolute equality, that’s one of the reasons probably that we read the woman comes from the side of the man, not from his head or from his feet to be trampled on or to lord over him, but in the sense of a place of equality.
What’s even more interesting, I’ve read verse 24 a thousand times in my life and I never notice to whom it is addressed. Look at verse 24,
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24, ESV
Who is it that leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his spouse? Is it the wife? Is she told to abandon her desire, her loyalties, her interests and just a subordinate them to her husband? No, it’s the man.
Men and women and marriage are equal, but they have different roles. The woman is called alongside to be a helper to her husband, in a way that Yahweh is a helper to his people. The mission changes here in verse 24. Suddenly the mission says that here’s the job of the man. It’s not only to work and keep the Garden of Eden, but it is to leave or forsake or cut his allegiance is to his highest earthly responsibility below honoring the Lord, which is to honor his father and his mother. Instead, above his own father and his mother, and therefore absolutely above his only interest, his own desires, his own comfort zone, his own pleasures, his own limbs, his own agenda, he is to please his wife.
The man shall forsake, it is covenant language, shall forsake his father and mother and hold fast to his wife. His chief priority under the sun is his wife. We’re getting something here of a picture of biblical marriage. The wife is called to be a helper, a fit helper, again not in a demeaning of lowly assistant way, but in the way that God himself was a helper. The man is called to forsake every allegiance in his life for the sake of elevating his wife.
What are the rules for this? Who is supposed to be what? Who is supposed to do the cooking and the cleaning and who’s supposed to work outside the home and all of that?
Boy it’s certainly easy to start doling out laws, as though we have them, as though they’re spelled out about what everyone is supposed to do under every circumstance. The Bible doesn’t bind our consciences in those ways. If you want to know what the role of the woman is to be, for example, check out Proverbs 31 and check out the book of Ruth. Ruth is the Proverbs 31 woman in the Hebrew order of scriptures, the order of scriptures that Jesus would have read, Ruth doesn’t come chronologically of as we have reorganized it after Judges and before 1st Samuel. Instead Ruth comes right after Proverbs 31. Why, she is the Proverbs 31 woman.
Look at the things that says about Proverbs 31 women. They are strong, they work inside and outside the home. It’s really a remarkable kind of a thing. This is not a demeaning text, this is an elevating text. Yet there is still an idea here that there are different roles, not absolute sameness, difference and yet equality.
So that the man we ultimately see his role played out when God sent his son Jesus Christ into this world. There the church is brought alongside Jesus as a fit helper to continue helping him accomplish mission of God in this world. Yet, what does Jesus do? Does he start bossing around his church the moment he hits the ground? Does he come to be served?
No, he comes to serve, to lay his life down. To severe every earthly tie he had in obedience only to his Heavenly Father. Going to the cross for the sake of purchasing a bride for himself. That’s picture biblical marriage.
It’s the picture of God’s work. We are still called to work and to keep God’s temple and to bring forth God’s image bearers and to help them to worship the Lord and to help fill the earth.
This brings us back to this fundamental truth of human life. Human life is sacred so that as Christians we oppose abortion. At conception children sacred. We oppose euthanasia. We oppose any killing of people which might be based off of disabilities, or diminished intellectual capacity, or anything like that. If you are creating the image of God, you are noble. We also oppose racism. Racism is a horrific blasphemy, to look at another person made in the image of God and to say you are not as valuable as I am.
All of this is our common shared understanding of human nature, of what it means to be a human being. Of what is means to have noble work yet work that is ordered by God’s law. To be in marriages of equality and yet differentiation in roles. To be a human being like God yet from the dust, recognizing the Lord alone as our creator and the author of life.
If we don’t have this, we don’t understand the way sin has marred us and we don’t understand fundamentally why Jesus had to come to save us. Why he had to pursue himself a bride, to finish and complete what remained of the mission of God in this world and bring his church to accomplish that work according to what he accomplished and achieved at the cross.
If we don’t have this, we the people of dust, can never what it will mean to be transformed at the end of time. Paul uses this phrase in 1st Corinthians 15 to talk about the people of the dust being transformed to be like Jesus in his resurrection glory, heavenly natures, not of the dust.
This tells us not only where we were, where we have been, but is also looks forward to where we are going. May God help us to love and serve the Lord and other people according to this common understanding we share.
Pray with me.
Heavenly Father we ask that as you gather us together, that you would make us true human beings. Father you tell us that we are a new creation in Christ. Father if there is anyone who does not know Jesus, I pray that you would bring them to saving faith, to look upon Jesus’ pursuit of his church to death as the source of salvation. Father help us all the forsake our sins and turn to Christ in faith. We pray Father that you would make us a new humanity, your people, your church, with whom you will dwell in your new temple, the New Jerusalem for all time when our Lord Christ returns. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.