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Genesis 1:1, 2627; 2:1517; 3:67, 1419, 2324comment (0)

May 30, 2013

By Jeffery M. Leonard

Related Scripture: Genesis 1:1, 2627; 2:1517; 3:67, 1419, 2324

Bible Studies for Life
Assistant Professor of Religion, Samford University

God Begins the Story

Genesis 1:1, 26–27; 2:15–17; 3:6–7, 14–19, 23–24

God Creates (1:1, 26–27)
What images sprang to life in the minds of ancient Israelites when they heard the story of God’s creative work? As a person fascinated with the natural world, I confess that the words of Genesis 1 immediately turn my mind to the glorious vistas of creation on display in places like Yosemite Valley or the Grand Canyon or to the wondrous images of space captured by telescopes humans have placed in Earth’s orbit. Even as my mind’s eye savors these tremendous sights, though, I know that an ancient Israelite would have conjured up quite different images. Strange though it may seem to us, through the seven-day account of creation, that Israelite man or woman would have pictured the construction of a temple.

Scholars have noted that Israel’s ancient neighbors often imagined that their gods built temples for themselves, taking seven days to do so and installing upon their completion icons of themselves that would preside over the temples in their place. In the structure of Genesis 1, Israel would have heard echoes of this seven-day temple construction. No mere temple could serve as God’s dwelling place, though. As God declares in Isaiah 66:1–2, “Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?” A house fit for God could only be one He constructed. Thus He says before these questions, “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool,” and after, “Has not My hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” The full cosmos itself is the temple God has constructed for Himself.

Genesis 1 is the account of God’s constructing His temple. Interestingly, this text also recalls the icons placed by the gods in their temples. As the culmination of God’s creation in Genesis 1, God makes human beings “in His image” and installs them to exercise dominion over His creation. Images of gods “made by human hands” receive nothing but scorn in the biblical text, but here, the man and woman are made by God Himself and reflect His own majesty. 

Humanity Rebels (2:15–17; 3:6–7)
While humanity is said in Genesis to reflect the very image of God, humans were also meant to rely on God in creaturely dependence. The focus of this dependence is found in the prohibition against eating from the tree of knowledge. The expression “knowledge of good and evil” (literally, “knowledge, good and evil”) has been a source of tremendous debate. Some light is shed on the meaning of the phrase, though, by a parallel usage in Deuteronomy 1:39. There, God declares He will take into the promised land not the exodus generation but their children, “who do not know good and evil.” God contrasts these children who will simply hear God’s command and obey with their parents who chose to size up the land and its difficulties for themselves and ultimately disobeyed.

Unfortunately, the first couple acts in the same fashion as the wilderness wanderers. Charged to trust in God’s command and obey, they instead size up the delights of the tree for themselves and ultimately choose to eat.

Sin Has Consequences (3:14–19, 23–24)
With the eating of the fruit, the bonds of dependence that once joined the humans to God, to one another and even to creation are broken. The former innocence of nakedness has become a source of shame and embarrassment. Walking with God in the garden is now replaced by hiding and accusation. Finally, the terrible effects of this ill-conceived bid for independence are sealed upon both creature and creation in the form of the curse.

It is a thoroughly depressing scene, yet it is one that is not altogether without hope. The first couple is banished, but they are not killed. The ground is cursed, but it can still be worked. And while the Tree of Life is now guarded and set beyond the first couple’s reach, it remains tantalizingly present in the garden, waiting for the moment when God would once again offer its blessing of immortality to humanity.

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