In just three short chapters, the Hebrew Bible presents us with a protological narrative of extraordinary explanatory power. The narratives seek to explain why our world exists, what purpose mankind has in that world, and how that purpose was seemingly thwarted. No one can miss the central concern of these three chapters, that the meaning of both the world’s and mankind’s existence is found only in relation to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The first chapter of Genesis depicts God’s creative work as taking place across six days, with a different aspect of the visible world being formed on each one. This work is portrayed as a process of bringing order out of chaos, each successive act of creation accomplished purely by the power of God’s own word. God is supreme in this process, creating the good world out of a deliberate purpose, rather than as an accidental by-product of a war with other gods. The chaotic primeval sea in verse 1 is not a being that God has to struggle against, as in the mythologies of other cultures contemporaneous to the Israelites. The fact that the word used to describe the sun and moon is the same word used in the Pentateuch for the lantern in the tabernacle suggests that the world is created, effectively, as God’s temple. That God rests on the seventh day, as He rests in the Temple at Jerusalem in passages such as 1 Chronicles 28, is also suggestive of this.
By the time God takes His rest on the seventh day, the first stage of His creational purposes is complete. I say first stage, because it is clear that a second stage built on the foundations of the first is yet to begin. In the creation of mankind, God creates representatives for Himself that as male and female are to multiply and subdue the earth, suggesting that the full ordering of creation is yet to be completed. The presence of the serpent, the soon-to-be introduced agent of chaos who works against God’s purposes, also suggests that there are still things to be sorted out in this world.
Genesis 2 expands upon mankind’s purpose, emphasising the importance of the species by placing its creation as the first of God’s creative acts. In the garden by Eden a singular man, Adam, is given great responsibility in naming the other creatures God has made, and is given a helper in the form of the woman Eve to aid him in caring for the garden that God has made. Their downfall is caused by their disobedience of God’s commands, choosing not to obey the word of God that creates and orders, but listening to the word of the serpent that distorts and leads to death. Having sought to attain god-like knowledge by their own method, rather than by God’s timing and will, Adam, Eve, and all those descended from them lose the possibility of immortality. The original pair are cast out of the garden, with only the gift of clothes to give hope that God will provide for them in the harsh world outside. Adam’s legacy will soon be seen as his descendants proceed to disobey God in even more egregious ways.
Within the Hebrew Bible, God’s purposes for mankind are passed on to Israel, with many of the patriarchs given the same command to multiply and subdue the earth. The garden-like imagery found in many of the prophetic monologues also allude to God’s desire to redeem the human race and to make it what He always wanted it to be. However, in the light of Israel’s failure to obey God’s word, it is not until the advent of Christ detailed in the New Testament that a solution for the problem encompassing all mankind is finally found. In the person of Jesus Christ, a new representative of God to man and man to God is revealed, providing a way for men and women to be reconciled to God and to once more be participants in His new creation purposes. These purposes will come to a head in the new heavens and new earth, where, tellingly, there will be no sea at all, and the tree of life will provide immortality for all those found in Christ, the second Adam by whom all things were made in the first place.