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The Breath of Life


4This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up; the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, 6but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.

8Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there He put the man He had formed. 9And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10A river watering the garden flowed from Eden, and from there it divided; it had four headstreams. 11The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold.         12(The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”


After the account of the whole creation in chapter one, emphasis now focuses on man: the circumstances of his creation, the laying out of his purpose, and the foundation of his relationship to God. This, indeed, is the intent of the Bible: to chronicle God’s dealing with man and the history of man’s relationship to God.

Along these lines, Moses uses the name “Lordin this chapter in addition to “God”, the designation he used in chapter one. The name “God” (“Elohim” in Hebrew) denotes the majesty of the all-powerful God of the creation. Thus, since chapter one chronicles the creation of the universe, Moses used “God” to designate the Creator. The name “Lord (“YHWH” in Hebrew) denotes the care and concern of the covenant God, the personal God of His people. Since Genesis 2 focuses on the beginnings of man’s relationship with God, it is appropriate that “Lord be used.

“YHWH” (translated “Lord with all capital letters in the NIV) is actually the name of God. The scribes of the Bible, showing respect for the name of God, would not write His entire name out. They only wrote the consonants “YHWH”. Thus, we do not actually know the full spelling and pronunciation of His name. Some pronounce it “Jehovah”, some “Yahweh”.

Since the locale of this chapter is the Garden of Eden, Moses covers again the creation of plant life, with emphasis on the plants that would make up the garden. He first relates that initially, though presumably the seed was in the soil, no plant life had emerged because there was no irrigation yet. Then, Moses points out that there was no man to tend the plants, implying that, even with irrigation, the emerging plants would not form a true garden. Thus, Moses establishes that there are three necessary elements needed to produce and maintain a garden: good soil (the foundation that allows the existence of the plants), appropriate climate (the environment that determines the abundance of the plants), and cultivation (the care that determines the usefulness of the plants).

I point this out because farming is often used in parables and illustrations in the Bible. Here, by analogy, we can see the elements needed for successful service of God. The first need is good soil, the God-given foundation that makes the service possible. This takes the form of God-given talents and abilities of those involved in the service. The second need is the appropriate climate. This is comparable to the constant involvement and work of God necessary for the success of the service. The third need is the cultivation. This, of course, is the work and care provided by those serving.

Indeed, gardening (or farming) is an appropriate first occupation for man. The farmer is effectively a business partner with God. So much of the farmer’s success depends on the cooperation of climate and nature, which are under the control of God. In fact, God, in effect, commanded the Jewish farmers to depend on God’s providence by instituting the Sabbatical year (Lev. 25:1-7). Every seven years, the Jews were commanded to let the land rest. Thus, they had to trust God to give them enough reserves during the sixth year so that they could let the land rest for the seventh year.

Farming is often used as an analogy for the work of serving God. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matt. 9:37). Paul told the church at Corinth: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor” (I Cor. 3:6-8). James, when speaking of the Lord’s coming, says that we are to follow the example of a patient farmer and depend on the Lord’s providence and timing: “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:7-8). See also Matt. 20:1-16 and Matt. 21:28-41 for parables that use gardening and farming as an analogy for serving the Lord.

Moses goes on to relate that “God formed man from the dust of the ground” (vs. 7). This is clearly incompatible with the theory of evolution. Man here is depicted as being a direct creation of God from the dust, not from the ape. Some Christians hold to the belief that God created man by way of evolution. This is not supported by the Bible.

Man uniquely among the creatures is depicted as being brought to life by the breath of God, rather than by just the word of God. Indeed, there are times when we need to be brought to life again by the breath of God. Without the breath of God, we are just another creature, flesh and bones grinding out an existence, marking time until our days are complete. But with the breath of God, we are truly alive! Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63). The Spirit of God is able to give us life, just as it brought Jesus back to life: “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11). You need to be alive by the breath of God, full of the Holy Spirit. Ask the Lord to breathe the breath of life into you!

God prepared a place for Adam. “Now, the Lord God had planted a garden in the east” (vs. 8). God always prepares ahead for the needs of His children. He prepares a place for us, and He also prepares the path for us to take to get there. Not only this, but God also prepares us, His children, for the path He desires us to take. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:9). We need only to stay on His path, stay in His will, seeking to do the works He has prepared. Then, eventually, we will reach the ultimate place He has prepared for us. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).

Notice that God put the man “in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (vs. 15). So, man was given meaningful work in accordance with his abilities. Though the work was not painful toil (as would come after the fall), nevertheless, man worked, even in paradise. Likewise, man will work in heaven. Many have the mistaken view that life in heaven will be effectively meaningless, consisting of sitting around playing harps or some such thing. On the contrary, we will be given meaningful work to do in heaven. This is indicated in the Parable of the Talents in Matt. 25. The Master (representing the Lord) says to the men who served Him faithfully: “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share in your master’s happiness!” (Matt. 25:21). This suggests that the responsibility that we will given will depend on how we served the Lord on earth. It also suggests that our work in heaven will be satisfying and enjoyable, for the servant is to share in his master’s happiness. I have no doubt that we will be given challenging, meaningful work, perfectly suited to our abilities.

God prepared the garden by planting “all kinds of trees”. All of the trees were “pleasing to the eye and good for food”, but two of the trees had special significance. One of the trees was the “tree of life”. There was no prohibition concerning the tree of life because, originally, Adam, being sinless, was allowed unlimited access to it. For the good of man, however, God prohibited man from eating of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. Before his fall, man needed only this one commandment because he had no knowledge of other evils.

Knowledge of evil is, in itself, corrupting. After his fall, man, in his sinful nature, had knowledge of evil; thus, God had to provide more comprehensive commandments so that, by the law of God, man would know objectively what God considers evil. Paradoxically, the law itself is corrupting because it teaches us about what is evil and man, in his corrupt sinful nature, is tempted by what he learns from the law. Paul explains this in the book of Romans: “Indeed, I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what it was to covet if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet’. But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire” (Rom. 7:7-8).

Again, because of our sinful nature, knowledge of evil is corrupting. It is also tormenting to the Christian who is trying to be obedient to the command of God. Dear friends, do your best to remain ignorant of evil! Paul says as much when he exhorts the Romans to “be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Rom. 16:19). If only I could purge my mind of the evil that I have been made aware of during my existence! Try as I may to forget them, evil thoughts come to the forefront, disturbing my prayer life, disturbing my meditation on God’s Word, disturbing my worship of the Lord. As Paul laments: “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Rom. 7:21).

The world is full of evil. It is difficult to avoid the knowledge of evil. Strive for childlike innocence! Paul exhorts: “In regard to evil be infants” (I Cor. 14:20). I rejoice when I do not understand the punch line of a filthy joke! It means that I have been spared the knowledge of its evil. Certainly, the commandment of God in Eden was in our best interest. If man had heeded it, we would have been spared the knowledge of good and evil, and lived forever righteous and holy.

Since God provided many trees in the garden with fruit that was “pleasing to the eye”, the tree with the forbidden fruit should not have been enticing to Adam. Therefore, the motive for breaking the command of God could be nothing but direct rebellion against God. The commandment of God was necessary in order to make the relationship between God and man meaningful. God desires a meaningful relationship with man based on man’s obedience to his Creator. God does not force man to relate to him; He gave man a free will in this decision. To prove the relationship, God gave man a clear choice in the form of the commandment.

Note that all of the trees, including the forbidden tree, had fruit that was “pleasing to the eye and good for food”. Someone might say, “If God did not want man to eat from that tree, He should have made the fruit distasteful.” However, if God made the fruit distasteful, the choice would not have been meaningful, because man probably would not have chosen to eat distasteful fruit, given the abundance of good fruit. If the choice was not meaningful, then man’s relationship to God would not have been meaningful and man’s obedience would have been based on the distaste of the fruit and not on the desire to obey his creator.

Also now, God desires a meaningful relationship with man. The temptations we face are real and enticing. If they were not, our obedience to God would not be meaningful. To please God, we must deny ourselves many pleasures of the world, with the faith that, in reward for obedience, God has greater things in store for us in the kingdom to come.

The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, and man’s reaction to it, changed the course of mankind. There is another tree that has had as much effect on mankind: Christ “bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (I Pet. 2:24). The first tree (the tree of knowledge) brought death, the second tree (on which Christ died) brings life; the first tree brought the knowledge of sin, the second tree brings the deliverance from sin; the first tree caused man to be cast out of paradise, the second tree allows man to enter paradise; the first tree denied us access to the tree of life, the second tree allows us access again to the tree of life.

The punishment for eating from the tree with the forbidden fruit was to “surely die”. When man thinks of death, normally he thinks of “physical” death, man’s departure from the earth. God views death as “spiritual” death, man’s permanent separation from God. In the Bible, what we would consider death is often referred to as sleep. Speaking of Lazarus, Jesus said: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to wake him up” (John 11:11). When Jesus went to raise the ruler’s daughter from the dead, He told the crowd: “‘The girl is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him” (Matt. 9:24). Indeed, We Christians should have a different view of death than the rest of the world. For them, it is the end; for us, it is our exaltation to glory, the beginning of our eternal existence in heaven. As Paul says, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Phil. 1:23).



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