Commentary on Genesis 2:4b-25
It will come as no surprise to readers of Working Preacher that there are two creation accounts in the early chapters of Genesis.
It will also come as no surprise that these texts have been interpreted in various ways, for example: as Bishop Ussher’s means of dating the creation to 4004 BCE, as evidence in the perpetual battle between science and religion, and as a narrative describing a massive flood that strikingly parallels similar narratives in other ancient civilizations.
More recently, attention has turned to seeing these accounts as coming from different authors, addressing different situations in the lives of their people, in different contexts. Genesis 1:1–2:3, though first in canonical order due to its function as the final redactor’s introduction to the Torah, is actually from the exilic period in Babylon and depicts creation as God’s bringing order out of a watery chaos, familiar to Israelites living in Mesopotamia, the land “between the rivers” that flooded every year. Here, the human couple comes at the end of the created order.
Genesis 2:4-25 coming from the earlier time of the Davidic dynasty, appeared while Israel was a sovereign state, and depicts “Man” as in charge, created first, and responsible for the care of the creation, which is portrayed as the result of the LORD God bringing together four rivers to form an oasis of sorts where there had only been dry ground before.
Thus, each account seeks to make the fact of God’s creative work relevant to their own context, using language and imagery that would be familiar and applicable.
Turning to the account in Genesis 2, the placement of the creation of the woman, separate from the man, and at the end, has become an issue in our time. A closer reading of the text may provide some clarity. First of all, as Phyllis Trible reminds us, the woman being created last is not necessarily a negative comment since the human couple in Genesis 1 was created last as the crown of creation. Furthermore, the concentric structure of the text, with the creation of the man and the creation of the woman framing the rest of the narrative, argues for the complimentary nature of the woman and the man as follows:
Introduction setting the scene (Genesis 2:4-6)
A Creation of Man (7)
B Man placed in garden with trees (8-9)
X Rivers of life (10-14)
B’ Man placed in garden and commanded about trees (15-17)
A’ Creation of Woman (18-25)
Finally, the structure of verses 18-25, the Creation of Woman, itself, yields further insight into the provocative nature of this text that falls naturally into four sections, as indicated in the RSV by Direct speech (18), “So” (19, 21), and “Therefore” (24):
A The LORD God’s promise of a mate (18)
B Promise delayed (19-20)
B’ Promise fulfilled (21-23)
A’ Etiological explanation (24-25)
Of special importance is the pairing of B and B’ (19-20/21-23). At first glance they are identical and represent the age-old story, seen in many cultures, of the finding of a mate for the man. Typically, in such stories, various animals are created and brought to the man who renders judgment as to their appropriateness.
When they are not deemed suitable, the animal is named by the man, thereby exercising his dominion until, at long last, woman is presented as a proper mate. But the differences and similarities present in B and B’ beg to be discussed. In both panels there is a divine act in which the LORD God brings an animal or the woman to the man (19/22), but the LORD God “formed” (yatsar) the animals “out of the ground” but “built” (banah) the woman from the man’s “rib,” and though the LORD God brought the animals to the man “to see what he would name them,” that purpose clause is missing in the portion dealing with the woman. These relationships between the two panels might be schematically represented as the following:
PANEL ONE: PROMISE DELAYED
PANEL TWO: PROMISE FULFILLED
I. Divine Act (19)
I. A Divine Act (21-22)
God “forms” animals from the “ground”
God “builds” woman from man’s “rib”
God brings to man
God brings to man
II. Naming by man exercises dominion (20a)
III. Evaluation by man “Yes” (23a)
III. Evaluation by man “No way, Moshe!” (20b)
II. Man does not name her until 3:20 (23b)
The clever reversal of the II and III elements in the second panel emphasizes the difference between the animals and the woman.
- She is “built” from the same DNA as the man, not “formed from the ground”
- Identified as the proper mate for the man, thus fulfilling the LORD God’s promise. In fact, she is identified as “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh” the same idiom used by the Northern tribes who came to pledge oneness and fidelity to David in 2 Samuel 5:1.
- Most importantly, she is not “named.” That doesn’t occur until 3:20, after the “Fall.” The author offers a pun on the word for “man” instead. The word for “woman” is not formed by the addition of the feminine ending (ah) to the word for “man” (ish) since the words are derived from different roots.
In other words, the patriarchy, male domination, and oppression of women so often depicted in the Old Testament is the result of our sin, not the initial intention of the Creator.1
- I believe many of these insights were suggested by the work of Samuel Terrien, but I have not been able to find where.
PRAYER OF THE DAY
Holy Creator, you created women and men in your own image to till the earth and help one another. Give us hearts to continue tending to all that you have made so that the earth will sustain life for generations to come. Amen.
The God of Abraham praise ELW 831, H82 401, GG 49, UMH 116
Creating God, your fingers trace ELW 684, H82 394/395, NCH 462, UMH 109
The Earth Adorned, Waldemar Ahlen