Garden of Eden
(watch here: https://youtu.be/sWXTXBBw9o0)
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. 14The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but 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 die.’
18Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said,
‘This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.’
24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.
Our familiar passage from Genesis reminds me of the one about Adam who was sitting in the Garden of Eden, talking to God. He said to God, “You know, you’ve given me life, the purpose of naming every animal, and plenty of food to eat. You’ve made me comfortable, kept me well fed, and blessed me with a real sense of purpose. However, I’m feeling quite lonely; is there anything you can do to fix that?” God replied, “I will give you a partner, and she will be called ‘Eve.’ She will stand by you, and support you. She will lift you up, enforce your rules, and be at your right hand whenever you ask. She will bear your children, and raise them to your liking. She will feed you, clothe you, and take care of you. She will be beautiful, graceful, and warm. She will be kind, caring, thoughtful, and will always be there for you. But, it is going to cost you an arm and a leg.” Adam thinks for a second and says, “….what can I get for a rib?”
I know, I know…a real groaner! But hey, it focuses on the part of the reading that I want to reflect on this morning. Perhaps you’ve caught on over the last few years that this alternative lectionary we’ve been using likes to begin the new year of readings at a very likely place-the book of Genesis. If we are to begin yet another “narrative” as our lectionary suggests, we must of course begin at the beginning of the Bible. Some years we start with the first creation narrative of the first chapter, other years we start with the second creation narrative from the second chapter. Both narratives compliment each other well, each with a distinct purpose in mind. In the first chapter, we read of God’s overall creative work that culminated in the greatest of his creations, man. In the second chapter, we then focus in on that greatest of his creation, man, and follow his story of evolution. We hear how man was entrusted with responsibilities that no other creature was. Not only did he have to name all the creatures but he had to care for the Garden of Eden in which he was placed. And he was commanded not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Three things that no other creature was commanded to do or not to do. Man was indeed pretty special among all creatures! Three very simple tasks that set man apart from all of creation: name the creatures, keep the Garden, don’t eat from the Tree. God, in his infinite wisdom, understood that man needed help in carrying out those tasks so He created woman. And woman wasn’t just another one of God’s creations formed out of nothing. No, woman was formed out of man by using a part of the man, both entities of the same body. Man and woman together comprise God’s original creation of man and two hands are better than one, so to speak, in fulfilling any task. God could have created a helper out of nothing but instead chose to divide man to create an even better helper. Man was lessened in order to become more.
We read on in the next chapter that woman wasn’t quite the best helper after all. She may have helped with the naming of the creatures and the keeping of the Garden but she failed in helping man not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What is the good news of our passage for this morning and what is revealed about our God that can help us in the week ahead? For starters, it is important to note that God didn’t like that man was alone. Man needed a helper either to maintain his productivity or keep him from despair and loneliness. We simply don’t know why God made that statement, “it is not good that the man should be alone.” I like to think it’s both reasons. At times, man gets tired and needs someone to help carry the burden of his work. But man is also prone to despair and hopelessness. The devil is always at work trying to isolate us from the love of God. He’s always tempting us into some form of death that leads us away from the life found in God. Despair and hopelessness are tools of his trade and too much time alone can allow him to take hold of our lives. God understands this and wants us to know his love and life so he finds ways to keep us from being alone. Woman is a great gift and blessing in helping man from being alone.
Recall earlier in the first creation narrative from chapter one of Genesis how “God created humankind in his image.” (vs. 27) Our God is never alone. He is always in relationship as our Triune God. Likewise, we were created to be in relationship, not alone…in relationship with God and those around us. And not just casual relationship but intimate and close relationship. God wants our relationships to be as intimate and close as if we are born of the same flesh like man and woman. One flesh, one body, both working for the common good of the whole. Being in relationship is being in wholeness and life. In his Psalms, David regularly confessed his despair and hopelessness from feeling alone and sought out God’s presence. In Psalm 25, he cried, “turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” (vs. 16) Loneliness can quite easily lead to fear and doubt. Close relationships with God and others around us can offer much needed support and encouragement. Recall the comforting words God spoken to the prophet, Isaiah, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (41:10) God is the greatest helper there is! A wife is good but God is better! Recall God’s words to Moses as he was leading the Israelites in the wilderness, “be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” (31:6)
The close relationship of man and woman, flesh of flesh, reflects the close relationship we can have with God. All that we are…mind, body, and soul…are born of God! We are already in deep relationship with him whether we acknowledge it or not. Let us cling to our relationship with him. Let us rejoice in the gift of close relationships between man and woman and between all of us and God. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.