God at Work (1) – The Maker's Design

Genesis 2:4-22

Take a look at an earlier posting on this subject here.

We are designed for covenant: A covenant of grace and work!
It’s not by chance that the two sections of the Bible are call Testaments. Testament is Latin to translate disposition in the Greek, which in turn renders covenant from the Hebrew. In each case it is an unequal relationship. It is God who provides:

  • A place of delight – Eden (v8; Ps48.1-2; Rev 2.7)
  • A place of provision – The food (v9; John 6:35)
  • A place of abundance – The waters (v10-14; e.g. Zech 1.18-2.13, Is 14.13)

Using the figurative language of the rivers, we are encouraged to consider the vast volume of water involved. The river splits into four. Two of these rivers are amongst the greatest known in the ANE (Ancient Near East). Von Rad notes that to our complete surprise we are, in these verses, thrust into real geography, before returning to pre-history. If that is the aim, then where is this Eden? Two answers depend upon whether these verses are designed to be taken literally or figuratively. If the former, then Eden is placed somewhere close to either the head or mouth of the Tigris. The later suggests that, allegorically, the aim is to express the finest location for Eden.

Both are possible understandings and even Calvin, who realised the challenge presented by these verses and took a literalistic approach, is unusually tolerant toward an alternative understanding. For Karl Barth, paradise existed ‘somewhere’, even if that ‘somewhere’ cannot be identified. He says that Eden is as genuine a place as the seven days of creation are a genuine period of time.

So is it a literal location? The customary location for the land of Cush, watered by the second river, the Gihon, is Ethiopia. And that river is known to us as the Nile. Commentators then equate the Pishon with the Indus; this is then the four major rivers of the ANE which bring life to the whole of the known world. If that is the case then, in this sense alone, the passage is figurative. As Barth says, “All rivers have their origin in a single river”!

Can we find Eden and will it have cherubim and the flaming sword at its gates? It’s unlikely but not impossible. The cherubim only appear in a visionary passage in Ezekiel and there isn’t any other Biblical text which suggests that a post-fall traveller could arrive at the gates of Eden but be then barred entry.

I say not impossible because the plain sense of the text does suggest that there was a real place separated from the rest of creation from which fallen humans were actually expelled. Eden is described in terms of a specific place, one God has chosen and prepared for humans to live in and enjoy.

The trump card has to be the four rivers. We do not have to take for granted that the Gihon is the Nile. Indeed, Midian is linked with the region of Cush in Hab 3.7. We certainly do not know where the Pishon flowed. What we do know is that the other two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, rise close to each other, flow in parallel, before rejoining in a common delta in current day Iraq. It’s quite possible then that Eden was indeed to be found somewhere between these two great rivers. But it’s most likely that its exact location was permanently lost in the Flood.

We are designed for responsibility: Responsibility at work!
Our part of the deal is to learn to:

  • Work God’s creation (v15; 1.28; Rev 11.18)
  • Guard God’s creation (v15)
  • Grow in God’s creation (v16-17; 1 Cor 1.30)

What is the significance of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (v17)? The prohibition upon the humans to eat of it is part of the covenant. God provides all this blessing but requires the agreement not to eat from the tree. It wasn’t an apple tree! That’s a word-play from the Latin malus/malum (evil/apple). This a unique concept in the ANE.

Why should then God deny humans the knowledge of good and evil, of helpful or harmful? Indeed Amos exhorts his listeners to seek good and hate evil (Am 5.14ff). Because ‘to know’ is used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse (Gen 4.1), it is suggested by a wide range of commentators that the fruit had something to do with a ban on sexual relationships. But this is mostly wishful thinking – ‘to know’ is used regularly without a sexual meaning! [But we are not to forget that the awakening of shame (3.7) and the woman’s punishment (3.16), are both linked to human sexuality].

Two contenders are much more likely. Either the fruit contains total knowledge and therefore power, which God is reserving for himself. Or it represents total autonomy and thereby the authority to decide what is right or wrong. Either or both is acceptable. Most likely is that ‘to know between good and bad’ is the prerogative of a king (2 Sam 14.17; 1 Kings 3:9). Or similarly it is the role of the a parent to decide for a child (Is 7:15, Deut 1:39).

Humans are subjects of the King and through grace adopted members of his family. In either case it is the King or Father, who has the right to determine good and evil. He is autonomous. In order to be happy, humans must show their dependency upon the king and renounce their hubris. To be part of God’s family, they cannot be a prodigal but a loyal child. Calvin argues rightly that the tree is forbidden so that man might not seek to be wiser than God, nor trust in his own understanding, nor cast off God, nor make himself arbiter and judge of good and evil.

We are destined for hard work: Some things never change!

    The fall makes a catastrophic difference (3.17-20).
    What changed:

    • Hard work
    • Painful childbirth
    • Difficult relationship
    • Law and failure

    What remains:

    • Births!
    • Naming
    • Marriage
    • Work and results
    • Grace and forgiveness

Cell Outline

What is God’s ultimate purpose in life for humans? How do we know this?

When was God’s name first used in the Bible? How is it translated in the English Bible? Why was it started to be used here.

There are two steps which describe how God created Adam into a living being? What is their significance?

In what ways is Adam made in the image of God? How might that be significant in your day to day life?

From this passage, in what ways are the roles of men and women different and the same?

Why was it so hard for Adam to choose to eat of the forbidden tree?

Going Deeper

Why did God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eve?

What is it which makes people radically different than the animals? There are six possible from this passage. How does that help us understand our response to the issues of natural selection, and our DNA similarity to the rest of life?

In what practical way do humans have authority over the rest of creation? How can we exercise our responsibility for its stewardship?

What can we learn from this on how God wants us to live our lives?

Do Christians have anything to say about economic policies which use unemployment to reduce inf


Think about the ways in which as a Christian you have things in common with people deeply committed to the environment? How could you use this to draw alongside them? Try and prepare a way to explain the gospel to someone from the starting point of stewardship of creation?

If the gospel is holistic, what words should we say and what actions should we take towards those who have no work?

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