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Adam, Eden, and Eve
Simple and honest is this as the speech of a little child! A child tells you things in lumps and mouthfuls, and hurries on to conclusions in a manner quite its own and not despicable. But was Moses a child? Exactly that and nothing more in book-writing. He had no forerunners to study, no models to copy, no high grammatical authorities to consult. Strange that men should be hard upon him in matters literary, when they have been so long at school and he was never at school at all!
But was he not inspired? Certainly he was an inspired child, or he never would have written as he did. There is a Divine grace in his style which makes men ask, Whose image and superscription is this?
He says God rested. Is not that a sweet child's notion? He knew no other term, no long-syllabled emptiness, and he thought the term just the right one for the place. So it is. It is a word that touches our sympathy and makes us rest too. I feel that I need rest after reading the first chapter of Genesis; it is so energetic, so full, so urgent! It is really beautiful after you have seen the foam and heard the roar of Niagara to go away into one of the quiet green spots near at hand; we seem to rest the stunned ear. And what a cataract is this first chapter of Genesis! How suns, and stars, and firmaments, and seas, and mighty living things move in quick and even terrible succession! And God rested, says Moses. Not that God was tired, but his work was done the last beauty glowed tenderly on the picture like a smile of contented love. If Moses had said that "The Infinite having caused this emanation called the universe to settle into harmonic proportions," and so forth, I should have turned away from him in disgust, for it would have been the strut of the peacock, and I have no liking for that air. It is best as it is. It even brings God near to us in a kind of human sympathy: commanding, creating, setting fast the orbs and rocks; he is far enough away from us; but when he rests he seems to be close at hand and to know what our own weariness is.
And he blessed the seventh day. And long afterwards Jesus blessed the bread. The work of each was done. Jesus died before he was nailed to the Cross; no man took his life from him; he laid it down of himself. You remember when? When he said in Gethsemane, "Not my will, but thine be done"; then he died. The remainder was but a Jews' murder, a highwayman's conquest. God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good; and Jesus, too, shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied. Thus the end shall be good; the process may be rugged and severe, but the end will be bright and tenderly calm.
"These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground (signifying man's feebleness), and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (a direct gift from God); and man became a living soul.
"And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden (Paradise is a Persian name for an enclosed park); and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree (the ancients admired trees rather than landscapes) that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And a river went out of Eden (Eden means pleasure ground) to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates. And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it" ( Gen 2:4-15 ).
Here begins that great system of Divine and human cooperation which is still in progress. There were trees, plants, herbs, and flowers, but a gardener was wanted to get out of the earth everything that the earth could yield. By planting, and transplanting, and replanting, you may turn a coarse tree into a rare botanical specimen you may refine it by development. So man got something for his own pains, and became a sort of secondary creator! This was almost too much for him. He began to think that he had done nearly everything himself, quite forgetting who gave him the germs, the tools, the skill, and the time. It is so easy for you junior partners in old city firms to think that the "house" would have been nowhere if you had not gone into partnership! But really and truly, odd as it may seem, there was a "house" before you took it up and glorified it.
What a chance had man in beginning life as a gardener! Beginning life in the open sunny air, without even a hothouse to try his temper! Surely he ought to have done something better than he did. The air was pure, the climate was bright, the soil was kindly: you had but to "tickle it with a spade and it laughed in flowers." And a river in the grounds! Woe to those who have their water far to fetch! But here in the garden is the stream, so broad that the moment it is liberated from the sacred place it divides itself into four evangelists, carrying everywhere the odours of Eden and the offer of kindly help. Surely, then, man was well housed to begin with. He did not begin life as a beggar. He farmed his own God-given land, without disease, or disability, or taxation to fret him; yet what did he make of the fruitful inheritance? Did the roots turn to poison in his mouth, and the flowers hang their heads in shame when his shadow fell on them? We shall see.
"And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 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" ( Gen 2:16-17 ).
There need not, I think, be any reasonable difficulty in finding out the meaning of these trees. Make the statement historical, or make it parabolical, and it comes much to the same thing. It means that there is a permanent line separating obedience from disobedience; that all created life is limited; and that whoever breaketh through a hedge a serpent shall bite him. These trees were not traps set to catch the man; they were necessities of the case. They showed him where to stop. Wonderful, truly, that if he touched the tree of mystery he should die ! Yes, and it is grandly and solemnly true. It is so with life. Let life alone if you would live. Receive it as a mystery, and it will bless you; degrade it, abuse it, and it will slay you in great wrath. It is the same with light. Pluck the sun, and you will be lost in darkness; let the sun alone in his far-off ministry, and you shall never want day and summer. It is the same with music. Open the organ, that you may read its secret, and it will fall into silence; touch it on the appointed keys, and it will never tire in answering your sympathetic appeals. It is so difficult to be satisfied with the little we have and the little we know. We want to see over the hedge. We long to withdraw the screen that is everywhere trembling around us. We torture these little pulses of ours to tell us what they are, and how they were set a-ticking in their warm prisons. No man ever saw his own heart! There it is, knocking in his side, as if it wanted to come out; but if you let it out, it can return to its work no more! It seems to be only the skin that covers the pulse; but, though seemingly so near, it is really so far!
" In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" said the Almighty. This is not a threat. It is not a defiance or a challenge. It is a revelation; it is a warning! When you tell your child not to touch the fire or it will be burned, you do not threaten the child: you warn it in love, and solely for its own good. Foolish would the child be if it asked why there should be any fire; and foolish are we, with high aggravations, when we ask why God should have set the tree of life and the tree of knowledge in Eden. These trees are in every family. Yes; they are in every family, because they are in every heart! How near is death! One act, and we cease to live. This is true physically, morally, socially: one act one step between us and death!
"And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an helpmeet for him. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an helpmeet for him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" ( Gen 2:18-25 ).
God has always been thinking what would be for the man's good. How, then, does God propose to meet loneliness? By making another man? Why, when he made a man to keep Cain company, Cain killed him! It would seem to be one of the deepest laws of human nature that man must kill man, and that the only chance of keeping society together is by the marvellous influence of woman. For man to be alone means suicide; for two men to be together means homicide; woman alone can keep society moving and healthful. The woman and the little child are the saviours of social order at this day all over the world. For woman to be alone is as bad as for man to be alone. Safety is in contrast, and in mutual complement.
Reverence for womanhood will save any civilisation from decay. Beautiful and very tender is this notion of throwing man into a deep sleep to take a rib from him as the starting-point of a blessed companionship. So much is always being done for us when we are in states of unconsciousness! We do not get our best blessings by our own fussiness and clever contrivance: they come we know not how. They are sweet surprises; they are born of the spirit, and are as untraceable as the veerings of the wind. This is the course of true love, and of marriages that are made in heaven. You cannot by searching, and advertising, and scheming find out a companion for the lonely soul. She will come upon you unconsciously. You will know her by a mark in the forehead which none but yourself can read. The moment you see her the soul will say, "Behold the bride!" and you, leaving your father and your mother, shall cleave unto your own wife, and you shall be one for ever. "A good wife is from the Lord." He who made the lock will also make the key. "This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working."
God rested from all his work on the seventh day, and yet he had not made woman! In making her he seems to have begun again. Can Omniscience have afterthoughts! Could this deed not have been brought within the seven days? Better think of it as a deed which makes a space for itself so special as to have a separate numbering in the list; nay, as to be itself the beginning of a list, illustrious and immortal. O woman, love thy Maker! Thou art the most wonderful instrument he made in the earth; see to it that the music of thy life be all given to his holy praise.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 2". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany