SINCE THE HEBREWS HAD NO WORD FOR ‘UNIVERSE’, MOSES USED THE WORDS ‘HEAVEN AND EARTH’.
“In the book of Genesis [in the Bible], Moses, the great Hebrew prophet and legislator, tells us the story of the origin of the world and of man in the world. Now it was not the intention either of God, Who inspired Moses, or of Moses himself to write a scientific account of the creation and the formation of the universe. Both God and Moses wished to tell us the great and fundamental fact that God is the Lord of the whole universe.
‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth’ (Genesis 1:1). Since the Hebrews had no word for ‘universe,’ Moses used the words ‘heaven and earth’ to describe the fact that God was the Lord and Master of the universe. And then he continued, in the famous account of the six days of creation, to show how God formed the stars in the heavens, the sun, moon and earth, the flowers and plants, the fish of the seas, the birds and animals of the earth, and finally man himself.
The aim of Moses is not to describe in scientific terms the origin and formation of the world as we know it but to emphasise the fact that the whole world comes from the almighty hand of God and depends totally on God. It is quite possible, too, that Moses was interested in combating the false religious doctrines of the pagan neighbours of the Hebrews. In fact he was pointing out to his own people and to the world that the stars and planets, the animals worshipped as gods by the Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians, far from being divinities, were in reality only the handiwork of the one true God. The conclusion which he wishes us to draw is that only the one true God is to be worshipped.
AT THE PRESENT TIME SCIENTISTS TELL US THAT IT HAS TAKEN BILLIONS OF YEARS FOR THE FORMATION OF THE UNIVERSE.
At the present time scientists tell us that it has taken billions of years for the formation of the universe as we now know it. Whether or not this estimate of the age of the physical universe is correct, it is for science to say, if it can. Much more important is the divine revelation given us by Moses that the universe no matter how old it may be is God’s creature, something made in its entirety by God. From this point of view the very vastness of the universe and its almost incredible age only emphasise all the more the power and the grandeur of the God Who made it.
It is interesting, too, to note that according to Moses the universe was made for man. The stars and the sun and the moon were made to give light and warmth to the earth, to divide the day and the night of the earth and to ‘be for signs, and for seasons and for days and years’ (Genesis 1:14). And on the earth itself the plants, the fish, the birds and the animals were made subject to man (Genesis 1:26).
IT WILL NO DOUBT OCCUR TO THE FANCY OF MANY PEOPLE THAT THERE MAY BE OTHER INTELLIGENT BEINGS, PERHAPS EVEN MEN, ELSEWHERE IN THE OUTER REGIONS OF SPACE.
In these days of atomic power when men dream of flying to other planets and even, perhaps, to the stars, it will no doubt occur to the fancy of many people that there may be other intelligent beings, perhaps even men, elsewhere in the outer regions of space. But even if this were so, it would still be true that the universe was made for man. For the stars, the sun and the moon do give light to man, and enable him to mark out the days and the years and the seasons of his life; and the earth itself serves man and is under his dominion.
As Moses tells the story God made the universe for man. He fashioned the earth so that it would be a fit habitation for man. When the world was ready then God proceeded to make man. ‘Let us make man,’ God said, ‘to our image and likeness… And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1:26, 27).
IT IS NOT THE INTENTION OF MOSES TO SET DOWN IN DETAIL A SCIENTIFIC DESCRIPTION.
Moses describes in some detail the creation of the first man and the first woman. ‘And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life; and man became a living soul… And the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it. And the Lord God built the rib which he took from adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam’ (Genesis II:7, 21, 22).
Here again it is important to remember that it is not the intention of Moses to set down in detail a scientific description of the first appearance of man on this earth. Moses is interested only in the religious history of the present race of man. Hence he was not at all concerned with the possibility imagined by some men that races of mankind might have existed previous to the human race known to him or us. Nor, perhaps, did he think of the possibility, so dear to many present-day biologists, that man as we know him might have evolved from some other form of animal life.
No, in this story of the formation of man by God, Moses and God Who inspired him were only concerned to tell us that man as we now know him is the creature of God, made by God, and so totally dependent on God and subject to God. We might add here also that, as the rest of the story shows, the present human race is in its entirety descended from one human couple, Adam and Eve…
WHAT DOES ‘MAN IS MADE IN THE IMAGE AND LIKENESS OF GOD’ MEAN?
What does this mean? In what does the ‘image and likeness’ of God consist? God’s own words give us the clue to His meaning: ‘Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth’ (Genesis I:26).
Man is like God because he has been given a share in God’s dominion over the. World. The whole world is God’s, because He has made it. Because it is His, He governs it, He has dominion over it, He fashions it to His own purposes. But, in creating man, He gave minute a share in His own power and dominion over the world.
Man achieves this dominion over the world by the use of his intelligence and will. Ultimately, then, man is made in the image and likeness of God, because God gave to man the powers of intelligence and will.
GOD GAVE TO MAN THE POWERS OF INTELLIGENCE AND WILL.
In Adam the human race was called by God to play an exalted role in the universe. Through the gifts of intelligence and will which God gave mankind, the race of man was invited by God to share with Him the government of the world.
Nor did God’s generosity to man end here. ‘And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed man whom he had formed. And the Lord God brought forth of the ground all manner of trees, fair to behold, and pleasant to eat of: the tree of life also in the midst of paradise: and the tree of knowledge of good and evil’ (Genesis II: 8-9).
GOD TELLS ADAM AND EVE THAT THEY WILL DIE ONLY IF AND WHEN THEY DISOBEY HIS COMMANDS.
In this paradise of pleasure in which God placed Adam and Eve they possessed wonderful gifts. It seems clear that they were immortal in body as well as in soul, for God tells them that they will die only if and when they disobey His commands (Genesis II:17). Also, they did not suffer from concupiscence, the unruly desires of the body for the pleasures of food and drink and sex, for, as Moses says, ‘And they were both naked, to wit, Adam and his wife: and were not ashamed’ (Genesis II: 25).
Man, as he came originally from the hand of God, was a truly wonderful work of God. In that beautiful garden of paradise Adam and Eve were intelligent and free, co-workers with God in the direction and government of the world, holding stewardship over all the living creatures of the earth, destined to immortality of body and soul. God Himself spoke to them familiarly, surely a sign that He held even more wonderful things in store for them.
IF ONLY ADAM HAD RETAINED FOR HIMSELF AND FOR ALL HIS DESCENDANTS THE WONDERFUL GIFTS HE HAD BEEN GIVEN!
If they had remained as innocent as God first made them, if they had been faithful to their loving and generous God, what might not the history of the human race have been? It is, perhaps, idle to speculate on what might have been. But if man has been able, after perhaps fifty or one hundred thousand years, to achieve the magnificent conquests of the world which we know today, then we can only imagine with awe what the human race might have done in the government of the world if Adam had retained for himself and for all his descendants the wonderful gifts which God gave him in the garden of paradise…
But, as God tells us through Moses, the primal perfection and happiness in which God created man did not last. God had made Adam and Eve intelligent. He had given them minds with which to understand the world and to master it. He had given them rational control of the bodily appetites, of their feelings and emotions. But He had also made them free. Out of love and generosity He had made them, and made them so perfectly. In return He expected from them free love and obedience of their human hearts, their human wills.
GOD GAVE MAN FREE WILL FROM THE START.
How were they tested and how did they respond? Since their reason and will were in perfect command of their lower sensitive appetites, it is clear that they would not fail God by seeking sinfully the pleasures of the body [pleasure for their own individual pleasure’s sake only, rather than for the greater good, the good of all and for God’s glory]. If they were to fail God, it could only be through some deliberate failure of will, some refusal to love or obey God.
WAS THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE A REAL TREE WITH REAL FRUIT?
The exact nature of their failure is not known to us precisely. Moses tells us that God gave them a specific command: ‘Of every tree of paradise thou shalt eat: But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what day so-ever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death’ (Genesis II, 16-17). In the paradise of pleasure Adam and Eve were free to do what they willed except for one prohibition: they were not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
It is not clear whether this tree was a real tree with real fruit, which Adam and Eve were not to eat, or whether the tree is only a symbol under which Moses is telling us that God gave Adam and Eve a specific prohibition. But it is quite clear that God was putting them to the test of their obedience to Him.
SATAN, THE ENEMY OF MANKIND, APPEARS
At this point in the story Satan, the enemy of mankind, first appears. Moses, whether he knew him as Satan, the prince of the devils, or not, presents the evil force which led to man’s downfall under the guise of a serpent. In the paradise of pleasure Satan tempts Eve: ‘Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise? And the woman answered him, saying: Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die. And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death. For God doth know that in what day so-ever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat’ (Genesis III:1-6).
The fateful decision is made and executed. Adam and Eve eat of the fruit which was forbidden to them. Whether they have sinned by eating a real fruit or by disobeying some command of God concerned with something spiritual, we do not know for certain. But it is certain that they have sinned by disobedience. They have acted against God’s command, and so the first human sin has entered the world and given to all human history at least part of its future colour and character.
Because of the tremendous consequences of this first human sin, it will be well to examine this sin more closely. Satan, the prince of devils, a fallen angel as God has revealed him to us, hates God and he hates man whom God has chosen to be his friend and co-worker in the government of the world. He invades the paradise of pleasure in which God has placed Adam and Eve. He tempts Eve to disobey God, and he does it subtly. First he artfully asks why God has forbidden them to eat of one certain fruit. In this way he appeals to their pride and seeks to undermine their loving faith in God. With the seed of doubt thus planted in Eve’s mind, he continues by lying: they shall not die if they eat of this fruit. And then he appeals even more subtly to their pride. He insinuates that God has forbidden them to eat of this fruit because He knows that if they do they will become as gods themselves. Now Adam and Eve were too intelligent to think that they could become God. But when the devil spoke to them in this way they imagined the possibility of achieving some divine perfection which God had not yet given them, even though in a way forbidden to them by God. In effect the devil was saying to them, ‘If you do this, you will become even more like God than you are now.’ This new likeness to God, this is the attraction which Satan holds out to them.
But what could induce two such intelligent beings as Adam and Eve to seek to attain a divine perfection without God and against God’s express command? True, by nature they are the image and likeness of God, and as such in the nature of things they would tend to become as much like God as possible. The attractive possibility of becoming more like God, of sharing even more intimately in God’s dominion is calling strongly to them. But what leads them to disobey the God whose perfection they are desirous of imitating?
Adam and Eve were trapped by the subtlety of Satan. On the one hand he offered them (apparently) a most enticing possibility, a greater likeness to God. On the other hand he weakened their faith in God by telling them that God had lied when He said that they would die, if they ate the forbidden fruit. He also further weakened their faith by insinuating that God was for some unknown reason reluctant to give them something good which they could achieve for themselves. In this malign way the devil was saying to them, ‘Take the law into your own hands and you will become what you want to be, even in spite of God.’ And so because Adam and Eve, bewitched by the possibility of attaining some great goal, lost faith in God and chose to believe Satan, they disobeyed God. Rather than obey the law of God they chose to be a law unto themselves.
The consequences of their disobedience became apparent to them almost immediately. First of all the lower appetites of their bodies rebelled against their reason and will. ‘And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons’ (Genesis III:7). Up to the moment of their sin they had had perfect rational control of the lower appetites of their bodies. This was a special gift which God had given them so that they might more perfectly know Him, love and serve Him for their own happiness. But when they disobey God this marvellous self-control is withdrawn from them by God and they are reduced to that state which is now the common lot of all their descendants. Now, for the first time, they find that their bodily appetites are unruly, and in the graphic example related to us by Moses, perceiving themselves to be naked, they are torn with the violence of unruly desire, they are ashamed of themselves and so they make clothing for themselves, seeking to repress the rebellion of their desires.
THEN DISASTER FOLLOWED UPON DISASTER…
Then disaster follows upon disaster. God, Who knows what has happened and has already begun to punish their disobedience, comes to speak to them. He tells Adam that his passions are now unruly because he has disobeyed and eaten of the forbidden fruit. Adam seeks refuge in blaming Eve for his sin, thereby showing how far he has already fallen from his former manly courage and integrity. Eve, in her turn, tries to place all the responsibility on the devil. But God is not to be deceived. He knows they have fallen through their own free will, through their own fateful decision.
He announces to Eve her punishment, and the punishment of all her daughters to the end of time: ‘I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee’ (Genesis III:16). To Adam He says: ‘Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken; for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return’ (Genesis III:17-19).
The immunity to pain and disease which they had enjoyed in the paradise of pleasure is taken away from them. The bodily immortality which was to have been theirs is also withdrawn. Now they shall return to the dust from which they have come. In large part the dominion of the earth which they have shared with God is no longer theirs. Eve shall bear children in pain, and with difficulty. Adam shll work out his sustenance from the earth, but now only with painful labour and unceasing effort. The earth itself will prove reluctant, as it were, to sustain them.
A PATTERN CONTINUED MUCH OF IN HUMAN HISTORY
In this history of the origin and fall of Adam and Eve we see the reason for so much of human history. Man is a creature called by God to a destiny far surpassing that of the whole material universe. He is called to share, through intelligence and will, through faith and love, in the divine governance of the world. But the great gifts once given him to enable him to do this easily and perfectly are no longer his. And so mankind is forever torn between the nobility of its ambitions and the squalour of its accomplishments.
THE GOODNESS OF GOD WAS NOT TO BE DEFEATED, THOUGH.
Were this all there is to the story of Adam and Eve, the history of mankind would be only the story of the gradual disintegration and destruction of the race of man. But the goodness of God was not to be defeated, even by the evil of man. In the very moment of complete disaster God was merciful. To Satan, who by hatred and cunning had led mankind to self-destruction, God said: ‘I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: it shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for its heel’ (Genesis III:15). In these pregnant words, known as the Protoevangelium, the first announcement of the salvation of mankind, God foretells that the human race, which was first vanquished by the devil in the history of Adam and Eve, shall eventually triumph over the devil and regain the friendship of God.
It is quite possible that neither Adam and Eve nor Moses, who tells us their story, realised the full meaning of God’s words to the devil. But they understood enough to know that God was promising them deliverance, ultimate victory. The subsequent history of the human race will be the history of the struggle of God and man against the devil and against human weakness itself for the salvation of mankind. God, man and the devil met in the paradise of pleasure which God made for man. The devil, who had freely chosen to hate God, freely chose to hate man, the friend of God, and in his hatred he induced man to desert God. Man, for his part, misled by lies and his own selfish ambition, lost faith in God and so ceased to love God. But the infinite love of God will not be thwarted; it will pursue man down through the ages, calling him back to the paradise of pleasure.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959