Chaos — The Story of Adam, Pt 1b (Genesis 2)

Have you ever noticed that Genesis 1 and 2 are so different? Genesis 1 is very well-structured (and, for that matter, very well-known), while Genesis 2 is much more like a real ‘story’ as we know it from the rest of Genesis. In reality, they provide two different perspectives on the same event, namely creation, together producing a ‘full-orbed’ idea. [1]

Therefore I write this second article on the first part of the story pattern, and plan to write two articles on ‘new creation’ and two on ‘covenant’, so that I can discuss Genesis 1 and 2 separately while also letting them shed light on each other. (To be precise, I include Gen. 2:1–3 with chapter 1.) After that, I will finish the story of Adam with the unfaithfulness in Eden and the exile out of the garden as described in Genesis 3.

The Chaos of Genesis 2:4–6

In my last article I discussed the chaos of Genesis 1:1–2. The land was formless and uninhabited, there was no life and no God, but the Spirit of God made the way for new creation. Genesis 2 also seems to describe this very same chaos, but in a different way. The relation between the first two parts of the story pattern can be variously described; whereas Genesis 1 seems to focus on ‘Chaos — Order’, Genesis 2 focusses on ‘Barren — Fruitful’ . The parallels between the chapters are remarkable:

The parallels between Genesis 1 and 2

Both begin with a time marker, followed by a description of the state of the land, in which both mention ‘water’ and the connection between ‘spirit’/‘breath’ and ‘life’ (Genesis 1 implicitly, as I discussed in my previous article). Then they narrate the first creation act, which, interestingly, is the creation of light in Genesis 1 and the creation of man in Genesis 2. Now let’s move on to the text of Genesis 2.

‘This is the account of the heavens and the earth…’

Literally it says ‘these are the generations of (…)’ (Hebr.: toledoth), which is a way in which the author of Genesis structures his book. [2] It serves as a way to transition to the next part of the story focussed on events surrounding another person and his family. Thus it can be translated as: ‘This is what became of [person].’ In our verse, however, it’s no person, but it’s ‘the heavens and the earth’, which, as I said in my previous article, most likely refers to the whole created order from the Israelites’ point of view. So, what follows describes what became of all creation and its inhabitants. [3]

‘…when they were created — in the day that Yahweh God made the earth and the heavens.’

A chiasm can be seen in this verse:

  • …the heavens (A) and the earth (B) when they were created (C)
  • in the day that Yahweh God made (C) the earth (B) and the heavens (A)

This verse thus serves as a transition between Genesis 1 and 2, while at the same time placing them together as parallels which describe, in a sense, the same events.

‘In the day that (…)’ can be read as a simple time marker ‘when’ (see also the parallel in the chiasm and the parallel with Genesis 1). So, it is not a clear contradiction with the six days of Genesis 1. [4] Also we note that the author uses God’s covenantal name ‘Yahweh’. This is the first occurrence of this name in the Bible; the author used only the title ‘God’ (Hebr.: elohim) in Genesis 1. This can be explained by the fact that in Genesis 2 the author focuses more on God’s dealing with mankind than in Genesis 1. Furthermore, it’s good to note the distinction between the verbs ‘make’ and ‘create’, which we both encounter in this verse. Whereas ‘make’ (Hebr.: asah) is a more general verb, also ascribed to human activities, ‘create’ (Hebr.: bara) only has God as its subject and thus describes a ‘divine’ activity.

‘Now no shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for Yahweh God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.’

We see, as in Genesis 1, a transition from ‘the heavens and the earth’ to the ‘land’. This land is not clearly defined, but it refers broadly to the piece of land where God would create Adam. There was no vegetation in the land. ‘Shrub’, or ‘bush’, refers to wild plants (cf. Gen. 21:15; Job 30:4; 7), whereas ‘ plant’ refers to cultivated herbs. The former mainly depends on rain for growth, whereas the latter needs men to work the ground. But God was soon going to solve these two problems.

Later on in the Bible, this state of ‘chaos’, of the lack of water and vegetation, would be aspects of judgment. For example, in Isaiah 5, God pronounces judgment on the ‘vineyard’ of Israel and says that he will ‘make it a waste (…) I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.’ In Isaiah 42:15, speaking about the enemies of Israel, God says he will ‘lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools.’ Again, the lack of rain and/or vegetation denotes a state of judgment, of ‘de-creation’, a return to chaos.

‘But a mist would go up from the land and water the whole surface of the ground.’

There was no rain, but God causes a mist to water the land. ‘Mist’ (Hebr.: ed) occurs only one other time in the Hebrew Bible, in Job 36:27–28: ‘For he [God] draws up the drops of water; they distill his mist in rain, which the skies pour down and drop on mankind abundantly.’ The connection with rain is clear enough, so we can understand this ‘mist’ to be ‘clouds’.

Job seems to allude to these verses when he describes the majesty of the creator God:

“Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass? Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew?” — Job 38:25–28

Next, as we will see in more detail in a subsequent article, God creates mankind from the soil. In this way, God has created a two-fold solution to a two-fold problem, thus making the parallelism in the verses complete: [5]

Especially in the Prophets, the transformation of dry and barren land by the outpouring of water/Spirit into a state of flourishing, was a sign of God’s salvation and new creation coming upon his people. [6]

A Concluding Word

In my previous article I concluded that the author was focussing in Genesis 1 on the whole created order as the Israelites knew it, and in particular on a certain piece of land in which God would put man and the animals, and from which they were to carry out their God-given mission to multiply and fill the land. The same holds true for Genesis 2; the ‘land’ mentioned in 2:4–6 refers broadly to the area in which God would plant a garden and put Adam to live in, indeed, the land of Eden. This land was, for now, ‘barren’, with no plants or vegetation. But God caused rain to water the ground, and created man to work the ground, and thus caused the land to flourish.

In the worldview of Israel, ‘land’ (Hebr.: eretz) was a very important symbol. It played an imporant role in the story of the patriarchs and Israel itself. So, the Israelites who read Genesis 2 would have associated this ‘land’ with their own promised land, which was likened to a new creation, a new Eden, in which God placed Israel to carry out its mission as a corporate Adam to spread God’s glory over all the earth.


[1] See the discussion of Genesis 1–2 in Wellum and Gentry, Kingdom through Covenant.

[2] Adam (5:1); Noah (6:9); sons of Noah (10:1); sons of Shem (11:10); Terah (11:27); Ishmael (25:12); Isaac (25:19); Esau (36:1, 9); Jacob (37:2).

[3] The Greek (LXX) says: ho biblos geneseos (‘the book of offspring’). This is where the whole Bible book ‘Genesis’ gets its name from. Also, Matthew alludes to this exact phrase in his introduction (Mat. 1:1), thus announcing a new creation in Jesus the Messiah.

[4] I will return, however, to the differences between Genesis 1 and 2, and how to resolve them, in a subsequent article.

[5] See Mark Futato’s article on Gen. 2:5–7.

[6] E.g., among many others, Isaiah 41:18–20: ‘I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, so that they may see and know (…) that the Holy One of Israel has created it.’

For the specific connection between rain/dew and resurrection, see Isaiah 26:19 and Hosea 6:1–3.



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