What about Genesis 2:5?

Did Moses expect you and I to disregard the historicity of Genesis 1 by purposefully changing the order of creation in Genesis 2? That is the assumption that Tim Keller believes makes the “strongest argument” that the author of Genesis 1 did not want to be taken literally.[1] The predominant weight of that assumption is placed on his interpretation of Genesis 2:5. The problem isn’t only the assumption; it’s the inevitable conclusions that result from it. One who would have to essentially say that Genesis 2:5 is the reader’s clue that everything said in Genesis 1 that contradicts the ‘natural order’ is to be jettisoned. So even though God created light on Day 1 before He created the sun, moon, and stars on Day 4, that does not mean what is says; and even though God created plant life on Day 3 before He created the sun, moon, and stars on Day 4, that too does not mean what is says. That amount of weight on a contested interpretation of Genesis 2:5 is simply untenable.

So, having written about how the opening two chapters of Genesis as being complementary and not contradictory, and how a progressive creationist view would mean that Moses did not simply write ‘exalted poetry’ in Genesis 1 but misleading, inaccurate poetry with specific time designations that are false, we will direct our attention to answering the question – what about Genesis 2:5?

Interpreting the Text

 This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground. (Gen. 2:4-6)

The language of verse four suggests that Moses is transitioning from providing a macro account of God’s creative work in Genesis 1-2:3 to a more specific aspect of His creative work; namely, the formation of man and woman, their relationship to God, creation and each other, and their placement in the Garden of Eden. Numerous times in the Book of Genesis we find sections introduced by the Hebrew word toledoth. The word toledoth is often translated as “generations” and is typically used to outline a genealogical line (Gen. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1,32; 11:10,27; 25:12, 19; 36: 1,9; 37:2) but since the heavens and the earth do not reproduce some translations render the word in Genesis 2:4 as “history” or “account.”

The transition may also be hinted at in two other occurrences in verse four: (1) Whereas in chapter one God was referred to as Elohim, here, in Genesis 2:4, we see that the covenant name of God is used – Yahweh, perhaps introducing the focus of God’s relationship to man and man’s relationship to God; and (2) while the beginning of verse four speaks of the history of “the heavens and the earth” the latter part of the verse uses the expression, “the earth and the heavens”. Some suggest that arrangement of language provides the reader with a clue that verse four is a chiasm with the creation of man at the center – thus, literarily intimating the coming attention to specific aspects of day six; and, the fact that the expression “the heavens and the earth” is inverted at the end of verse four is perhaps intended to draw the reader’s attention from the creation of the cosmos to a specific aspect of God’s creative work on earth.

The Issue At Hand

While a brief examination of the toledoth of verse four helps provide context to what we read in subsequent verses, the issue, however, doesn’t arise from the toledoth, but from what follows it. When Moses wrote, “before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown (Gen. 2:5)” some would say that sounds like a contradiction of Genesis 1:11 where we are told that on day three God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them (NASB)…” Both the critic and the genuinely curious might say – ‘Well, it sounds like the plants didn’t grow until some time after rain was present and until man was present to till the ground.’

Is that the case? Does Genesis 2:5 “correct” a literal understanding of Day 3 and mean that no vegetation was anywhere to be found on earth before both man and rain were present?

First, before analyzing the text, let’s first identify that such an interpretation has its own slew of issues. If Genesis 2:5 is taken to mean the entire earth (an exegetical possibility), according to this view that means there were no plants on earth before man got to them to tend them and before rain fell on them. And even though the presence of the mist, or perhaps better-understood “stream”, of verse six would provide watering in the absence of rain, it still does not account for the absence of man. If Genesis 2:5 is to be understood as an explanatory note that corrects the possible misunderstanding of Genesis 1:11 it means that no plants ever existed anywhere before both water and man got to them. This would contradict both the Scriptural account and the natural order we know today. Concerning the former, shortly after verse five we are told:

8 The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  (Gen. 2:8-9)

This is important to note because: (a) God planted a garden and then placed the man that He formed in it, and (b) there is no hint that the trees in the garden did not grow until the natural process took place over time and after men planted it, tilled the ground, etc.; rather, the text says that God “made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food (vs.9a)”, a point also implied in Genesis 1:29-30 – vegetation, seeds, fruits, and trees, were already present for man when God made man. So again, I think there is a big problem with saying that Genesis 2:5 means that what God said on Day 3 didn’t happen, as though no plants would not grow until man was formed, rain came, and the ground was tilled.  Furthermore, in an attempt to argue for ‘a natural order of creation’ this view of Genesis 2:5 contradicts nature as we understand it because while some plants require cultivation there are many plants that do not.

 
A Better Approach

So what, then, is the proper way to interpret Genesis 2:5? I think it is to simply say that God was speaking about particular kinds of plants; namely, to use renderings from the NASB: the “shrub of the field” and “the plant of the field.” Now these plants were either absent because they are plants that specifically require man’s cultivation and some form of irrigation, unlike all the vegetation that God created on Day 3 (Gen. 1:11-12) and the trees that comprised the garden (Gen. 2:8-10), or they were plants that were not present in the pre-fall world but became known to humanity after the fall. Concerning the latter, the same expression “plant of the field”  (Heb. esev hassadeh) is used in both Genesis 2:5 and Genesis 3:18, as though to indicate – this “eseb of the field” became a part of man’s diet after the fall. Prior to the fall man had the freedom to eat freely from any tree (Gen. 2:16) but after the fall he would eat the “plant [eseb] of the field (Gen. 2:5: 3:18), i.e. any cultivated grain out of which you make bread.

And as concerns the “shrub of the field”, among all the words used to describe the vegetation that God created on Day 3 (Gen. 1:11-12) the word for “shrub” [Heb. siah] was not used. Immediately, then, we can say that the “shrub [siah] of the field” is textually distinct from the things created on Day 3. Like the thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:18a) and “plant of the field”, the ‘siah of the field’, which may even be synonymous with the aforementioned thorns and thistles, appears to have been absent pre-fall and present post-fall.

So then, according to this view, Genesis 2:5 is not saying that there weren’t any plants on earth before man was present to till the ground and before rain came; rather, it is saying that the specific plants that came as a result of man’s post-fall tilling and aerial irrigation were not present pre-fall. Part of what’s happening, then, in Genesis 2:5 is that the text is reminding of you of the pre-fall environment of the world and preparing for you for post fall narrative to come.

 

[1] Tim Keller, “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” BioLogos, accessed January 10, 2017, http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf, 4.

Seeing the Attributes of God in Genesis 11

[ Read Genesis Chapter 11 ]

An Opposer of the Proud. Unity isn’t always a good thing – the opening portion of Genesis 11 bears witness to that. The whole earth had one language and one speech (vs.1) passed down from Noah and his family; so there were no barriers to their communication; and ultimately that wasn’t a good thing either. If they were living in the new earth with glorified bodies, it wouldn’t have been a problem; but they were still living in a fallen world with fallen bodies that had a bent towards rebellion and self-exaltation. The first hint of the former comes in verse two where, after God had commanded Noah and his sons to fill the earth (Gen. 9:1,7) we find that the people journeyed east, found a plain in Shinar and dwelt there (Gen. 11:2). Instead of spreading, they were settling. And shortly after they stopped we hear what they said (vs.3-4). In two verses we see the phrase “let us” appear three times. They were ready to weary themselves (vs.3) to exalt themselves by building a city and a tower that reached into the heavens (vs.4). It’s possible that this tower was a ziggurat suited for the worship of, and supposed communion with, pagan deities; it’s also possible that they were building the tower to reach into the heavens so as to guard themselves from a future flood – such a motivation would have been a notable outworking of their unbelief; but the clearest motivation from the text appears to be self-glory: “let us make a name for ourselves (11:4b).” It’s never a good thing when someone speaks or thinks like that – Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Herod are three witnesses of that reality. And the rest of the narrative makes evident that God was against the motives behind the building project. It’s not surprising that the God who opposes the proud (Jas. 4:6) would be against a ‘city of man’ built for the glory of man. It’s good for Christians to listen in on the motivations of those at Shinar. It can help us more quickly identify a ‘let me…for myself…’ mentality. Our fallen frames desire recognition; but God’s Word tells us, “let nothing be done through selfish ambition (Phil. 2:3).” Our fallen frames desire to make a name for ourselves, but God’s word tells us, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus… (Col. 3:17a)” and for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Our fallen frames prod us to exert ourselves to exalt ourselves, but God’s word esteems men who go forth for Jesus’ name sake (3 Jn. 7) and risk their lives for His fame (Acts 15:26). And while God is against man’s self-exaltation, He is not anti-exaltation. In His time He exalts the humble (1 Pet. 5:6). And for those who love the praise of God more than the praise of men, they will not be disappointed. Even as they have glorified Christ they will be glorified in Him (2 Thes. 1:11); and even as they have sought that men praise God, they will receive praise from God (1 Cor. 4:5).

 

Opposed to Human Self-Dependence. Another implicit problem behind all the “let us” statements in the plain of Shinar was that they demonstrated the perceived independence of Babel’s builders. They didn’t have God as an end, and neither did they see Him as a means. Now while the text doesn’t come right out and elaborate upon God’s emotions towards human self-dependence, I believe the contrast between the people’s words at Shinar and God’s words to Abraham (formerly “Abram”) provide enough evidence to make the case. Whereas the refrain of Genesis 11:3-4 is, “Let us… let us… let us…” God’s promises to Abraham were repeatedly preceded by the phrase:, “I will…I will… I will… I will… (Gen. 12:1-3)” Abraham was not going to beget his own destiny. Nor was he going to make for himself a name. He was going to be a beneficiary of God’s sovereign grace. Not to get too ahead ourselves, after all, we are in Genesis 11, but Abraham was to spend the rest of his life being completely dependent upon God to beget the provision, greatness and protection He promised him. And while Abraham did that imperfectly, the Lord Jesus Christ did it perfectly. Although He was fully God, as one who was (and is) fully man He lived in complete dependence upon His Father. He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. (Jn. 5:19)” So while God may be against human self-dependence, He loves when His people say like His Son, “I can of Myself do nothing (Jn. 5:30a).”

 

Evaluator. The verse that presents God as the evaluator who ‘draws near’ in a kind of fact-finding mission is, I think, strategically placed to communicate a kind of ‘shot’ at man’s attempt to reach the heavens. Right after we read that the people were constructing a tower to reach into the heavens (Gen. 11:4)… we’re told, “But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built (Gen. 11:5 emphasis added).” Of course God had a perfect view of the events at Shinar: His eyes run to and fro the earth (2 Chron. 16:9) and nothing in creation is hidden from His sight (Heb. 4:13). But the language is helpful in stressing not only (a) the reality of Yahweh’s exaltedness and the futility of man’s self-exaltation – as though to say, ‘The tower they were building wasn’t that high…Yahweh came down to see it…’ but also (b) the reality of God’s scrutinizing nearness to His creation. It is another scriptural contribution to the decimation of the deistic conception of God. The one true God did not simply create the world and abdicate involvement with it. Neither does He sustain it from an indifferent distance. He is an inspector. An evaluator. His eyes are continually in every place, beholding the evil and the good (Prov. 15:3) – a fact that even forgiven Christians would do well to be reminded of. The God who will one day evaluate the works of His people for the sake of rendering rewards (1 Cor. 3:13-14) is currently evaluating their paths (Prov. 5:21; Jer. 32:19) and hearts (Jer. 17:10; Rev. 2:23). And if we are mindful of that, we’ll be more likely to “ponder the path of [our own] feet (Prov. 4:26)” and pray Psalm 139:23-24.

 

Thwarter. When God has purposed, no one can thwart Him (Isa. 14:27; Job 42:2), but when men purpose against God, they can expect their plans to be thwarted (Ps. 2:1-12). And that’s what we see in Genesis 11. God had a response to the self-dependent refrains of “let us…” – a “let Us” of His own! He said, “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech (Gen. 11:7).” Leaving aside what appears to be another reference to the one true God’s plurality of personhood (cf. Gen. 1:26), let us behold the way in which God thwarted the sinful plans of man by mercifully dividing the formerly united world. The people had settled in the plains of Shinar in defiance of God’s decree so that they would not be scattered over the face of all the earth (vs.4), but the result of God’s confusing their language was – they were scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth, a point mentioned in consecutive verses (8, 9).  In this case the thwarting had a clear element of mercy. It was a preventative. God knew that this one-world-order in lock-step rebellion against Him would exasperate evil. Humanly speaking, no evil they proposed to do would be withheld from them (vs.6). So, then, God’s thwarting and subsequent development of differing nations provided a kind of checks-and-balances against evil. Imagine a one-world-government under the direction of Nimrod? Or Stalin? Or Hitler? In God’s mercy He thwarted the unity at Babel to restrain such lock-step evil – at least until the coming of the beast, i.e. antichrist (Rev. 13:3). But he, too, will be thwarted, by the God whose plans cannot be (Rev. 19:19-21).

 

Gracious. There is perhaps an interesting hint of grace provided for us in the genealogy of Shem (Gen. 11:10-26). Earlier in chapter ten we were told that the earth divided in the days of Peleg (Gen. 10:24-25) – a reference that almost certainly refers to the tower of Babel event. Not surprisingly, Peleg shows up again in chapter 11 – about halfway through the genealogy of Shem (vs.17-18). What that means is – the tower of Babel event happened somewhere in the middle portion of the genealogy that began with Shem (vs.10) and thematically concluded with Abram (vs.27-31). We’re reminded, then, that before and after Babel God was committed to bless the world through the line of Shem and through a man named Abram. And if you can appreciate how this family tree communicates grace (Gen. 11:10-32), just wait till you see where it goes (Lk. 3:23-38), and the literal tree upon which its greatest descendant would hang.

Self-Control and Finances

I can remember reading an article in a daily newspaper that began with a kind of startling opening sentence. It went something like this – ‘according to financial experts people with high incomes are struggling with debt as much as people with low incomes.’ Now at first glance that could appear surprising. But upon further consideration you can see why it isn’t.

Perhaps you can recount times when you were in difficult financial straits, not because you were unemployed, or ‘under-employed’, but because you lacked self-control. The income was there, the work was there, yet, before you knew it, you found yourself having frivolously spent whatever you had. The world system we live in is designed to bolster that tendency. Billboards proudly declare that their products are the secrets to success and happiness. E-mail inboxes can fill up with sales on just about anything and who can resist 50% off a familiar shopping item? Societal norms (cars, cable, cell phones, etc.) increase the cost of living. Credit cards are often easily mishandled leaving their debtors to pay not only their debt but additional fees as well. The list could go on and on… it really could. And unless a person has borne the fruit of self-control via the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, they will not handle their finances in a God honoring manner.

At the outset we must make one very important distinction. Self-control and finances are only good when the two are interconnected for the glory of God and the good of others. At the outset that might seem obvious, at least from a Christian teaching perspective, but it bears saying. There are many people in the world today that show great self-control and self-discipline when it comes to their finances, but do so for selfish reasons. They may exude a form of self-denial, or delayed gratification, but at the center of their temperance is self. The Christian however should not have self at the center of his or her financial pursuits, nor any other pursuits. The Christian has seen a God whose greatness far exceeds anything this world can offer. As a result, finances are no longer seen as a means of self-gratification, they are seen as tools for God glorification. Thus, this kind of self-control is not a by-product of selfish ambition but a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23).

The Greek word used in Galatians 5:23, translated “self-control”, is the word egkrateia. The word is comprised of two words: en, meaning “in the sphere of” and kratos meaning “dominion” or “mastery”. So the one who bears this fruit of the Spirit has, by the Spirit’s power, the ability to master the desires of the flesh. Hence the word “self control”.

How, then, is self-control related to finances?

Below we’ll look at few ways.

Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit abides in the believer He brings forth fruit in the believer. He does not just teach the believer about self-denial and self-discipline, He reveals more and more of the glory of Christ, and internally changes them so that they are by nature (their new nature) more temperate. Notice we haven’t mentioned finances yet. The reason being: seeing Christ more for who He is changes the way we see everything including finances! The point of life comes into clearer focus. The Holy Spirit redirects our affections to things above. He applies the Scripture’s truth to our hearts and minds so that we might renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and live self-controlled, godly lives in the present age (Ti. 2:12). Instead of being slaves to sin and self, believers are slaves to Christ. The Holy Spirit brings forth the fruit of self-control in us and teaches us that our money is on loan from the King of the Kingdom to use for His glory (cf. Lk. 16:1-13; 1 Tim. 5:17-18), the good of others (1 Tim. 5:8; Prov. 13:22; 1 Jn. 3:17; Heb. 13:16), and, in proper measure, for our own joy (1 Tim. 6:17b).

Self-control can also be proactive. Not everyone struggles with overspending, some people struggle with frugality. They can live in a perpetual “wartime mentality” with the best of them. They can cut back when it seems like there’s nothing left to cut back on. Or find things they can “do without” when they’ve already found things they can “do without” several other times. But when it comes to growing in the grace of giving, they struggle. As the fruit of self-control is increasingly brought forth in the life of a believer they will be less likely to resemble the rich fool who built bigger barns for his own wealth and more likely to resemble the good Samaritan who used his finances – and time – to meet the needs of another.

Self-control leads to greater resistance against the temptation of covetousness. When the Christian walks in the Spirit, the things of the world –the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn 2:16) – have an increasingly weakened allure. The Holy Spirit reminds the believer that covetousness is idolatry (Col 3:5). The Christian remembers that he or she is told to be content with whatsoever things they have for Jesus has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:4). So because the Christian has greater mastery of his old man he is less prone to covetousness. Because he is less prone to covetousness he is less prone to frivolous spending.

RESOURCE FRIDAY: Civil War (2 Samuel 2:12-32)

Today we continue our Resource Friday study through the book of 2 Samuel. Abner didn’t play king-maker in Mahanaim for simply the fun of it. Ishbosheth was simply a means to his own self-centered ends. And for Abner to attain the preeminence he sought, he would have to remove the rival God-appointed king and his fledgling kingdom. Abner’s strategy of choice – a 12 on 12 battle and the subsequent exciting of a civil war.

There are plenty of verses to study and plenty to learn in the passage before us, including (but not limited to): a reminder of things that God loves and hates, how the Spirit-inspired narrator laid literary groundwork for us to better understand who Joab is, and how Abner is an illustration of how futile it is to wage war against the kingdom of God and the Gospel of His Son.

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Seeing the Attributes of God in Genesis 10

[ Read Genesis Chapter 10 ]

Merciful. It’s oftentimes helpful to find ‘brackets’ in passages of Scripture, meaning – phrases or word choices that begin and end a passage. We see an example of that in the previous chapter (Gen. 9:1,7); and this chapter we have another: both verse 1 and verse 32 bracket the listing of the ‘table of nations.’ But not only does this bracket introduce and conclude the genealogy of Noah’s sons, it has within it a reminder of God’s mercy – both verses end with the phrase, “after the flood” (Gen. 10:1b; 32b). It’s as though the reader should stop and say – ‘Wow, look at how God so thoroughly replenished the planet that He made desolate. What mercy…’ Sadly, future generations like Nimrod and those at the Tower of Babel would spurn such mercy – forgetting that the populated planet they enjoyed had, not too long before, “perished, being flooded with water” (2 Pet. 3:6b). Let’s be careful not to do the same. We, too, live “after the flood.”

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