In the opening chapters of Genesis, the writer introduces God not in philosophical and abstract terms but in personal terms. Rather than employing words from philosophy—first cause, unmoved mover, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient—the writer employs terms from common trades of his day that imply familiarity.
Let us begin by contrasting these personal terms with the grandeur of the name of God himself. The opening chapters of Genesis name God Yahweh Elohim, “the LORD God.” The strong compound name is used for emphasis; the unique orthography of the English rendition “LORD” for Yahweh denotes the declarative “I AM” of the Hebrew, and Elohim means “god,” literally “gods” in the plural. Perhaps this plurality emphasizes his majesty, as when a monarch refers to herself as “we.” Perhaps it implies his triune nature, for we know that later the I AM will make clear to Moses that “the Elohim is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Perhaps it means “The I AM [of the] gods” to distinguish him from the rest of the divinities perceived in the ancient worldview. Whatever the implication, Genesis states that he, the LORD God, personally performed the actions in the opening chapters—he did not delegate them to the angel Gabriel or Michael or any other heavenly being. As the story of creation, fall, and redemption unfolds in Genesis, Yahweh Elohim exhibits the attributes of a potter, a gardener, a craftsman, a coiffeur, a companion, and a tailor.
“…the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground . . .” (Genesis 2:7) The Hebrew word formed is used to describe the activity of potters. The Hebrew word dust, though implying dry earthen or ashen matter, is also the same word used for wet earthen matter such as clay, mud, and mortar. So here we see God bending over the potter’s wheel with wet clay in his hands, squeezing and fashioning it into man. Later, Isaiah will build on this insight to give one of the foreshadowed Old Testament clues that a deeper relationship is implied. “…O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (64:8)
“…the LORD God planted a garden…” (Genesis 2:8) The Hebrew uses a term from horticulture that is similar to the word “puncture.” It implies digging small holes for seeds and pitching support poles in the soil to fasten seedlings to; it also implies striking the ground with a hoe to open it up, This is work at its most primordial, and we see God himself doing it on his knees in the dirt.
Rebecca Mähler notes that in the garden near Christ’s empty tomb, a grieving Mary Magdalene mistakes the risen Lord for a gardener (John 20:15).
“…the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman…” (Genesis 2:22) Here, made is the Hebrew term for architectural work—“built”—and the same word used in the Book of Kings (book I, chapters 6 to 9) for the construction of the temple with its elaborate stonework, woodwork, metalwork, and woven tapestries. A temple is, in fact, exactly what humankind is designed to be—and why women are “built” more beautifully than clay-wrought men!
For more references to God’s intentional building of us as skillfully crafted works, see Psalm 139:13-16, II Corinthians 6:16, and Ephesians 2:10. In the latter reference, Paul calls us God’s poesis—his “workmanship”—which is the same word from which in both ancient Greek and modern English we derive the term poem. We are God’s poetry!
On the level of God skillfully fashioning a church community (“God’s building”) see I Corinthians 3:9 and Ephesians 2:22.
Kurt Mähler recounts an Iranian Christian’s commentary on the creation of Eve while the Iranian addressed a large gathering of Afghan Muslim men on the subject of marriage during an expatriate Christian wedding ceremony in 2007 in Faizabad, Afghanistan. The Iranian asserted, “The LORD God made the woman out of a rib, not out of a foot bone. She is your equal, O men, not your footstool!”
“…and [the LORD God] brought her to the man.” (Genesis 2:22) The phrase implies the presentation of a bride to her groom. Declaring that it is “not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18—the first negative pronouncement in Scripture) the LORD God creates what the Hebrew language calls “a helper corresponding to him”. So certain is Adam that Eve is his ideal counterpart that he describes her as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). You could say the match was so perfect it was “made in heaven”, since the LORD God himself arranged for it, albeit he came to earth to do it.
However, the rabbis puzzled over this nuptial phrase “he brought her to the man” because in Jewish custom, a woman should always have her hair braided up before her public presentation at a wedding. She would only let it down in the intimate context of being with her husband. The rabbis concluded that, since there was no one else around, the LORD God must have braided it himself! We need not agree with this interpretation—braiding of hair probably came later culturally—but the fact that they did not see this as beneath the dignity of the LORD God reveals the revelation of intimacy with God which they had grasped.
Importantly, the Hebrew term for “waiting on” or “waiting for” the LORD in Isaiah 40:31 is the word, “to be twisted,” implying, “to be braided in”. Thus, the verse may be accurately paraphrased, “Those who are braided into the LORD shall renew their strength.” God continues to perform this delicate art of weaving on the level of our own souls.
“…they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool [or wind] of the day…” (Genesis 3:8) The context can imply a habitual pattern of strolling with Adam in the early evening, after work is over for the day and before the evening meal and rest of night. This is still typical of men and women in rural and semi-rural cultures of the developing world.
The New Testament also shows this characteristic of God as companion. In the Gospel of John, when Christ introduces the Holy Spirit to his disciples, he describes him as the paraclete—the comforter who is “close along side” (para) them, that is, close enough to their situation to be their advisor and advocate. Such descriptors indicate not just someone keeping company with us, but a companion indeed.
“…the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) The statement implies God did much more than throw raw animal hide on them; such untreated “garments” would be stiff and uncomfortable. In this passage, the Hebrew word “made” is a processing term that includes the acts of trimming, fashioning, fitting, and dressing, that is, the acts of industrious labor. Thus, here we see God diligently treating the leather to make it soft and pliable. Then he carefully designs, cuts, and sews together good-quality, well-fitting clothing for his fallen children.
A profound footnote is in order here. In the production of the garments of animal skins, we have the first indication in Scripture of the blood sacrifice that will be needed to atone for man’s sin. Here, God himself provides the first animal sacrifice, a prophetic sign that God himself provides the final, complete sacrifice that beautifully covers all our sins through his son’s labor of love and blood on the cross. The story of God’s people from Genesis through the Gospels witnesses this recurring prophetic theme of sacrificial blood covering sins, finding its fulfillment in the death of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
This description in the opening chapters of Genesis has major implications in the Gospel we preach, because it is foundational to the character of the God we proclaim. These descriptors—potter, gardener, builder, craftsman, matchmaker, coiffeur, companion and tailor—are simple, familiar terms. In contrast, when we start to use words like first cause, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, we revert to abstract qualities that are more a product of ancient Greek thinking (known as Hellenism) rather than the less rationalistic but more relational Hebrew worldview. Through our Greek abstractions, God becomes “de-incarnated”; he is removed from our daily experience. Although he is indeed “omni” in his power, presence and knowledge, when we restrict our meditation on God to only these attributes, he does not touch our earthly lives at an intimate level as revealed in Genesis 2 and 3—let alone the revelation Jesus Christ brings us about “the I AM of the gods”: that He is indeed our Father as Isaiah prophesied.
In his book, The Flame of Love (InterVarsity 1996), Clark Pinnock writes: “Hindrances to faith in God seldom have to do with a lack of proofs. Hindrances to faith have to do with the quality of our theism. Theology does not have to do with whether God is, but with who God is. Theology gains credibility when we have a doctrine of God that one can fall in love with.”
Paul admonishes us to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:10, emphasis added) The opening chapters of Genesis present the image of our creator in terms that are not only a revelation of God’s greatness—they are an invitation to taste his kindness. The creator re-creates us with tender, skillful care and sacrificial love. The maker becomes friend. The friend becomes father. And we become innocent children again.
- Authored by Ray Mayhew, raymayhewonline.com and revised with the author’s permission by his friend Kurt Mähler.
- © Photo by Andriy Popov # 50690671.