Being inspired by community in Genesis 2:4-25

By Aian Macpherson

Some say Genesis chapter 2 is a second creation story. However the book of Genesis is too sophisticated for that. Genesis 2 is shot from a completely different angle, and it zooms in on humanity where chapter one holds the whole cosmos in view, but the themes are remarkably similar.

stone couple

Genesis 1 looks at God making earthmen, male and female in the image of God. Based on the God we encounter in chapter 1 that image is connected to community and to being invited into the work of creating – that is ordering, understanding, cherishing, and celebrating.

Chapter 2, (verse four) starts ‘This is the account’; these words introduce each new section in Genesis. Here what is introduced is the ‘heavens and the earth, when they were created’, this looks back to chapter 1. Then the text continues ‘when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.’ Now it emphasises the earth. It hinges us from the first to the second creation account. We have a zoom lens cutting through the heavens to the earth. But the earth is empty because there is no rain and no earthmen to work the ground!

The Hebrew word for earth is Adamah, and for a man or mankind it is Adam. The words make a connection between earth and mankind. God, like a potter making something useful and beautiful, forms an Adam from the Adamah. Then into this moulded clay God breathed life, and the earthman became a living being. It is not until God both forms Adam from the Adamah and breathes God’s life into the clay that he is an earthman – representing creation to God and God to creation.

God places the earthman in ‘Eden’, in a garden. A desert garden is an abundant but ordered oasis of life in the mist of the wilderness. Watered by a wadi or by miles of hand dug subterranean aquifers, a garden is always, except here, a work of mankind. Here God is the gardener. This garden is watered by the source of two real rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates and by two unknown rivers the Pishion and Gihon. It is near the unknown land of Havilah with its fine gold, aromatic resin and onyx. We are left with the impression that it is both a real and a mythic place; it once was but is no longer. It is an Atlantis of the desert. This is where God places the earthman, in the garden to work it and take care of it.


So here we have the themes from chapter one form a new angle. Humans are interdependent with the earth. The ground needs to be worked as much as it needs rain if the edible plans and herbs are to grow. Earthmen are sustained by and formed from the earth. Earthmen are a bridge between God and the rest of creation: we represent creation to God and God to creation – made in Gods image and filled with Gods breath.

Now Chapter two zooms in again, past the earth to the lone earthman. ‘The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the earthman to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’

For a moment the zoom lens pans round. We survey all the animals of land and air that have been formed by God. God here serves the man by bringing the animals to the earthman to be named. God also submits the creation to the earthman. With no question, whatever the earthman said, that was its name. But among all these animals no suitable helper was found.

God caused the earthman to sleep deeply, takes one of the earthmen’s ribs and makes a woman (an ishar) from the rib he had taken out of the earthman.

“The man (‘ish’) said,

‘This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called “woman” (ishar),
for she was taken out of man (ish).’”

Up until now the only word used for the human is Adam. Now we hear for the first time of a woman (ishar) and a man (ish), who celebrates her creation. Here is the good that was missing. Only after he sees another like himself, but not himself, does he call himself man.

Some point to this passage as a proof that God made men and women separately and this implies complementarianism – clear gender roles. However I would suggest it is the likeness of ish and ishar that is in focus here for six reasons.

One – Up until now Genesis has used the word Adam in chapter 1 and 2. In chapter 1 it is both the male and female ‘Adam’, who are made in God’s Image. This means equality is our starting point.

Two –  ‘Helper’ does not mean servant or inferior. The same word helper is applied to God in God’s relationship to Israel (e.g. Psalm 54 ‘God is my helper’). Helper here implies a full partner in the work of nurturing creation.

Three – All the animals are brought to the man in the search for a helper  – a partner. But none are suitable. The woman is recognised as the right helper by the man because she is similar, not because she is different. That is what sets her apart from all other creatures, recognition of kinship.

8 faces

Four – Ishar is matched with ish. The immediately recognised difference leads to different names. As we look we can always find the differences that allow even identical twins to be recognised as individuals. However this naming discerner’s sameness as well as difference within humanity. The similarity of sound emphasizes interdependence, just as with Adam and Adamah. The emphasis is our common humanity. Furthermore the different names are not linked to roles.

Five – They are made of the same stuff. Man is made of one bit of clay, each animal from another. But the woman is made from the same animated clay as the man – a rib, a part if the very architecture of the man. So it is literally and symbolically true in the story that woman is ‘bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’. Woman is in kinship with man, with kinship comes mutuality and equality.

Six – It is only after seeing the ishar that the earthman can describe himself as ish. His identity was incomplete when he was alone. God then makes good by creating the woman. The man recognises himself in that good thing. This does suggest a complementary relationship, but not complemanerianisum. There is again no assignment of gender roles.

Furthermore, just as the earth represents all creation in relation to the man in chapter 2 – and again in chapter 3 – so the man/woman relationship represents all human relationships. Yes, Jesus does use the concluding words of chapter 2 in his teaching on marriage ‘that is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.’ These words are applicable to marriage. But however applicable to marriage this passage is, it not about marriage. There is no implication that one must marry to be a completed human. In short the text seems more concerned with developing human identity as a whole than in marriage in particular.

In Africa there is a word, ‘Ubuntu’ which Archbishop Desmond Tutu translated as ‘a person is a person through other persons’. That is the idea here. We find our identity in kinship, in community, in each other, in recognition, not in isolation. Chapter one hints at the community intrinsic to the image of God. But chapter two insists that I know who I am only by recognising in you another creature made in God’s image, a co-worker and partner in tending the garden. We are each meant to recognise, ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’. We are not islands, not individuals but ‘Ubuntu’ ‘a person is a person through other persons’.


That is why the Earthman and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. Because they had no need to ‘cover up’, no part of them was shameful or private; there identity was a mutual one. A partnership of equals.

All Photos courtesy of Pixels


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