God put the earthling in God’s garden to take care of it and cultivate it. God gave the earthling instructions: “You’re free to eat anything on any of the trees, except the tree of moral discernment. If you eat from that tree, you’ll die.”
Then God said, “It’s not good for the earthling to be alone. I’ll make him a helper to be his partner.” So God molded from earth all kinds of animals and birds, and brought them to the earthling to see what he would call them. The earthling gave them all names, deciding what to call all the domesticated animals, wild animals, and birds. Still, none of them was suitable enough of a helper to be called a partner. So God anesthetized the earthling and took one of his ribs, closing over the skin. God made the earthling’s rib into a partner, and presented her to the earthling, who said,
“This, at last, is my very bone and flesh. I’ll call her woman, because she corresponds to man”
So, ever since, a man leaves his parents to be attached to his wife. Both of them share the same essence, together naked, without shame.
It should go without saying, but unfortunately it doesn’t.
This is about partnership and equality, not domination and hierarchy. The point isn’t that woman is a derivative or essentially different. The point is that she is correspondent and essentially the same.
In its entirety, the story is about the human need for community. The earthling cannot exist alone in a vacuum. “No man is an island,” as John Donne put it. We cannot thrive in isolation.
Genesis recognizes that partnership, collegiality, equality, and community are divine gifts. Even more so when that partnership and community leads to the formation of intimate, life-affirming connections between people.
Before there were any plants or crops, because there wasn’t rain, and nobody to cultivate fields, the whole earth was watered by artesian springs. God molded the earthling from the earth, and breathed air into it’s nose to bring it to life. Then God planted a garden in the east, the garden of God, and planted the newly made earthling there. God planted every kind of beautiful tree to bear fruit for food. God planted the tree of life in the middle, and the tree of moral discernment.
A river flows from the garden of God that waters it and then divides into four branches:
the Delta, which surrounds the sands where there is a lot of high-quality gold, amber, and onyx
the Abay River, that flows all around Ethiopia,
the Tigris, east of Assyria, and
The point is that life, and all that makes civilization possible, emerges from God as it’s center and source.
In the first part, God makes the earthling (hebrew: adam) from the earth (hebrew: adamah). Life, comes from the breathing in of the breath of God.
The second part isn’t about geography. The description of these rivers can’t be reconciled on any map. These four rivers represent the life along which the major cultures of the ancient near east ran: Egypt, Ethiopia, and the fertile crescent.
As such, this second creation story isn’t really about the beginning of the world. It is about the continuous source of life. As God breathes, earthlings breathe. As a river flows, civilizations develop. Eden, the garden of God, isn’t a one-shot deal. It’s wherever you are when you breathe. It’s not geographically bound to a certain place. It’s wherever community flourishes.
No need to go on a great journey to far away places to find Eden. It really is in your own back yard.
So the universe was finished. Everything. On Day 7, God finished the whole opus, and when it was all done, God rested. God blessed Day 7, and set it apart from the other days, because that was the day God rested after making the universe.
And that is how the universe all hung together when it was made.
If you’ve ever taken a vacation, or had a day off after a long hard week, you’ve probably blessed the time of rest. How you bless it doesn’t really matter. If it’s vegging out on the couch, taking a nap in your favorite chair, playing a game with the kids, looking through old photographs – whatever it is for you is fine. And everyone needs a break now and then.
Additional meanings of Sabbath rest will develop through other stories, but here, in the creation story, the angle is simply that the universe doesn’t hang together quite right when you don’t have a chance to rest. Part of what makes creation complete is the chance to simply be, without having to do anything. There are no rules about Sabbath at this stage. It is whatever is restful.
There aren’t any rules about when it happens either. It needn’t always happen on a particular day of the week. It could be a moment, an hour, a day, or several days. It doesn’t necessarily have to be at regular intervals. It happens when the “whole work is finished,” and you look back and say, “wow!”
Tomorrow (or soon) the work will resume again. But for now, just let the work be complete. Rest. Be. And be blessed.
Then God said, “Fish! Birds!” And the seas swarmed with fish and whales, and all sorts of living things. And the sky was filled with all kinds of birds.
God saw how good all of this was, and said, “Procreate until the sea and sky are full.” And so continued evening and morning. Day 5.
Here, for the first time, we see the emergence of the idea of procreation. (It was latent in the reference to seeds on Day 3.) These verses, though, are not a proof-text about the one case when sex is allowable. It’s not a mandate for anti-contraception campaigns. They are about sustainability.
Until fairly recently, the earth wasn’t dealing with population overload. Until recently, it was a struggle to survive in great enough numbers to continue life into the next generation. While the ancient Hebrews didn’t track the populations of fish and birds the way we do (if you look carefully at the osprey in the picture above, you’ll see it’s tagged with a radio transmitter), they did have an implicit sense that their flourishing was tied inextricably with their own.
With population overload and the environmental degradation that’s come with it, the wisdom of the ancients returns again to the foundational principle of sustainability – of life surviving and thriving into the next generation. Our flourishing is no less inextricably tied to the fish and birds than were the ancient storytellers.