First Relationships

From the series Breathing Life

A young student at co-op started cleaning my table before I’d finished eating. Realizing I wasn’t moving my food, she politely said, “Excuse me; I need to wipe this table.”

I scanned my area for the usual crumbs, and there weren’t any. I told her, “All clean here!”

She hesitated, the wet wipe hanging limply from her fingers. “But I have to wash here.”

I explained to her that it was her job to wash away dirt and food, but there wasn’t any dirt or food.

She nodded and walked away, but her expression told me she was still perplexed. She was supposed to wipe down the table, and she had not done that. What to do! What to do!

We humans tend to do things because we are told to do them. This behavior begins before we have the maturity to understand the reasons behind what we do. As we get older, we begin to study the principles and concepts we live by. (The sheep-like behavior remains only if we feel pressured to conform or lack impetus to change.)

This account of the first man and woman was not written to teach Adam and Eve; it was written to teach a people who were becoming a nation. They needed to understand where they’d come from and what was expected of them. So, the Author of Genesis 2 sets down a major principle immediately after Adam makes his observation about the woman God had made.

“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

Image by Keriography. Used by permission.

Two relationships are mentioned here. Leaving father and mother refers to the parent-child relationship. The second relationship is a union between Adam and Eve.

The first man didn’t have a mom and dad to leave, and neither did the first woman. So, why does the Author record this rule right after Adam meets Eve? It’s a reminder to me that Adam and Eve are not the audience.

Every word expressed by a writer is made to say something. A writer’s challenge is to deliver a message or concept so that the reader can grasp it, examine it, and, hopefully, use it. The audience is always there in the back of the writer’s mind, the impetus for him/her to change and develop the approach to better communicate with the reader.

Reviewing what I know about the audience of Genesis 2 – a fledgling group of Hebrews who have escaped slavery in Egypt – I can gather they are undergoing a reconstruction. They are developing their own civilization, and the covenant between this first man and first woman is crucial. This marriage covenant is the cornerstone of their societal development. They are a nation establishing laws, rituals, and procedures that will be more advanced than any of the neighboring peoples around them for many centuries.

According to this passage, the marriage relationship takes precedence over the parent-child relationship. The Israelite nation under Moses was organized according to the twelve tribes of Jacob. Sons inherited tribal land from their fathers (and, in some cases, their mother’s first husband’s tribe). This land could be rented out but would always return to the family tribe. So, a son’s relationship with his father and mother was tantamount to his identity as a citizen of the nation. His relationship to his family was extremely important, but this passage makes it clear his relationship to his parents was not to eclipse the union of a man to his wife. This honor in the marriage relationship is depicted in Adam’s feelings toward Eve.

“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.”

She is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. She belongs with him as he belongs with her. She is his companion in life. (Parents are not a person’s life companions, though they hold an honorable position.) Knowing she is made the same as he, his natural behavior toward her would be to treat her as he would treat himself. Her flesh is to be his flesh, meaning he would not want to harm his own body, so he would not harm hers. He would not shame himself, therefore he would not shame her. He would not deprive himself of physical and emotional care; he would not deprive her of that same care.

It’s a basic understanding of a relationship that spans millennia, and that principle is expressed in two sentences. Amazing, isn’t it?

Writing Tip Recap: A writer communicates the message best when he/she keeps in mind the audience to whom it is being written.

This is the last of the Breathing Life series. You may wonder why verse 25 of Genesis 2 is missing. After studying it, I came to the conclusion it fits perfectly with the thought flow of Genesis 3. So, I will keep that for a future series.

For a list of the posts, check the “Breathing Life” page.

*Featured image by Keriography. Used by permission.

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From Surgery to Cloning

I underwent surgery last summer and was given a “clicker” in recovery for a morphine drip. I was told I could use it every six minutes and that it wouldn’t release the drug until the six minutes had passed. (I was certain I’d been told I could use it every six seconds, but Realm assured me it was minutes.) Minute five was murder; I thought I’d never live through those 60 seconds. My body did not take kindly to the morphine, not only because of the rebound/dependence pain in minute five but because my stomach rejected the drug’s influence with a disgustingly vile display of its contents sometime later. The morphine did its job – I cannot imagine how I would have dealt with the pain without it – but it would’ve been nice not to have had side effects.

The first man didn’t experience any of my problems. His was the perfect procedure and outcome.

“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;” – Genesis 2:21

This is God’s second operation. The first was the descriptive “breathing” of life into man. This second one has general anesthesia involved. His deep sleep is a trance-like state in which Adam is completely inert. The phrase “and he slept” means to be languid or slack. This is not the same as drowsiness of sleep, translated ‘slumber’ in many passages. It is also not the sleep meaning ‘to dream’ or ‘to talk while dreaming.’  This word depicts a sleep that can lead to death. It is so deep the person is unaware of what is going on around him/her and feels nothing.

Surgeons use anesthesia because they don’t want their patients to be aware of what is happening, have a memory of it, or experience any pain. This is to keep the patient completely relaxed. The medical community still does not fully understand the reasons why anesthesia works to disconnect the brain from the body, yet more is known about the response of the body to types of anesthesia and its stages than could possibly have been known when this was written. The Creator’s anesthesia required no synthetic chemicals, no concerns about getting the right dose, and no adverse side effects. This is another example of how the Creator is attentive and involved with His creation. This man is being cared for in the best possible manner. Jehovah God could have taken Adam’s rib by any means He chose to use. Man was His creation, after all. Should it matter to Him whether Adam was nervous, panicked, tortured when He removed the rib? Why would it matter to God whether Adam healed immediately and had no painful aftereffects? This gentleness and consideration shows a Creator who has a tender feeling toward His human creation. Adam’s pain – any discomfort in this new life experience – matters to Jehovah God.

Another phrase I had to look up is “closed up the flesh instead thereof.” The meaning for closed up is the absolute shutting or sealing up of the body. The picture given is one in which the Creator is thoroughly closing the gap where He removed the rib. No stitches. No waiting for the site to heal itself. No tears, pulls, or reopening. Adam is going to have the fastest recovery known to man when he wakes.

The Author chooses precise words to describe what Adam goes through. He also gives a step-by-step account of the procedure. The detail in so few words fascinates me. I’ve noticed that the most climactic accounts in the Bible are written concisely.

“God created the heavens and the earth.”

“And man became a living soul.”

“Jesus wept.”

“And they crucified him.”

The lesson for every writer is that monumental/deeply moving events cannot be expressed by forced emphasis or an abundance of description.

“And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.” – Genesis 2:22

And the woman is finally created! She was built (that’s the meaning of made) from the rib of Adam. This is an exciting detail when I consider what is known about bone marrow today. I have heard the romantic speculation that the first woman was made from a rib bone because it was close to Adam’s heart. I personally find the scientific discoveries that prove the rib bone to be rich in blood and immune cells, and carrying Adam’s genetic material, far more intriguing.

“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.” – Genesis 2:23

The first statement out of Adam’s mouth depicts his feelings, which helps me relate to his emotions. The Author doesn’t make the mistake some writers do of saying, “Adam was happy” or “He was mind-blown.” I can see those two feelings in what Adam says. He knows Eve was created from his body. She belongs because he belongs. She was cloned from him, yet she is woman – the female version. They are genetically perfect and complete, and their DNA is from the same source.

Adam’s operation removes a ton of skepticism surrounding the first woman’s birth. If she had been made from the dust of the ground, like Adam, it would have opened the door to questions about her DNA. Was it different from his – perhaps genetically weaker, more vulnerable, less or more intellectually capable?  She was directly formed from his genetic material.

She is presented as the match that fills the void. She is help for Adam. She is meet (or fitting) for Adam. She is a gift directly from the Creator. The man is no longer the solitary human who thinks and feels above the rest of God’s creation. She is now beside him, able to relate to him, experiencing their new world.

Writer Recap:

  1. Good writers use succinct terms in their narrative to capture important events.
  2. Rather than telling the reader what the character feels, let the reader experience the character’s feelings through his/her own words and/or actions.

*Featured image by Keriography. Used by permission.

The First Scientist

From the series Breathing Life

The Author of Genesis introduces a loose thread in the fabric of the story with a bit of dramatic pause. The Creator’s thoughts are recorded for me, proof-positive that Jehovah God not only designed His creation with certain needs but considers those needs. It’s not that He doesn’t already know what Adam needs; God wants me to know it matters to Him.

“And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” -Genesis 2:18

Am I surprised to find out mankind was designed to need companionship? Not really. But it is awing to see that need as a priority to the Creator. I’ve talked about the meaning of the word ‘good’ before. Jehovah God doesn’t make semi-good or sorta-good things, so He’s going to create what is best for the man He made. He shows me the best thing for him is a companion who will provide assistance. The word for ‘help meet’ means just that, a fitting helper. This companion must be, literally, “just his type.” But God doesn’t create this help meet immediately. He brings all the animals for Adam to inspect and name first.

“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:” – Genesis 2:19a

The first chapter of Genesis makes it clear the animals were formed before God chose to create the first man. As I pointed out previously, Chapter 2 is not focused on reiterating the chronology of chapter 1. Like the garden, the animals were created with mankind in mind, and God brings them to Adam to name. These land animals and birds were formed by the same Creator, but they aren’t like Adam. Sea creatures and creeping things aren’t even mentioned; they are clearly of a different ilk and unsuited for Adam’s companionship needs.

By the way, this verse is the first time Adam’s name is used. ‘Adam’ is the Hebrew word for ‘man.’ This confused me. How did the translators decide when to translate it ‘man’ and when to use ‘Adam’? Looking at this entry where ‘Adam’ is introduced, it seems the translators chose to use the name Adam when the second variety of mankind, the female, was implicated in the passage. So, Adam, the male version of mankind, is looking for a companion. From here on the name Adam is used so that he will not be confused with any other of his kind.

By Eviatar Bach (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” – Genesis 2:19b

Adam won’t be confusing any animals either because now they have names, too. I cut verse 19 in half like this because this last section is fascinating. On the surface Moses is saying, “And whatever Adam called every animal, that’s what the animal’s name was.” Well, duh. But, really, Adam is given the authority to tag every creature he discovers. See the weighty meaning? He graduates with his PhD in Zoology on Day 6. He knows more about the world than any other being living on it. And he established his naming system in one day1. (Poor Linnaeus was dead by the time his system took hold of the scientific world.) Today, I can’t even name my own child without a bunch of forms to fill out. Even a namesake star will cost me $19.99!

“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.” – Genesis 2:20

This lets me know that God gave him the whole find-a-buddy tour, and Adam found the creation wanting. Wait a minute! God doesn’t leave His creation wanting, does He? Yes, He does. He will leave me wanting so that I can know what it means to be without something I need. I don’t know how to value what I need if I don’t go without sometimes.

Ah, there’s the second major story tip. Every good story has a character who is lacking something. When the character becomes aware of what is missing, the reader will want to follow along as he/she searches. This creates its sense of value when what is missing is found. It also develops the deep sense of satisfaction the reader feels at the end.

Recap:

  1. Use dramatic pause to introduce important aspects to your story.
  2. Withhold what a character needs to develop its value and a satisfying resolution.

I’ll add one more obvious one: You should probably name your characters. Yes, some writers have chosen not to, but, unless you are the experimental type and just have to show how many descriptors you can come up with, please give me a name to attach to that character. Book clubs will thank you, too.

*Featured image by Keriography. Used by permission.

You Have One Rule

From the series Breathing Life

Roland Muller, writing about the culture of ancient Petra, points back to the Roman system of government as the beginning of Western culture, saying, “Roman law introduced the concept that the law was above everyone, even the lawmakers. This idea was not totally new. The Jews under Moses understood this.”1

This concept of law is first introduced in the garden.

“And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”

The narrative describes the man’s first role and purpose. He is to take care of that gorgeous, new garden. According to Genesis 2:5-6, it had been maintained for the three days before man existed, so this job was ready and waiting. No pulling up roots, clearing out, or replanting needed.

There are two things Moses introduces that every writer must introduce early on. First, he establishes the characters’ roles. God is the Creator and man is the keeper of the garden. Second, Moses introduces the rules. Every story has rules or guidelines. Sometimes they are tacitly understood or vaguely expressed, but the reader must comprehend them. Without these guidelines, the actions of the characters are meaningless.

Next, Moses introduces the concept of the law of God alluded to in the quote from Muller.

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

This passage places a clear-cut distinction between the role of the Creator and the role of man. Jehovah God commands. Mankind has no input as to what those commands are, only the choice of whether to obey them or disobey them.

I see a Creator here who is not only involved in bringing man into existence, but involved in teaching him. God had the authority to command the man to obey any number of rules that could have caused him great suffering. He didn’t. Instead, He places him in a fresh, new garden with delicious, nutritious fruit trees and gives him one rule: Don’t eat from one tree. This one rule introduces choice to the man. It was an opportunity for the man to grow in his relationship with his Creator. By choosing not to eat off the tree, he could freely express his devotion to Jehovah God. And considering the abundant choices for food in the garden, it wasn’t a big sacrifice on the man’s part. But it had to be his choice.

garden-sign

It’s also worth noting the name of the tree. It’s not named “the bad tree” or the “evil tree.” The tree itself was a teaching tool. That was its purpose. It had no innate badness. Plus, the name “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” uses some undisguised foreshadowing. It tells me the man will have to face a choice. It also tells me the Author knows what the man’s choice will be.

If the Creator knows the man will choose wrongly when faced with doing what is good and or doing what is evil, then why did He create this man? I think this question comes naturally. The thickness of Genesis alone tells me the choice is not the unhappy ending; it is the beginning of the quest.

Good versus evil is the conflict that has been at the crux of writers’ works since words have been put to paper. The message of Genesis 2 becomes clearer when looking at the man’s role and the one rule. The Creator is not setting up the man fail, but to thrive and succeed. Like most readers, I want the character to succeed in the end, so that good will ultimately conquer evil. Isn’t that what keeps a reader reading?

Recap:

  1. Define character roles early in the story.
  2. Guidelines must be established, even if they are tacitly understood.
  3. Use foreshadowing to announce conflict, such as good versus evil.

*Featured image by Keriography. Used by permission.

  1. ‘Honor and Shame in a Middle Eastern Setting.’ http://nabataea.net/h%26s.html. I don’t agree with some of Muller’s opinions in the above-mentioned writings, just so you know.

Setting Coordinates

From the series Breathing Life

“And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of the land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel (Tigris): that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.” – Genesis 2:10-14

public-domain-images-free-stock-photos-high-quality-resolution-downloads-public-domain-archive-7Was that a wordy set of directions? Did you skim over it? It doesn’t mean much to me because I don’t know these places. They aren’t giving me a picture in my mind of the setting, but I love that aside Moses gives them. “…Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of the land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.” Like any wealth-loving humans, you know their ears perked up at that. (“Oh, yeah! That Havilah!”)

Maybe the river Pison doesn’t relate to you, but what if I told you about a Native American girl living in the 1800s?

“Talula and her tribe never explored the Grand Canyon to the west or went beyond the Mississippi River to the east. One year, her tribe migrated as far as South Dakota, so she may have been near Mount Rushmore — you know, where our four presidents are inscribed in stone today. When she and her Chahta family returned south, they settled in the marshlands near the Gulf of Mexico.”

Now that I’ve given you U.S.-savvy readers some boundaries, is it easier to map it out in your mind’s eye? This is what Moses was doing. He was using current-day names and locations so the children of Israel would know the general area where the first man and woman lived. It wasn’t some legendary Atlantis.

Eden was a land in the Israelites’ memory, as well. We call it the Garden of Eden because that’s how Moses described where it was to the people; it was in the land of Eden. But it was just a garden on earth for Adam and Eve. It was only when they and their descendants began to walk the earth that places started getting named. And don’t we humans love to name things after ourselves? (Because of this, Oregon residents are probably still getting flack about that town, Boring.)

Recap: When setting your setting, remember readers need coordinates that are relevant to their interests.

Naming gets serious next time.

*Featured image by Keriography. Used by permission.

With Mankind in Mind

From the series Breathing Life

Consider this statement from Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell when he explains the condition of the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky:

“When the area was first settled, the plateau was covered with a dense primeval forest.”

Does this mean when the area was first settled – at that moment – someone covered the plateau with dense forest? Before the area was settled, no dense forest existed? This is obviously not the meaning of the sentence at all. Records from previous explorers tell us the primeval forest was already there when the area began to be settled. Sometimes the meaning of a sentence requires looking at its context and timeline.

“And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.” – Genesis 2:8

So, did God plant a garden after man was formed or before? Looking back at the order of creation from Genesis 1, vegetation would have been planted on day 3, and man would have been created on day 6. This is considered a discrepancy by some readers. Some think God planted a garden the day Adam came along. Others get really zealous with this and say the whole creation story is a bust. These misconceptions assume the narrative is still focused on the chronological order of Genesis 1.

Instead, Chapter 1 is an accelerated run-through of how the world and the universe came about. It’s the ultimate synopsis. The writer in me yearns to be so concise yet thorough. By separating the story of mankind after telling about the creation of the world, the narrative of Genesis 2 is way easier to understand. Imagine if all of this had been placed into chapter 1. It would’ve read something like, “On the third day, while God was making these grasses, herbs, and trees, and creating the laws of reproduction for the plants, He designed a garden, a dwelling He was preparing for man and woman—who hasn’t been made yet. The trees He grew in this garden were going to be good to look at and good to eat for Adam and Eve—whom, again, you know nothing about…” This explanation didn’t belong in the first chapter. God waited until I knew about the creation of humans to begin to describe man’s birth and his home. That way I can understand a little at a time. Isn’t that the only way to get the whole picture, a little at a time? The writer side of me is eating this up!

“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.” – Genesis 2:9

So, I just mentioned the trees in the previous paragraph and totally ruined my build-up. I said, “the trees in this garden were going to be good to look at and good to eat for Adam and Eve.” Maybe you just accepted that assertion, but it is an assertion that God made them for mankind’s benefit. Nowhere in this passage does it say that. (Plus, Adam and Eve’s names haven’t been introduced yet.) In the past I’ve just taken it for granted that it was made for the first man and woman. Readers often take for granted descriptions that involve the senses, but writers never should! An appeal to the senses is the most natural way to connect with a reader. We experience life through our senses, and our needs are bound up in those senses, as well.

apple-tree-14709299832f4The Creator is capable of creating something from nothing. Physically, ‘nothing’ is an enigma for me. If I can’t see, taste, touch, smell, or hear it, I have trouble comprehending it. God doesn’t have my problem. Does He need pleasant-looking trees or a tree growing food for Himself? I gather He’s not hurting for pretty things or for food to fill an empty human stomach. He’s thinking in terms of human needs and senses when the passage says the trees were “pleasant to the sight” and “good for food.” So, it’s a reasonable deduction that God had humans in mind, even though the way I introduced it by jumping ahead in my narrative was lousy. The writer of Genesis does a much better job. By telling a little at a time without introducing ideas that need to be developed first, the narrative becomes more crisp and understandable. Great writing lesson, eh?

Two trees are mentioned in the passage that God separates from the rest of the pretty, nutritious ones. They have some additional purpose, but I’ll wait to talk about them later. Ah, a cliffhanger! Annnd… I’m a nerd.

Recap:

  1. A writer should build onto the skeletal outline of the story’s introduction.
  2. Use descriptive words that appeal to a reader’s senses.

*Featured image by Keriography. Used by permission.

The First Operation

From the series Breathing Life

Time truly seems to begin in that first breath of man. There’s a maternal quality as the Creator introduces each first of newborn mankind.

adamimage

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

If I didn’t know anything about descriptive writing and imagery, I’d still be able to tell this verse is an attention-getter. It explodes in my brain with its appeal to the senses. He “formed man of the dust of the ground” and “breathed into his nostrils.” Even the meanings behind the phrases are too deep to capture in one read-through: What really is “the breath of life”? What is “a living soul”? These phrases and words evoke a picture of a life-giving operation the Creator is performing.

Repeating what I said about Genesis 1, I’m not seeing a Creator here who stands back and watches. He is actively involved in the process. I’m given this intimate picture of breathing into the first man’s nostrils the breath of life. In Genesis 2 mankind is the focus. The Creator is going to flesh him out. Literally.

Genesis chapter two introduces the Creator’s name for the first time. It appears first in verse 4, “…in the day that the LORD God made….” In verse 7, the LORD God is the subject actively creating man. Some versions of the Bible insert “Jehovah” for LORD.1 In Hebrew, Jehovah was written in four letters, YHVH. This four-letter word, “the tetragrammaton,” is found more than 6,000 times in the Bible. So it’s clear the Creator wants His people to know His name. Unfortunately, we do not know for sure how to pronounce it because there weren’t vowels in the Hebrew script, and pronunciation was passed down through tradition. God’s name is sometimes pronounced Jehovah, Yehowah, Yahweh, and sometimes shortened to Yah or Jah (as in, Hallelujah). It means, ‘the existing one,’ which depicts His infinite nature. He always existed in the past. He exists now. He will always exist in the future.

The phrase ‘LORD God’ is used exclusively when the Creator is identifying Himself to His people as the cause of some effect. Here He is the cause of the creation of the world and the life of mankind. The ‘God’ in ‘LORD God’ is ‘elohim’ in Hebrew (or elohiym). ‘Elohim’ is the plural form of the Hebrew word ‘god.’ An entity perceived as superior to mankind in power and understanding is called ‘god.’ This Hebrew word is used in the Bible when the writer is speaking of any gods. For example, when Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, decides to follow Jehovah, he says, “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods (elohim)…” (Exodus 18:11).   So, ‘ Naming Himself “Jehovah God” for us is our Creator’s way of identifying Himself to His people. He is the existing one Who is superior to mankind in power and understanding. Later, the writer of Psalm 83 will pen,

“That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.” – verse 18

Recap: As a writer, I should focus on the characters, their natures, and their relationships at the beginning of the story.

*Featured image by Keriography. Used by permission.

  1. Out of respect for His holiness, the letters YHVH were replaced with the letters for Lord (ADNY) in the Hebrew language.