If you haven’t read Genesis chapter 2 in a while, take a moment to read it and remember what it says. You don’t have to be a literary or Bible scholar to notice that chapter 2 tells the creation story quite differently than chapter 1. What should we make of that? We can wander into the briarpatch of debating the significance of the differences, or we can realize two things.
- The ancient world didn’t feel our modern need to to have one unified harmonious text. That’s our worldview not theirs. The ancient world was more comfortable with the idea that the tradition has given us two stories and both must be treated with reverence. They were more comfortable with complexity and paradox than we are. They were willing to let God, as found in their stories, be a complex God. Now, you can argue they shouldn’t have thought that way. You can argue that our interest in a single version of the truth, our desire for clarity is better. You can argue for that all you want. The reality is, in the ancient world they thought differently about this than we do. We simply need to recognize that.
- We need to think about the questions we bring to the text. It is good and important for us to bring questions to the Bible. How else do we grow, if we don’t ask questions? But as I suggested last week, perhaps it is more helpful to ask what the story tells us about God, what the story tells us about humans, and what the story tells us about the relationship between God and humans.
If we ask those questions about Genesis chapter 2 some similarities with chapter one emerge. There is one God who is the creator. This one creator God is intentional about what he created and cares about what he has created.
You might have noticed that chapter 1 refers to God as God, while chapter 2 beginning at verse 4 refers to God as the LORD God. “God” is the English translation of the Hebrew word “elohim” which is the word for God or gods. In Hebrew, the singular means “God” and the plural means “gods”. “LORD God” is the English equivalent of the personal name of God. The name isn’t spoken in Hebrew, the word “adonai” or “my Lord” is used instead. This difference is one of the things that makes biblical scholars think these two stories have different origins.
Jewish tradition also believes that these two names for God reflect different aspects of God’s nature, Elohim representing justice and Adonai, mercy. *
Each story, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 has something important to tell us about God. Genesis 2 highlights God’s intimate relationship with creation. It also highlights the relationships within creation, particularly between humans and animals. The creation is not a finished, static place. Humankind plays a creative role on earth as well. In verse 5 the plants of the field and the shrubs of the field not only need rain, but also humans to work the ground. In verses 19-20 the man names the animals. Naming was an important act, it was more than giving a label. Naming involved understanding in a deep and significant way the reality, the essence of the creature being named. God gives this important, creative task to humankind.
The God Genesis 2 tells us about, is a God who has a caring, creative relationship with humankind. This God is not like the gods of the Babylonians; gods of violence, who create humankind to bring the gods dinner to them. Like Genesis 1, this chapter presents an alternative worldview to the violent, volatile, self serving gods of the rest of the ancient near east.
There is much more to be said about this chapter, but this is probably sufficient for today. We’ll spend some time next week thinking about the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the creation of woman. In addition, there are some earlier posts on this blog about the first two chapters of Genesis- “God and Dog and Genesis”, “God and God and Animal Rights”, and “In the Image of God”.
I would encourage you to spend some time this week with Genesis 2. Set aside your questions about,” Was Adam was a real person?” “How do we “fit” Adam into evolutionary theory?” “Where was the Garden of Eden?”, and so on. That takes you to an unproductive exegetical briar patch. Do consider what this story tells us about God. Consider what this story tells us about humankind. Think about what this story tells us about the relationship between God and humans. Asking different questions gives different answers.
I’d like to know, what do you think?
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. W. Gunther Plaut, Union of American Hebrew Congregations,New York, 1981, page 31