Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bible Commentary - Genesis 2

Picking up where we left off last time, we now have the 7th day, the day of rest. Thus, the Sabbath is introduced. I won't go too deeply into the Sabbath now, as it is a recurring motif that we will see many hundreds of times before the end, so I can talk about it more later. What I will say now is that this passage unequivocally ties the Sabbath to the act of creation, but it does not here create a Sabbath mandate. This is an important distinction because later on, God will mandate a Sabbath rest for the people of Israel every 7 days, but only under different circumstances. More on that in later posts.

We also get one of the first repeated sections of the Bible. Chapter 2 here contains a retelling of part of chapter 1, specifically focused around the creation of Man. It adds a lot more detail than chapter 1, but the two sections are more or less compatible. This is one of the sections that is used to justify the JEDP theory, because (as they maintain) if it contains multiple copies of the same story, those different copies must have come from different sources. I don't find this argument very convincing for a couple reasons. I will list two. First, if this was initially an oral history (and most scholars agree it was at least derived from oral history), then that alone can explain the repetition. Oral histories are typically loaded with repetitive elements to aid in memorization. Second, the JEDP theory also espouses the existence of a "final editor" who went over all the material and fitted it together. If that is the case, then it is difficult to explain why there should be two copies of the story at all. If these two stories represent any sort of inconsistency, you would reasonably expect them to be simply merged into a single telling, including details from both. While JEDP theorists can raise various counter-points, attempting to do so simply adds even more detail and complexity to a theory whose sole basis is an analysis of the text without any objective archaeological or historical corroboration. You find yourself arguing with one set of hypotheticals, trying to analyze and counter-analyze the motives of purely theoretical individuals ("well why didn't the do " with another set of hypotheticals "because the would not have if the was "). Since I often have a hard time even understanding the motives of real people that I know, I can't imagine how someone can confidently assert the motives of people who may or may not exist. So, at the end of the day, it seems like a really tall structure with a very narrow base, in my point of view. Anyway, enough about that.

We see a couple key motifs here that will recur again and again, beyond just the Sabbath. The first is breath = life. This is partially due to the structure of Hebrew; the word "breath" is the same as the word "spirit" is the same as the word "wind". In Hebrew, they are all the same word, "ruach". So any time you see any of breath/wind/spirit, it is just "ruach" being translated into some particular context, but to Hebrew readers any usage of the word has the underlying implication and inference of the other two meanings. Perhaps the best analogy I can make is the english word "birth". We talk about women giving birth to children, or a team of people "giving birth" to a project, in the sense of "creating" it. So it can be used in multiple contexts, but any time you talk about "giving birth" you are going to think to yourself, this is drawing an analogy to childbirth. Of course, the difference is that birth is a word where we (as english speakers) know the etymology, but we do not know the etymology of ruach, so to us all three translations are equally adaptable.

So, with that said, the Hebrew ruach is almost always used in the context of life, whether that is bringing about life (in this case) or the restoring of life, or whatever. We will see in many times later. I should add, one of the key implications of this verse where it says God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" is that since breath = spirit, God is actually breathing his spirit into the man. This emphasizes even more strongly all of the points I made in Chapter 1 about man being made in the image of God. Now we see that man has been given the spirit of God as his own source of life.

The second is that man is made out of the dust. Contrasting this with the above, we can see a pretty clear dualism. There is the dust, out of which the man's body is constructed, and then there is the breath (spirit) of life, out of which he is animated: "and man became a living being."

Man is frequently equated with dust, especially after the Fall, to imply his own mortality and the limitations of human existence. Or as it is famously quoted at funerals, "from dust to dust", that it is from dust man is built, and to dust he returns. We will see this also in Chapter 3. In this case, man has not yet sinned and therefore it is not necessarily a negative statement. And since that's true, we know that being made of dust is not a result of the Fall, so nobody has to be ashamed or sad of being built out of temporal, earthly materials, as long as you realize *it is only your body*. The important part is the spirit, which was breathed into the man from God. That's why my body is not the most important part of who I am. It's important, but not the most important. The most important, what defines me as a person, is the non-material, God-breathed essence. While much of modern naturalism operates on the presumption that there is no soul (a metaphysical property that defines life), it is pretty clear in this passage that the Bible contradicts that presumption.

Man is placed in the garden of Eden, a land with four rivers, with gold and onyx stones. All of these things would equate to an Israelite mind, "wealth". If one were to live in Israel, you would quickly discover that water is one of the most precious resources. Many times in the Bible we will see various parties in conflict over water resources, because of their scarcity in this largely arid region. Whether one operates as nomadic shepherds (like most of the main figures in the OT) or as farmers, water is the basis of your wealth in that it supports your flocks or fields. So the presence of four named rivers (including the Tigris/Euphrates which are very large rivers) obviously implies a richness and wealth to this land.

We are also given the first command to man (having already received the first stated blessing), that he should not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A lot of people have speculated wildly over the meaning of "the knowledge of good and evil", over why this tree is placed in the garden, why Adam is commanded not to eat it, and I don't plan on repeating those voluminous speculations. If anyone wants to learn about that, you can pretty easily look it up online. That's because in my opinion, the Bible does not make the purpose of all this clear. Obviously some theories are better than others, but I just don't believe we're given enough clarity to state anything definitively, as some are fond of doing. What I think is clear is: God is good, therefore the prohibition is given for good reasons like protecting the man and enabling him to live a life of fullness. That's all I have to say.

Next point, the man has a companion created for him, not from amongst the animals, but by being put into a sleep and having part of his side removed. A couple quick points. First, when it says "a helper suitable for him", the term "helper suitable" means an equal partner. It does not imply any superiority or inferiority for either member in this partnership. Second, we see that this is before the Fall, so it is within God's design and pattern for such partnerships to form. Third, it is a man and a woman. I don't feel much need to emphasize this point, since interpretations of the Hebrew text are undeniable: there is no contention over the meaning of this passage. I think it's reasonable for some people to say that this passage alone is not sufficient to claim that "gay marriage is wrong", but at the same time, this is pre-Fall and it is the first marriage. It is the only conjoining of people that can produce children (as per the command we see in Chapter 1) and there is no instance of gay marriage in the rest of the Bible entirely. So it might not be conclusive textual evidence, but it is definitely strong circumstantial evidence in my opinion.

Next, something I thought was really cool is that we see the man speak for the first time. He makes a declaration regarding his new union with the woman, and what's even more amazing is that the next verse (verse 24) lists the consequences of this declaration, that she was no longer just a woman but now she was his wife and they shall be unified by the consequences. What's cool about this is that we see a pattern in chapter 1 of God speaking, and the authority results in changes to the world. And now we see the man speaking, and he is exercising authority that changes the patterns of the world also. So he is acting like an image of God.

He was also given authority over the animals and was given power to name them. Naming creatures (or people) is an act of authority or power over that animal/person, and names are generally very important in the Bible as we will see going forward. So he is already acting as a steward of the garden where he was placed.

Lastly, the man and the woman are naked but are not ashamed, so they do not have the capacity for shame. Shame is based out of the results of the fall. In my opinion shame is simply a "self awareness of ones limitations". If one is not thinking about oneself, it is impossible to feel shame no matter how ridiculous we might be acting. :) Seriously, think about some people one has seen (or perhaps been?) dancing like a maniac while listening to some great music, in a public place. If you aren't thinking about how others perceive you, then you won't be embarrassed by what you are doing. On the other hand, people can be ashamed of even simple things if they focus incessantly on how others perceive them, which is really just their self-perception. More on this in the next chapter.

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