Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Genesis 2:4's an intro to the 2nd creation account

Genesis 2:4 starts the second "account" in Genesis—by using the term used 11 times as a literary marker in the book. (The next section begins in Gen 5:1, implying that we are to read Genesis 2-4 as a unit, more than separating out Genesis 4 or even Genesis 3.)

This second account is, in essence, the beginning of human history—or alternatively, what happened to God's “good” creation. We turn from God’s creation to the human condition. From 1:31’s “very good” to not-so-good (Gen 2’s loneliness; Gen 3’s sin). From 2:3’s blessings of God to ch. 3’s curses. From the God of Creation to the even more important God of History.

Why two accounts? It’s no big deal; we see it elsewhere in the Bible—most notably, in the Gospels and with Kings/Chronicles. But why did God and the redactor/author make that choice here?

Budziszewski compares it to giving directions to his house: “I give two versions—one focusing on the names of the roads, the other on distances and landmarks.” Similarly, you could compare it to a state map with an insert for a city. In a word, the two accounts do different things—and supplement each other.

The most obvious point is that God’s name “changes”. In Gen 2, it’s "Lord God"—a combination of Yahweh (the personal and covenant name of God) AND Elohim (from Gen 1). God is still monotheistic, but more intimate. Likewise, the verbs to describe God change are more active, hands-on, and descriptive. Here, it’s form, fashion, shape, breathes, builds—rather than just speaking and creating. We also see many anthropomorphisms here: Gen 2:7,19's potter, 2:8's gardener, 2:21's surgeon, and 3:8's peaceful landowner). As Kathleen Norris quotes Ephrem: this pictures God's efforts "to clothe Himself in our language so that He might clothe us in His way of life".

Leon Kass offers some other key distinctions: Gen 1’s natural, cosmic, metaphysical vs. Gen 2’s moral, political, social. Gen 1 ends with man; Gen 2 begins with man. In Gen 1, the reader is a spectator offered a cosmic view of man’s place in the cosmos; in Gen 2, the reader is a parallel agent offered a human view of our lives.

But Eugene Peterson was most helpful to me here. He notes that Gen 1 focuses on time, while Gen 2 focuses on place [in time]. Gen 1 is more music and poetry; Gen 2 is a narrative set in place with plot and characters. Gen 1 is cosmic and comprehensive; Gen 2 zooms in to a single location on earth. (Note that Gen 2:4b reverses the earth and heavens.)

Peterson continues by noting that all of this takes place in a garden (vs. e.g., wilderness). A garden implies order and care (revisited), but to Peterson’s point, a garden is local and defined by boundaries/limits.

Further, Peterson teases this point out in application to us: God works with us in time and place. But often want to escape from our garden and/or get excited about what’s outside our garden. Instead, “God deals with us where we are and not where we would like to be.”

Peterson also notes that utopia means “no place”—an ideal place that does not exist, whether “politically in communities, socially in communes, religiously in churches”. And he cites the example of Gregory of Nyssa who was sent to a backwater place by his brother (and was not happy about it). His brother’s wise counsel: don’t obtain distinction from the church, but confer distinction on it.

Enjoy your garden; find your blessings there; and extend them to God and others—today and always…


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