We tend to read the creation narrative as if it were the first story recorded. The obvious reason is it happens to be in the beginning of the bible. Also, it makes sense to put a story of origins there. Creation has to come before anything else. But, what if the creation story wasn’t about the origins of all things? What if there’s a deeper meaning behind this narrative?
I believe there is.
The bible didn’t just fall from the sky with its library of books ordered by genre with chapters and verses. Instead, the bible was put together. It was put together to tell a story that was on the verge of being forgotten.
In the sixth century, specifically in the year 587 BC, Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem, the king was shackled, his sons killed in front of him, all the influential people were gathered, and along with the king, they were sent to exile. Those left were the poor, the useless, and the worthless. And the thing that defined their identity, the Temple, was destroyed.
The Jewish people were deported to a foreign land. They encountered a different culture, different customs, different gods, and different stories of origin. As they were held in captivity, they came to acknowledge this occurred because God was angry with them for their idolatry. The Babylonians took the Jews captive to assimilate them into their culture. This was considered the best way to crush their identity.
In their attempts to keep their identity, the Jews began compiling their traditions and stories, written and oral. It is in this context of exile where the Hebrew Scriptures began to take form. Some of the stories they had gave meaning to their situation. God chose them as a special people, but they rebelled, and so God punished. This was their story and it could not be forgotten. It must be told. And so their identity, their tradition, their situation, their worldview – of promise and rebellion and exile, was included in the make-up of scripture. Scripture became their story.
The Genesis of the story begins with God creating space and earth, sun and water, trees and animals. Environment for habitation. And then God made a man from the source it would live and move and die upon. God gave this man the name Adam. God placed Adam in a delightful land, and gave Adam instructions on how to care for the earth and all it contains. In addition, God warned Adam what would happen if he didn’t follow his words.
Some time after creation of environment and habitation, a woman was made from and for Adam. Her name was Eve. A snake deceived her into disobeying the instructions God originally gave Adam. Adam followed Eve into disobedience. Both of them, the whole human race, rebelled. God cursed them, taking away the good life they had, and cast them out of this land of prosperity and abundance.
There are stories behind stories.
The word Adam isn’t a random name. In the Hebrew, there’s a word very close to it. That word is Adamah, which means earth. Adam is a play on words. Adam, itself is a Hebrew word which means humankind. It is symbolic.
Adam is derived from Adamah.
What if we’re reading the creation story wrong? What if it’s not about how God created the universe, the earth, and all that it has? What if the Jews in exile were trying to communicate something behind this story of creation? Here’s what I think in summary the creation story is saying:
In the beginning God created an environment, a space, a land. Then he made a people who would dwell there. They were highly favored. God then gave them instructions for living in this place. Yet, even though they had the Word, and though God visited them, they soon were tempted and fell into idolatry. Because of their rebellion against the instruction God gave, they were cast out of the land God made for them.
To be a little clearer, God had a land ready for a chosen people, of which they soon occupied. He gave them the Law. He appeared especially to them. Yet, time and time again, they would fall into temptation as a nation to worshipping other gods. God warned them. But they continued to disobey. So God allowed another nation to overtake them, and move them to foreign lands.
This is the story behind the story. Promise. Rebellion. Exile. Up to this point, all the scriptures compiled was meant to tell that story, their story. God chose a people, the people rebelled, God punished.
The creation story is the story of exile. The people in exile formed a story that told about their condition. And they wanted people to know what God expected of them and what went wrong and why it went wrong.
The creation story is not about ex nihilo, or about the creation of one man, or about a literal garden called Eden, or about a talking snake, but it is about the condition of humanity, how we were made and chosen by God, and to honor divine instructions. But we, humans, rebelled. And because of that, we were cursed. We’re not where we’re supposed to be. But deep down inside us, we know that this is not the end. It cannot be the end of us.
Around this time of exile, of depression and soul-searching, prophets began to spring up telling about God’s plan to restore the chosen people to their chosen land. If, and only if, they would again commit to heeding the instructions given before.
God has a plan for you, for me, for everyone. Yes, you’ve made mistakes. We’ve all made mistakes. And you’re unsure what to do and where to go. But, living in exile does not have to be your permanent place. Your dreams might have been shattered but God can glue them back. God had a plan and has a plan. It’s time to cheer up because God wants to free you from your state of exile to a place of joy and happiness. You no longer have to search for who you are – your identity. God can restore your identity. But, only if.