We're back, then to the early chapters of Genesis. Turn, please, in the Bible to 2.4-17.
Chapter 1 is, if you like, the majestic overture that sets the scene. This is the world in which the great drama of the history of mankind's relationship with our creator is going to be worked out.
And now, from 2.4, we get a different perspective. To use another image, it's as if the camera zooms in. From a distant view of a vast panorama, it plunges down through the clouds, down and down until filling the frame is one solitary man.
But what does this mean to us? What difference will this make when you get up tomorrow morning. Well, it should affect every waking moment. If it doesn't, then you're like a bereaved child who doesn't yet understand that he's lost his father.
Last week detective constable Stephen Oakes was killed in a violent struggle with a suspected terrorist. There were memorial services this morning at the church where he was a committed member. He had three children. His wife has released a statement. She says:
No-one should have to go through what we as a family have had to experience over the last few days. I cannot begin to put in to words what we are feeling or the impact this has had on our lives… He loved us all so much and brought so much joy into the lives of everyone who knew him.
As well as the statement, family pictures have been released of a smiling husband and father beside his beloved wife.
Those words and pictures convey the impact of evil and death with great force. Why? Because they show what's been lost. When you're shown the joy and love in the lives of that family before it was struck down, then you begin to understand the grief, and you long for it all to be put back together again.
Are you grieving for all that mankind has lost as a result of sin, evil and death? Are you longing for it all to be put right? We will not understand the impact sin has had on our lives unless we see what things used to be like, and what they could have been, but for sin. And that's exactly what we have in Genesis 2.
Here are the grainy family snapshots and video clips that convey life as God intended it to be, before the great catastrophe that still afflicts us all. Only when we've understood this will the hope that Jesus brings come into sharp focus for us.
The catastrophe begins in chapter 3. This evening we're looking at the first half of chapter 2.
Think of this, then, as our collective family photo album. In 2.4-17 three episodes are recorded. We've got time just to take a look at a few of the snapshots from each episode. Inevitably there's a lot that's unclear - often the background is out of focus - there are bound to be unanswered questions about what's going on behind the scenes. But what we need to see is clear enough.
The three key episodes are summed up in my three headings, that you can see on the back of the service sheet. First, God made man and gave him life. That's in verses 4-7. Secondly, God gave man a place to live in - verses 8-15. And thirdly, God gave man commands to obey, there in verses 16-17.
First, GOD MADE MAN AND GAVE HIM LIFE
Verses 4-6 describe a world that is barren, uncultivated, unproductive, unfruitful, and empty. The allotment next to ours is like that at the moment. It's just bare earth. Nothing there. And yet it's full of promise. Why? Because it's clearly been prepared for a future harvest. For the last few months it's been covered in carpets. Now they've been stripped off. It's barren land. But it won't be for long. You can tell that the gardener's got plans. And the empty world of verses 4-6 is nonetheless God's world. He's got a plan. And here it is in verse 7:
the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
We have at home pictures from a reel of film taken shortly after our first child - who'll be nameless to prevent embarrassment - was born. Well here are the snapshots from the moment of the creation of the ancestor of us all. Let me point out a few prominent features.
First, God is man's creator: 'the Lord God formed the man…' After Genesis 1 we should have got that point. But we live in a sea of people who are blind to that fact so it needs to be restated today, just as God clearly thought it needed to be restated in Genesis 2. God is your creator. You didn't make yourself. Nor can you blame your parents. Not for who you are, anyway. Nor are you an accident. Whatever your parents may think. You were planned and made by God.
Secondly, God formed man from the ground: 'the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground…' If you've ever seen someone's ashes in an urn you'll be well aware that's what we are. Dust and ashes. Stirred up with some water. Stirred up, though, in a mind-bogglingly wonderful way. Now, how did God do that? The image suggested here is of a potter working wet clay with his hands to create something beautiful and purposeful. And that's you, by the way - beautiful and purposeful. But God isn't a physical being with hands. So how does God do it?
The Bible's answer to that is clear. It doesn't tell us. What we need to know is that God did it. So we are of the earth. But we're not animals. Physically we're like them, because physically we're made of the same stuff. No surprises there. Genesis has been telling us that for thousands of years. But…
Thirdly, God breathed life into man. Verse 7 again:
The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
This is what separates us from the animals. God does not breath the breath of life into the nostrils of the beasts and the birds. He does that only with mankind. God breathed into the man his own divine breath of life. What a picture that is of the intimate contact that God intends between himself and us. He created us with what you might call the kiss of life. We, so to speak, breath the same air as God. We're not God. But God has made us with this capacity for the deepest fellowship with him.
And please note: this is history. Adam existed. We know that because the Bible tells us. And the Bible makes no sense without him. It's not surprising, then, that we're hearing this kind of thing coming from the scientists - I quote:
"Genetic evidence indicates that all living people are closely related and share a recent common ancestor."
So, God is our creator; he formed us from the ground - we are physical, earthy creatures; and he breathed the breath of life into us. In other words, God made us for two kinds of life. He made us for earthly life - and that is good. But he also made us for a life of relationship with him. That's what gives our lives meaning and purpose. Lose that, and we lose the most vital thing about us.
And the tragedy is that we did lose that. Why? Because Adam decided he didn't want it, as we shall see in chapter 3. So where does that leave us? Utterly dependent on Jesus if our purpose in life is to be fulfilled, that's where. Because he came to die to reconcile us with our Creator. He came to breath the breath of life back into us.
That's the first episode here, then: God made man and gave him life. Now for next episode:
Secondly, GOD GAVE MAN A PLACE TO LIVE IN
Take a look at verses 8-15:
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground - trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good evil.
Then in 10-14 the account goes on to describe the river flowing through Eden and out into the surrounding region. Skip on to verse 15:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
Again, let me draw your attention to some of the key features in the snapshots here.
First, God prepared a place for man to live. We weren't made as disembodied beings, floating in a sea of nothingness. We are physical creatures made for a good, physical world. So we need a good home. And because God loves us, that's exactly what he gave to our first ancestor.
And God's in the same business today. So, just before he died, Jesus said to his disciples - this is John 14.2:
In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
Secondly, God's garden provides for man. The trees in the garden (verse 9) were 'good for food'. And there was (verse 10) 'a river watering the garden'. In other there was a plentiful supply of good food and water. God provides for the needs of his people.
Thirdly, God's garden gives pleasure to man. Eden means 'delight'. And verse 9 says that all the trees that God grew in his garden were 'pleasing to the eye'. Why? Because God planned that the man's life would be delightful. The half-hidden longing inside us for a garden of delight is surely one of the ways that God makes us dissatisfied with the often tawdry lives we lead, so that we'll seek for something better in Jesus.
Fourthly, God puts man to work in his garden. Verse 15: 'The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it…' Productive work is part of God's plan for us built into the creation order. So yesterday afternoon as I was out on the allotment spreading the manure, I was quite right to think 'this is a taste of heaven on earth'. Yes, there's to be rest as well. But what we're made for is that satisfying cycle of good work and rest.
Fifthly, man has responsibility for God's garden. Verse 15 again: 'The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.' Sometimes these early chapters of Genesis are spoken of as if they're a charter for mankind's wanton destruction of the earth. 'If only', the thinking goes, 'we could take our place as one among many animals, then all would be well.' Nothing could be further from the truth. Animals have no responsibility. God holds us accountable. He gave the man the task of caring for the garden. He gave him the authority to rule over it for the general good and for God's glory.
It is precisely because we have both the responsibility and the authority that we can and should take good care of the world that God's given us.
So: God prepared a home for the man; a good home with everything he needed; a delightful home; he set him to work to make it productive; and he charged him to care for it.
As we shall see from chapter 3, we've lost that delightful garden home. But Christ opens the gate into the eternal garden of delight that will make even Eden look thinly planted and low-yielding in comparison.
Thirdly, GOD GAVE MAN COMMANDS TO OBEY
Verse 9 tells us about the two great trees:
In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
What are we to understand by these trees? Certainly they are symbolic. So, the tree of life is a symbol of the life that God gives, as a flag is a symbol of a nation and a ring is a symbol of a marriage. It's not the tree itself or a piece of fruit which is the really significant thing. It's receiving life from God that counts.
Whether in the account here the trees are symbols of some other reality, or there were actual trees to which God chose to give this symbolic function, is a matter of debate among Bible-believing Christians. The same goes for a number of other elements in this account of life in the garden. I lean towards the view that there is symbolism in these chapters that refers to different realities.
But as Ian said last Sunday in relation to how we understand the week of creation, we mustn't let these difficult questions about the early chapters of Genesis blind us to the plain truths that they teach. What is vital is that we know that what is being talked of here is history. Adam and Eve existed. And these chapters give us an utterly reliable record of their developing relationship with God.
Once more then, let me point out a few of the key truths here. Verses 16-17 is where we've got to:
And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'
First, God has the right to rule man. God is the creator, life-giver, sustainer, and provider for the man. He is the almighty Lord who has an absolute right to command.
Secondly, God rules man by speaking to him. The creator God, the true God, is a God who reveals his will to his creation by speaking to it. Indeed creation itself was brought about by the powerful spoken command of God. God speaks. That's how we know him. That's how we know the truth. That's how we know what he wants.
Thirdly, God's rule is that God rules. What is the significance of God's command to the man not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Surely it's the most obvious thing which it the most important. And that is, quite simply, that God forbids it. And God is the one with the right to rule. He is God. The man is not. If the man decides to ignore this command of God, what will he be doing? He'll be refusing God's right to rule him. He'll in effect be saying, 'I'll decide the law round here. If I say something's OK, then it's OK. If I say it's not OK, then it's not.' In other words, the man will decide what's good and what's evil. He will set himself up in the place of God. He will count himself as the source of all wisdom. He will, with supreme arrogance, be attempting to dethrone God in his life. But God's rule is that God rules. If you just accept that, and do what God commands, you will be OK. 'You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.'
Fourthly, God's rule gives freedom to man. The main thrust of God's command is liberty. 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.' There are all kinds of good trees all around. There's the tree of life itself which is not forbidden to the man. God is no kill-joy. He is the inventor of joy. His law is liberating. He wants us to relish all the possibilities of the life that he's given us. Just as long as we live under his liberating rule.
Fifthly, God's rule protects man from death. This is why there is the one forbidden tree. It's not to protect God's ego. What a ridiculous notion that would be. No, it's for the good of the man. God knows what's good for us. And if God tolerated rebellion, that would spell disaster in the end for the whole creation. So God has to act to purge the creation of rebels. But God doesn't want it to come to that. He wants to protect the man from that fate. So he warns him. That's what this rule is. It's a warning for the good of the man. All of God's law warns us away from the damage that disobedience will cause. It warns us away from death. Spiritual, physical, and eternal death. What folly to ignore it.
God has the right to rule. He tells the man clearly what his rule involves. His rule both liberates and protects the man. God loves the man. That's why he made him and gave him life. That's why he gave the man a place to live in. That's why God gave the man commands to obey.
But that, as we know, is not the end of the story of our first ancestor. We'll pick it up again as we continue in the weeks ahead.
One word to finish. Glorious as this life is that God has given the man, and delightful as his garden is, there's one thing that's most definitely not good. There's one gaping, lonely, aching, cavernous, empty void in this picture. There's no woman. So that's what God puts right next.