God Is Lavish in a World of Yes
Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at the Creator God who is bigger than you can imagine. We’ve seen the work of God’s hands and the work of our hands as his image bearers. And we’ve seen the necessity of remembering God’s rest so that we can join him in it. All three of these sermons have centered on Genesis 1, where we get the big picture of God’s creative activity. Today, we narrow the focus to God’s dealings with man on Day 6. If Genesis 1 accents that God is the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator God who speaks the cosmos into existence, and then sits enthroned in his glorious rest, Genesis 2 accents that God is the Covenant God, near at hand, in relationship with man, and actively involved in the world.
We see a number of differences between Genesis 1 and 2. For example, in Genesis 1, we see that God is referred to by the name elohim (God). In Genesis 2 (and up through Genesis 5), he is referred to as Yahweh Elohim (the LORD God), using his personal, covenantal name. In Genesis 1, God forms and fills the world through speech. “Let there be…and there was.” In Genesis 2, we see God get his hands dirty: forming man from the dust of the ground, breathing life into him, placing him in the garden, and building a woman from man’s side. In Genesis 1, God regularly sees that his creation is “good.” In Genesis 2, he sees something that is “not good.” These differences are meant to help us see more fully who God is and what he calls us to do and be.
Setting the Stage
I want to spend the bulk of our time on God and his provision and restrictions and the creation of man and woman. But I want to make a few observations about the geography in Genesis 2. The passage suggests three regions of the earth: Garden, Land, and World. We normally speak of the Garden of Eden, but the passage actually speaks of a garden in Eden. Eden is a land, and there are other lands outside of it (Cush, Havilah, etc). God plants the garden in Eden, and places man there with plenty of food and water. There is a river that flows out of Eden to water the garden, and then splits into four rivers that run to the ends of the earth. This suggests that the land of Eden is a large mountain, with the garden close to the top where the headwaters are. Given what we’ve seen about the call to multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it, God’s plan seems to have been that man would begin in the garden and work outward. From his base in the garden, man would work to make the rest of Eden like the garden. Once that was complete, he (or his sons and daughters) would then spread out to Cush and Havilah, following the rivers to the ends of the earth, and make the world like the garden. Or, even more likely, given the mention of the gold and the jewels, man was to transform the world into a beautiful garden-city.
This same structure is echoed in the Tabernacle and the Temple, where you have the Holy of Holies, and then the Holy Place, and then a courtyard, and then the city outside the temple, and so forth. And, for what it’s worth, I think this pattern has implications for thinking about sanctification and cultural transformation. Sanctification starts in the heart and moves outward. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Our actions and words flow from our hearts. Or again, a city will always reflect the temple at its center. The church is meant to be at the heart of the city, and worshiping God rightly at the center is meant to flow out from that center of worship to the world, as the kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
The Lavish God and the World of ‘Yes!’
One of the things I love about Genesis 2 is the way that it surprises us, if we pay attention. For example, if I ask you, what’s the first command that God gives to Adam and Eve, you’d say, “Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” And I’d say, you’re wrong. Look carefully at 2:17. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” The first command is not the prohibition; it’s the permission. The first command is “Eat from every tree (parenthesis: except that one”).
Why is this important? Because we have a tendency to see the prohibitions of God—the “Thou shalt not’s”—as fundamental, when in reality it’s the permission and gifts of God that are fundamental. The prohibitions exist to protect the gifts. We saw a little of this last week in relation to the Sabbath. Do you remember how the Pharisees thought about the Sabbath? They knew that God told them not to work on the Sabbath, but they forgot that the “not working” is not the point of the Sabbath. The point of the Sabbath is worship, celebration, active rest, and enjoyment of God’s completed labor (and ours). The Sabbath was made for man (as a gift), not man for the Sabbath.
And it’s not just that God gives us a little permission. God is lavish in his gifts. Look at the description of the trees that God gives Adam to eat. “And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). Beautiful trees, tasty fruit, party in Adam’s mouth, all with divine endorsement. “Eat, Adam. They’re all for you (except one).” There is one “No” in a world full of “Yes.” Remember that. God is a God of Yes. In the beginning, he made a world of Yes, and placed one No in the midst of it. He’s a God of lavish provision who loves to give good gifts to his children. And if we take the glory of the trees as a symbol for physical pleasures, for any pleasure that comes through the senses—pleasures that you see, taste, touch, smell, and hear—then here we have God encouraging a robust and glad-hearted rejoicing and delighting in what he has made and given. Perhaps God could have made us like the angels, immaterial and spiritual beings. Infinite wisdom preferred stomachs. And tongues. And every combination of sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and savory that the chefs on the Food Network can discover. And if you’d like to think more about that, we preached a whole sermon series on it in June. For now, I simply want to accent that God provides. He meets needs. He gives gifts. He is lavish and generous to his people.
God Provides for Our Needs
But God doesn’t just meet the physical need of hunger and sustenance. He meets relational needs. In the middle of all of this goodness, God sees something missing, something “not good.” “It is not good for man to be alone.” And God doesn’t just make the observation and walk away. He acts to meet the need. “I will make a helper fit for him.”
And after promising to meet the need, God then brings Adam the animals and gives him authority to name them. Part of me thinks this is a bit humorous. “Adam, you’re lonely. How about a dog?” “Adam, it’s not good for you to be alone. Here’s a chicken.” “Adam, you’re looking pretty low. You wanna take a ride on an elephant?” Now I actually think that God is doing something very important for Adam here. First, as I noted a few weeks ago, he is inviting Adam to be his co-worker in completing creation. He’s helping him to grow up into the maturity that God intends for Adam to be. Second, he’s teaching Adam through the animals. Every time God brings a new kind of animal to Adam to name, what will Adam see? Presumably, he’ll see male and female animals. He’ll see the matched pairs, the mates, and in seeing them, perhaps he’ll begin to think, to dream, to hope that maybe, possibly, God might give him a match as well.
And in fact that’s just what God does. After Adam names all of the kinds of animals and finds no helper, God puts him in a deep, death-like sleep. And while in that sleep, Adam lost something, a part of his side. But he awoke to the stunning reality that he had not lost anything at all. This was better. This was fitting. This exceeded all expectations. Being raised up, Adam had moved from one degree of glory to another.
In other words, in this passage God does to Adam what he had done to the cosmos in Genesis 1. Remember how the earth was formless and void, a watery deep. And then God splits the waters in two, and makes the sky. Then he splits the waters below again, and makes the land. God loves to separate things in order to reunite them in greater and more glorious union. And the glory of this moment is not lost on Adam. Genesis 2:23 are the first recorded human words in the Bible. And in the exhortation, I highlighted how Adam pulled together the past and the external world and his inner world in order to speak into the future. Now I just want to capture the glory of the moment, as all of these realities come flying out of Adam in his poem.
“You come from me, but you are not me. Your bones were built from my bones. Your flesh was cut from my flesh. We are alike, but different. We are the same, but sundered. God has torn me in two, only to put me together again. He removed from me a piece of my side so that he might return it with interest. What name will capture what I’m feeling in this moment? She shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.”
Marriage from the Beginning
God splits Man so he can put him back together again, and 2:24 tells us that the putting back together again is called marriage. And every marriage since has involved a separation, a leaving, for the sake of a greater and more fruitful union.
Before moving on, I want to draw out some implications of the creation of Adam and Eve. According to Paul, the reason that pastors must be men (1 Tim. 2), and the reason that husbands are the head of their wives (1 Cor. 11) is because of what happens in this passage. Adam is created first, and then Eve. And Eve is made from Adam. This order of creation is significant to the biblical authors. If you don’t understand that God has created us in a certain way, in a certain order, with certain distinctives, then the later commands in Scripture will seem arbitrary. But, if we attend to what God has done, if we see the patterns of his ways, then we can see the wisdom in his words. That’s one of the reason we’re reflecting on Genesis 1-11: it helps to show us the Why underneath the What’s. What has God told us to do? How has he told us to live? Genesis 1-11 establishes the patterns so that we can see why God gives the commands he does. That’s what the biblical authors see in the order of creation. In making Adam first and then Eve, and in making Eve from Adam, they see God establishing a certain order in the nature of things which our lives and language should reflect. The order of creation establishes Adam’s headship over his wife, a headship that takes the form of provision, protection, and sacrifice for her good. She is taken out of man in order to be the glory of man, and Adam is called to labor so that her beauty shines. He is to guard and protect her and their marriage, in the same way he is to guard and protect the garden. This is why the test of whether genuine, godly masculinity is present in a given society or a given church is whether the women are thriving. Where there is faithful masculinity, faithful headship, there will be glorious femininity, the imperishable beauty of holy women who hope in God.
This passage doesn’t simply show us the origin of masculine headship; it also shows the mutual dependence of men and women. When Adam names the Woman, he recognizes and establishes in speech the reciprocal and mutual relationship between men and women. Listen to the Hebrew: She shall be called ishshah, because she was taken out of ish. Adam has been split in two; part of him is now ishshah (woman) and part of him is ish (man). And the linguistic similarity between them (in Hebrew and in English) is meant to remind us that men and women are mutually dependent upon each other. Paul sees a great mystery here. On the one hand, woman was taken out man, and thus a husband is the head of his wife. On the other hand, every man since has been taken out of a woman, a mother, and thus there is mutual dependence. Woman was made from man, and man is born of woman. And, as Paul says, all things are from God. This relationship of origin and glory, of beautifying and helping, of response and initiative, of response and initiative, of order and dependence is a beautiful thing, one more gift from the lavish God who meets our needs.
Adam Learned from God
Let me make one more observation about Adam naming the woman. Where did Adam learn to name? How did he know to name her that way—defining her over against himself (ishshah and ish)? My argument is that he learned to do this by imitating God. I assume that Adam knows his name and knows where he came from. Or again, I assume that Adam knew Genesis 2:7. God formed adam from the dust of the adamah. Man was taken out of the ground and named based on his origins. Therefore, when he sees God’s new work in the Woman—who she is and where she came from—he names her in the same way. She shall be called ishshah, because she was taken out of ish. Adam from adamah. Ishshah from ish. Adam, the son of God, does just what he sees his Father doing. And this fact—that God names Adam based on his origin, and then Adam names the woman based on her origin—will be significant next week when we look at Gen. 3.
So where does that leave us at the end of Genesis 2? We see man in God’s world, in the land of Eden, in a beautiful garden, with a river running down to water it, and then splitting into four rivers as it flows out into the rich, fertile, but unsubdued earth. And if we combine with what we’ve seen previously, we see God’s Man in God’s Land under God’s Law on God’s mission (this is a pattern that will recur throughout the Bible). God places Adam in the garden and gives him a mission: work and keep it. The Garden is the sanctuary, the Holy Place, and Adam is tasked with being a servant in God’s house, a priest who guards the sacred space. Man is also called to be a king, expanding sacred space and making the world like the garden. He is a son over God’s house and his mission is to subdue the earth and have dominion over all of it. And finally, he is to name the world as he goes, joining God in drawing out and expressing the meaning of God’s works. And in order to accomplish this mission, God gives Adam a helper, a perfect companion, a fellow bearer of God’s image. He is her head, and she is his helper, to accomplish God’s mission. God meets their relational needs, and he meets their physical needs. He lavishes them with beautiful trees and tasty fruit so that they have strength to accomplish this mission. Every tree is theirs for food, except one. There is one No in this world full of Yes.
The One ‘No’
Now in the rest of the sermon, I want to explore this “No” a little more. This prohibition is a puzzle to many people. We have all kinds of questions about the forbidden tree. I want to focus on two of them. First, what is “the knowledge of good and evil?” And second, why is it forbidden? In Genesis 3, we get some insight into what it is. The serpent says that if they eat from the tree, they will be “like God, knowing good and evil.” So God has it. And this isn’t a lie, because in 3:22, God says, “The man has become like one of us knowing good and evil.” So whatever the knowledge of good and evil is, it can’t be sinful in itself, because God has it. But, since it’s forbidden to man, some commentators argue that it means “the ability to determine or decide what is good and evil.” God has that and should have it. Man should not. But I don’t think that’s correct. Instead, I’m going to argue for a particular meaning of “knowing good and evil” that may be new to you. I believe that that the knowledge of good and evil refers to the kind of mature wisdom and discernment that characterizes competent adults and especially kings. In other words, Adam and Eve are forbidden to eat from the tree of royal wisdom.
Why do I think that knowing good and evil means “mature, royal wisdom”? Because if we do a Bible study and look up that phrase elsewhere, here is what we find.
- In Deuteronomy 1:39, little children are said to lack “the knowledge of good and evil.” Isaiah 7:16 appears to echo this when it says, “before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.”
- In 2 Sam 14:17, a woman tells King David that he “is like the angel of God to discern good and evil.” In 14:20, she follows it up by saying, “my lord has wisdom like the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.” So apparently, knowing good and evil is not just something that God has, but something angels have as well.
- 1 Kings 3 brings both of these elements together. God tells Solomon to ask for whatever he wants and Solomon says, “I am but a little child (3:7)… Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil” (3:9). In 3:11, God explicitly connects this to wisdom when he says, “Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind.”
- In Hebrews 5, we see the use of a similar phrase that reinforces what we’ve seen so far. “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
All of this is confirmed in Genesis 3:6, “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes (echoing Gen 2:9), and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” So in Genesis 3, knowing good and evil is linked to wisdom, and the rest of the Bible confirms this. Therefore, I conclude that the knowledge of good and evil is not the ability to determine or decide what is good and evil, but instead the wisdom that characterizes adults and especially kings. It’s a discerning between good and evil that is the mark of mature adults and enables kings to rule. Now, if that’s right, then why is it forbidden? Why can’t Adam and Eve eat from the wisdom tree?
The Temporary Prohibition
Again, I’m going to suggest something that may be new to you. My argument is that God did intend for them to eat from the wisdom tree eventually. In other words, the prohibition is temporary. The one No is really a Not Yet. Now why do I think the command is temporary? First, if it’s true that the knowledge of good and evil is mature wisdom, then it seems odd that God would withhold it from Adam and Eve forever. “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Second, if we understand God’s “No” as a “Not Yet,” it helps to make sense of Adam and Eve’s sin. Remember the book of Proverbs. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). The path to wisdom begins with fearing God, obeying God, walking uprightly before God. This path to wisdom doesn’t begin in Proverbs; it begins in Genesis. Before Adam and Eve can be trusted with authority and rule over creation, they must first learn to trust God completely. Before they can become kings, they must know that God is the High King. Thus, God puts a tree of wisdom in the garden, a tree that is beautiful and tasty like the other trees and tells them that they cannot eat from it, lest they die. They must learn to trust God’s wisdom before they can be trusted with wisdom and rule themselves. Forbidding the knowledge of good and evil is like forbidding children from driving cars. Driving cars isn’t sinful or wrong. But it’s for adults, for the mature. A child must grow up and demonstrate responsibility before he is given the keys.
Thus, we should see Adam and Eve as created good and innocent, but also immature. They must grow up by trusting God in everything before they can be all that God intends them to be. And the analogy with childhood helps to explain another feature of Genesis 2: their nakedness. When we read that Adam and Eve are naked and unashamed, we rightly recognize that this means that they are innocent. They have no sin, no shame. One of the functions of clothing in the Bible is to cover shame. But it’s not the only function. Clothing is also about giving glory and authority. “Not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed as the lilies of the field.” When Joseph is elevated to the right hand of Pharaoh in Egypt, he is given a new robe. So also with Daniel in Babylon. The gift of new clothes signifies their new authority. The prodigal son combines both functions of clothing. When he comes home, his father puts on him the best robe, both to cover his filthy rags as well as to communicate that his son is still his son and will share in the inheritance.
Therefore, like the prohibition on the tree of wisdom, Adam and Eve’s nakedness shows both their innocence and their immaturity (as any parent of toddlers will tell you). Just as God intends for them to eventually eat from the tree of wisdom, so also God intends to clothe them with glory. Adam and Eve are created good, but immature, and God intends for them to grow up into glory and maturity, to take their place as king and queen over all his works. But first they must be tested, and so, in Genesis 3, there came a serpent.
Now we know that Adam and Eve fail the test, and next week we’ll explore it in more detail. But when Christ came to restore us, he came as a second Adam, and he too was tested. Satan tempted him in the wilderness, and the parallel between Christ’s temptation and Adam’s confirms what we’ve seen about the knowledge of good and evil. Recall that Satan offered Christ the kingdoms of the earth in all of their glory, if only he would worship Satan. Now, the kingdoms of the earth are a good thing. It’s not wrong for Christ to desire them. So when Satan offers them to Jesus, Jesus effectively says, “I’m going to get the kingdoms of the earth. That’s why I came. But I’m not going to get them as a gift from the devil. I’m going to get them as a gift from my Father who is good and wise and lavish. I’m going to ask of him and he will give me the nations as an inheritance. He will feed me. He will protect me. And therefore I will not put him to the test. Instead, I’ll put him first.”
This brings us to the Table. Because Christ succeeded where Adam failed, God is lavish in his grace here at this table. He again offers us the plants of the earth and the fruit of the vine. He again meets our needs, not mainly our need for tasty food and strength, but our need for forgiveness and mercy. Here at this table, we again live in God’s world of Yes, because all of God’s promises are Yes in Christ. His body is the true bread. Let us serve you.