The first eleven chapters of Genesis are the most controversial portion of the entire bible (who would disagree with that?); so let me state up front my approach in this post:
We will be looking at the creation account from a theological perspective, not an archeological scientific theorist’s one. For the purpose of our subject at hand I don’t care to delve into the creation/evolution debate, and I take for granted that the Genesis account is historically reliable. On that note, my primary concern is with the “symbolism” throughout the text. When the historical author penned Genesis 1-2, what was he trying to communicate? And, as a parallel question, what was the Divine Author communicating? Jointly these questions operate as my primary concern.
A Covenant is a Relationship
Keep in the front of your mind that when I use the term “covenant” I am referring to a “relationship”. But there are different types of relationships so let me clarify:
- I am not referring to a relationship a man has with his dog.
- I am not referring to a relationship an owner has with his employees.
- I am not referring to a relationship a government has with its people.
I am speaking of a relationship similar to a husband/wife marriage (Part 1). But even that is not saying much in our day and age, so again I clarify: I covenant is like a husband/wife marriage relationship as the scriptures ideally imagine it – a bond in blood (“until death do us part”) sovereignly administered (“what God has joined together…” [Mark 10:9] Part 2).
Mankind’s Special Place – Sovereignly Administered
A biblical theologian, Andrew Kulikovsky, summarizes mankind’s unique place this way:
Unlike the rest of creation, the first couple were formed directly by the hand of God. It was God Himself who crafted Adam from the dust of the earth and Eve from Adam’s side. He created our inmost being and knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), and it was He who breathed life into our inanimate bodies (Genesis 2:7). The creation of mankind truly is the climax of God’s creative activities, humans alone are made in the Creator’s own image (Genesis 1:26). We are indeed ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14).
Can there be any doubt about mankind’s unique relationship with God? In Genesis 1:26 we are told that Adam was created as a co-ruler of the earth with God; he was created as the image of God in order that he would reflect God’s likeness (the character and authority of God) into the world.
Benefits of the Covenant
It is good to be friends with the King is it not? To be his right hand man (or woman), to speak with his authority, to carry his scepter and to stand over a portion of his kingdom and rule alongside him. The benefits are vast:
First you are given a territory to rule – “Let them rule… over all the earth” [Genesis 1:26]. Then you are invited into the court of the King, to eat at his very table – “The Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed” [Genesis 2:8]. And finally the King will pronounce a blessing on you with prosperity and success – “He created them male and female and blessed them” [Genesis 5:2].
So the benefits of being in covenant relationship with God are three fold: Authority, Location and Blessing.
- Authority: As image bearers we were created to reflect God’s authority into creation, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” – to paraphrase, “Let us make mankind as reflectors (image bearers) which reflect our character and authority (likeness)” – “and let them rule” (for a fuller explanation see the foot note) [Genesis 1:26].
- Location: First God created Adam; then he gave him authority, and then he placed him in the Garden of Eden – a special place. To be in a covenant relationship with God is to rule from a special place. To eat from his table. To live in his Presence! [Genesis 2:8]. But more than that, when God placed man in the garden he is expected to “work it and take care of it” [Genesis 2:15]. Henri Blocher observes that “in Hebrew, ‘to till’ (work) is literally ‘to serve’… The cultivated garden will be like a song of praise to the God of order and of life, the God of peace.” This “service” was to be mankind’s “spiritual act of worship” [Romans 12:1]. And the phrase “take care” literally means “keep”, “guard” or my personal favorite, “hedge” it.
- Blessing: First mankind is blessed by the king to multiply and to rule [Genesis 1:28]; and Genesis 5:2 says that “He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man.’” – The day they were created was day six, it was a part of Gods “work” week: “For in six days the Lord” worked, but “he rested on the seventh day” [Exodus 20:11]. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. It is very important to observe that on mankind’s first full day on earth he entered God’s rest! He was not created in it (he was created on the sixth day), but he entered it when he entered the land – after he was created.
“Until Death Do Us Part” – Bond in Blood
Genesis records two trees in the middle of the garden: “the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” [Genesis 2:9]. And then
“the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17
This tree served – so far as I can tell – three essential purposes:
- It was to maintain a distinction between God and man and to remind man that God is God and we are not. As O Palmer Robertson writes, “One tree stands in the midst of the garden as a symbolic reminder that man is not God… he is creature, God is Creator.”
- Closely related to the first is the fact that coupled with this commandment came autonomy – free will. Man could choose freely whether to obey God and live or he could choose freely to claim his own deity as a god in his own right and usurp the Almighty’s authority – and die.
- The tree essentially functioned as God’s way of saying – like covenantal marriages in our day – ‘till death do us part’; or to use scriptural jargon, “when you eat of it you will surely die” resulting in Exile from Eden (into the curse) and separation from God.
It is this last reason above that most interests us in discussing the Covenant of Creation. We saw above the mankind’s relationship with God was sovereignly administered; now we see that it is a covenant made as “a bond in blood”. He initiated the covenant between man and himself, and then placed a tree in the midst of Eden as a way of saying, “until death do us part”.
In other words, the covenant in Eden was intended to be eternal (the tree of life), but it was still breakable (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). But if it is broken it can only be broken on pain of death, meaning that the violating party must die.
And as we shall see, die they did.
- What are the three benefits of being in the Covenant of God? (Briefly explain each)
- What are the three reasons for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?
- Explain the significance of “image of God” verses “likeness of God”?
 Creation, Fall, Restoration: A Biblical Theology of Creation; p.183
 In The Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis; p.84-85: “Selem generally refers to a concrete image, a statue, often an idol” whereas “d’mut, ‘likeness’, is made of more abstract elements… it specifies the nature of the image, one which resembles and has analogical features which are not, however, identical.”