One flesh

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There are three prominent prepositions used about Adam and Eve in Genesis 2.  For, From, and To.  She is for him.  From him.  Then brought to him.

Which means the whole thing is heading towards a fourth preposition.  And I’m afraid I can’t avoid all the connotations of this next word, but let’s hold our breath and be as grown up as possible.  No sniggering…

The whole thing is heading towards in.  Consummation will mean union.  They become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

Shakespeare’s Iago may have called it “the beast with two backs” but in Scripture there’s nothing beastly about it.  It’s the consummation of the glory of humanity – made male and female, intended for oneness.

And this unity is not monstrous or demeaning.  The two do not lose their distinctives in this union.  In fact this union preserves and upholds their distinctions.  Sex makes sexes.  (Say that six times fast!).

Their one-ness does not come at the cost of their differences.  This is a one-ness that depends upon deep differences and which doesn’t dissolve those differences.  Instead it’s a oneness of intimacy and love.

This word for  “one”, which the Authorized Version translates, is the same word used to describe God’s oneness.  “The LORD our God is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Again, this is not a oneness that crowds out distinctives.  There is plenty of room in this one-ness for distinct Persons – but Persons who are bound together from all eternity in love.  This is the one-ness of God, a one-ness that affirms and upholds the delightful distinctions and roles of the Persons.  God is one because God is love.  And God is love because God is trinity.  So Adam and Eve’s oneness tells us about the oneness of God.

But more personally for us, Adam and Eve’s oneness tells us about our oneness with Christ.

The Apostle Paul quotes this verse about ‘one flesh’ and he says:

This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.  (Ephesians 5:32)

Genesis 2:24 is meant to teach us about our union with Christ.  It is not a moral union, as though our oneness consists in ethical conformity to Christ.  It is a union of covenant faithfulness.  It is a union in which our distinctives are not abolished but affirmed.  It is a union of delight.  It is a union of love.  And it is a union of being.

Those united to Jesus are one flesh with Him.  Bone of His bones, flesh of His flesh.  We are the body, He is the Head.  We are so close that we are in fact “in” Him.  And you can’t get closer than in.

We don’t simply come into His divine favour and protection, not simply into His divine status and privileges.  We are brought into His very Person.  Now and forevermore.

To leave and cleave

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It’s no accident that the key verbs of Genesis 2:24 rhyme.  The King James translation was written to be read aloud.  They would have been glad to find a rhyme that so naturally arises from the Hebrew.  And certainly preachers for the last four centuries have enjoyed the fact that their sermons on marriage can have rhyming points – couples are to leave and cleave:

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Genesis 2:24

But here’s something odd.  Who is it who is doing the leaving and the cleaving?

Think about it – Adam is the original and Eve is the late-comer.  Eve is made for Adam.  Therefore you might think that verse 24 should be the other way around.  Surely she should be the one to leave and cleave.  Surely she needs to make the sacrifices and join him in his kind of life.  Surely she needs to ensure she’s holding fast to him.

But the verse puts the obligations on Adam.  He needs to leave his old family and he needs to cleave to his wife.

This word ‘cleave’ is often used in the bible to describe how body parts stick together – like the way skin ‘cleaves’ to bone.  How appropriate, since Eve is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.  Now he ‘cleaves’ to her like she’s his own body.  Actually she is.

But this is the uniting power of the marriage.  And it’s primarily Adam’s role to cleave.  It is his resolve to unite to his wife that’s determinative.

So it is with Christ and His bride – the church.  He is the One who leaves Family – the Father and Spirit.  And He is the One who cleaves to His people.  It is ultimately His sacrifice and His determination to ‘cleave’ that is decisive.

And that’s important when we think of our relationship to Him.

Sometimes our relationship to Christ feels like what the Psalmist describes here as he addresses the LORD:

My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.  (Psalm 63:8)

Sometimes we follow hard after the LORD.  But then again, sometimes our souls feel dry, our ‘following’ strays and our grip on the LORD seems weak indeed.  Our cleaving to the LORD waxes and wanes.

But here’s the bottom line: His right hand upholds me.  Whatever ups and downs we feel, our hope lies in His enduring love.

If we’ve come to Jesus to be joined to Him, this is what we need to know: It’s His cleaving to us that upholds our union, now and forever.

Bone of my bones

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It was not good for the man to be alone.  The beauty of the garden, its endless delights, the challenges of work and exploration weren’t enough for Adam.  And swans, dolphins, baboons, wombats, poodles – none of them solved this ‘aloneness’ either.

Creation in and of itself is not a suitable counterpart for Adam.  It’s just not good to have a whole creation under man, but no-one alongside man.

Think about that for a minute.  This God-like creature called man has the whole world under him.  He rules the visible universe with unquestioned authority.  Isn’t that a good image of the divine life?

It’s many people’s image of God – lonely ruler.  But it’s not a good image of the living God.  The living God does not create in order to have creatures below Him.  Fundamentally He creates in order to have a counter-part alongside Him.  Now there’s a challenging thought!

But it makes sense when you realise that the living God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  These Persons have always been counter-parts alongside each other.  And they create a universe where this kind of unity and difference abounds.

In Hebrew “the heavens” are masculine.  “The earth” is feminine.  The stage is set for a love story.  When we see ‘the heavens and the earth’ we’re meant to say “Those two should really get together.”  Well yes.  They were made for each other.

Same as humanity.  The LORD Christ forms man first.  But then comes the woman out of Adam’s pierced side.  She is completely equal but delightfully different.  And the whole point of it – the consummation if you like – is union.

So when Eve is presented to Adam he bursts out into history’s first love-song:

This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.  (Genesis 2:23)

When he sees Eve, Adam sees himself.  But different.  She is from him.  And is him.  But different.  But the same.  But…  How do you express this?  Actually you have to break into poetry.  Here is the beautiful otherness of the ‘opposite sex’ – and yet this is the ‘opposite’ that truly completes me.  Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.

A life of pure dominion was not good for Adam.  He needed a bride to share life with.  And when he gets his bride he cannot contain his joy.

Well keep that image in mind and think about the LORD Christ and His bride, the church.  He has always desired us alongside Him – as bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.  And so He took our flesh and endured the ultimate pierced side to win us.  And the goal of both our lives and His will be face-to-face fellowship on a day of singing.  And not only will we sing in praise of Him.  He will sing in raptured joy to us.

He will rejoice over thee with singing.  (Zephaniah 3:17)

Spare Rib

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Genesis 2:18-25

Spare Rib was a feminist magazine launched in 1972.  Its title was a defiant play on the account of Eve’s creation in Genesis 2.   Woman is far more than a spare rib, was the message.

But the bible would agree.  Eve’s origins are far more exalted than Adam’s.  He came from dirt!  She was dust twice refined as Matthew Henry, the 17th century bible scholar, would say.

And the progression of creation which climaxes in woman is very revealing.  From plants, to fish and birds, to land creatures, to man… to woman. Man may be the head of creation, but woman is the crown!  She is not only included in the divine image but necessary to it.

And being made from the man’s side was in fact a wonderful testimony to Eve’s equality with Adam.  As Matthew Henry went on to say:

“Eve was not taken from Adam’s head that she should rule over him, nor from his feet, to be trampled under foot, but she was taken from his side that she might be his equal, from under his arm that she might be protected by him, near his heart, that he might cherish and love her.”

The background to Eve’s creation is Genesis 2:18:

The LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

Adam needs companionship and help.  He needs another alongside him – his complement.  More than this, he needs her because he can’t do what he’s supposed to.  “Helper” means Adam is inadequate.  And it’s a term that is most commonly used of God in the bible, it’s not at all intended to be diminutive.

And so a bride is created for Adam.

But the way she’s created is quite incredible.  Remember that this is paradise.  This is before sin and curse and death have entered the world.  Nevertheless, to create a bride, Adam must go down into a death-like sleep.  Great violence will be done to him.  His side will be pierced.  And from him will come another – his complement, his bride.  Then he is raised up and brought together with her in a time of praise, singing and consummation.

This is what it takes for the man to get a bride.

And of course the whole thing is a preview of Christ and His bride, the church.  Even before sin, the gospel is preached.

It is not good for The Man – Jesus – to be alone.  God the Father desires the very best for His Son – a wife, a bride to share life with.  But the creation of the bride will be costly.  Christ must have violence done to Him.  His side is pierced.  He goes down into death, but rises up again new to be united to His people.

And we look forward to the consummation – the marriage feast when there will be much praise and singing.


Let’s think about two modern sayings where ‘Adam’ features.

We say “as old as Adam” when we mean ancient.  And, at least whenever I use it, it has the connotation of intransigent.  If there’s a stubborn fact of existence that has ever been thus, it’s “as old as Adam.”  Frustration with work, the battle of the sexes, in-growing toenails – as old as Adam.

When it’s used in that sense, there are overtones of blame being laid on Adam too.  Which, I guess is appropriate.  He is the ultimate fall-guy after all.

There’s another common phrase: “He doesn’t know me from Adam.”  It means “he doesn’t know me at all.”  You could say “he doesn’t know me from a sack of potatoes.”  But it’s interesting that “Adam” is the one you’d like to be distinguished from isn’t it?  A stranger needs to know my difference from Adam.  But right now I might as well be Adam to this person.

I find that fascinating.  Because in the bible Adam is both ancient and universal.

‘Adam’ is the Hebrew for man.  And we could think of his name denoting three things:

‘a man’ – a real and actual human being

‘Adam’ – his personal name.  That particular man who did those particular things.

‘man’ – in general.  Humanity itself.

Adam is 1) a member of the human race, 2) a particular person, but also, 3) he is humanity.

Think about it.  At the head of everyone’s family tree stands Adam.  As we’ll see, even Eve comes from Adam.  We all find our source in this one fountainhead.  Trace us back to the source and we’ll find the whole human race comprehended in Adam.

Watching Adam walk around the garden is therefore watching humanity walking around the garden.  I was in Adam.

To put it in the language of an earlier post, he is the original tree who bore bad fruit and I am from his seed.  All the genealogies of the bible could be re-written: Adam begat Adam begat Adam.  All after his own kind.

Therefore there’s a deep sense in which you won’t know me from Adam.  Because I am Adam.  He is the human race.  And I’m a chip off the old block.

Now if Adam lived in righteousness and joy before the LORD, this would be good news.  All is well with the world when Man is rightly related to God.  But there’s bad news.

We’ll explore this next week, but in Genesis 3 Adam becomes estranged from the life of God.  He becomes like a Christmas tree – perhaps vibrant for a while but cut off from the Source, devoid of life and decaying by the minute.  You can dress it up with all kinds of bling but it’s not going to last.  At this time of year we all know what happens to such trees.

Yet, by nature, all of us share in that humanity.  We are born into that kind of human life.  Flourishing for a moment but soon to perish apart from our Life-Source.

Step forward the true Man.  Jesus Christ is described as another Adam – “the Last Adam” to answer the first (1 Corinthians 15:45).  And He is

1) a member of the human race

2) that particular man who did those particular things, and

3) humanity itself.

The true Man takes on our humanity and lives our life before God in true righteousness and joy.  He stands at the Head of another kind of life.  And where Adam failed, Christ succeeded.  This Man then offers us His humanity to share in.  We can be grafted into Him.

We were born once in Adam, but Jesus invites us to be born again into His kind of human life.

Ultimately there’s only two kinds of human being.  Adam people and Christ people.  If we’ve never come to Christ to share in His life then , no matter what good deeds we’ve mustered up, we share Adam’s life, Adam’s status and Adam’s fate.

But anyone who comes to Christ for new life is immediately adopted into something astounding: we share in Christ.  In Christ Himself. The bible calls us a part of His very body!  And we have, right now, Christ’s life, Christ’s status and Christ’s fate.  Alleluia!

The Garden of Eden

Eden as photographed by Google Earth... (not really, click for source)

Even the phrase “garden of Eden” should make us home-sick.  “Eden” is taken from the word “delight”.  And “garden” when translated to Greek is “paradise”.

The highest plane humanity has reached thus far was at the outset.  In fact Genesis 2 means to communicate this truth, even topologically!  The four rivers flow down from this hill-top garden to bless the whole earth.  The prophet Ezekiel confirms to us that this was both the ‘garden’ and ‘mountain of God’ (Ezekiel 28:13-14).  The high point for humanity was the beginning.  ‘The fall’ was very literal.

This garden was planted by the LORD Himself (Genesis 2:8).  Again, this is Christ the LORD, (the visible Image of the invisible God).  He doesn’t speak a garden into being, He plants it.  This truly is the garden of the Lord.  Yet He places Adam in charge.  What humility and grace!

Often we focus on the one boundary which the Lord sets (the forbidden fruit) and forget what is most stunning – that the garden itself is freely accessible.  Surely the garden of the Lord would be His own special sanctuary and the man invited in only occasionally and under the strictest of conditions.  But no, man not only has access, but roams freely and in authority over God’s own garden.

This is not a God who loves to set boundaries, but one who grants incredible freedoms.  He says:

Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat.  (Genesis 2:16)

The Lord fills His garden of delights with abundant fruit – all of which was “pleasant to the sight and good for food”  (verse 9).

This is profligate goodness.  What need is there for beautiful fruit?  None.  What need is there for tasty fruit?  None.  Yet this is the way with the LORD.  Nothing is necessary.  Everything is desired – wanted – and desirable.  (I think some more about this on my blog).

We learn in Genesis 3 that Christ the LORD would come to enjoy His garden and His beloved creatures with an evening walk.  This is His nature, to create a space, to make it home, to fill it with beauty and goodness, to gift it to His friends.  To invite humanity into His life of freedom, fulness and fellowship.  This is paradise.  And as CS Lewis once wrote, it’s the “inconsolable longing” of our hearts – “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” (The Weight of Glory)

It’s what we desperately want.

And here’s why we can believe in it – in spite of the blood and pain and godforsakenness of our current experiences.

When Jesus came to walk with us in even closer fellowship – to walk with us as one of us – He was on a mission to draw us back.  It was a mission that took Him to the blood and pain and godforsakenness of the cross.  And as He died, He spread His arms to beckon us in and to bear our burdens, guilt and shame.  Whatever would keep us from paradise, our Lord would take on Himself.

And as He died He said to a humbled sinner dying besides Him:

Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.  (Luke 23:43)

Paradise is not for the ancient myths.  It’s for dying sinners in a dying world.  The Lord has come into the very depths to offer us all such heights.


The Story of the King James Bible [Radio 4]

James Naughtie on the Story of the King James Bible

Part 1 – The Commission

Part 2 – The Translation

Part 3 – The Legacy

The Breath of Life

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What does dirt have to do with deity?  Quite a bit actually.

Here’s our verse for the day:

“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.”  (Genesis 2:7)

It doesn’t get any more earthy than ‘the dust of the ground’.  The narrative is asking us to imagine the LORD God with dirt under His fingernails, so to speak.

There’s no “Let there be a man” here.  Instead it’s hands-on.  So obviously this isn’t the Father we’re speaking of, this is definitely the Eternal Son (see John 1:18).  This is Christ before He became dust.  Here he sketches out the humanity He would later assume.  Christ is the potter, Adam is the clay.

But it’s not even as dignified as ‘clay’, or even ‘mud’.  Instead it’s ‘dust.’  So fragmentary.  And so quickly blown away.  But, easy come easy go.  Plenty more where that came from.

He’s dust.  More than that, he’s dust of the ground.  Adam is very connected to the earth.  He’s made of earth.  He’s not flown in by the angels to trouble-shoot in this new-frontier start-up called earth.  The man who will have dominion won’t just stand over the earth, he will be earth. In fact his name means… no, we’ll talk about his name later.

But here is the man of dust springing up from the ground – just like the trees are about to (Gen 2:9).  It’s another indication that humanity is a crop.

And then, stunningly, here’s what happens to this very terrestrial, agricultural, ephemeral pile of dirt – Christ the LORD breathes into his nostrils the breath of life.

The earth-creature is blessed by heaven.  No other creature is formed like this or breathed into like this.  No other creature has either their earthiness or their spirituality highlighted in such a way.  In man there is an intersection of creation’s two great realms.  Throughout Genesis chapter 1 the stage was being set.  The heavens and the earth were prepared.  And now at centre-stage stands man – moulded from the earth, kissed by heaven.

Here is man face-to-face with the Hands-On God, freely receiving life from his Lord.  This is man in intimate fellowship with God and, at the same time, at the pinnacle of creation.  He sums up the earth and the whole crop of humanity in himself.

Here at the intersection of heaven and earth lies the whole operating system of the universe.  Whatever happens to this man in his relationship to God will happen to all reality.

When this man turns from the LORD, everything falls apart.

But, take heart.  When Christ takes Adam’s flesh and turns man back to God… well then, the whole world is raised up and set to rights.

For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.  (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)

God rested

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Work to live or live to work?  We know how we should answer that question.  The testimony of our lives is probably another matter.  But let’s ask the question of God – because I reckon our unspoken assumption is that, basically, God lives to work.

You see, for many people “Creator” is God’s most basic job description.  If He aint fine-tuning the cosmological constants, or priming the charges for the big bang, or pulling the heavenly levers, or keeping the wheels of providence well-oiled, then, well, what are we paying our taxes for anyway?!  If His role in life isn’t to keep the show on the road, what could it possibly be?’

I recently read a debate between Richard Dawkins and Ruth Gledhill regarding Stephen Hawking’s new book – a book that claims we don’t need a Creator.  At one point Gledhill asked “could there be another role for a deity beyond creation?”  Dawkins responded, “I can’t even imagine what that would mean.”  (see here). I think that reflects a very common perception that God equals Creator without remainder.

But, as with every misconception we have about God, this says more about us than it does about Him.  We project our own work-ethic into the sky and expect God to play by the rules.  But He doesn’t.  God rests.  And we find that quite difficult to understand.

But think of our very first phrase from the KJB:  “In the beginning“.  There was a time (a very long time!) when God was not Creator.  Originally God was not in manufacturing.  He moved into it in later life.

We might get sucked into workaholism because we don’t know who we are if we aren’t performing.  But God has no such identity crisis.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have known each other in love before they knew each other in labours.

And as we enter chapter two of Genesis, we’re again reminded that “Creator” is not the fundamental truth about God.  Here is a God who rests from His work.  And this is not an abdication, it’s a consummation.

God’s activity reaches a goal, and rather than creation being a wheel that must be kept turning, Genesis reveals it to be a work that comes to completion.  The seventh day (the Hebrew word is Sabbath) shows that there’s an ‘end’ to creation.  And by ‘end’ we mean, most basically, a goal.  There is not endless work.  There is fulfilment.  There is rest.

In the beginning John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was “in the bosom of the Father.” (John 1:18).  It’s a phrase that gets picked up at the end of John’s Gospel too.  At the end of the Last Supper, after a good meal with good wine and good friends we’re told that John leant back, laying his head on Jesus’ bosom.  John was enjoying Sabbath.  Here is true rest.

Just as Jesus has eternally rested in the Father’s embrace.  So His friends are invited into that very rest.

This was why He created a world, and this was why He entered it as man – to draw more and more to the Father’s embrace.  Life is not about performing, producing and providing.  Whatever work that God does, whatever work that we do is to this end – that billions would enjoy ‘rest’ in Jesus.

And Behold, it was very good

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A good God makes a good world.  Perhaps that should be the banner over Genesis chapter 1.

There’s no regrets here.  God doesn’t say “It’s not quite what I’d imagined.  It was better in rehearsals.  I’ve kept the receipts in case you want to exchange it.”  No, Genesis 1:28 – “Behold!  It’s very good”

… if He does say so Himself.

Now for those interested in that old philosophical chestnut – Is a thing good because god says it is, or does god say it’s good because it is good? – go here.  I’ve got some thoughts.

But let’s keep things simple.  God is not threatened by the world, not limited by the world, not a competitor with the world, not shut out from the world.  He is no prisoner of His own divine majesty, as though being creator keeps Him at an infinite distance from His world.  Perhaps you’re thinking “Of course not, why should we think that?”

Well in the history of human religion, these have always been the fears about god and creation.  The idea of “something besides god” has thrown many a theologian into a spin.  Religions and theistic philosophers go on about the problems of relating the infinite to the finite, the spiritual to the physical, the timeless to the time-bound, and a thousand questions besides.  But the God of the bible has no time for any of this.  He just gets on and creates a world that He is really very happy about.

And He is most happy when it gets to day six.  At the end of all the other days He calls His handiwork “good”, but once humanity crowns creation – “Behold, it is very good”.  This is what He has always wanted.

The Father has always had His Son and Spirit besides Him – ‘in His bosom’ as John 1:18 says.  He is not socially awkward.  He is very comfortable with relating to others.  He is the companionable God.  So He makes a world with man at the top.  Because the intention is for this world to be drawn under Christ, as man is drawn into Christ, that the whole creation might be consummated and there be many brothers and sisters for the Son (Romans 8:29).

Don’t believe the anti-creational nonsense that is spoken by many religious people.  To paraphrase a popular explanation of Christianity:  God loves the world and has a wonderful plan for its life.