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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 2

Verses 1-4

Genesis 2:1-4 a. Thus in six days God completed His work of creation, and as He reviewed it He uttered the same verdict on the whole, only in a heightened form (“ very good” and not merely “ good” ) that He had uttered on the successive stages. For the whole is not the mere sum of the parts, it is a unity in which these separate parts dovetail into each other and work together in perfect mutual adjustment and co-operation. It is here described as “ the heaven and the earth . . . and all the host of them.” The host of heaven generally means the stars, though it is sometimes used for the angels, and since the stars were often regarded as animate bodies ( e.g. Judges 6:20, Job 38:7 *, Revelation 9:1 f.), the transition from one sense to the other was easy. Our author ignores the angels, and treats the stars simply as lamps in the firmament. In Job 38:7, the morning stars sang when the foundations of the earth were laid, and the sons of God (i.e. the angels) raised their joyful shout. The host of earth is not elsewhere mentioned, its occurrence here is due simply to the combination of earth with heaven. The whole phrase means the total contents of heaven and earth. After work is finished man rests, so also God. Here, indeed, the word used implies simply that He ceased to work, but our author elsewhere says of God that He “ refreshed Himself” or, to render more literally, “ took breath” on the seventh day ( Exodus 31:17), a startling anthropomorphism in P, all the more so that in the creation narrative itself all is achieved by the utterance of the word. Since, then, the author seems to have regarded the work as involving no toil, and therefore as causing no weariness which demanded rest, we must assume that he is here using an idea which he did not originate. He is not interested in the rest of God in itself so much as in the institution of the Sabbath, for which it provides the basis. The seventh day which had brought rest to God is singled out for His blessing, and “ hallowed” or set apart as a sacred day on which man may rest. On the origin of the Sabbath see pp. 101f. Our story is an explanation to account for an already existing institution. The Heb. text of Genesis 2:2, however, creates a difficulty. It seems to state that God completed His work on the seventh day. But the whole point is that no work at all was done on the seventh day; the task was finished by the end of the sixth. The expedients to impose a satisfactory sense on the text do not seem to be successful, and the simplest course is to read (with Sam., LXX, Syr.) “ And on the sixth day God finished.” This is so much easier that it might seem to be a correction to remove a difficulty (p. 42), but “ seventh” was probably introduced by the inadvertence of a scribe under the influence of the references to the seventh day in the rest of the passage.

Genesis 2:3 . created and made: more strictly “ creatively made,” i.e. God acted in His work as creator, this was part of His creative as distinguished from other forms of His activity.

Genesis 2:4 . these . . . created: this clause is probably a later insertion (see Skinner’ s full discussion). If so, the editor probably intended it to refer to the narrative which follows, the formula meaning “ this is the history of.”

Verses 4-17

Genesis 2:4-17 . The narrative begins with the words “ In the day,” but the construction is uncertain. Perhaps Genesis 2:5 f. is a parenthesis, so that man was formed at the period when “ earth and heaven” (J’ s phrase for P’ s the heaven and the earth” ) were made, before there was any vegetation. The absence of vegetation is due to the absence of rain and of a man to till the ground. In Genesis 2:6, however, we are told of a “ mist,” or as we should probably render, a “ flood,” which irrigated the ground. Genesis 2:6 may be out of place (possibly added with Genesis 2:10-14), for rain would be unnecessary if irrigation was secured by a periodical overflow as in Egypt or Babylonia. After earth and heaven had been made, Yahweh moulded man (‘â dâ m) from the ground (‘ד dâ mah) as a potter moulds images from clay, and breathed into his nostrils “ breath of life” so that he became a living being. Then He planted a garden or park far away to the E. of Palestine, in a district known as Eden. It was apparently His own home ( Genesis 3:8), but He placed man in it. He then caused such trees to grow in this garden as were pleasant to the eye and good for food, and in particular the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Of other species of trees in the garden or of any trees outside, the author says nothing, nor yet of plants or flowers whether in the garden or without, since he selects those features which lead up to the story in the next chapter. Yahweh charged the man with the care of the garden, and permitted him to use all the trees for food, save that He forbade him the tree of knowledge on pain of death. The position of Eden is more definitely fixed by Genesis 2:10-14 (usually taken to be an insertion). A river rises in Eden, flows through the garden, and on leaving it, branches into four rivers. Hiddekel is the Tigris in front of Assyria, approaching it from Palestine. The fourth river is Euphrates. The writer apparently thought of these as springing from one source. Hence he regarded Eden as situated at their point of divergence, and the source of the other two rivers was the same. But his geography was ancient rather than modern, and no one has combined his statements into a consistent scheme. Havilah is unknown, but perhaps in Arabia. Cush is generally supposed to be Ethiopia. In that case Gihon is probably the Nile, though it may be the Indus, which was supposed to be the upper part of the Nile, in which case Pishon might be the Ganges. Other suggestions may be seen in the commentaries.

Genesis 2:4 . the LORD: i.e. Yahweh. On the significance of the name see Exodus 3:13-15 *, where an explanation of the form “ Jehovah” ( mg.) and the reasons for pronouncing the name Yahweh are also given.

Genesis 2:11 . compasseth: not necessarily “ surrounds” ; the verb may mean “ to pass along one side of” ( Numbers 21:4, Judges 11:18).

Genesis 2:12. bdellium: probably a fragrant gum.— onyx: either this or “ beryl” ( mg.) is the probable meaning.

Genesis 2:17. The original text was presumably “ the tree in the midst of the garden,” for the woman so describes it in Genesis 3:3, and if the tree had been mentioned under its true name, the point of the serpent’ s revelation would have been rather anticipated and so blunted. When the two trees were brought together, the change was made to avoid confusion.

Genesis 2:18-25 .— Up to this point one living creature alone has been formed, and he is a man. But Yahweh realises that loneliness is unwholesome for him, so He decides to give him a companion to share his life and help him in his work. It is to be a help “ answering to him” ( mg.) , i.e. of his own nature. So, as He had formed man out of the ground, He formed from the same source the animals and the birds, and brought them to the man to see what he called them. The name expresses the nature, hence the naming of the animals showed what impression they made on him. But none of the names indicated any consciousness of fitness for companionship with himself. This experiment then having failed, for all the range of forms that was covered, Yahweh realised that something quite different was needed. To be made of the same clay was not enough, man and his comrade must be of the same flesh and bone, his companion must be literally a part of himself. He cast the man into a trance-sleep, for it was not fitting that he should penetrate Divine secrets or see Yahweh at work, took a rib from his side and built it ( mg.) into a woman and brought her to the man as He had brought the animals. This time the experiment proved a complete success. “ Now at last, the man exclaims, “ after all my weary search I find my companion, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” This intimacy of relation ship is naturally expressed in a name “ woman” (‘ isshah) which contains “ man” (’î sh) as part of itself. And this is why man seeks the woman, forsaking for her the authors of his being; man and woman were originally one flesh, in wedlock they became one flesh again. Finally the author notes the absence of shame in spite of their nakedness, and thus leads up to Yahweh’ s discovery of their disobedience.

Verses 4-25

Genesis 2:4 b– Genesis 3:24 . J’ s Story of Creation and Paradise Lost.— This story does not belong to P, for it is free from its characteristics in style, vocabulary, and point of view. It is distinguished from P’ s creation story by differences in form and in matter. The regular and precise arrangement, the oft-repeated formulæ , the prosaic style are here absent. We have, instead, a bright and vivid style, a story rather than a chronicle. The frank anthropomorphism would have been repugnant to the priestly writer, and a marked difference is to be observed between the two accounts. P starts from a watery chaos, this narrative from a dry waste. P represents the development of life as moving in a climax up to the creation of man and woman, while here man seems to be created first, then plants and animals, and woman last of all. The use of Yahweh, the anthropomorphism, and several characteristic expressions combine to show that this section must be assigned to the Yahwist group of narratives. The use of the double name Yahweh Elohim (rendered LORD God) raises the question whether we should assign the section to J. Possibly two documents have been combined, one of which used Yahweh from the first while the other used Elohim till the time of Enosh ( Genesis 4:26). But a sufficient explanation is that the writer used Yahweh alone, while an editor added Elohim to identify Yahweh with the Elohim of the priestly story. We may, accordingly, refer this section to J. Yet it bears the marks of a rather complicated literary history, and elements from different sources seem to be present in it.

The most important of the literary problems is that raised with reference to the two trees. According to Genesis 2:9 the tree in the midst of the garden is the tree of life, in Genesis 2:3 it is the forbidden tree, i.e. the tree of knowledge. The ambiguity gains further significance when we find a double reason assigned for the expulsion from the garden, ( a) that the man should suffer the penalty of gaining his bread by the sweat of his brow, ( b) that he should not eat of the tree of fife. Probably two stories have been combined; one spoke of the tree of knowledge, the other of the tree of life. Since the latter has several parallels in myths of the golden age, it probably belongs to a much older story than that of the tree of knowledge, which appears to be of Heb. origin. But the later story has apparently been preserved in full, the older only in fragments. We must, accordingly, seek to understand the original meaning of both.

In the volume of Essays and Studies Presented to William Ridgeway, Sir J. G. Frazer has made a suggestion of great interest as to the tree of life. In myths accounting for the origin of death the serpent often occurs. It is commonly believed that with the casting of its skin it renews its youth, and so never dies. This immortality was designed for men, but the serpent by learning the secret filched the boon from them. Frazer suggests that there were two trees, the tree of life and the tree of death. The Creator left man to choose, hoping that he would choose the tree of life. The serpent, knowing the secret, persuaded the woman to eat of the tree of death, that the other might be left to him. This was the motive of his conduct, which in the present form of the story is inexplicable, and accounts more fully for the hatred between man and the serpent. The story may have ended, This is how it is that man dies while the serpent lives for ever.

It will be seen that this story is, to use the technical term, æ tiological (p. 134), i.e. it explains the reason for certain facts, it answers the question “ Why?” Why does man die while the serpent is immortal? Why do man and the serpent feel such antipathy for each other? The story of the tree of knowledge is however, much deeper. Whether the Heb. narrator took the story of the tree of life for his starting-point or whether the two stories were originally independent, and only such elements of the older narrative were taken over as could be combined with the later, may be left undetermined. But the later also is æ tiological. Only we must not suppose that its object is to account for the origin of sin. The author was not concerned with the problems which the chapter presented to Jewish theology and to Paul. He is answering the questions, Why is man’ s lot one of such exacting toil? Why does birth cost such agony to the mother? What is the origin of sex and the secret of the mutual attraction of the sexes? Whence the sense of shame, and the clothes which distinguish man from the beast? Why, when all other land animals go on legs, does the serpent glide along the ground and eat dust?

But what is the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and how does the eating of its fruit open the eyes? To the modern reader the most obvious answer is that eating the forbidden fruit brings with it a knowledge of moral distinctions and the sense of shame and guilt. This can hardly be the real meaning. The author surely did not believe that a knowledge of the distinction between right and wrong was improper for mankind; all the more that this is already presupposed in a prohibition which may be met with obedience or disobedience. The choice of the tree is not arbitrary, as if any prohibition would be equally fit for the purpose. The object is not to test obedience, but to guard against a trespass. Just as the tree of life has the property of communicating immortality, so the other tree confers knowledge. They are magical trees; God Himself, it is suggested, cannot prevent any who eat the fruit from enjoying the qualities they bestow ( Genesis 3:22). Moreover, it is hinted that the reason for the prohibition is protection of the heavenly powers. If man acquires immortality after gaining knowledge, he becomes a menace to them. Just as, if the builders of the tower are not restrained, they will not be thwarted in their heaven-storming plan ( Genesis 11:4-9), so man, having become like the heavenly ones in knowledge, must not be permitted endless life in which to use it. Now, clearly, it is not familiarity with the difference between right and wrong, but the knowledge that is power which is meant. Good and evil have no moral significance here. According to a common Heb. idiom, the phrase may mean the knowledge of things in general; but the sense is perhaps more specific, the knowledge of things so far as they are useful or harmful; an insight into the properties of things. Such a knowledge is reserved for Yahweh and the other Elohim; and just as in the story of the angel-marriages ( Genesis 6:1-4) and the tower of Babel ( Genesis 11:1-9) Yahweh resents any transgression of the limits He has set, so here. Yet it is not mere jealousy or fear that prompts His action. The writer is in full sympathy with the prohibition. Knowledge has been gained, but with it pain and shame, the loss of happiness and innocence. Civilisation has meant no increase of man’ s blessedness but the reverse. Had he been content to abide a child, he might have remained in Paradise, but he grasped at knowledge and was for ever banished from the garden of God.

The literary beauty of the narrative, the delicacy and truth of its psychology, have long been the object of merited admiration. And though it has been mishandled by theologians to yield a doctrine of original sin, yet it describes with wonderful insight the inner history of the individual. He insists on buying his own experience in spite of the Divine warning, only to find that he has purchased it at a ruinous cost, and that conscience awakens when the sin is irretrievable and remorse unavailing.

The representation of the original condition of things as a dry waste, and of fertility as normally dependent on rain, does not suit Babylonian conditions, nor yet the reference to the fig-tree. Hence, if the story originated in Babylonia, which is uncertain, it has been much modified to suit Palestinian conditions. The Hebrews may have received it directly from the Phæ nicians and Canaanites, but we may be sure that it has been greatly deepened by the genius of Israel.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 2". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.