When the second chapter of Genesis opens, it seems as though the story starts all over again. We are back on a barren planet, everything is in tones of brown and gray, no plants, no swarming things… it is all just rocks and dirt.
Then God caused a mysterious mist to form and swirl over the earth. It brings to mind the suspense of classic movie scene, set in the dead of night, with the full moon floating in a dark sky. Shadows shift among the branches of trees as unseen movement stirs beneath. Mist slowly rises, creating a spectral pallor on trunks and leaves. From somewhere in the distance a long, slow howl rises and falls.
Imagine that same ghostly mist rising among the dark rocks and bare ground of the new earth. Something eerie and supernatural is about to happen.
A human figure begins to form in the dust, first a small mound, and then the contours of a face and body appear. God’s invisible hands draw arms, and legs, the wet mist making the dust stick together, until a whole person lies there, still and lifeless. Suddenly, a great wind picks up – God’s breath – churning the dust into immense, whirling sails, electricity crackling in the air. The form’s nostrils fill; it lives!
Genesis 1 featured God’s wisdom and power, speaking everything into existence. He is referred to as Elohim, emphasizing His power and majesty, God of gods. In Genesis 2 a new name for God is used, Yahweh, the God of Covenants. The writer of Genesis highlighted this difference to reveal a profound theological insight. The powerful Creator of all is not the impersonal sultan of the universe. He is also a personal God Who describes Himself as love.
The Bible uses two Hebrew words for God’s creation of people: the first, “asa,” means to design and manufacture from raw materials. God formed this first human from the dust of earth. But before this little clay form became a living being, God “bara,” “created,” the act of divine bringing forth of something out of nothing.
Not until God’s own breath filled the little form’s lungs did it become a living being. In Hebrew, the word for breath and spirit are identical. God gave His own breath, His life. That makes every human life sacred, because it comes from God.
The sanctity of human life, so hotly debated today, finds its roots right here, in this profound, solitary, transcendent moment, when inert carbon particles, packed together with antediluvian mist, became a living breathing person. Every human being is an image bearer—the image may be marred but it’s there. In this one significant way humankind is unlike all the rest of the cosmos.
Chronology was important in the first chapter, each day was carefully described, and in fact the growing scientific record corroborates every one of God’s creative acts.
But in this second chapter, chronology is set aside in order to tell the story thematically. This is historically a near-eastern approach, and comes up often throughout ancient historical records from middle-eastern cultures.
The story begins right before God had created human beings. It all happened long before there were orchards and tilled fields, long before life as we know it now, because this was at the dawn of history, before there were any human beings at all.
The word translated “man” here is actually the Hebrew word “adam,” a word meaning, simply, “earth being.” The word “adam” does not have any reference to gender, it is a neutral word, taken from the word “adamah” the word for the red-colored earth common in the Fertile Crescent, the cradle of civilization. So, the first person God created did not identify as male or female; “adam” was simply a human being, a person.
Like the proud father of a newborn, God planted a beautiful garden for His dust person, with every kind of tree in it, especially fruit trees, so adam would never be hungry. With a wave of the Lord’s mighty hand, and a murmured word, an apricot would rise up, then a chestnut, and over there, bright orange kumquats. All around the newly formed earth creature arose a great forest of flowering, fragrant, fruit trees, nuts and fruit of every possible kind.