If you ever take an art class, shop class, or really any kind of class, one of the first things that you will see is the ideal example of what you are trying to learn about. Artists study the great masters of old like Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and others to see what the best of the best is supposed to look like. While it is certainly discouraging at first to look at works like that and compare it to the stick figures that you can draw, it brings out an appreciation for what good artwork requires. Recently, I attempted to hang some crown molding in our house, which, if you are unfamiliar, is cut upside down and backwards. I didn’t really know that starting out, so it seemed nearly impossible to get that thing hung! Since then, everywhere I go, I stare at the crown molding, breathlessly impressed at how they get that hung up there and it fits! Hope comes in for the painter or aspiring carpenter by the knowledge, that while they likely won’t be as good, their skills will improve. It is possible to be done!
In Genesis chapter two, we see what life was like before the Fall, creation, as the Divine Artist originally made it. Life was beautiful, easy, and totally without conflict. If we had to make a wide-ranging summary of what this chapter wants to tell us that is it. God makes beautiful places and makes a good life. Beholding this helps us like studying those great painters, or crown molding carpenters. We see how it was supposed to be, but our hope is made stronger by the sure confidence of seeing something better than Eden if we are trusting in Christ. God created Eden, but He is well on His way to bringing back something even better.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot that we can learn from chapter 2! The God of Genesis 2 is the same one of Revelation 22, so we are going to mine this section to behold our great God and what He is like. I’ve got three points of which we will only cover the first, but they are: God cares for the earth, God Covenants with humanity, and God convene’s marriage.
God cares for the earth
Before we begin our exposition of this chapter, we have yet another controversy to quickly look at. If you pay any sort of attention between chapters one and two, you may notice that things look a little different in how timing and order is being described. A surface level reading of this chapter looks like man is being created before the plants and the animals! Do we have a contradiction here? No we don’t. What we have here is a different emphasis here in chapter 2 than what we had in chapter 1.
One analogy that I have for this is the concept of instant-replay in sports. Whenever you are watching football, for example, usually the camera position is pretty high up so you can see all the players on one screen. When the play is over, usually they will switch to another camera view that focuses on the one or two players that made the play to give you a better sense of the action that just happened. Now, if you have never heard of that concept somehow, you might be a bit unsure of what was happening. Before, you could see all the players and the whole play from beginning to end, but now you are only seeing the tail end of the play from a totally different angle. But they are doing that not to confuse you but to focus you on what is important.
The same thing is true here in Genesis 2. Moses didn’t fall asleep after chapter 1 and then wrote down the wrong order in chapter 2 without checking because his Genesis paper was due! What is actually happening here is God is focusing on the portion of the world that hadn’t been filled yet (Kenneth Matthews, Genesis, 194). Remember, when God made things, He would say, “Go forth, multiply, fill the Earth” clearly implying it wasn’t full everywhere. There were some spaces that needed filling. Yes, there were animals, just not here yet. Yes, there were trees, just not here yet. The focus is going to be on humanity and its role of ruling and cultivating all of these things. God is going to take care of His creation through another creature: man.
The passage begins with our prologue that these are the generations of the earth and heavens, signaling the start of a new section in Genesis. We don’t have a long genealogy, because, well, there aren’t any humans yet!
Verse seven gives us an extremely interesting view into how God made mankind. With all of the other elements of creation, we see God speak, and it exists. With humanity, God seems to take His time. The word used here “form” is the same concept of a potter shaping something out of clay or a carpenter shaping something out of wood (Kenneth Matthews, Genesis, 196). There is an artistry here of taking something that you can’t imagine doing anything with, and making something grand. I have a lot of red clay around my house, and the only thing it seems good for is staining one’s clothes forever! It is difficult for me to wrap my head around someone taking a lump of that stuff, and with a wheel and some fire, make a mug! Here, God takes this dust of the earth, dirt, and makes a human being.
Why dust, though? Was this because God needed some other material to work with? Not at all. God has already demonstrated that He can do just fine with nothing. He is putting His heavenly image on a creature made from dust. Exalting and humbling at the same time, isn’t it? Carl Sagan, an astrophysicist of yesteryear, famously said that “we are star stuff,” which sounds cool and elevating, but we are not. We are dirt stuff—dirt stuff that God has exalted, which is a point that the Bible makes over and over again. In fact, even the name Adam, is a play on words for the Hebrew “ground” (adamah). So the next time someone calls you a dirt-bag, you can respond, “How theologically precise of you!” We are very closely connected to the earth. Bruce Waltke summed it up like this: "The wordplay shows the man's close connection to the ground, his cradle, his home, his grave..." (85). It keeps us humble. Author Christopher Watkin said that “...we enjoy dignity, but not deity." (Thinking Through Creation, 90). God did not make us little gods, but He made us from humble circumstances just to show how amazing He is. I’m impressed people can make a coffee mug out of dirt. Making a human being with consciousness, emotions, having abilities like painting, singing, parenting, and performing surgery—out of dirt! Out of dirt God made the human brain! We think to ourselves how amazing a potter is for making a plate out of dirt, and compared to the plate, the human being is infinitely more amazing, so how much more spectacular must God be if you and I are His sandbox project?
What’s more is that He made us out of more than dirt. He breathed life into the dirt to make us a living soul. This idea of the soul (Hebrew: nephesh) isn’t separate from the body, but is absolutely intertwined, inseparable. This breath of God is what gives us life and separates us from the rest of the animals as this term for life is never used of them (Ross, 122). This is an incredible gift. He grants to the dirt life. That is not a gift we can grant. Life comes from God alone and is sustained by God alone, and yet He grants it! He isn’t stingy with it; there are 8.1 billion forms of it right now!
All of this keeps us in check when we feel we have a grievance with God. Paul in Romans 9, picks up on the potter imagery in verse 20. Paul is imagining someone questioning why God would chose some for salvation and not others and accusing God of injustice. Paul effectively says, who are you to question? The dirt doesn’t get a say with the potter what it is supposed to be. The potter is the one who makes the choice. Indeed, it is the same here in our lives. We are dust, special dust, dust with God’s stamp on it, dust with the life-breath of God in our lungs, but dust. God doesn’t have to bow to our wills. God doesn’t have to explain Himself to us.
Now, why am I beating this concept? This is not to make you feel less about your humanity, but it is to make us amazed at how God reacts to us. It is very easy to slip into a prideful idea of who we are and what we can offer to God. Do you notice Adam contributing anything to his life? No. Every single thing that Adam has is a gift from God. Adam has nothing to offer, no leverage over God. But many of us think we can.
Christopher Watkins points out in his book Thinking Through Creation (incredible book by the way, you should totally get it and read it all: Link right here) that in all other religions our relationship with a god looks like an “n.” The relationship starts with us making an offering to a god, and if the offering is accepted, the god will help us out, “mutual back-scratching” as he puts it (55-6). People do this all the time in panic situations: “God, if you get me through this test, I’ll start reading my Bible or going to church.” God doesn’t need you to do that. Passages like Ps. 50:7-13 and Acts 17:24-25 tell us very clearly that God does not need us for anything (56).
I think most of us know that, but even we can fall into this trap more easily than we think. Have you ever had the thought after something hard has happened, you think, “Hey! I read my Bible today! I prayed! I’ve been to church this month! Why do I have a flat tire right now?” There’s that n shaped thinking again. “I gave God my end, He should do His part!” and Scripture responds with, “What was that, Dust?”
Instead, as Watkins walks us through it, we have a U- shaped relationship with God. God is the one who sends things down to us, and all we can do is thank Him. We can’t add anything. We are in the place of humble reception to God’s gracious giving (56). And we are on that reception side more than we think we are.
If you are a Christian this morning, you especially have much to praise God for. Because, listen now, as we will see in chapter 3, we dirt people also became sinful, dirt people. Have you ever had something that was supposed to work but didn’t? You maybe give it several tries over the course of a few hours if you are really patient, but especially if the thing you bought was cheap and didn’t work after a few tries, what would you do? You throw it away. If you spend a dollar on some cheap tool that didn’t work, you hardly feel any sense of remorse as you toss it. Creating human beings cost God nothing. But far beyond the human being not working, the human being actively disobeys, he actively does things that not only bring him and his fellow human beings into destruction but also cause the destruction of everything else God made. If your one dollar tool was able to cause fundamental damage to your house, you would throw it away with such force and anger, you would likely try to smash it before tossing it out!
But God doesn’t do that. No, in His mercy, He not only didn’t throw us away, but He took on dirt Himself, became a human being. He lived under the law, under the humiliation of being born and even in that, born poor and lowly. Have you ever had to make a step down in your life? Maybe money has gotten tight, and the places you’d thought you’d never have to shop at, you do? Have you had a breakdown in your marriage where all you can think about is how things used to be, wondering if they’ll ever be back? That’s taking a step down in life, and Christ took that step down times a million. Life was bad enough, but Jesus went all the way to death. Jesus took on a dirt body born of dirt, raised on dirt, died on dirt, and buried in dirt.
But then! Glorious day! Jesus burst from the dirt of the grave yet kept his dirt body, glorified, but still a body. Then He promises that if we put our faith in Him, turning from our sins and to Christ, one day He will glorify our dirt bodies, raise our dirt bodies from the dirt, and exalt us to live in heaven forever! (1 Corinthians 15:44-49). That’s a gracious God to care for His creation, the dirt people, who can offer nothing but thanks in return.
What if we were to apply this to each other? Watkins asks this question. Often we look to our fellow human beings and ask, “Well, what has this person done for me? I am certainly not going to put myself out until I know that it is worth it.” Aren’t you glad that this isn’t the way that God has approached you, oh, person of dust? If God is this way with us, then we can be that way with others. God has been so gracious when everything is completely lopsided, how can we not be gracious when things are slightly weighted less in our favor (at least, if our perspective on the situation is even accurate) (Watkins, 57)? Marriage can be tough. There can be a lot to forgive, but we have been forgiven much. Parenting can be tough. The relationship is pretty lopsided. Siblings can be tough. Friendships can be tough, ministry can be tough, but we have been given so much! God has been so gracious and has given freely. We can do the same with His help. Just remember who made you, what He made you out of, and where He is taking you one day.
Image by Republica