The Creation of Man and Woman (Genesis 2:4-25)
In Genesis 1, God's acts of creation are presented in outline fashion. The intent is to provide a panoramic view of God's creative activity. The creation of man occurs on the sixth day, but nothing is stated about the manner of the creation or how the creation of men and women are related in time or nature. In Genesis 2, God's specific acts in creating man are detailed, thus providing a focus on the events of the sixth day.
Verse 7 says God "formed" and "breathed into" the man. "Formed" generally indicates the personal handling of the thing being made, as with one's hands, shaping it with the fingers. "Breathed," which is perhaps better translated "blew," indicates a forceful expulsion of air into the man, rather like the force of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation-a sharp and deep exhalation of air. The creation of mankind, therefore, appears very different from the creation of all other things in Genesis 1, for in the other cases we only see God speaking to bring them into life. With man's creation, however, "formed" and "breathed into" indicate a hands-on and personally intimate involvement. Not only were human beings created in a special way, but God had planted a special garden for them to dwell in and tend. So we see a special act of creation producing a special creature, which is then placed into a special environment and given a special work to perform. All these details are intended to impress upon us the loving and intimate involvement of God with man.
Despite the special nature of the creative act involved in creating man, man was created from the dust of the ground and "became a living soul." The words "living soul" are translated from the Hebrew nephesh chaih, which means "creature living" or "living creature." In fact, Genesis 1:20-21 and verse 24 translate nephesh as creature when referring to sea creatures and land animals, and thus man is just another kind of creature, in this respect no different from the beasts of the earth.
This brings out another interesting aspect of the accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2. Throughout the two chapters there is a subtle tension between expressing the special nature of man while at the same time emphasizing man's connection to the earth and his distinction from God. For example, to emphasize his earthiness man is created from the same elements as all the beasts and he receives a similar command to multiply; but to emphasize his superiority man is the last creature created and he is given dominion over all others. To emphasize his earthiness man is created from the dust of the ground; but to emphasize his uniqueness man is created in an especially intimate manner.
Of course, there is another important difference between animals and human beings. Human beings have a spiritual component to their existence. Not to be confused with the false concept of an immortal soul, this spirit is not conscious of itself but, rather, empowers the physical brain with human intellect. This "spirit in man" or "human spirit" is mentioned in a number of verses in both the Old and New Testaments. Interestingly, both the Hebrew word for spirit, ruach, and its New Testament Greek equivalent, pneuma, also convey the sense of "wind" or "breath." So it would make sense that when God breathed into Adam physical life, he also "spiritually breathed" the human spirit into him. It is this spirit that enables man to have a mind in the image of God's, to make moral choices and to have a genuine relationship with God.
The final act of God's love in these verses is the creation of woman. God had provided marvelously for the physical needs of the man He had created. There was never a more healthful climate, a more pleasant environment, a more secure home or a more invigorating work than that within the garden. Yet God had fitted the man with an emotional and intellectual nature that could only be satisfied by companionship. Indeed, God had made man in His own image, desiring the man to experience life within a family-a type of the God-plane family relationship. Thus, God created a suitable companion for the man. (The phrase "help meet" in the King James Version of 2:18 should be understood as "meet help" or "fit helper"-"meet" simply being an archaic adjective meaning fit or suitable. The NKJV better translates this as "a helper comparable to him.") And out of this companionship would come human reproduction to expand the family.
Before creating Eve, though, God seems to have decided to make the man aware of this need for emotional and intellectual companionship. God directed the man to name the various creatures He had made, thereby indicating the man's leadership. (Throughout the Scriptures the bestowal of a name by one upon another indicates the former being over the latter in some sense-as in God naming Adam, Adam naming his wife Eve, God giving new names to Abram, Isaac and Jacob, Pharaoh renaming Joseph, Nebuchadnezzar renaming Daniel and his friends, God naming Jesus and Jesus naming Peter.) Yet at the same time it impressed on the man his own loneliness and need for a companion. God, it must be stressed, was not allowing Adam to seek a mate from among the animals. Rather, in examining the animals, Adam would see their pairings and realize his need for a companion like himself. God then took one of the man's ribs and from it made (the Hebrew is, literally, "built") a woman.
Why did God take a rib? Why not simply fashion the woman from the dust of the ground too? There may have been several reasons, although we can only speculate. First, to fashion the woman from the dust of the ground might have invited argument over whether Adam's dust was different from or superior to Eve's dust-that maybe he was made from rock and she from sand, or something like that. Instead, the making of the woman from the rib of Adam emphasized fact that woman was of the very same essence as man. Second, fashioning man Adam's intended wife from his own flesh would serve as a reminder that neither man nor wife can be whole without the other-that they are a part of each other. Third, to paraphrase the poet Mildred North: "Woman was not taken from man's head, to rule over him, nor from his foot, to be crushed by him, but from under his arm, to be protected, and from near his heart, to be loved." Of course, these remain only guesses.