In the Shade of Two Trees #7: God-the-Provider

As we learned last time, Adam was given dominion over all the earth. This included dominion over “every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.” Genesis 1:29. God also gave “every green plant for food” to every beast of the earth, every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth.” Genesis 1:30. God makes sure to provide for all living creatures by giving them sources of food. And those sources were abundant; the provisions could sustain all of life on the earth.

Genesis 2:8-14 describes the abundance with which God created Adam’s world:

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden…out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food…A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.

Adam was given all these things to enjoy. The narrative tells us of the luxury that surrounded Adam, not only naturally irrigated farmland, but also ample food supplies and precious stones. The conclusion one might draw from this description is that God was providing for Adam not just abundantly, but lavishly. What was Adam gong to do with gold and onyx? What can he buy with precious stones? He has everything already. It seems clear that God wanted to please Adam in every way He could. He wanted all of Adam’s senses to enjoy everything in the garden. God was interested in giving pleasure to God’s human creation.

It would be simple to then infer that God is supremely interested in our pleasure too. After all, if God wanted to give Adam paradise, surely God must want to give us paradise. We’re His children too. And this might be true. But the question is whether those blessings are an end in themselves, or whether those blessings are investments in us so that we may bless others. In short, are we to take pleasure in everything God gives us, or are we also to emulate God in God’s generous giving?

Before we answer this difficult question, it might be helpful to see how God actually gave to Adam and Eve. Remember, God did not stop providing for Adam and Eve after they disobeyed God. When God found they were ashamed, God made leather garments for Adam and Eve to replace their leafy loincloths. Even as God expelled them from paradise, God provides for their needs. Even as God’s beloved creation rejected God, God still provided for them.

The Old Testament is replete with examples of God’s wanting God’s people to remember how God provided for them, so they would not fall prey to pride, to forget that God delivered them. They did not save themselves. For example, God tells the Israelites as they enter the Promised Land to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt and that God delivered them. Deuteronomy 15:15. What was the way in which God suggested the Israelites demonstrate this remembrance? Providing for others liberally: “Give to them as the Lord God has blessed you.” Deuteronomy 15:14.

A further Old Testament example of abundant provision is Abraham’s nephew, Lot. Lot is extolled for one thing: the hospitality he showed to strangers. In Genesis 19, we are told that Lot unwittingly hosts two angels. Lot saw the two men as weary strangers and took them in:

When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way. .. He urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast. Genesis 19: 2-3.

Lot’s hospitality did not end with taking care of the basic survival needs of weary travelers. Lot’s generosity abounded: he prepared a feast for the strangers. And Lot’s hospitality did not end there. When the men of Sodom heard of the strangers Lot was protecting, they wanted to show their dominance over them. They wanted Lot to throw the strangers out of the house so they could have their way with them. Not only did Lot protect the strangers from the local horde, Lot offered his own young daughters to the men in the strangers’ place. As the local men pressed on the door to the house, the angels struck the men blind, so they could not grab the two strangers, Lot, or Lot’s daughters. Because of the town’s desire to rape the strangers, God’s two angels guided Lot and his family out of the city before God destroyed it with fire and brimstone.

The example of Lot illustrates that hospitality may come at a cost. Lot was praised not because he was blessed by God with material wealth. Nor was Lot singled out as a particularly worthy person who deserved a unique plan of deliverance from a smoldering city. Lot was praised because, in spite of his wealth and his divinely inspired escape route, he put the needs of others before his own—and his families’—needs. He lavished attention on traveling strangers. Then, when they were in desperate need, he provided sanctuary. Lot did not rely on his blessings to comfort himself. He relied on God to use his blessing to comfort others.

The Genesis narrative gives us examples of God’s blessings, God’s abundant provision to meet not only our needs, but our desires as well. But, unlike the story of Lot, the story of Adam and Eve leaves our main question unanswered: Does God provide for us because God wants us to feel blessed or because God wants us to emulate God and bless others?

 Next week, we will consider God’s character as a sustainer of life.

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