Genesis 2 Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Genesis 2
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
II.

THE SABBATH.

(1) Were finished.—The first three verses of this chapter form part of the previous narrative, and contain its Divine purpose. For the great object of this hymn of creation is to give the sanction of the Creator to the Sabbath. Hence the ascribing of rest to Him who wearies not, and hence also the description of the several stages of creation as days. Labour is, no doubt, ennobled by creation being described as work done by God; but the higher purpose of this Scripture was that for which appeal is made to it in the Fourth Commandment, namely, to ennoble man’s weekly rest. Among the Accadians, Mr. Sayce says (Chald. Genesis. p. 89), the Sabbath was observed—so ancient is its institution—but it was connected with the sun, moon, and five planets, whence even now the days of the week take their titles, though the names of Scandinavian deities have been substituted in this country for some of their old Latin appellations. Here every idolatrous tendency is guarded against, and the Sabbath is the institution of the One Almighty God.

The host of them.—The word translated host does not refer to military arrangement, but to numbers gathered in crowds. This crowded throng of heaven sometimes means the angels, as in 1Kings 22:19; oftener the stars. Here it is the host both of heaven and earth, and signifies the multitudes of living creatures which people the land, and seas, and air.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
(2) God ended his work.—Not all work (see John 5:17, and Note in loc.), but the special work of creation. The laws given in these six days still continue their activity; they are still maintained, and there may even be with them progress and development. There is also something special on this seventh day; for in it the work of redemption was willed by the Father, wrought by the Son, and applied by the Holy Ghost. But there is no creative activity, as when vegetable or animal life began, or when a free agent first walked erect upon a world given him to subdue.

The substitution, in the LXX. and Syriac, of the sixth for the seventh day, as that on which God ended His work, was probably made in order to avoid even the appearance of Elohim having put the finishing touches to creation on the Sabbath.

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
(3) Sanctified it.—That is, separated it from ordinary uses, and hallowed it. Legal observance of the Sabbath did not begin till the days of Moses (Exodus 31:13; Exodus 35:2); but this blessing and sanctification were given prior to any covenant with man, and by Elohim, the God of nature, and not Jehovah, the God of grace. The weekly rest, therefore, is universal, permanent, and independent of the Mosaic law.

Which God created and made.—Literally, created to make. God created the world in order to make and form and fashion it. There is a work of completion which follows upon creation, and this may still be going on, and be perfected only when there is a new heaven and a new earth.

THE GENERATIONS OF THE HEAVENS AND OF THE EARTH (Genesis 2:4 to Genesis 4:26).

After the hymn of creation the rest of the Book of Genesis is divided into ten sections of very unequal length, called tôldôth, translated by the LXX. the Book of Genesis, or generation, whence the title given by St. Matthew to his Gospel. (See note on Genesis 5:1.) This title, however, does not mean a genealogical list of a person’s ancestors, but the register of his posterity. As applied to the heavens and the earth, it signifies the history of what followed upon their creation.

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,
(4) When they were created.—Heb., in, or upon, their creation.

In the day.—Viewed in its several stages, and with reference to the weekly rest, there were six days of creation, which are here described as one day, because they were but divisions in one continuous act.

The Lord God.—Jehovah-Elohim. (See Excursus at the end of this book.)

EXCURSUS C: ON THE DURATION OF THE PARADISIACAL STATE OF INNOCENCE.

The Bereshit Rabba argues that Adam and Eve remained in their original state of innocence for six hours only. Others have supposed that the events recorded in Genesis 2:4 to Genesis 3:24 took place in the course of twenty-four hours, and suppose that this is proved by what is said in Genesis 2:4, that the earth and heavens, with Adam and the garden, were all made in one day, before the end of which they suppose that he fell. This view, like that which in Genesis 1 interprets each creative day of a similar period, really amounts to this: that the narrative of Holy Scripture is to be forced to bend to an arbitrary meaning put upon a single word, and drawn not from its meaning in Hebrew, but from its ordinary use in English. More correctly, we might venture to say that the use of the word day in Genesis 2:4 is a Divine warning against so wilful a method of exposition.

Read intelligently, the progress of time is carefully marked. In Genesis 2:6 the earth is watered by a mist: in paradise there are mighty rivers. Now, mist would not produce rivers; and if there were mist in the morning, and rain in the afternoon, a long period of time would still be necessary before the falling rains would form for themselves definite channels. A vast space must have elapsed between the mist period and that in which the Tigris and Euphrates rolled along their mighty floods.

And with this the narrative agrees. All is slow and gradual. God does not summon the Garden of Eden into existence by a sudden command, but He “planted” it, and “out of the ground He “made to grow” such trees as were most remarkable for beauty, and whose fruit was most suitable for human food. In some favoured spot, in soil fertile and fit for their development, God, by a special providence, caused such plants to germinate as would best supply the needs of a creature so feeble as man, until, by the aid of his reason, he has invented those aids and helps which the animals possess in their own bodily organisation. The creation of full-grown trees belongs to the region of magic. A book which gravely recorded such an act would justly be relegated to the Apocrypha; for the God of revelation works by law, and with such long ages of preparation that human eagerness is often tempted to cry, “How long?” and to pray that God would hasten His work.

And next, as regards Adam. Placed in a garden, two of the rivers of which—the Tigris and the Euphrates—seem to show that the earth at his creation had already settled down into nearly its present shape, he is commanded “to dress and keep it.” The inspired narrator would scarcely have spoken in this way if Adam’s continuance in the garden had been but a few hours or days. We find him living there so long that his solitude becomes wearisome to him, and the Creator at length affirms that it is not good for him to be alone. Meanwhile, Adam is himself searching for a partner, and in the hope of finding one, he studies all the animals around him, observes their ways, gives them names, discovers many valuable qualities in them, makes several of them useful to him, but still finds none among them that answers to his wants. But when we read that “Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowls of the air, and to every beast of the field,” we cannot but see that this careful study of the creatures round him must have continued through a long period before it could have resulted in their being thus generally classified and named in Adam’s mind. At length Eve is brought, and his words express the lively pleasure of one who, after repeated disappointments, had at length found that of which he was in search. “This,” he says, “this time is bone of my bone.”

How long Adam and Eve enjoyed their simple happiness after their marriage is left untold; but this naming of the animals at least suggests that some time elapsed before the fall. Though Adam had observed their habits, yet he would scarcely have given many of them names before he had a rational companion with whom to hold discourse. For some, indeed, he would have found names when trying to call them to him, but only for such as seemed fit for domestication. The rest he would pass by till there was some one to whom to describe them. Thus Eve seems to have known something of the sagacity of the serpent. She, too, as well as Adam, recognised the voice of Jehovah walking in the garden (chap. 3:8); and the girdles spoken of in Genesis 2:7 seem also to indicate, by their elaboration, that the guilty pair remained in Paradise some time after the fall. The indications of time are, however, less numerous and definite after the creation of Eve than before; but certainly Adam was for some considerable period a denizen of Paradise, and probably there was a longer time than is generally supposed spent in innocence by him and his wife, and also some delay between the fall and their expulsion from their happy home.

And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.
(5)And every plant . . . —The Authorised Version follows the LXX. in so translating this as to make it simply mean that God created vegetation. The more correct rendering is, “There was no shrub of the field (no wild shrub) as yet on the earth, and no herb of the field had as yet sprung up.” The purpose of the writer is to prepare for the planting of the paradise, though geology teaches us the literal truth of his words. When the earth was so hot that water existed only in the form of vapour, there could be no vegetation. Rain began on the second day; on the third the vapours were so largely condensed as for the waters to form seas; and on the same day vegetation began to clothe the cool, dry surface of the ground. To understand these opening words, we must bear in mind that the object of the narrative is not now the formation of the world, but man’s relation to Jehovah, and thus the long stages of creation appear but as one day’s work.

But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.
(6) A mist.—This mist, as we learn from Job 36:27, where the same word is translated vapour, is the measure and material of the rain, and thus there was already preparation for the Divine method of watering the earth, and making it capable of producing food for man. But, as we gather from Genesis 1, vast periods of indefinite length intervened between the first rain and the creation of man; and in each of them numerous series of animals were introduced, adapted each to the geologic condition of its time. All this now is rapidly passed over, and three points only lightly touched: namely, first, the earth saturated with vapour, and unfit for man; secondly, the vapour condensing into rain, and the earth growing fit for man; thirdly, man.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
(7) And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.—Literally, formed the man (adam) dust from the ground. In this section the prominent idea is not that of producing out of nothing, but of forming, that is, shaping and moulding. So in Genesis 2:19 Jehovah forms the animals, and in Genesis 2:8 He plants a garden. As Elohim is almighty power, so Jehovah is wisdom and skill, and His works are full of contrivance and design. As regards man’s body, Jehovah forms it dust from the ground: the adâmâh, or fruitful arable soil, so called from Adam, for whose use it was specially fitted, and by whom it was first tilled. But the main intention of the words is to point out man’s feebleness. He is made not from the rocks, nor from ores of metal, but from the light, shifting particles of the surface, blown about by every wind. Yet, frail as is man’s body, God—

. . . breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.—The life came not as the result of man’s bodily organisation, nor as derived by evolution from any other animal, but as a gift direct from God.

And man became a living soul.—The word translated “soul” contains no idea of a spiritual existence. For in Genesis 1:20, “creature that hath life,” and in Genesis 1:24, “the living creature,” are literally, living soul. Really the word refers to the natural life of animals and men, maintained by breathing, or in some way extracting oxygen from the atmospheric air. And whatever superiority over other animals may be possessed by man comes from the manner in which this living breath was bestowed upon him, and not from his being “a living soul;” for that is common to all alike.

The whole of this second narrative is pre-eminently anthropomorphic. In the previous history Elohim commands, and it is done. Here He forms, and builds, and plants, and breathes into His work, and is the companion and friend of the creature He has made. It thus sets before us the love and tenderness of Jehovah, who provides for man a home, fashions for him a wife to be his partner and helpmate, rejoices in his intellect, and brings the lower world to him to see what he will call them, and even after the fall provides the poor outcasts with clothing. It is a picture fitted for the infancy of mankind, and speaking the language of primæval simplicity. But its lesson is for all times. For it proclaims the love of God to man, his special pre-eminence in the scale of being, and that Elohim, the Almighty Creator, is Jehovah-Elohim, the friend and counsellor of the creature whom He has endowed with reason and free-will.

And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
(8) The Lord God planted a garden.—The order followed in the text, namely, man first and the garden afterwards, is not that of chronology, but of precedence. In Genesis 2:15 we find that the garden was ready as soon as man needed a home. It was a separate plot of ground, fenced off from the rest of Eden, and planted with trees and herbs that were of choicer kinds, more fit for food, and more beautiful in foliage and blossom, than elsewhere. The word Paradise, usually applied to it, is a Persian name for an enclosed park, such as the kings of Persia used for hunting.

Eastward in Eden.—This does not mean in the eastern portion of Eden, but that Eden itself was to the east of the regions known to the Israelites. The name “Eden,” that is, pleasure-ground, occurs elsewhere, but for regions not identical with that in which the paradise was situated (2Kings 19:12; Isaiah 37:12; Isaiah 51:3; Ezekiel 27:23; Amos 1:5). Of its site no certain conclusions have been established, and probably the flood so altered the conformation of the ground as to make the identification of the four rivers impossible. But there can be no doubt that an eastern district of Asia is meant, and that the details at the time the narrative was written were sufficient to indicate with sufficient clearness where and what the region was. The rendering of several versions in the beginning instead of eastward is untenable.

And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
(9) Every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.—It has often been noticed that while the ancients do not seem to have had much taste for the beauty of the landscape, they greatly admired large and umbrageous trees. This feeling seems like a reminiscence of the joy of our first parents when they found themselves in a happy garden, surrounded by trees, the beauty of which is even more commended than the fact placed second, that they supplied wholesome and nutritious food. Two trees in the centre of the garden had marvellous qualities; for “the tree of life” ad the power of so renewing man’s physical energies that his body, though formed of the dust of the ground, and therefore naturally mortal, would, by its continual use, live on for ever. The other, “the tree of knowledge of good and evil,” must have acquired this name after the fall. As long as Adam and Eve were in their original innocence they had no knowledge of evil, nor could any mere mental development bestow it upon them. They must either feel it in themselves, or see it in others, before they could know it. We conclude, then, that this was the tree to which God’s command, that they should not eat of it (comp. Genesis 3:3), was attached; and only by the breach of that command would man attain to this higher knowledge, with all the solemn responsibilities attached to it. Besides this each tree had a symbolic meaning, and especially the tree of life (Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2). The Chaldean legends have preserved the memory of this latter tree, and depict it as the Asclepias acida, whence the soma juice is prepared.

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
(10) A river went out of Eden.—Out of the large region of which the garden formed a part. The tenses, too, are present, as if the main features of the country remained unchanged: “a river goeth forth from Eden, and thence outside of it is parted, and becometh four main streams.” The idea is that of a stream rising in Eden, and flowing through the Paradise, and at some distance outside of it divided into four great rivers. This has made many suppose that the site of Paradise was in the Persian Gulf, in a region now submerged; and the Babylonian legends actually place it there, at Eridu, at the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates. The two other rivers they suppose to have been the Indus and the Nile, represented by the two coasts of the Persian Gulf. Sir H. Rawlinson suggests the Babylonian province of Gan-duniyas, where four rivers may be found; but in neither case could the ark have floated against the current of the flood up to the highlands of Armenia. We must add that many authors of note have regarded the whole as symbolical, among whom is the famous Syriac writer, Bar-Hebraeus, who regards it as a description of the human body.

The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
(11, 12) The name of the first is Pison.—“The full-flowing” (Gesenius), or “free-streaming” (Fürst). Neither derivation has much authority for it in the Hebrew language, and we must wait for the true explanation till the cuneiform inscriptions have been more thoroughly examined. As two of the four rivers of Paradise rise in Armenia, so we must probably seek the other two there; but the conjectures of commentators have thus far suggested no probable identification of this stream.

Compasseth.—This word, without strictly meaning to go round, gives the idea of a devious course (comp. 1Samuel 7:16; Song of Solomon 3:3), as if the river had now reached a level plain.

Havilah may mean sandy land (Deutsch), or circuit region. There seems to have been more than one country of this name; but the most probable is that in South-Western Arabia, afterwards colonised by the Joktanites (Genesis 10:29), which this river skirted rather than traversed. But we know of no such river, rising in Armenia or elsewhere, which answers to this description now. Besides gold of great purity, pronounced emphatically “good,” this land produced” bdellium,” a scented gum, to which manna is compared (Numbers 11:7), though the meaning even there is uncertain.

Instead of bedolach, bdellium, the Syriac reads berulchê, that is, the same word in the plural, but with d instead of r. These two letters being very similar, not merely in the square Hebrew alphabet now in use, but in the original Samaritan characters, are constantly interchanged in manuscripts; and as berulchê means pearls, the sense agrees better with the other productions of Havilah, gold and onyx stones. As bedolach is a quadriliteral, while Hebrew words have only three root letters, we must look to the Accadi an language for its true signification, if this be really the right reading.

The onyx stone.—Though there is considerable authority for this translation, yet probably the LXX., supported by most ancient authorities, are right in regarding this gem as the beryl of a light green colour (leek-stone, LXX.). The root signifies something pale, while the onyx has its name from its markings resembling those of the human nail.

And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
(13) Gihon, “the river that bursts forth,” has been supposed to be the Nile, because it is said to wind about Ethiopia (Cush). According to this view, there was originally no break between Asia and Africa, and the Nile, entering Abyssinia from Arabia, took thence a northerly course, and traversed Egypt. But Cush is now known to have signified at this period the southern half of Arabia, and it was not until later times that the name was carried by colonists to Abys. sinia. Moreover Gihon, in Arabic Jaihan, is a common name among the Arabs for a river, and perhaps the Oxus is here meant, which flowed northward from Armenia into the Caspian. Mr. Sayce, however, thinks it is the Araxes, “the river of Babylon,” which flowed westward into the desert of Cush, in Arabia (Chald, Gen., p. 84).

And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.
(14) Of the “Hiddekel” and “Euphrates” there is no doubt: the former is the Tigris, or Tigres, which is a mere Graecising of its Oriental name, Daglath in Arabic, and Deklath in Syriac, and in the Targum of Onkelos. The word Hiddekel is startling as being a quadriliteral, but the Samaritan Codex reads the Dehel, that is, it has the article instead of the Hebrew Kheth. Mr. Sayce accepts the uncertain reading Hiddekel, and says (Chald. Gen., p. 84) that Hid is the Accadian name for river. Dekel, Tigris, is said to mean an arrow. The Samaritan reading is probably right.

Euphrates.—No description is given of this as being the largest and best known of Asiatic rivers. Hence, probably, the Pison and Gihon were but small streams. Euphrates is the Greek manner of pronouncing the Hebrew Phrath, the first syllable being simply a help in sounding the double consonant. In Accadian it is called Purrat, and means “the curving water,” being so named from its shape.

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
(15) And the Lord God took the man (the adam), and put him into the garden of Eden.—The narrative now reverts to Genesis 2:8, but the word translated put is not the same in both places. Here it literally means He made him rest, that is, He gave it to him as his permanent and settled dwelling.

To dress it and to keep it.—The first word literally means to work it; for though a paradise, yet the garden had to be tilled and planted. Seeds must be sown and the cultivated plots kept in order; but all this really added to Adam’s happiness, because the adâmâh, as yet uncursed, responded willingly to the husbandman’s care. The other word, “to keep it,” implies, however, some difficulty and danger. Though no unpropitious weather, nor blight nor mildew, spoiled the crop, yet apparently it had to be guarded against the incursion of wild animals and birds, and protected even against the violence of winds and the burning heat of the sun.

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
(16, 17) The Lord God commanded.—Probation is the law of man’s moral condition now, and it began in Paradise, only the conditions there were different. (See Excursus at end of this book.)

In the day. . . . —Used, as in Genesis 2:4, for an indefinitely long period. But just as on the third day God gave the whole law of vegetation, though trees as the highest development of that law may not have been reached until after the appearance of animal life on the earth, so the law of man’s mortal life came into existence with the eating of the forbidden fruit. Contemporaneously with that act, man passed from the paradisiacal state, with the possibility of living for ever, into the mortal state, with the certainty sooner or later of dying. It was a new condition and constitution of things which then commenced, and to which not Adam only, but also his posterity was subject. And thus this command resembles the words of Elohim in the first chapter. By them the fundamental laws of the material universe were given and established for all time; and the word of Jehovah-Elohim equally here was a law, not for the day only on which Adam broke the command, but for all men everywhere as long as the world shall last.

EXCURSUS A: UPON THE PROBATION OF ADAM (Chap. 2:16).

The great object for which the world is constituted such as we actually find it to be is evidently the trial and probation of man’s moral nature. We cannot wonder, therefore, at finding Adam subject to a probation; and even if he had remained innocent we have no right to suppose that his posterity would always have withstood temptation, or that the world would not finally have become such in the main as it is now. But the manner of Adam’s probation was different. In Paradise he had unlimited freedom, except in one small particular, and no promptings of his own nature urged him to take delight in disobedience and sin. But if thus he was free from passion, on the other hand his conscience was undeveloped, even if it could be said to exist at all in one who did not know the difference between good and evil. He was devoid, too, of experience, and his reason must have been in a state as rudimentary as his conscience. For as there was no struggle between passion and conscience, man had not then learned to choose between opposing ends and purposes, as he has now. Nevertheless, Adam was an intellectual being. He must have had a deep knowledge of natural history; for doubtless he called the animals after their natures. In Genesis 2:23 he calls his wife Ishah, and himself Ish. Now, this name signifies a being, and in so calling himself Adam seems to claim for man that he is the one creature upon earth conscious of his own existence. And when Eve appears he simply adds a feminine termination to the name, recognising her thereby as the female counterpart of himself; but in so doing he shows a mastery of language, and the power of inflecting words according to the rules of grammar. There is proof, after the fall, of even increased insight into the nature of things; for in the name Eve, life, Adam plainly recognised in her difference of sex the Divinely-appointed means for the maintenance of human life upon earth. But man now, to balance the corruption of his nature, has, in addition to intellect, the help of conscience, of increased knowledge and experience of the effects of sin, and of largely developed reason. Devoid of such assistance, a difficult probation, such as is the lot of mankind now, would apparently have been beyond the power of Adam to sustain; whereas, had he not been tempted from without, he might easily, with his passions as yet unstirred, and most of his intellectual gifts still dormant, have endured the simple trial to which he was subjected. But temptation from without was permitted, and Adam fell.

It would be easy to lose ourselves in reasoning upon the possibilities involved in Adam’s trial; but there are points upon which there can be no doubt. First, if probation is the normal law of our condition now, it would be just as right and equitable to make Adam subject to a probation. And alike for Adam then and for men now, probation seems to be a necessary condition of the existence of beings endowed with free will. Secondly, the fall was not all loss; St. Paul affirms this with reference to the gift of a Saviour (Romans 5:17-19). And besides this, higher qualities are called into existence now than were possible in the case of one who had no experimental knowledge of evil. We may even say that in giving this command Jehovah was appealing to qualities still dormant in Adam; and this exercise of the Divine attribute of foreknowledge makes us sure that the Divine purpose was to develop these qualities: not necessarily, however, by the fall, for they would have been to some extent exercised by resisting temptation. Thirdly, Adam, had he remained innocent, could nevertheless have attained to no higher happiness than such as was possible for a being in a rudimentary and passionless state of existence. He would have attained to the perfection of innocence, of pure physical enjoyment, and of even large scientific knowledge; but his moral nature would have developed very slowly, and its profounder depths would have remained unstirred. He would have been a happy grown-up child, not a proved and perfected man. The sufferings of this fallen world are intense (Romans 8:22), but the product in those who use their probation aright, is probably higher than any product of Paradise could have been. The holiness attained to by Eloah, the seventh from Adam, was of a different and higher kind than the most perfect innocence of a being who had been called to make no earnest struggle; for it was as the gold tried in the fire (1Peter 1:7).

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
(18) It is not good . . . —In these words we have the Divine appointment of marriage, and also the declaration that the female is subsequent in order of production to the male, and formed from him. In Genesis 1:27; Genesis 5:2, the creation of male and female is represented as having been simultaneous. She is described as “a help meet for him:” Heb., a help as his front, his reflected image, or, as the Syriac translates it, a helper similar to him. The happiness of marriage is based, not upon the woman being just the same thing as the man, but upon her being one in whom he sees his image and counterpart.

And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
(19) Out of the ground.—The adâmâh; thus the physical constituents of the animals are the same as those of the body of man. Much curious speculation has arisen from the mistaken idea that the order here is chronological, and that the animals were created subsequently to man, and that it was only upon their failing one and all to supply Adam’s need of a companion that woman was called into being. The real point of the narrative is the insight it gives us into Adam’s intellectual condition, his study of the animal creation, and the nature of the employment in which he spent his time. Then finally, at the end of Genesis 2:20, after numerous animals had passed before him, comes the assertion, with cumulative force, that woman alone is a meet companion for man.

And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
(20) And Adam gave names.—Throughout this chapter Adam is but once mentioned as a proper name; and the regular phrase in the Hebrew is the adam, that is, the man, except in the last clause of this verse. In Genesis 2:23 there is a different word for man, namely, ish. We must not confine this giving of names to the domestic animals, nor are we to suppose a long procession of beasts and birds passing before the man, and receiving each its title. Rather, it sets him before us as a keen observer of nature; and as he pursues his occupations in the garden, new animals and birds from time to time come under his notice, and these he studies, and observes their ways and habits, and so at length gives them appellations. Most of these titles would be imitations of their cries, or would be taken from some marked feature in their form or plumage, or mode of locomotion. Adam is thus found possessed of powers of observation and reflection upon the natural objects round him; though we may justly doubt his being capable of the metaphysical discourses put into his mouth by Milton in the Paradise Lost.

But for Adam.—In this one place there is no article, and our version may be right in regarding it as a proper name. Among the animals Adam found many ready to be his friends and domestic servants; and his habits of observation had probably this practical end, of taming such as might be useful. Hence the omission of all notice of reptiles and fish. But while thus he could tame many, and make them share his dwelling, he found among them no counterpart of himself, capable of answering his thoughts and of holding with him rational discourse.

And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
(21) And the Lord God caused a deep sleep (comp. Job 4:13, where it is the same word) to fall upon Adam.—Heb., the man.

One of his ribs.—The word is never translated rib except in this place, but always side, flank. This is the true meaning also of the Latin word by which it is rendered in the Vulgate, costa, as shown in the French côte, and our coast Both the Greek and Syriac also translate by words which primarily signify the side, but derivatively the rib. Woman was not formed out of one of man’s many ribs, of which he would not feel the loss. She is one side of man; and though he may have several sides to his nature and character, yet without woman one integral portion of him is wanting.

Closed up the flesh instead thereof.—Literally, closed up flesh under it, that is, in its place. This does not mean that man now has flesh where before he had this side, but that a cavity was prevented by drawing the flesh on the two edges close together. Metaphysically it means that man has no compensation for what was abstracted from him, except in the woman, who is the one side of his nature which he has lost.

And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
(22) Made he a woman.—Heb., he built up into a woman. Her formation is described as requiring both time and care on the heavenly artificer’s part. Thus woman is no casual or hasty production of nature, but is the finished result of labour and skill. Finally, she is brought with special honour to the man as the Creator’s last and most perfect work. Every step and stage in this description is intended for the ennoblement of marriage. Woman is not made from the adâmâh, but from the adam. She is something that he once had, but has lost; and while for Adam there is simply the closing of the cavity caused by her withdrawal, she is moulded and re-fashioned, and built up into man’s counterpart. She brings back more than the man parted with, and the Creator Himself leads her by the hand to her husband. The anthropomorphic language of these early chapters is part of that condescension to human weakness which makes it the rule everywhere for inspiration to use popular language. He who made heaven and earth by the fiat of His will must not be understood as having literally moulded the side taken from Adam as a sculptor would the plastic clay; nor did He assume human form that He might place her at man’s side. Much of this may indeed have been represented to Adam’s mind in the trance into which he had fallen; but the whole narrative has a nobler meaning, and the practical result of its teaching was that neither woman nor marriage ever sank into that utter degradation among the Jews which elsewhere aided so greatly in corrupting morals and men.

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
(23) This is now.—Literally, this stroke, or beat of the foot in keeping time. It means, therefore, this time, or colloquially, at last. Adam had long studied the natural world, and while, with their confidence as yet unmarred by human cruelty, they came to his call, grew tame, and joined his company, he found none that answered to his wants, and replied to him with articulate speech. At last, on waking from his trance, he found one standing by him in whom he recognised a second self, and he welcomed her joyfully, and exclaimed, “This at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh:” that is, she is man’s counterpart, not merely in feeling and sense—his flesh—but in his solid qualities. In several of the Semitic dialects bone is used for self. Thus, in the Jerusalem Lectionary (ed. Miniscalchi, Verona, 1861) we read: “I will manifest my bone unto him” (John 14:21), that is, myself; and again, “I have power to lay it down of my bone” (John 10:18), that is, of myself. So, too, in Hebrew, “In the selfsame day” is “in the bone of this day” (Genesis 7:13). Thus bone of my bones means “my very own self,” while flesh of my flesh adds the more tender and gentle qualities.

She shall be called Woman (Ishah), because she was taken out of Man (Ish).—Adam, who knew that he was an Ish (see Excursus at end of this book), called the woman a “female Ish.” The words of our Version, man and woman (perhaps womb-man), represent with sufficient accuracy the relation of the words in the original.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
(24) Therefore shall a man leave . . . —These are evidently the words of the narrator. Adam names this new product of creative power, as he had named others, but he knew nothing about young men leaving their father’s house for the wife’s sake. Moreover, in Matthew 19:5, our Lord quotes these words as spoken by God, and the simplest interpretation of this declaration is that the inspired narrator was moved by the Spirit of God to give this solemn sanction to marriage, founded upon Adam’s words. The great and primary object of this part of the narrative is to set forth marriage as a Divine ordinance. The narrator describes Adam’s want, pictures him as examining all animal life, and studying the habits of all creatures so carefully as to be able to give them names, but as returning from his search unsatisfied. At last one is solemnly brought to him who is his counterpart, and he calls her Ishah, his feminine self, and pronounces her to be his very bone and flesh. Upon this, “He who at the beginning made them male and female “pronounced the Divine marriage law that man and wife are one flesh.

And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
THE TEMPTATION AND FALL.

(25) They were both naked.—This is the description of perfect childlike innocence, and belongs naturally to beings who as yet knew neither good nor evil. It is not, however, the conclusion of the marriage section, where it would be indelicate, but the introduction to the account of the temptation, where it prepares the way for man’s easy fall. Moreover, there is a play upon words in the two verses. Man is arom = naked; the serpent is arum=crafty. Thus in guileless simplicity our first parents fell in with the tempting serpent, who, in obvious contrast with their untried innocence, is described as a being of especial subtilty.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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