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God has placed man over the animals, but what does that mean? What does it mean for man to exercise dominion in a Christlike way? Join us as we discuss issues of husbandry, industrialism, and talk about our own experiences.

Host: Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Guest: Rev. David Buchs

Episode: 145

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Because sin, working through the Law though not being a part of it, brings death, the Christian engages in an internal, personal war.  The holy and righteous Law of God is his delight, but sin works in his members against it.  To be in Christ is to suffer with Him, because being in Christ means being a new creation, wholly distinct from the old.  How, then, does God call His creation to live in Him?

Paul emphasizes in the reading just before the pericope for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity that Christians live according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh.  Christians follow after the Spirit of God as sons, not as slaves of the flesh.  Sin is not a necessity, in that sense, for the Christian.  He will sin, of course, because of his great weakness, and sin remains ever at the door, desiring entrance.  But he is no longer ruled by sin, but by Christ.  Being in Christ means suffering with him in order to be glorified with Him, for the Christian is being remade in His image.

This suffering is not meaningless, nor is it worthy of serious concern.  It is “not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).  Being glorified with Christ will show these present sufferings for what they really are:  fleeting and temporary, meant for building us up and not for our destruction.  “Weeping may tarry for the night” (Psalm 30:5), and a dark night that might be, wherein “I drench my couch with my weeping” (Psalm 6:6)!  Even the most intense trouble now will give way to joy, but not in a trivial way.  Christ’s own suffering was far from trivial.  Who has suffered like He suffered on our behalf?  Yet His suffering came to an end and the Father has bestowed on Him a glory far exceeding any earthly glory, “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).

On that day will come “the revealing of the sons of God,” the moment in which our glory in Christ will no longer be hidden.  “We know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).  The sheep will be distinguished from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).  It will be the day of the fullness of our redemption, the resurrection from the dead, the hope toward which we press.  Salvation is both now and yet to come, because while our assurance comes in this moment, the fullness of our redemption will come when Christ finally brings all things under His feet.  Sin will be no more in that day, and all of the former things will pass away, never to return again.

Even creation awaits this revelation.  It too is in bondage, because Adam’s sin frustrated its original purposes.  Adam is, after all, the head not only of the human race, but of all creation.  He holds dominion over it, given to him by the Lord (Genesis 1:28).  His sin causes the earth to fail in bringing forth the fullness of its strength (Genesis 3:17-19).  Even more to the point, not only does creation undergo the judgment of the Flood because of man’s sin (Genesis 6:7), it also falls under the covenant made with Noah (Genesis 9:8-11).  Therefore, man’s sin means the creation suffers with him.  It longs to be set free from this slavery and return to its original state, just like the restoration of man in Christ.

If the world longs to see the great day of redemption, how much more do we as Christians?  We must wait, of course, and such patience is a fruit of the Spirit.  Yet, as Paul goes on to say, “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).  Even if we must suffer, we suffer with Christ.  Even if we must wait for the fullness of our salvation, we wait with Christ.  Even if we must die, we die with Christ.  Our war with sin is not fruitless or pointless, but part of separating us from the body of death and making us heirs of eternal life.

Genesis 2:7-17 is part of the first “generations” section of the book which begins in Genesis 2:4, if the preceding material is taken as a kind of introduction to the following divisions. It is a foundational section not only for Genesis, but also for all of Holy Scripture, since it includes the creation of man, the creation of woman, the fall into sin, and the murder of Abel. Moses has different purposes in mind here than he did in the introduction of Genesis, and the “generations” structure helps illustrate this. “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth” points to what comes after them. The primary focus is the generations and not the generator, which is why the “generations of Terah” in Genesis 11:27, for example, is primarily concerned with Abraham, his son. This first section, therefore, is concerned primarily with the “descendants” of God and the heavens and the earth: man, particularly Adam and his family.

This reading is also an excellent exercise in Biblical interpretation, because every passage of Scripture is important. Genesis 2:10-14 is a geography lesson which we will explore in more detail, but there is a sinful inclination to dismiss it as irrelevant. But the Holy Spirit does not speak in vain: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4; see also 1 Corinthians 10:11 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17). If the passage in question seems pointless, the problem is with us, because we do not understand.

Consider, then, the first part of this reading. God creates Adam from the dust of the ground and breathes into him the breath of life. He also plants a garden in Eden and places every good tree in it. The Lord is our Creator and apart from Him there is no life. However, note that the garden is placed in Eden. The garden itself is not named Eden! The reference is a specific location, which Moses clarifies below, not a world-garden or anything of the sort. This is especially important because Adam is created outside of Eden and placed into it. He is not in the garden “by right,” but because of God’s almighty Providence. Everything which Adam has belongs “by right” to God, and Adam receives it because of God’s love toward him. The Lord “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). In Eden, just as now, everything we have is a gift.

The special trees also emphasize this. God does not give the tree of life as a kind of super-fruit which perpetuates physical life. He gives the tree as a constant reminder that life flows from God and is not ours “by right.” The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is also not a super-fruit which brings death or knowledge in eating it. It is a sign toward Adam of his creaturehood: what is good and what is evil is the prerogative of God and not man. What is good? To listen to His voice and not eat of this tree. What is evil? To disobey His voice and eat of this tree. God speaks and man listens. If this seems unjust or arbitrary, this speaks to our sinful nature. Adam was not content to be a hearer and desired to be the judge instead. This sinful desire against our creaturehood is the basic root of all sin.

All of this brings us to the geographical description of Eden. This section has a real point and should not be passed by for two reasons. First, it is not good to dismiss this as being the geography of the pre-Flood world which is no longer in existence. Such an approach is too easy, by which I mean that it consigns the description to being useless for us, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Second, Moses writes this with a view to his hearers. Why would he write something which would be incomprehensible even to those who first heard it? The mention of Assyria itself in Genesis 2:14 is proof of this. Moses is writing with real geography in mind to describe a place which could, in fact, be located. Nor is it sufficient to say that we no longer have rivers named Gihon or Pishon, because place-names change all the time, even in the Bible (Jerusalem was called Jebus by the Jebusites, for example in Judges 19:11).

The world has, of course, physically changed over the course of time. Rivers flow in different beds than they did in ancient days, especially in a shifting land like Mesopotamia. Nor should an attempt to locate Eden be taken as a kind of “proof” for the Bible, because men would worship such a “proof” as an idol, like they did the bronze snake which they named Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4). But even if we cannot accurately locate Eden anymore, Moses is not writing fantasy. Eden was a real place and had a real garden. The Flood may have wiped it away, but we are not told this. It is entirely possible that the Flood changed essentially nothing, geographically speaking. It was, to use an expression of George Stoeckhardt, a “wonder-judgment.” Being a miracle, we are called to believe the one who speaks with authority through His holy Scriptures. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4)!

Therefore, I think two serious possibilities exist. The first is a bit more difficult reading, but in my opinion (and only as an opinion) a more likely. If one follows Genesis 2:10 upstream by translating “became four rivers” with the more literal “became (or had) four heads,” this would place the region of Eden near what is now the Persian Gulf. The Tigris and the Euphrates empty into the Gulf. If one reads this passage from the context of the land of Israel, the Pishon and the Gihon are the “furthest away” in the east. The Tigris and the Euphrates are respectively “closer.” Therefore, the Pishon may be the modern Karun in Iran and the Gihon the modern Karkheh (also called the Ulai river in Daniel 8:2). All of these rivers join together into one before dumping into the Gulf. The difficulty is, of course, having to “read upstream,” which is more awkward.

The other possibility is placing Eden near the actual headwaters of the Tigris and the Euphrates in modern Armenia, which are actually quite close to each other. The Pishon and the Gihon would be rivers flowing in opposite directions, probably into the Black Sea and/or the Caspian. This has the advantage of being a more “natural” and “downstream” reading, but these rivers have never been known to actually connect. It is not impossible, since Sodom used to be “well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10).

Ultimately, these two possibilities are better than relegating this to myth or engaging in allegory. Identifying the Pishon and the Gihon with other, but farther away, world rivers is not helpful for this reason. Better to consider real options than engaging in sheer fancy.

Three final observations. First, the names of the rivers are instructive. The Pishon is likely derived from the word meaning “to leap, jump” used in Jeremiah 50:11, Nahum 3:18, Habakkuk 1:8, and Malachi 4:2. Pishon therefore means “Jumper” or maybe “Bubbler,” emphasizing its liveliness. The Gihon likely comes from the verb meaning “to burst forth” used in Judges 20:33, Ezekiel 32:2, Micah 4:10, Job 38:8, and Job 40:23. Gihon therefore means “Gusher” or “Charger.” Such names are fitting for rivers which are connected to the one (nameless!) river which flows through the garden of God.

Second, Moses records that the land of Havilah was filled with all kinds of “expensive” things, like gold and precious stones (Genesis 2:11-12). Bdellium itself may be a resin, an incense related to myrrh, though this is uncertain. What is certain is the general wealth of that land. However, note the location. Gold and “expensive” things are not in the garden. They are not evil, but they are also not necessary. To obtain them, Adam would have to leave Eden. In Eden is life and the words of the living God. Gold is good, but the Gospel is far better. “The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:9-10). “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).

Finally, the Lord places Adam into the garden to work it and till it. Work is not in itself evil. Toil where the fruits do not match the labor is the curse laid upon mankind (Genesis 3:17-18). Work is God-pleasing. “If anyone is not wiling to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Like the giving of the Law in Eden, work precedes the Fall and is therefore a part of God’s good creation.

Date: April 30, 1931?

The Lord God formed man.Genesis 2:6

“CLOSE your eyes and think of some muddy gutter or frog pond full of stagnant water, with a scorching sun glittering down on the green slime which floats among the bullrushes and swamp weeds. These cesspools”—I am quoting verbatim from a current popular account of the origin of man—“were the cradle of life on earth.” For millions of years, to cite the opinion of another book, which for many months was a best seller throughout the country, this jellylike mass floated about aimlessly. Some of its cells preferred to move about and became fish. Some of the fish gradually adapted themselves to live on land, and they became the first reptiles. Some of the reptiles began to live on the tops of trees, covering themselves with feathers. They developed into birds. But other reptiles adopted hair instead of feathers and became the first animals. And now the climax, which I quote from the bland statement of the original: “One animal in particular seemed to surpass all others. . . . This creature, half ape and half monkey, was your first manlike ancestor, a very ugly, unattractive mammal. His head and most of his body was covered with long, coarse hair. His hands looked like those of a monkey. His forehead was low, and his body was like the body of a wild animal.” There you have the modern, popularized account of the origin of the human race, an account which is essentially the same as that which has been taught to most of the army of young people who in these weeks graduate from our American colleges.

THE BIBLE CLEARLY AND REPEATEDLY ASCRIBES OUR CREATION TO GOD.

As contrary to this as any two irreconcilable extremes may be, we have this simple, but sublime record of the Scriptures, which tells us that “the Lord God formed man.” This is the revelation of Heaven, which assures us that the human race was called into existence by a very direct act of God, so that you and I must trace the beginning of human existence, not along the path which leads from some primitive life cells upward to the bleary-eyed, coconut-munching, trapeze-swinging baboon, but directly to the creative hand of God, who formed man as His masterpiece, in His own divine image.

In acknowledging confidently and gratefully, as we do, this revealed truth, we are, of course, not unaware of the fact that the animal origin of man has been announced to the world as an established fact. We know that the curator of our National Museum at Washington unhesitatingly claims, “It has been definitely established that man originated from the anthropoid [manlike] apes,” and that a German authority, with equal positiveness, asserts, “We do accept the theory of evolution now as the foundation of all our teaching of biology and social psychology.” But such confident pronouncements, intensify them as you will, cannot decide the issue. Produce all of the endorsements for this frightful insult to God that you can; compile all possible statistics showing the number of teachers in our American high schools and colleges who accept evolution; bring on all the reconstructed ape-men, these exotic masquerades of scientific madness,—and all of this, multiplied to the thousandth degree, cannot begin to outweigh this divine summary of revealed truth, to which the Scriptures repeatedly lend such pronounced and emphatic endorsement, “The Lord God formed man.” This is the conviction of the psalmist, who declares, “Know ye that the Lord, He is God; it is He that hath made us.” No room for natural selection there nor for the theory of oozy life cells clinging to a rock in mid-ocean! This is the humble confession of the evangelist-prophet Isaiah, “We are the clay and Thou our Potter; we all are the work of Thy hand.” No accidental origin and ape ancestry in such statements! This is the unwavering assurance of St. Paul, who says that Adam was the first man, not the Java ape-man, that mythical missing link reconstructed from two mysterious bones and two equally questionable teeth found at different times and different places and withheld from scientific men in a most significant manner; nor the Southwestern Colorado man, built up three years ago from part of a set of ancient teeth, but torn down again when it was found that the teeth were those of an old horse; nor the more formidable Hesperopithecus Haroldcookii, built up from that notorious million-dollar Nebraska tooth, which distinguished scientists described as the molar of an American ape-man, but which is now admitted on all sides to be part of the dental equipment of a wild pig. That sublime truth, that “the Lord God formed man,” is finally crowned with the endorsement of the highest of all authorities, my Lord Jesus Christ, who in the nineteenth chapter of St. Matthew directly declares His Father to be the Creator of both man and woman in the beginning. And Christ’s Word, even in things scientific, is always the unimpeachable truth of heaven.

“But,” some one says, “is it not true that the theory of man’s animal ancestry, accepted by some of the greatest scientific minds of our age, rests upon convincing evidences and demonstrations of fact?” In answer to that challenge we simply declare: The history of human research is replete with similar enthusiastically accepted theories, all heralded as proofs of Biblical inaccuracy, which have become mere punctured pretenses. When God has spoken, men’s contrary guesses cannot disturb us. When the Word of God is contradicted by the word of man, it does not matter how important or authoritative that man may be; his theory, even if it has the endorsement of learned societies and scientific bodies, is unprovable. Every argument ever advanced to show ape ancestry,—the argument from the similar skeletal structure of animals and men, from fossil remains, from the developing embryo, from blood tests, from geographical distribution, useless organs, transmutation of species,—these and a host of other theories, drafted for the defense of this godless doctrine, have been considered by reputable and internationally known scientists, and their repeated verdict has been decidedly negative. It is usually the second-rate mind, the blatant atheist, the cynical scoffer, who rushes in where more conscientious investigators fear to tread, the dubious D. D., who, preaching in a pulpit erected by Christian faith, calls evolution “God’s way of doing things” or poetically insists:—

Some call it evolution, and others call it God.

But among the very greatest of the great, a formidable number of truly scientific men have bowed reverently before the truth of our text, “The Lord God formed man” and declared, in effect, with Pasteur, “Posterity will someday laugh at the foolishness of modern materialistic philosophy. The more I study nature, the more I am amazed at the Creator.”

When a long list of experts, eminent in the scientific world, denounce the claims of this delusion that is being taught to our boys and girls in tax-supported institutions of higher and lower learning, intelligent Christians dare not accept blindly the unguarded statements that slip into our Sunday newspaper supplements and our popular magazines and that repeat, parrot-like, the unfounded fiction of the master minds of misrepresentation. This is tragic evidence of a human perversion, which dissipates its energy in the futile task of shooting infidel peas against the Gibraltar of this divine dictum, “The Lord God formed man.”

ONLY FAITH IN OUR DIVINE ORIGIN INTERPRETS HUMAN PROBLEMS ARIGHT.

No, the truth of our text remains; and what a world of moral and spiritual strength the belief in this divine origin must produce in every human heart! It means, first of all, that you and I are not the mere results of inexorable fate, that we are not here by animal chance, but that we have consciously been placed into the world by the loving-kindness and far-sighted providence of a heavenly Father, who “doeth all things well.” Humanity is not an accident, a chemical coincidence, but it is God’s supreme masterpiece, created after a counsel of the divine Trinity.

And the natural conclusion which every child of God is entitled to draw from such conviction is this: If God made me and all creatures, if in Christ I can truly call Him my Father, then surely all the changing fortunes of human existence, all my own questions and doubts and the sorrows of life may safely be entrusted to Him. He would not have given me, His child, life and existence only to desert me and to permit me to fall victim to the overpowering odds with which my life is surrounded.—For, while the delusion of man’s materialistic origin leads to the blank, insurmountable walls of despair and so frequently produces suicide, the acknowledgment of God’s creative love is the pledge to everyone who believes it that no battle in life will be too hot and hard, no combination of misfortunes too crushing and calamitous, to destroy the relation that exists between a loving Father and His beloved child.

We believe in our divine origin because that belief, and that alone, shows us our individual moral responsibility and our duties to our fellow-men. If there is nothing divine in man, if he is only a refined form of the beast, then all the ideals of clean, constructive living are shattered. If, according to the materialistic theories of the origin of man, millions of years ago (how many millions is not important in the lavish recklessness that finds nothing easier than the production of immeasurable aeons of time), that from which you and I are supposed to have descended was a mere blob of protoplasm which came into existence by accidental chemical action; and if, later, after the lapse of myriads of other years, this ancestral blob, by the merest chance, became a jelly-fish; and if this change has been repeated in an interminable series of evolutions, each one an accidental process, so that you and I can trace our descent, not from the creative hand of God, but from the grinning gorilla, then the best philosophy of life for you and me may be this, that we rob and steal and maim and cripple and carouse and chase from the satisfaction of one lust to the fulfillment of another vicious desire. If there is no God in heaven who has placed you and me into this world for a high and holy purpose, then down with law and order! Away with purity and honor and virtue! That is the tragic, yet, logical consequence to which the doctrine of a beast beginning leads. And if you wish to know the dire extremes to which some apostles of evolution have descended, describing life, as they do, as a fierce battle in which only the fittest survive, in which aged and invalids are to be removed from the land of the living, then read Nietzsche’s description of the superman, in which every vestige of helpful and sympathetic regard for the needs of one’s fellow-man is ruthlessly cast aside.

But because God—thanks be to His holy name!—created man as a moral and responsible creature and revealed His will to man in the divine Law, you and I have a conscience, you and I know what is right and what is wrong, you and I are aware of our duties to others, you and I know the terror of sin and its devastating force in our own lives. Godless writers can laugh sin away or brand it as an animal inheritance and claim, as a recent writer did, that the tramp who meets a child on the highway, murders her for the few pennies that she clutches in her little hand, and then throws her body into the ditch is not responsible for his fiendish brutality. Modern educators can continue to heap up the iniquity of our present age by ridiculing individual responsibility and making light of the moral breakdown in the present era of our nation. The theory of chemical, mechanical, accidental human origin can deny the depravity of the human race and claim that men are steadily rising to higher planes and gradually approaching a gilded Utopian age. We look into our own hearts and round about us, and we see, with all the progress and advancement of our age, unmistakable signs of degeneracy, unquestionable evidences of moral and physical collapse; and knowing God as our Creator, we know by the plain statement of His Word that we cannot avoid the responsibilities of meeting the demands of His holiness and perfection and that at an appointed time all who remain in their sin will be gathered around His judgment-seat to answer the charges of a broken law.

But because the God who made us is the God who does “not delight in the death of sinners,” because He is the Lord whose boundless mercies are fresh every morning, the life that He bestowed upon man is so vital, so priceless, so precious in His sight that He gave the only potent and saving solution to the problem of sin that the world knows. He who created us has not left us as staggering, perishing victims of our own vices, but has given us—O precious promise of God’s unfailing truth!—His own Son as the payment for the overpowering debt incurred by our sins. He who created us, not as glorified animals and high grade simians, but as reflections of His own holy image, regards you and me as of such surpassing importance that in order to restore that image of holiness and reestablish the relation of loving Father and beloved children, He paid the greatest price that earth or heaven could offer, the holy, precious blood of Jesus Christ, shed, poured out, not for descendants of apes, but for God’s lost children, to offer to every sin-harassed soul that may hear these words tonight the full and free forgiveness of each and every sin that would separate it from God.

His Cross, with everything that it implies,—a personal God, a loving God, a forgiving God, a redeeming God, a dying, but also a victoriously risen God,—is the seal and assurance of every other truth of Scriptures, also of that truth which we gratefully acknowledge tonight in the words of Martin Luther, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them.” Any other conviction can produce only distrust and despair and look forward to nothing but dismal annihilation and destruction. But with God as our Creator, with His Son as our Redeemer, and His Spirit as our Renewer and Sanctifier, you and I are invited to look for truth and beauty and happiness here, in the assurance of our divine origin and hereafter in the blessed promise of divine destiny, the new and better life created by the same gracious Father. Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.