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The creator's masterpiece - Genesis 2

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the morning service on 21st September 2008.

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It is quite an ‘uncool’ confession to make, but I do like film musicals. And whether it is ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Camelot’, or the ‘Sound of Music’ such films often began with an overture in which all the main songs are played against a background of a painting of the scene in which that song is to appear. So by way of introduction the entire film is in effect briefly covered within a matter of a few minutes, highlighting the main scenes of the story in relation to the key songs. That is how Hollywood use to do it. And in many ways that is how the first chapter in the Book of Genesis operates. It is the overture of creation with the key scenes being flashed up on a screen. As we saw a couple of weeks ago the centrepiece of it all is God himself, the Trinitarian Creator- Father, Son and Holy Spirit with the universe being the theatre in which God displays his Triune glory. And what we have in verse 4 of chapter 2 is the conclusion of that overture, the final note if you like. This is a phrase which summarises what has gone before and not an introduction to what is about to take place: ‘This (what has just been said) is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.’

Then the curtain lifts and the drama begins in earnest with the rest of chapter 2. We have had the overture, now comes the performance. And as with chapter 1 the focus is upon God, the kind of God he is in relation to the creatures he has so lovingly made. And it is so important that we do understand God as Genesis 2 portrays him because one of the greatest obstacles to faith and one of the main causes of doubt is having a wrong view of God. What do I mean by that? Well, if you think of God as a petty god who is only out to spoil your fun, or an indulgent god only there to satisfy your every whim, then you are going to find it very difficult to trust him, let alone worship him. You see, if God is a just a mean spoil sport, you are never going to believe that he has your best interests at heart. If things are going well for you then you are going to be in a state of perpetual anxiety that sooner or later he is going to ruin it all for you. On the other hand, if you think he is a celestial ‘Father Christmas’ then you are going to resent him when things don’t go your way. But when you begin to see God as he really is- infinitely good and overwhelmingly generous and yet sovereign, having the right to say ‘no’ when he knows something is not for our well being, then we will be able to trust him more readily and worship him more genuinely. So let’s be amazed afresh at the lavish nature of God’s provision as we turn to Genesis 2.

First of all, we see God’s provision for man’s dignity- vv4-7. Look at v 4, ‘When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens-- 5and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, 6but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground-- 7the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’

Two types of vegetation are mentioned in verse 5 as not yet having appeared. There is the shrub in the field- wild plants, and the plants in the field- that is cultivated plants. And we are told why these flora have not yet got going. In the first case, it is because there is no rain to water them and in the second case no man to cultivate them. And God acts to remedy both situations. He causes streams to come up from the earth- as the pew Bible’s translate it or as the older versions have it, caused a mist to rise from the earth which gives the sense of rainfall being generated for the wild plants. But for the crops he provides a man to grow them-v 7’the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’

Now the way this passage is laid out is such that verse 7 is the climax; this is where the main verb lies with the previous verses building up to this. It is a little like the announcement of a winner of a beauty contest: ‘The judges have been deliberating; we have seen the wonderful contestants in all their fine regalia; 24 contestants have been reduced to ten and now we are down to three, and soon we are going to have the announcement of the winner, yes it is- number 42…’ and amongst a fanfare of trumpets the winner is declared. That is the way this passage works- wonder of wonders- God forms man! Now did you notice how in Genesis chapter 1 through to chapter 2:4, it is all ‘God did this’ and ‘God did that’? The word is Elhoim- the powerful God, the majestic God. But when we get to this passage it is ‘the Lord-God’ ‘Yahweh- Elhoim’ – this is God’s personal name, like Melvin is my name. But this is not only the personal name of God, but the covenant name, the God who establishes relationships with people, pledging himself to their well-being. So the God who is the creator, who made the stars, is the God who is also redeemer who saves his people. And here we see this God stooping down, as it were, in this profound imagery of divine condescension to form man, like a potter shaping a delicate, priceless vase. But then he ‘breathes into his nostrils the breath of life’- something God does not do with any other creature. There is this deep level of intimacy, almost God imparting something of himself – to the man- the divine breath or spirit. So here we are given tremendous insight into who we are, as well as what God is. We see that we are creatures, animals like the rest of organic life- made of the same stuff as everything else- ‘dust’. Our molecules are the same as a stick of rhubarb, which puts us in our place doesn’t it? But on the other hand, we have the breath of God which sets us apart and reminds us that our life is in God’s hands. He gives life and so it is not a right but a gift. This means that euthanasia for example, can never be an option. And when a life does appear, it is proper to express our gratitude to the Giver. That is why we have a Thanksgiving service for the birth of children. Who else are we to thank for such wonderful little miracles as babies? And that is what this passage is meant to convey to us as it comes wrapped in the most sublime symbolism. We are amazing creatures- amazing, yes- but- creatures. To focus on the creature side alone can lead to low self-esteem and barbarism, acting like an animal and treating others like animals-which is what we are increasingly seeing today isn’t it? But to focus on the ‘amazing’ leads to arrogance and pride, with a ‘who needs God’ mentality. But having the biblical balance leads to humility and praise- a sense of dignity and worth.

Secondly, we have God’s provision for man’s delight -:8-14. Just look at verse 8, ‘Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.’ The passage suggests that God formed man outside the garden and then taken out of the world and placed within this special reserve provided for by God. Notice that Eden is not the garden, Eden, wherever that was, is where the garden is located. The word ‘Eden’ elsewhere in the Bible carries the sense of lushness and plenty. And that is certainly what we find in verses 10-14. It is well irrigated by these four rivers. It is a wealthy place, full of gold, onyx and aromatic resins. And just look at the reserve or park God had put man-v 9- ‘And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’ This is the most astonishing place imaginable with trees of every conceivable shape, colour and size which are ‘pleasing to the eye’. Here, then is the biblical basis for art and aesthetics. We were made to actually enjoy beautiful things- flowers, mountains, forests, paintings, houses. That is why to be purely ‘functional’ having the concrete dustbins of the 60’s and 70’s to live in designed by architects who would never be seen dead in these places themselves is an insult to man. As someone once said, ‘God freezes water and the result is snowflakes. Man freezes waters and the result is ice cubes.’ God’s provision of variety is a wonderful gift to delight in. So don’t feel guilty about enjoying these things. But God is also practical too, for the fruit is ‘good to eat’. This not only means that they provide the right kind of nutrients which we need to grow, but a rainbow of tastes to enjoy. I don’t know about you but I like my food. And that is why it is good and proper for Christians to give thanks before a meal- ‘grace’- not only to remind ourselves who is the great Giver, but to express our appreciation. I thank my wife every time she produces a lovely meal-which is every meal- so surely it is unthinkable not to thank God.

So this is not a tight- fisted God. This is not a mean God. This is a God who out of the abundance of his being freely gives and gives and gives. Now why is this vital to grasp? Well, apart from the fact that we should honour God for his goodness and not rob him of his glory by being thankless, taking things for granted, it is one of the best ways of ensuring that we will remain faithful to him. Let me explain. As we shall see in the next chapter, one sure way of the devil drawing us way from God is to suggest that he is not generous, that he holds back on us. But if we see that for the lie it is, then we will keep faithful. The American actor Paul Newman has been married to his actress wife Joanna Woodward for 50 years. He was asked a while back how he had resisted the many temptations he must have had to play around with other actresses, being the good looking man he is. And his reply was most telling; he said this, ‘Why fool around with hamburger when you have steak at home?’ He appreciated what he had in his wife- she was steak. I don’t recommend that is used as a chat up line by husbands to wives ‘My dear you are my steak’ but you can see what he was saying. He appreciated how blessed he was and so he was able to remain faithful. Well, it is like that between us and God. The man in the garden had no basis whatsoever to accuse God of being mean- and neither do we. And if we are predisposed to grumbling and whingeing we had better repent of that, it is not what God deserves.

So what was man supposed to do in this garden? Well, what you do in any garden- work-v 15, ‘The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ Originally work was not a burden but a blessing. We are made to work- not just paid work, but any kind of work. We are meant to be creative because the one in whose image we are made is a worker. So the world is there for us to work and care for. Here is the biblical basis for environmental concern. The things in this world are given for us to use for God’s glory and each other’s benefit- so we are meant to act wisely, engaging in exploration but not selfish exploitation. So I am all for recycling and I hope you are too.

And God’s generosity is underscored even further in verse 16, ‘And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Notice how God says that the man can eat of any tree on the garden- including the ‘tree of life’ – any tree but one- ‘the tree of knowledge of good and evil’. God gives a command and so reminding us that he is in charge- God has every right to do that because he is God, that is part of what being God means. Here is the only boundary God lays down. And not all boundaries are bad are they? Isn’t it a good idea to have a fence around a playground- to prevent children from getting out and hurting themselves and others getting in and hurting them? And God shows his generosity in the nature of the command itself. For a start it is simple- fruit from any tree can be eaten, but not this tree. It is specific. If you eat of this tree you will die- not maybe or possibly, but definitely. I don’t know about you but I appreciate clear and precise instructions. I am not too keen on those contracts full of legalese and small print designed to catch you out. God is not like that. He says what he means and means what he says and I appreciate that he cares for me so much as to make things clear. That is what the Ten Commandments are like. So let us not resent God’s commands, let’s see them as signs that he cares for us, like any loving parent will.

The overall picture we have of man in the park is of a Priest-King. He is a King who is to rule his little domain. But he is also a priest in that his work is meant to be an act of worship, a giving to the great Giver. This is a royal park and it is terrific. Well, not quite, there is something which is not good, did you spot it?-v18, ‘The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." And so we come to God’s provision for man’s loneliness -v 18-25.

Now notice that God doesn’t provide for man’s need straight away. Instead he brings to the man all the different animals there are for man to name them. In this Adam is acting like God did in chapter 1, sovereignly, calling things by name. That is what God expected him to do. Also there is some sort of reasoning going on- giving names which fit the creature- "An animal with two humps- yes, that can be a camel- good name that one." But for Adam, no suitable helper could be found. The word ‘helper’ doesn’t mean skivvy. It implies someone who assists and encourages who makes up for what is lacking, God is described as a helper. It also carries the idea of a helper matching man’s ‘eminence.’ So it is a position of great standing and privilege to be this helper. Can a cat do that? No. Can a crocodile? No. Someone else special is needed. But why doesn’t God provide straight away? Well, just think about it. When you feel yourself that you have a need are you not far more appreciative when that need is actually met? People who have things handed to them on a plate by someone who is always anticipating their needs are likely to be far more, ‘spoilt’ than someone who recognizes their desperation and then has it given to them. And that, I think is what is going on here with Adam. And maybe as with Adam, that is what God is teaching you at the moment. You don’t have something because he wants you to have the benefit of appreciating it when he does give it, so we must learn to be patient.

Then

But even this garden is a pointer to another garden in which God placed his man- the Priest-King Jesus. That garden is called Gethsemane. As this Priest-King over all he offered his whole being as a sacrifice- a sacrifice which was to be completed on a hill- Golgotha. It was there out of his wounded side that God brought forth his bride- the church- the new community of the redeemed- Christian believers. And all that we need, he has promised he will provide, for if we are trusting in Christ, we are his ‘bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh’ loved with an everlasting love.

God acts-v 21, ‘So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.’ Again, allow the imagery to do its work. The picture actually is of God tenderly building something. This something comes from man and so is one with him and yet is different to him, this something complements him; she is his ‘other half’. And then God brings his new creation to the man like a father presenting a bride to the groom and then we have the only words of Adam ever recorded before the fall. He sees this stunning creature before him and in a moment of utter astonishment with his eyes popping out on stalks he says, ‘This’- he is not quite sure what ‘this’ is - but he is so amazed and beside himself, you can almost see him jumping up and down with delight – and he is so full of praise that out comes this poem or possibly song, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called `woman,' for she was taken out of man."’ That tells us something about us, namely that we are worshipful creatures. We are meant to express praise in the form of poems and songs- and especially when we come face to face with extraordinary beauty- not necessarily physical beauty. We have no idea how big or small Eve was- but there is the beauty of the completion of the image of God. Here is the biblical basis for marriage- v 24 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.’ Here is the narrator’s application of what has just happened. Notice three things, it is a priority- a man shall leave his father and mother- that break has got to happen for the marriage to thrive- he can’t be running back to his Mum (nor she for that matter) every five minutes when things go wrong- that messes a marriage. It is passionate- ‘He will be united to his wife’ –the word is cleaving- in the Greek translation of the Old Testament a word is used normally meaning ‘glue’. And it is the husband who is to do the clinging, holding on to his wife for dear life. And it is permanent – the two shall become one flesh.’ Notice the order there- leaving parents; clinging –i.e. the commitment of the marriage; and then sex. If you change that order, you are asking for trouble.

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