Two Trees: Genesis 2:4-25
There’s an election coming up. One of the hot-button issues is climate change – how will the liberals respond to that topic? What about the conservatives? The Green Party? How seriously will our politicians take it? How will the voters respond?
It’s interesting that we have left this conversation in the hands of our politicians. The whole topic of creation care really belongs – and always has belonged – in the hands of the Church. After all, the conversation already started in the first two chapters of the book of Genesis – it was at creation already that God put his people in charge of caring over creation – to work the garden and take care of it.
And yet, by and large, the church has worked very hard to distance herself from the whole conversation of climate change – choosing instead to deny or minimize the science or opt out altogether by saying that our focus must be on our eternal home- up there somewhere – heaven. This world will be destroyed anyways – let’s put our energy into getting to heaven instead.
Everything about Genesis 1 and 2 gravitates away from this understanding. We read in these two chapters about a powerful God who put a great deal of creativity into his work of art. We read clear instruction on how humanity is to be involved in caring for this phenomenal work of art – and finally we read strong warnings that become consequences of disobedience to God’s commands.
Now I need to apologize here –
Last week I promised that we wold have a relaxing summer focussing on trees in the Bible – I mean, that’s a summer thing to do, right. Climbing trees. Making tree forts. Snoozing in the shade of a tree. Getting a hammock and drinking iced tea and relaxing under a tree.
So – a summer series on trees in the bible seemed like a good decision.
And it started easily enough. Last Sunday I preached on Psalm 1- blessed is the one who does not walk, stand, or sit in the counsel of the wicked, but whose delight is in the Word of God. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, whose leaf does not wither. Whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked. They are like chaff.
That’s a great Scripture. Black and white. Good versus evil. A passage that pretty much preaches itself.
When I got in to work Tuesday morning, I was pretty eager to find my next tree text. I figured I would start in the beginning – Genesis one and two – an obvious passage when talking trees. But the more Scripture and articles and commentaries I read, the more complex things became. I was amazed at how little was written about the two chapters – and how much was written about all of the controversies that arise out of Genesis 1 and 2:
Why are there two creation stories? Why do they seem to contradict each other in places? And what about these two trees – why are they not in chapter 1 at all – and then they show up in chapter 2. How literally are we to take these chapters. Were Adam and Eve historical figures or are they metaphorical. And on and on and on.
Needless to say, I did not spend my week snoozing under the spreading branches of a maple tree.
By the end of the week, I decided to do my best not to get embroiled in all the theological debates, but to apply the KISS principle. KISS – Keep it Simple!
And to keep it simple, I am going to talk about three twos –
Two creation stories
Two choices. KISS!
So here goes. I begin with two creation stories. To answer the question. Why two accounts of the same story?
Commentaries suggest that the 2 accounts are parallel –but come from 2 different perspectives. Genesis 1 comes from a heavenly perspective – Genesis 2 from an earthly perspective.
Genesis 1 is all about a mighty, transcendent God speaking creation into being.
The account is very orderly – sequential - each day follows a formula –God said – Let there be light – God saw that the light was good – he separated the light from the darkness – God called the light day and the darkness night –
All about God at work – bringing order to the chaos – God saw all he had made, and it was very good.
But then we get to chapter 2:4 – things get much more intimate and personal.
The clue to this is hidden in the Hebrew names of God.
In chapter 1 – the name of God is one word – Elohim. God.
In Chapter 2, the name for God is YHWH Elohim. The LORD God – that is how our bibles show the distinction – LORD God is the way the NIV has chosen to translate the Hebrew –
YHWH is the Hebrew, and is interpreted as the covenantal name of God. It is the name that implies relationship. It’s kind of like with us – we have a first name and a last name – our last name is more formal – our first name more personal – when you are on a first name basis with someone, you know them more personally.
The Genesis 1 account is about the mighty act of creation by a powerful, transcendent God. Elohim!
The Genesis 2 account is more about a personal covenantal God being present and intimately acting on his creation. YHWH Elohim.
There are other clues in the second account that speak of this intimacy.
Listen again to chapter 2:7: Then YHWH Elohim formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Compare that to 1:27:
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
The second account paints a picture of an artist carefully molding the clay and forming mankind – and then breathing into his nostrils to give him life. Wow – talk about intimate.
The first account says nothing of a garden - the second account speaks of a garden that the LORD God personally planted –
And it is into this garden that YHWH Elohim places the man he had formed. Again, picture the artist carefully putting his work on display in the perfect place.
And then there was the creation of Eve. In the first account, there is no separate mention of the creation of Eve -
but in the second account, the LORD God notices – it’s like putting a human characteristic on God – that’s called anthropomorphic language –
hmm, it is not good for the man to be alone - I will make a suitable helper for him.
21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribsand then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the ribhe had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
Very personal – intimate – relational.
Mark VerBruggen, a pastor in Sarnia, Ontario, explains that all of this points towards a creation story where God establishes relationship with his people. If we just had chapter 1, we would be left with a distant God creating the heavens and the earth – Chapter 2 introduces us to a this is a very involved King establishing his kingdom.
This is Kingdom of God stuff. And as with any kingdom, there is the one in charge – there are subjects – there is a relationship between the king and his subjects - and finally there are rules that govern their relationship. That is what Genesis 1 and 2 are about.
This brings us to the two trees.
Actually, there were many trees in the garden. Chapter 2 verse 9 tells us that YHWH Elohim made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food, but that in the centre of the garden were two trees – the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Chapter 1 says nothing about the two trees in the middle of the garden – only the second account- the relational account – includes them
Here’s what we read in chapter 2:15ff:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and care for it. And the Lord God commanded 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 from it you will certainly die.”
Two trees. A tree that gives life – and a tree that serves as a warning for how to maintain that life.
When we read this as a Kingdom of God text – and as a text that stipulates covenant conditions between the King and his subjects – we can avoid any long-winded controversies of what the tree of the knowledge of good and evil really means. We can avoid long-winded debates of what would have happened had Adam and Eve not eaten of the fruit of that tree.
We can just focus on what we need to focus on - God’s Kingdom. And how things work best in his kingdom.
We are his people. We have been charged with caring for God’s creation. There are rules to follow that will make things work well - when these rules are followed, we will be blessed and prosper in the land the Lord has given us. When we break the rules and turn in disobedience against God, we will not prosper. In fact, we will be cursed.
The one tree represents life – and fruitfulness – and prosperity – and blessing.
The other tree represents death – destruction – and consequences to the generations that follow.
So … Two creation stories
Two trees –
And finally two choices –
Adam and Eve have two choices. To eat or not to eat. To be obedient or disobedient. To find blessing or curse.
We know only two well the course they chose. Disobedience. And the repercussions. Expulsion from the garden. A loss of intimacy with the creator. The realization of nakedness and shame. Eventual death.
When read in the context of Kingdom of God and covenant, it becomes clear that when Adam and Eve broke the rules of the covenant – they chose death and separation from YHWH God.
But when we keep reading through the story – it all belongs together - is all one story of YHWH God working tirelessly to bring his people back
how YHWH God goes to the furthest extreme to bring his people back to the tree of life – the tree that is able to sustain them and heal them and give them hope and a future. This YHWH God gives the gift of his Son Jesus Christ to reverse the curse of sin and death and allow us to re-enter the garden of God’s eternal grace and blessing. That is what Scripture is all about.
Now here we sit, and we too are called to choose. Choose life or choose death. Choose life by living in obedience to YHWH God’s command to care for creation, to care for his creatures, and to care for one another.
Or choose death – disobedience – destruction.
Deuteronomy 30 sums it all up: This is God speaking to his people before they enter the promised land.
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
Two creation stories. Two trees. Two choices. Obedience, or disobedience.
And what does this have to do with climate change?
Well, the original command to care for creation is still on the table.
And the consequences of disobedience to this command are still in play. For us – For our children – our grandchildren – great grandchildren.
You see, not only are we called to care for creation, we are also called to care for one another. I was listening to a TED talk the other day, by a Christian who is also a Scientist (Katharine Hayhoe: The Most Important Thing You Can Do To Fight Climate Change…)– and she talked about the Multiplier Effect – that the consequences of climate change multiply exponentially and affect the poorest – those living in the most adverse conditions – those subject to natural disasters and famine – it affects them exponentially more than those who are already resource rich.
We have a responsibility to all of creation and all of God’s creatures. That responsibility is not debatable – it is woven into the very fabric of creation. We are called to care for the creation God has gifted to us.
God has done his part – even now he is making all things new through the on-going work of the Holy Spirit.
But as God’s covenant people, we are called to be full partners in his kingdom work.
Called to bring healing to the nations.
Called to bring hope to the hungry.
Called to bring relief to this sun-scorched land.
Called to bring the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ to all people.
Because at the end of the day, we will only find true life by being firmly connected to the tree of life, Jesus Christ.
So this week, as you sit in the shade of a beautiful maple tree or oak tree – spend some time being thankful for God’s wonderful and creative efforts – maybe wonder about how beautiful that original garden was – and then think about how you can partner with God in bringing creation back to its original beauty.