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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Genesis 2

Verse 1

THE COMPLETED WORK

‘Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.’

Genesis 2:1

The heavens and the earth were finished when God created man in His own image. Then the universe was what He designed it to be; then He could look, not upon a portion of it, but upon the whole of it, and say, ‘It is very good.’

I. We are told: (1) ‘God made man in His own image; male and female created He them’; and (2) ‘He made man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.’ The two accounts are distinct. If we had the first only, we should have the description of an ideal man, without being told that there was an actual man. The Creation in the highest sense must mean the bestowing, under whatever limitations, of a portion of God’s own life, that which corresponded with His own being. It must denote, not what we understand by putting together a material thing, but the communication of that inward power and substance without which matter is but a dream.

II. When we hear of the earth bringing forth grass, the herb yielding seed, the fishes or beasts being fruitful and multiplying we are told of living powers which were imparted once, but which are in continual exercise and manifestation; the creative word has been uttered once, it is never for a moment suspended; never ceases to fulfil its own proclamation. Creation involves production. (1) Creation is not measured by the sun. The week was especially meant to remind the Jew of his own work and God’s work; of God’s rest and his own rest. (2) It was to bring before him the fact of his relation to God, to teach him to regard the universe not chiefly as under the government of sun or moon, or as regulated by their courses, but as an order which an unseen God had created, which included sun, moon, stars, earth, and all the living creatures that inhabit them.

III. From the first chapter of Genesis we are taught more clearly than any words can teach us what man becomes when he is a centre to himself and supposes that all things are revolving around him. But, most of all, these chapters prepare us for the announcement of that truth which all the subsequent history is to unfold, that the Word who said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light, who placed the sun, and moon, and stars in their orbits and called all organised creatures into life; and who is, in the highest sense, the Light of men—the Source of their reason, the Guide of their wills—is the Head of all principalities and powers, the upholder of the whole universe.

Rev. F. D. Maurice.

Illustration

‘Man has much in common with the lower animals, like them he was made of “dust,” but he differs from them all in form, and in the infinite variety of work his body is adapted to perform. Beyond this he has some likeness to God in his mental and moral powers, he has reason, speech, and, above all, will. He is as God in the power to know and choose between good and evil, to understand the qualities and relations of lower things and bear rule over them. Illustrate from the use of tools, the employment of animals, the making of ships, steam-engines, telescopes, microscopes, the writing of books, etc. Man’s spiritual powers seen in religion. Animals never go wrong when they follow their appetites and instincts. Man is ruined by these, unless ruled over by the reason and will. He alone in nature is required to say No to himself, but in proportion to his self-control is subduing the earth.’

Verse 3

THE SACRED DAY

‘And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which god created and made.’

Genesis 2:3

I. Whether the patriarchs were or were not commanded to keep the Sabbath is a thing which we can never know; it is no safe foundation for our thinking ourselves bound to keep it, that the patriarchs kept it before the Law was given, and that the commandment had existed before the time of Moses, and was only confirmed by him and repeated. For if the Law itself be done away in Christ, much more the things before the Law. The Sabbath may have been necessary to the patriarchs, for we know that it was needed even at a later time; they who had the light of the Law could not do without it. But it would by no means follow that it was needed now, when, having put away the helps of our childhood, we ought to be grown up into the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. So that the words of the text neither prove us right in keeping the Sunday, nor would they prove us wrong if we were to give up the observance of it.

II. The real question, however, is, Are we right in keeping the Sunday, or are we not right? We are bound by the spirit of the fourth commandment to keep holy the Sunday because we are not fit to do without it. As the change of the day from the seventh to the first shows us what God designed for us, shows us the heavenly liberty to which we were called, so the long and unvaried practice of the Church in keeping the first day holy shows us their sad feeling and confession that they were not fit for that liberty; that the Law, which God would fain have loosed from off them, was still needed to be their schoolmaster. The bond of the commandment broken through Christ’s Spirit was through our unworthiness closed again. We still need the Law, we need its aid to our weakness; we may not refuse to listen to the wisdom of its voice because the terror of its threatenings is taken away from the true believer.

Dr. Thos. Arnold.

Illustration

(1) ‘There is no date to this chapter. There is no date at the beginning; there is no date at the close. It is not said, “The evening and the morning were the seventh day.” Why not? Because all human history is included in that seventh day. The Sabbath of God is still going on.’

(2) ‘God the Father makes Himself an example of Sabbath-keeping for His children. Whatever His seventh day means, it cannot be the ever-shifting sabbath of the Jews, nor the three consecutive seventh days of two men who had been round the earth in opposite directions, and one who had stayed at home.’

(3) ‘The rest of one day in the seven is an absolute necessity for the well-being of mankind. The law of sevens is observed in the functions of the human body. There is a periodicity which will not be ignored. God commanded us to keep a day of rest in seven, because He knew that man needed it; and they argue best for its observance who base their demands on the ground of the primal physical needs of the human body. Besides this, God wished that man should have a respite from the pressure of his toils, that he might lift up his face to Himself with joy.’

(4) ‘It is the institution, not the day, that must be emphasised. Whether we think of the physical, or the mental, or the spiritual results of the observance of the Sabbath Day, we are face to face with one of the fundamental facts of human life. The law of God and the needs of man combine to make observance of the Sabbath an absolute necessity.’

(5) ‘The first Sabbath was the starting-point of the Spiritual period, when the experiment in the Garden of Eden intimated that the reign of revealed religion had begun on the earth. The happy and promising scene of the innocent pair in paradise, and the unhappy subsequent scene of their fall and expulsion from the garden, may be looked upon as the first little seedplot of human souls whereon the Sower went forth to sow, and in which operation He was immediately followed by the enemy, who, with disastrous effects, sowed tares among the good seed. We now live in the period inaugurated by the Seventh Day.’

Verses 7-8

THE GARDEN OF EDEN

‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust … and the Lord God planted a garden.’

Genesis 2:7-Ruth :

We generally speak of our parents, Adam and Eve, when they ate the forbidden fruit, as having ‘fallen from their first estate’; and, unquestionably, there is a sense in which that is true. But Adam does not appear, in the first instance, to have been created in paradise.

I. Observe the exact order in which the events occur. ‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden: and there he put the man whom he had formed.’ So ‘the dust’ of our formation was not ‘the dust of Eden’—it was ‘common dust.’ Had it been ‘Eden’s dust,’ perhaps it could not have fallen. And the text speaks the same language: ‘Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.’

The parody, now, is perfect. We are born out of covenant. The fabric of our nature is of the earth, earthy. We are, afterwards, put into grace. Only here is the difference: we sin in a state of grace, just as much as our first parents sinned in paradise. Only to us ‘the tree of life,’ in the gospel, is still open, after we have sinned. Therefore we are not cast out of grace, because we eat both trees. We do not go back to our original distance. We sin, and yet we live!

II. It is significant to us of very great things, that God did not put Adam and Eve out of Eden until He had provided and revealed to them the way of redemption.

It would have been contrary to the analogy of all God’s dealings if He had done otherwise.

I suppose there is never a sorrow, which has not its pre-ordained comfort; and never a rough wind that blows for which there was not already made ready the covert.

For, what is last in development, is not always the last in design. God’s chronology is not ours. His firsts are, generally, our seconds.

III. It is a wonderful process by which God overrules curses to blessings, changes sins to graces, and turns everything, at last, to good.

A very happy thing it is for you and me that Adam fell; and a blessed thing that the gate of paradise was closed: for had our first parents never fallen, and had we been born, then we should have lived, indeed, always in an earthly garden—but now, with Christ, we hope to walk the paradise of God. Then, we had enjoyed sweet fruits—but now, heavenly glories. Then, the beautiful light of nature—but now, the lustre of the Lamb. Then, God’s visits ‘in the cool of the day’—but now, His eternal and unbroken presence. Then, the holiness of a man—but now, the perfections of Christ. Then, ‘the tree of life’—but now, not life’s shadow, but life’s beautiful reality for ever.

And we bow, with grateful awe, before the stupendousness of the mind of the Almighty; and as we see the permitted ruin of man’s earthly happiness, rising in more than its first magnificence, our whole being hushes itself in the thought, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’

Rev. Jas. Vaughan.

Verse 9

THE TREE OF DESTINY

‘The tree of knowledge of good and evil.’

Genesis 2:9

I. We call the Scriptures a revelation; in other words, an unveiling. The Bible records were given to us to take away the veil which hung between heaven and earth, between man and God. Their purpose is to reveal God. The actual revelation which has been made to us is of God in His relation to the soul of man. We are not to demand, we are not to expect, any further revelation. Of the secrets of God’s power and origin we are told not a word. Such knowledge is not for us. But it does concern us to know of God’s moral nature—to know that He is all-powerful, all-good, all-loving; and of God’s power, goodness, and love, the Bible is one long and continuous revelation. The self-declared object of the Scriptures is that men should know God and know themselves.

II. But the condition on which such an object may be accomplished is this: that the Book of God should appeal to men in a form not dependent for its appreciation upon any knowledge which they may have obtained—independent, that is, of the science of any particular age or country. The setting forth of scientific truth in the pages of the Bible would have been as much a difficulty and stumbling-block to some former ages of the Church as what we call its unscientific account of natural phenomena has been to some at the present day.

III. ‘The tree of knowledge of good and evil.’ Here, so early in the sacred books, is revealed the fact of the two opposing forces of right and wrong. Take away the reality of this distinction, and the Bible and all religion fall for ever. Make its reality and importance felt in the soul of man, and you have at once whereon to build. Righteousness is the word of words throughout all Scripture. The righteousness which the Scriptures reveal is the knowledge of a communion with God. When our earth has played its part in the economy of the universe, and is seen by the few spheres which are within its ken to pass away as a wandering fire, right and wrong will not have lost their primeval significance, and the souls which have yearned and laboured for rest in the home of spirits will find that rest in Him who was and is to be.

Canon Ainger.

Illustration

(1) ‘Man though created sinless, was, from the very fact of his creaturely existence, not self-sufficing, but dependent both in body and soul, and thus the two trees of which we read in the text corresponded to those two wants in man’s constitution. The tree of life is nowhere forbidden to our first parents.’

(2) ‘There was nothing magical about the fruit. Any other tree to which God attached a prohibition would have served the purpose as well. Respect for the prohibition would have involved a decision of the will for good; and disregard of it would have resulted in experimental acquaintance with evil.’

(3) ‘As long as the prohibition was undoubted, and the fatal results certain, the fascinations of the forbidden thing were not felt. But as soon as these were tampered with, Eve saw “that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes.” So it is still. Weaken the awe-inspiring sense of God’s command, and of the ruin that follows the breach of it, and the heart of man is like a city without walls, into which any enemy can march unhindered. So long as God’s “Thou shalt not, lest thou die,” rings in the ears, the eyes see little beauty in the sirens that sing and beckon. But once that awful voice is deadened, they charm, and allure to dally with them.

In the undeveloped condition of primitive man, temptation could only assail him through the senses and appetites, and its assault would be the more irresistible because reflection and experience were not yet his. But the act of yielding was, as sin ever is, a deliberate choice to please self and disobey God.’

Verse 17

THE ONE FORBIDDEN THING

‘But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’

Genesis 2:17

These words comprehend the whole of humanity in their application; every man and woman that ever has existed or shall exist on the face of the earth. This was not a positive law, but a negative one; the law of which Adam and Eve were transgressors was a prohibition, and to that prohibition was attached a penalty.

I. Look first at the prohibition.—‘Thou shalt not eat of it.’ It is perfectly obvious, from God’s character and conduct with man up to this time, that the intention of this prohibition was somehow to confer a great benefit on man himself; otherwise, why should God have given the prohibition? In the case of all perfect beings a test is necessary if they are to attain the highest possible state of perfection. This test was put before Adam and Eve, and the prohibition was enforced and was in order to that result.

II. Look next at the penalty.—‘In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’ (1) We must determine death by the nature of the subject to which it is applicable. Death is not necessarily the mere cessation of existence. Man’s life is physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual; death is the converse of life in regard to each of these particulars. Life implies the giving up of the whole man to God; death is exactly the reverse, it is the man losing all this—becoming dead, as we read, ‘in trespasses and sins.’ (2) It is said, ‘In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’ Adam and Eve died by becoming subject unto death. The elements of mortality were introduced, and they died spiritually by being estranged from God. In view of the redemption, in view of that Lamb who should come to die for man’s sins, the curse was thrown into abeyance, the execution was necessarily deferred. It was deferred in order that an opportunity might be given to man to become acquainted with Christ, and that Christ might accomplish the work of redemption.

—Rev. C. Molyneux.

Illustration

The savage condition is not the first state of man, but only a lapsed condition. It presupposes a previous civilization from which he has fallen. The Bible tells us—and the evidences of geology corroborate its truth—that man was not ushered into the world until it had been thoroughly prepared for his reception: stocked with materials for food, clothing, and fuel, and all beautiful things necessary for the fullest and highest life of a being with such capacities and wants. It was in the garden of Eden, the most select and fertile spot of nature, that he was placed, in the midst of all that was good for food and pleasant to the eye; and there the beauty of the world was an outward reflection of the beauty of his mind and character—there he was capable of enjoying the uses and beauties of nature, of interpreting its spiritual analogies, and dressing and keeping it. It was God that did this for him. Left to himself and to nature, man could never have risen from the savage state to the condition of a civilised being; for his inherent powers are not self-acting or self-evolving; they require to be exercised and developed by a power beyond himself and outside of nature. There is no case on record of savages civilising themselves. Their life is as stereotyped as that of the brutes; they are to this day what they were a thousand years ago; and had the first man been created a savage, he could never of himself have taken the first step of the upward course.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 2". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/genesis-2.html. 1876.