Genesis 2 – What did God know and when did he know it?

Or why didn’t God realize that the sheep weren’t going to do it for the Man?

Gen. 2.18   Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air.

This is a part of my slowly developing series on Genesis. I am skipping, for the moment, God’s command to the Man that he not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil since I will address that when the serpent addresses the Woman.

It is always amazing to me how my students and even parishioners, many of whom think they know this story intimately, have never noticed that God, realizing the Man needs a helper, begins with animals and not with the woman. It doesn’t take long, however, to see why the story moves in the manner that it does. It is not, as I cheekily imply in my sub-title, that God does not realize what the Man’s needs are. Rather it is the Man who does not yet understand his needs.

Non Sequitur by Wiley

The process of learning is one that is best done experientially. There are some, and I am not one of them, who can hear some fact or be told a truth and they immediately internalize and comprehend it. Most of us not only benefit from being told something but also require the experience of it ourselves. For example, you could describe in great detail would be like to parachute out of a plane but until I do it for myself I won’t truly know what that experience is. Or, more relevant to this discussion, and all too true in my own life, you could tell me how beneficial exercise is and how much better I will feel having exercised on a regular basis but until I have tried it myself (and let’s face it, for the day or so after I first begin taking such advice) I won’t really know the truth of such assertions.

So the Man does not yet realize what he is missing by not having a helpmate. By going through the process of becoming familiar with the animals  the man begins to understand for himself exactly what a true partner or helper should be like. Each of the animals has its own role and can be a comforter or a helper and even a companion to a certain extent for the men. Yet none are his equal.

The rabbinic commentaries noted this as well. The midrash on this passage found in Ber. Rabbah 17:4 describes the Man’s growing awareness.

Then he paraded them again before him  {Gen. 135}  in pairs, [male and female]. Said he, ‘Every one has a partner, yet I have none’: thus, BUT FOR ADAM THERE WAS NOT FOUND A HELP MEET FOR HIM! And why did He not create her for him at the beginning? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, foresaw that he would bring charges against her, therefore He did not create her until he expressly demanded her. But as soon as he did so, forthwith THE LORD GOD CAUSED A DEEP SLEEP TO FALL UPON THE MAN, AND HE SLEPT (II, 21)

But I would also suggest that it’s not that the Man is getting to know the animals so well that he can recognize that they are not a fit for him. Rather I think that the Man is going to know himself. When I met the woman who would become my wife she and I had both recently been engaged other people. It took us a short few months to realize that we love one another and want to get married to each other. I used to think that the reason for this was because each of us through our period of dating and engagement have gotten to know other people well enough to begin to know what to look for in a spouse. Creating, if you will, a checklist by which one could “shop” for a partner. But, and I have to say I came to this realization through conversation with my wife, it was not that I got to know women better rather than the process of considering whether or not I wanted to marry this woman (not the woman who did become my wife) I was in fact getting to know myself better. Then when I did meet a woman who would become my wife I was ready for her and she was ready for me. We both agree that if we had met even two years earlier than we did it is highly unlikely that we would have even consider dating one another let alone get engaged within six months of meeting each other.

The way Genesis 2 presents the story and the way in which God allows Adam to learn for himself is precisely why I love the Hebrew narrative so much. In fact, I suppose we could say that Genesis itself operates much the way in which God brought the animals before Adam. We are not told ahead of time whether or not a patriarch or matriarch is making the right decision or is in keeping with God’s will for them rather we have to experience the story and their lives as they unfold in the narrative. It is only upon reflection that we can really understand what the text is telling us. Consider whether or not Rebekah was right to conspire with her youngest son against the elder and her husband. The biblical text never tells us whether or not that was the right or wrong thing for her to do. I think, however, that upon reflection we might well come to the conclusion that it was not the proper choice, even though we know that it was indeed Jacob whom God had chosen.

To put it another way, Genesis must be experienced.

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