One of the major themes of the entire Bible is God’s righteous government over all of creation. In our first reading we saw that God is eternal, powerful, righteous, good and merciful; today we add the observation that His government also is eternal, powerful, just, good and merciful.
Therefore it is an almost unimaginable privilege that God has decided to exercise His just government over creation through human beings, a marvel that the psalmist David contemplates in Psalm 8. This surprise appears for the first time in our reading from yesterday: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’… And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’ (Genesis 1:26, 28). God has created us specifically for the purpose of reflecting His just and benevolent government over all creation. And as we will see over the course of the year, this fact has enormous consequences for parenting our families, for managing authority in the workplace, organizing and discipline in our churches, and for the government of our communities and our countries. Long sections of the Bible are going to concentrate on the organization of communities and on law, on the governments of kings and judges, on wisdom as preparation for right government and on directives to God’s people on how we should live: God created us to organize and to govern.
Today’s reading tells us more about the privilege of governing: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Notice the power, authority and loving care with which Yahweh places man exactly where He wants him to fulfill his tasks. Notice, too, the generous invitation given with his assignment: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden’” (Genesis 2:16). He imposes only one rule so that Adam will remember that his authority is granted, not earned, that his authority depends on another higher than his own: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17).
Pause for a moment and notice the tension that runs through this reference to government, a key question that begins right here in the book of Genesis and runs through the whole Bible. It starts here and continues through Genesis, through the entire law of Moses, through the history of the monarchy in Israel, through the preaching of the prophets, through Jesus’ commands right up to the directives in the apostles’ letters and the book of Revelation: Will man submit to God’s eternal, powerful, just, good and merciful government? Will he recognize the justice, goodness and mercy in God’s law? Will he obey God… or rebel? Will he decide that his own righteousness and judgment is superior to God’s? At least in today’s reading, as he names the animals and receives his wife, Adam responds in joyful submission to God’s just government.
If we think a little longer, we will see that this same key question appears in our lives, too. As we read the Bible, are we going to submit to the benevolent government of God revealed on these pages? Are we ready to recognize that God is righteous and has the authority to command us as He pleases in the Bible? Or will we read the Bible only as some interesting ancient artifact, something we’re ready to put aside if it makes us feel uncomfortable? Are we more confident in our own sense of righteousness and discernment than in God’s righteousness and discernment described here?
In tomorrow’s reading we will see more about the first couple’s response to the key question given here. In the meantime, let’s decide that our Bible reading will not be just for informing ourselves about ancient cultural artifacts; let’s ask that it impact us for joyful obedience and worship to the God who is revealed in these pages.