Sometimes the best way to begin a search for truth is to start at the beginning all over again. For the past two weeks we have been exploring the first three chapters of the Bible to get some insight into what God originally planned for humankind and what went wrong.
Much of the first chapter of Genesis seems to have been written in a poetic form. Key features of Hebrew poetry are repetition and recurring phrases like “and the evening and the morning were the … day.” There is a parallelism in the first three days and the next three days. During the first three days of the creation week God makes “places” or “environments” in the sky, the seas and the land. (For poetic purposes even night and day can be considered “places” in the sky.) Each of these “places” is given inhabitants during the following three days.
For instance, night is given the moon and stars to inhabit it, while day has the sun. The sky is filled with birds and the sea with fish and other seagoing creatures. The land is filled with all manner of creature that walks and “creeps” about. In fact, the sky, land and sea seem to be “commanded” to produce this teeming life, as though these environments themselves were aware enough to folow God’s orders. To me, these seem more literary than literal descriptions of a God who loves all manner of life and who created in ways unfathomable by human beings.
There is one creature, however, upon which God lavishes His most precious gift: a “piece” of Himself. He makes human beings in His own image and likeness. Much ink has been spilled by theologians and philosophers to figure out what exactly that means, but the Bible only offers one clue.
The one clue is that human beings are given dominion over the earth – in the sense that they are given the prerogative of being in charge of all living creatures on the planet. It is very clear in the story that this dominion is a privilege common to both male and female human beings, since both are made in God’s image.
In actual fact, dominion over the creatures is part of the blessing He pronounces over the humans in verse 28. Note the the blessing is actually a thinly disguised command for the humans to exercise dominion over all the creatures. This command has a bearing on what happens later on in chapter 3.
In verse 29 God gives them instruction about what they can eat. In verse 30 God tells them and the animals what animals are designed to eat. There is a subtle difference between the two. In verse 30 the animals can eat every green plant, while the humans are to eat every plant plant yielding seed (probably within itself) and the fruit (with seed in it) of every tree. Most readers seem to think that this includes grains, but a review of the curse on the ground (in 3:17-19) suggests that grains are a later addition, after the first sin. They began with a diet consisting primarily of fruit (biologically defined as fruit that has seed within it) and vegetables that biologists would define as fruit, such as squashes, tomatoes, vine-produced vegetables, etc.
Their ejection from the Garden of Eden resulted in their diet changing to include leafy greens and the seeds of grasses (grains). They went from simply taking fruit from trees whenever they were hungry to the toil of tilling the ground and grinding grains and cooking to make bread. The amount of work involved in simply eating to stay alive increased dramatically.
Those inclined to vegetarianism might be happy to note that God does not seem to give human beings the right to eat animals (at least not until after the flood of Noah’s time). Human beings were to rule over the animals, but not necessarily make their living from harvesting them. Their living was originally provided for them from the fruit of trees, not the fruit of their labour!
It was sin that caused things to change for the worse. Adam and Eve’s sin caused the first animal deaths by requiring God to make durable clothing for them because they were suddenly ashamed of their own bodies. There is no record that human beings actually ate their flesh, though there seems to be a hint of that possibility in the story of Cain and Abel in chapter 4. (Abel was a shepherd. What was he doing with the sheep besides sacrificing to God?)
I suspect that the land-sabbaths God gave to Israel were intended to give the people of that nation a small taste of the toil-free life that Adam and Eve had left behind. There was to be no tilling of the soil each seventh year, though people could eat what the land produced in volunteer crops. Eating stored food from the previous year would perhaps have resembled the idea of just picking fruit from trees and eating with minimal labour (except for the grinding of the grain).
This installment has mostly looked at God’s stated purpose for humankind (running the world for God) and the difference in toil before and after Adam and Eve’s sin. The next installment will go over the account of what went wrong to cause the tragic chain of events that has led humankind away from our designed fuction of keeping the world in a maximally-alive and flourishing state.