A Promising Beginning: A Sermon on Genesis 2 and 3

This morning we are beginning long series of sermons entitled, “Promises, Promises.”  For the next 8 months we will follow the epic story the scriptures tell, beginning with the creation of the world in Genesis 2 and culminating with resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.  This fall we will hear the stories of Abraham and Moses, Hannah and David, Elijah and Jonah.   At the end of November with the beginning of Advent we will hear from some of the prophets who predicted the coming of Christ.  From Christmas to Easter, we will follow the Gospel of Luke that tells the story of Jesus from his birth to his crucifixion and resurrection.  Throughout the coming year we will get the big picture of how God makes and keeps his promises.  We will also see the centrality of Jesus Christ to God’s story.  For as the Apostle Paul says in II Corinthians 1:20, “In Jesus every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes!’” 

So as Maria von Trapp so elegantly said, “Let’s start at the very beginning! A very good place to start!” Let’s start with the story of creation.

As I’m sure you know there are two different accounts of how God created the world.  Genesis 1 gives an orderly account arranged in 6 days.  The first three days are devoted to creating the environments of the world and the next 3 days are devoted to filling those environments with the creatures appropriate to each environment.  The climax happens on Day 6 when God creates men and women in his own and image and puts them in charge of this wonderful new world.

However, there is a second contrasting account of creation in Genesis 2-3.  Bruce Waltke in his commentary on Genesis says this,

In contrast to the static and balanced report in Genesis 1, Genesis 2-3 unfolds like a drama with a drama of three acts: opening with paradise, falling into despair and resolving with a seed of hope… The style is artistic and figurative rather than literalistic.  The scenes of creation are painted as an artist might envision them.  God as a potter, forming the man from clay, designing a garden of beauty and abundance; and as a temple builder, raising the woman from the rib of the man. (Bruce Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary, p. 80)

This means that when we read this story we must not ask scientific questions about how God created, rather we must ask spiritual questions of why God created.   Genesis 2 is not concerned with mechanics of creation but with the meaning of creation.  As we consider these chapters I want you to see three things.

  1. Our Purpose in creation
  2. Our Partners in creation
  3. Our Perversion of creation
  4. God’s Promise to us

Our Purpose in Creation

The very first thing God does when he creates Adam is to give him a job.  Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

Our scripture lesson says that Adam’s job was to till the ground and keep it.  But this is an inadequate translation.  The verb translated as “till” actually means “to serve.”  The noun using the same root is often used to describe a slave or a royal official.  In Isaiah it is also used as a title for the “servant of the Lord.”  So the earth doesn’t work for us, rather we work for the earth.

The verb translated as keep also has a deeper meaning.  It literally means to guard or protect.  Taken together the job God gives Adam is the same motto that you will often see painted on police cars: “To protect and serve.”  In this day of global warming God is telling us our purpose is to protect and serve the world he has created.  We don’t own the world; God does; and one of our purposes is to take care of the world for God.

Now, to be sure, God has created us for other purposes as well.  We are created to know and love God; we are created to love and care for our neighbors.  Nevertheless, an important reason for our existence is to protect and serve the world God has created. We cannot truly love God or our neighbors unless we also protect and serve the world he has made. 

This is extremely important in a day when climate change is making it harder and harder for poorer regions to raise their own food.  The Pentagon has predicted that climate change will lead to massive hunger and insecurity for millions.  They further predict that this hunger will lead to a refugee crisis that will undermine peace in the world.  We have a national interest in addressing these issues in order to keep the peace.  More importantly we have a spiritual interest in addressing these issues so that our brothers and sisters may survive and thrive. To protect and serve the environment is also the way we will protect and serve the poor of the world.

Our Partners in Creation

The second thing I want you to see is that God has given us a partner in creation.  At the outset of the story Adam is alone in the world. But in verse 18, God says, Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him.”  And in response to Adam’s aloneness God makes Eve. 

Now I want you to notice three things. 

First, God made us to be social creatures.  When God made all the animals and brought them to Adam to name, Adam did not find any them fit to be his partner.  Derek Kidner says,

The naming of the animals poignantly reveals Adam to be a social being, made for fellowship not power, Adam will not live until he loves, giving himself away to another on his own level. So the woman is presented as his partner and counterpart; nothing is yet said of her as a child bearer.  She is valued for herself alone (Kidner, Genesis, Tydale Old Testament Commentaries p. 64)

I like what Kidner says: we are made for fellowship not power.  We often talk about the battle of the sexes, but that is not what God intends.  He has made us for mutuality and self-giving, not for dominance and subjugation.

Secondly, that Eve is called a helper is not an indication of her inferiority or secondary status.  Bruce K. Waltke points out the that the word for helper is used 19 times in the Old Testament and that 16 of those 19 are applied to God.  So for example, in Psalm 70:5 it says, “Hasten to me, O God! You are my helper and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay!”  The fact that God is our helper implies something of the dignity and honor of the woman.  As Waltke says, “The word helper signifies the woman’s essential contribution, not inadequacy.” (p. 88)

Third, this verse actually points to the equality of the sexes.  According to Bruce Waltke, the Hebrew word translated suitable in the NIV (כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ, negdo), actual means “equal and adequate.”  This is why the NRSV translates this verse as “I will make him a helper as his partner.” The woman is not an apprentice or a gopher, providing ancillary support to the man.  Rather she is an equal partner in the work God has given us.  In order to fulfill our calling to care for creation we need to work together as a team.

Our Perversion of Creation

The beginning chapters of Genesis not only present us with a great purpose and an ideal partnership, they also remind us that something has gone wrong.  We have perverted the good creation that God has given us.

In Genesis 2: 16-17 we read “And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”  But instead of obeying God both the woman and the man ate the forbidden fruit.  As Derek Kidner says, “Adam and Eve listened to a creature instead of the creator, followed their impressions instead of their instructions, and made self-fulfillment instead of obedience their goal. (p. 68)” 

By eating of the tree they have declared their ethical independence from God.  They have climbed up onto the throne of God and said, “we will decide what is right and what is wrong.”  In this they are no different than we are.  If we want something, we are quite willing to ignore God’s commands in order to get what we want.

And yet their disobedience ends up contaminating the good creation and spiritual and physical death has entered the world.

God’s Promise to Us.

But God will not be thwarted by our disobedience.  Even though he follows through on the promised judgment he also offers hope.  God gives us a promise.

In speaking to the serpent God says,

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3: 15)

In these words are hidden a promise of hope.

Have you ever noticed how a good author uses foreshadowing when they are telling a story?  Early in the plot the author will introduce a character or an event that is seemingly insignificant or that is a bit puzzling.  But then later they will return to this same idea and expand on it so that at the end of the story you can see that this foreshadowing was the key to the whole plot. 

Well something like this is happening here.  These words to the serpent are a foreshadowing of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus is the seed of Eve who will crush the head of Satan.  That the serpent will strike at Jesus’ heel is a reference to his passion and death; that Jesus will crush the head of the serpent is a reference to his ultimate victory. 

You may recall that this series is called Promises, Promises and that over the next school year we are going to be tracing the promises that God makes and keeps to his people.  This morning we are given the first promise.  Though we have rebelled and perverted God’s good creation, God will not be thwarted by our disobedience.  Though we are caught in an ongoing struggle with sin and death, ultimate victory is assured.  Why? Because a promised descendant of Adam and Eve is coming who will put things to right.  That promised descendant is Jesus the Messiah. 

It will take the rest of this series to unpack the full meaning of this promise, but at the outset we can see that this is going to be a story about Jesus.

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