Westminster Theological Journal 60 (1998) 1-21.

        Copyright © 1991 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.   


                     BECAUSE IT HAD RAINED:

                          A STUDY OF GEN 2:5-7




                                            MARK D. FUTATO*


In 1958 the Westminster Theological Journal published "Because It Had Not

Rained," an exegetical study of Gen 2:5 by Meredith G. Kline.1 The

article demonstrated that according to Gen 2:5 ordinary providence was

God's mode of operation during the days of creation. Since God's mode of

operation was ordinary providence, and since, for example, light (Day 1)

without luminaries (Day 4) is not ordinary providence, the arrangement of

the six days of creation in Genesis 1 must be topical not chronological. The

current article is complementary to Kline's.2

            Why does Gen 2:5 bother to tell us that certain kinds of vegetation were

absent “for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth?" This question has

intrigued and perplexed me for some time. Is the absence of rain mere

geographical decoration or quasi-irrelevant data that sets the stage for the

really important material that follows? Or is this information that is founda-

tional to the narrative and its theology? The answer to this question has

played a major role in my interpretation of Gen 1:1-2:25.

            In this article, I intend to examine the logic, structure, and semantics of

Gen 2:5-7, and to draw out several integrated conclusions: 1) It rained at

the time of creation according to Gen 2:5-7. So we should discard the idea

that the Bible teaches that it did not rain until the flood of Noah's day.

2) The structure of Gen 2:5-7 provides the key to understanding the struc-

ture of the whole of Gen 2:4-25, which turns out to be topical not chrono-

logical. 3) The structure and topical arrangement of Gen 2:4-25 in turn

supports the argument that the arrangement of Gen 1:1-2:3 is also topical

not chronological.3 4) These structural considerations lead to new insights


Mark D. Futato is associate professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological in



   1 Meredith G. Kline, "Because It Had Not Rained," WTJ 20 (1958) 146-57.

   2 My article is also complementary to the more recent article, Meredith G. Kline, "Space

and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony," Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith 48 (1996)

2-15. These two articles often arrive at the same conclusions from different lines of argumentation,

and each contributes details left undiscussed or undeveloped in the other.

   3 There may be some chronological sequence in these chapters, but such chronology is

"accidental," i.e., the author's primary intention is to narrate the material topically.





into the polemical theology of Genesis 1-2. Genesis 1-2 serves, among other

purposes, as a polemic against Canaanite Baalism. In sum, Gen 2:4-25 and

Gen 1:1-2:3 are topical accounts that polemicize against Baalism, because it

had rained.4


I. The Argument of Gen 2:5-7


Many of the details of Gen 2:5-7 have been studied and correctly inter-

preted, but in my estimation an interpretation that integrates all parts into

a coherent whole has not yet been set forth. When the parts are interpreted

in the immediate and broader literary contexts, as well as the geographical

context of the Ancient Near East and the theological context of Canaanite

religion, puzzles are solved and a coherent picture emerges. Verses 5-7 articu-

late a two-fold problem, reason for the problem, and solution to the problem.5

Verse 5a articulates the problem: "No siah-hassadeh had yet appeared in

the land, and no ‘eseb-hassadeh yet sprung up." Some commentators make


   4 Some might object that there is a methodological problem from the beginning: letting a

latter text (Gen 2:5-7) control the interpretation of an earlier text (Gen 1:1-2:3). I could have

written this paper in the exact opposite order, examining the structure of Gen 1:1-2:3, drawing

out the implications for the parallel structure in Gen 2:4-25, and then using this material to

answer the question regarding "no rain" in Gen 2:5. My starting with Gen 2:5-7 reflects the

point at which I entered the interpretive process some time ago. 2) All Scripture is to be used

to interpret all Scripture. We often know more about the beginning of a story once we have

gotten to the end. An excellent example of this is found in Numbers 19, which describes the

water of purification ritual. Verses 1-6 describe the burning of the heifer; vv 7-10 describe the

removal of the ashes to a purified place outside the camp; vv l l-13 describe the use of the waters

of purification for those who have come in contact with a dead body. At this point the reader

is bewildered as to the relationship between the ashes and the water, since the text makes no

connection between the two. In vv 14-19 it becomes clear, however, that in the ritual some of

the ashes are put in ajar to which water is added, then this water is sprinkled on the unclean

people and/or objects to bring about the ritual cleansing. It is only in the light of the latter

material (vv 14-19) that the earlier material (vv 11-13) is comprehensible. The question is not,

"Ought one to begin in Genesis 1 or Genesis 2?" The question is, "What is the interpretation

that does most justice to both texts?"

   5 The NIV, NLT, and NAB treat vv 5-7 as part of the same literary unit, and they begin a

new paragraph at v 8; so too Victor P Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (NICOT;

Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 150-60. From a text linguistics point of view the use of the

waw+subject+predicate construction at the beginning of v 5 marks this material as background

information; see Alviero Niccacci, The Syntax of the Verb in Classical Hebrew Prose (JSOTSup,

86; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990) 35-41. There is not unanimity as to where the

background information ends and the main action begins. Some scholars take the waw-

relative in v 7 as the marker for the first main action; see Niccacci, Syntax, 39; Gordon Wenham,

Genesis 1-15 (Waco, TX: Word, 1987); and C. John Collins, "Exegetical-theological Notes for

Christian Faith in an Age of Science," unpublished (1997) 10 n50, who follows Niccacci and

Wenham. But this is not necessary, since the waw-relative can be used to represent sequence

within backgrounded material; see, e.g., Gen 47:13-14; Judg 11:1-3; 1 Sam 5:1. That v 7

belongs with vv 5-6 will become clear as the argument unfolds. For now, note the chiastic

arrangement of the clause types that ties v6 (the reason) to v 7 (the solution): verbal (ki lo’

himtir  ’lohim + nominal (we’adam 'ayin) + nominal (we’ed ya’aleh) + verbal (wayyisr).

BECAUSE IT HAD RAINED                                   3


no attempt to specify the kinds of plants these two phrases have in view, but

take them as general references to vegetation.6 Claus Westermann, on the

other hand, has provided some specificity:


   siah describes mainly but not exclusively shrubs or the wild shrubs of the steppe

   (Gen 21:15; Job 30:4, 7), and ‘eseb-hassadeh plants that serve for food or   

    domestic plants.7


But even greater specificity is attainable. The phrase, siah-hassadeh, refers to

the wild vegetation that grows spontaneously after the onset of the rainy

season, and ‘eseb-hassadeh refers to cultivated grains.

At the end of the dry season, and after five months of drought, the hills

of Israel are as dry as dust, and the vegetation is brown. The farmer's field

is as hard as iron, so plowing and planting are impossible. Then come the

rains, resulting in the hills of the steppe being clothed with verdure (Job 38:25-

27). The rains also soften the soil and allow the farmer to plow and plant

(see Ps 65:9-10). It is in this geographical context that we must understand

siah-hassadeh and ‘eseb-hassddeh.8

The word, siah, occurs only four times (Gen 2:5, 21:15; Job 30:4, 7). From

the three texts outside Gen 2:5 it is clear that siah refers to desert vegetation,

i.e., to uncultivated vegetation that grows spontaneously as a result of fall


    6 E.g., Ronald F Youngblood, The Book of Genesis (Baker: Grand Rapids, 1991), 34.

    7 Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11 (Augsburg: Minneapolis, 1984) 199. See also Hamilton,

Genesis, 154.

    8 The account in Gen 2:4-5 is being narrated from the perspective of one living in the

Syro-Palestinian Levant, as is clear from v8 where we are told that the garden was planted

"in Eden, in the east." "In the east" presumes a fixed reference point somewhere in the west.

Since the garden was located somewhere in Mesopotamia, the western reference point is the

Syro-Palestinian Levant in general and the land of Canaan in particular, the land in which

the audience for whom the story was originally written was about to live. In a complementary

fashion, Theodore Hiebert, The Yahwist's Landscape: Nature and Religion in Early Israel (New

York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 36, makes the following point: "One key detail

is the reference, in the epic's opening sentence, to rainfall as essential for the growth of

vegetation.... Yet when the beginning of the Yahwist's epic is compared to the beginnings

of origin narratives from other cultures, this mention of rain stands out as a distinctive charac-

teristic of J's narrative. In the great river valley civilizations of the ancient Near East, Egypt

and Mesopotamia, where agriculture was dependent on the inundation of lowlands by flooding

rivers and on irrigation systems related to them, narratives focus on these phenomena rather

than on the rainfall that is the ultimate source of the rising rivers. A creation text from Ur,

in just such a series of introductory clauses describing not yet existent realities as those that

begin the Yahwist's epic, focuses on the key phenomena of irrigation agriculture:

In those days no canals were opened,

No dredging was done at dikes and ditches on dike tops.

The seeder plough and ploughing had not yet been instituted

for the knocked under and downed people.

No (one of) all the countries was planting in furrows.

   By contrast, J's reference to rain alone reflects the rain-based, dryland farming character-

istic of the highlands on the shores of the Mediterranean where biblical Israel came into

being." Hiebert's point is well taken, apart from his views on Pentateuchal sources.



rains. In Gen 21:15, for example, Hagar placed her young son under "one

of the bushes (siah)" in the desert of Beersheba. The two occurrences in Job

30:4 and 7 are similar,

3Haggard from want and hunger,

they roamed the parched land

in desolate wastelands at night.

4In the brush (siah) they gathered salt herbs,

and their food was the root of the broom tree.

5They were banished from their fellow men,

shouted at as if they were thieves.

6They were forced to live in the dry stream beds,

among the rocks and in holes in the ground.

7They brayed among the bushes (siah)

            and huddled in the undergrowth.

The "parched land" and "desolate wastelands" of v 3 make clear that siah

refers to uncultivated vegetation of the desert or steppe.

So Westermann was being too cautious when he said "siah describes

mainly but not exclusively shrubs or the wild shrubs of the steppe." There is no

evidence to suggest that siah refers to anything other than "wild shrubs of

the steppe."9

On the other hand, ‘eseb-hassddeh occurs in texts like Exod 9:22, 25 which

have cultivated grain in view,

       22Then the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that

       hail will fall all over Egypt--on men and animals and on everything growing
       in the fields (‘eseb-hassadeh) of Egypt. . . ." 25Throughout Egypt hail struck  

       everything in the fields both men and animals; it beat down everything

       growing in the fields (‘eseb-hassadeh) and stripped every tree.


Verses 31-32 provide specificity for the more general ‘eseb-hassddeh,

31The flax and barley were destroyed, since the barley had headed and the
            flax was in bloom. 32The wheat and spelt, however, were not destroyed,

because they ripen later.

Here ‘eseb-hassddeh clearly refers to cultivated grains like flax, barley, wheat,

and spelt. Similarly, and closer in context to Gen 2:5, cultivated grains

(‘eseb-hassddeh) are in view in Gen 3:18 where the farmer will eat the grain

that is the result of his arduous labor.10


    9 Hiebert, Landscape, 37, is thus correct when he says that siah-hassadeh "is used for vege-

tation that grows in semiarid and arid regions, the low bushes and dwarf shrubs characteristic

of areas that lack enough rain to support intensive agriculture." But his explicit connection

with pasturage of sheep and goats has no support in the context.

    10 See Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1994), 169.  

The New Living Translation translates ‘eseb-hassadeh in Gen 2:5 as "grain," as does

Hiebert,  Landscape, 37; but contra Hiebert, the contrast between siah-hassadeh and ‘eseb-

hassadeh is not

BECAUSE IT HAD RAINED                                   5


This proposed contrast in Gen 2:5 between wild vegetation and culti-

vated grain finds immediate confirmation in v 5b.

Verse 5b articulates the two-fold reason for the problem with impeccable

logic: "because the Lord God had not sent rain on the land, and there was

no man to cultivate the ground." There was no vegetation that springs up

spontaneously as a result of the rains, because there was no rain. And there was

no cultivated grain, because there was no cultivator. So that the reader will not

miss the two-fold reason corresponding to the two-fold problem, the Hebrew

text focuses the reader's attention on the two-fold reason, the absence of rain

and the absence of anyone to cultivate the fields, by placing himtir ("sent rain")

and 'adam ("man") in the clause-initial position in their respective clauses.

A coherent picture is emerging: there was no wild vegetation because there

was no rain, and there was no cultivated grain because there was no cultivator.

By this point the author has created an expectation in the mind of the

reader: the two-fold problem with its two-fold reason will be given a two-

fold solution. Yet, here is where virtually all interpretations fail for lack of


Verses 6-7 provide the two-fold solution: "So [God] caused rain clouds

to rise up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground, and

the Lord God formed the man. . . ." Verse 7 says, "the LORD God formed

the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the

breath of life, and the man became a living being." Here lies the solution

to the second prong of the two-fold problem and reason. The logic is cogent

and the picture is coherent: "no cultivated grain had sprung up ... for

there was no one to cultivate the land ... and the LORD God formed the

man." This is all rather straight forward and uncontested.

The crux is the meaning of the word 'ed in v 6. Scholars have proposed

numerous meanings for ‘ed,11 but "stream" seems to have won the day.12

"Stream" can not possibly be correct for two reasons: 1) The text does not

say that the problem was a lack of water in general, a problem which could

be solved by water from any one of a variety of sources, for instance, a

stream. The problem was a lack of rain in particular, because in the ancient

Syro-Palestine Levant rain was the sine qua non of vegetation, especially wild

vegetation. 2) "Stream" makes nonsense out of such a well-constructed and

tightly argued text. If "stream" is understood, the sense is something like

"no wild vegetation had appeared in the land ... for the LORD God had

not sent rain ... but a stream was arising to water the whole surface of the

land." If a stream was present to water the whole surface of the land, then


between animal husbandry and agriculture, but between vegetation that requires rain only

and that which requires a farmer in addition to rain.

   11 See Westermann, Genesis, 200-201, for an overview.

   12 See Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 17;

Youngblood, Genesis, 35; Westermann, Genesis, 201; John J. Scullion, Genesis: A

Commentary for Students, Teachers, and Preachers (The Liturgical Press: Collegeville,

MN, 1992), 44.



there was ample water for the appearance of wild vegetation, and the

reason clause ("for the Lord God had not sent rain") is completely irrele-

vant and illogical.13

Though Gen 2:5-7 primarily connects rain with wild vegetation, in real-

ity rain is also the prerequisite for cultivated grain in the life of the ancient

Hebrew farmer (see Deut 11:8-17). Since rain is the prerequisite for ‘eseb-

hassadeh as well as for siah-hassadeh, and since Adam will eventually ‘eseb-

hassadeh according to Gen 3:18, Adam must have experienced rain. Once

again, if "for the LORD God had not sent rain" is to make any logical sense,

rain must have fallen in Adam's experience.14

So v 6 is begging to be interpreted as a reference to rain. The expectation

is for something like, "no wild vegetation had appeared in the land ... for

the LORD God had not sent rain ... so God sent rain." On this point

Mitchell Dahood was right. Stimulated by the association of the obscure

Eblaite NI.DU with rain (ga-sum; Hebrew gesem) and the association of

Hebrew ‘ed with rain (mtr), Dahood proposed reading NI.DU as Semitic

i-du and understanding both the Eblaite i-du and the Hebrew ‘ed as "rain

cloud."15 Whether or not Dahood is correct in his interpretation of the

Eblaite evidence,16 he is correct in taking Hebrew ‘ed as "rain cloud," as

can be demonstrated from the literary and climatic contexts in which ‘ed

occurs in the MT itself.17

The only other recognized occurrence of Hebrew 'ed is Job 36:27,18 which

the NIV translates,


     13 Kline, "Space," 12, says, "Gen 2:6 tells of the provision of a supply of water, the absence

of which had previously delayed the appearance of vegetation.... Verse 6 must then be

relating a new development, not something concurrent with the situation described in verse

5. For otherwise verse 6 would be affirming the presence of the supply of water necessary for

the survival of vegetation at the very time when verse 5b says the absence of vegetation was

due to the lack of such a water supply."

   14 It is beyond the scope of this paper to examine other biblical accounts of creation that

testify to the presence of rain from the beginning, but see, for example, Ps 104:13 and Prov 3:19-20,

and Mark D. Futato, "Sense Relations in the `Rain' Domain of the Old Testament," in Mark

S. Smith, ed., Essays in Honor of Aloysius Fitzgerald (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic Biblical

Association, forthcoming) and idem "Dew," in Willem G. VanGemeren, ed., The New Inter-

national Dictionary of Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 2.363-64.

   15 Mitchell Dahood, "Eblaite I-Du and Hebrew 'Ed, 'Ram-Cloud'," CBQ 43 (1981) 534-38.

   16 See David Toshio Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis I and 2 (JSOTSup, 83;

Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989) 95-97, for a recent criticism of Dahood' s proposed

Semitic etymology. The only criticism offered by Tsumura that has any bearing on my argu-

mentation is his third point, "[Dahood's] translation, `So he made a rain cloud come up' is

not syntactically acceptable" (96); but the consecutive nature of this clause is not an essential

part of the argument, and see my footnote note 29, which counters Tsumura's assertion regarding

its acceptability.

    17 The biblical evidence can stand on its own and does not need support from comparative


   18 Dahood, "Rain Cloud," 537-38, also reinterprets the personal name matred (Gen 36:39;

1 Chr 1:50) as "Rain of the Cloud," with an elided aleph. He cites several theophoric names

with a "rain" component. There is also the simple Hebrew name gesem (Neh 2:19).

BECAUSE IT HAD RAINED                                   7


     He draws up the drops of water,

which distill as rain to the streams (‘ed).


The NIV translates 'ed here with "streams" in keeping with its rendering

in Gen 2:6. A footnote, however, offers an alternative: "distill from the mist

(‘ed) as rain." The alternative in the footnote is certainly closer to the true

sense. It correctly recognizes the sense "from" for the preposition le,19 but

"mist" ("water in the form of particles floating or falling in the atmosphere

at or near the surface of the earth and approaching the form of rain")

cannot be the sense of ‘ed here, since mist does not "distill as rain (matar),"

especially as "abundant rain" (see v 28). The ancients knew as well as we

that rain distills/drops from clouds, as Eccl 1:3 makes clear,

If clouds are full of water,

they pour rain upon the earth.

Dahood, translates Job 36:27,

When he draws up drops from the sea,

they distill as rain (matar) from his rain cloud ('ed).20


Such a rendering not only makes sense in the narrow confines of the verse

and Syro-Palestinian meteorology, but note how well it fits the context,

27When he draws up drops from the sea,

they distill as rain from his rain cloud. (Dahood)

28The clouds pour down their moisture

and abundant showers fall on mankind. (NIV)


Note how a hinge is formed by v 27b ("rain cloud") and v 28a ("clouds").

This hinge connects the beginning of the cycle (evaporation in v 27a) with

the end of the cycle (abundant rain on the land in v 28b). Clearly, the text

does not picture mist distilling as rain or drops of water distilling to streams,

but abundant rain falling from rain clouds.

Given that ‘ed has the sense "rain cloud" in Job 36:27, where it is collo-

cated with rain (mtr), it is certainly plausible that ed has the same sense in

Gen 2:6, where it is likewise collocated with rain (mtr; Gen 2:5). The plausi-

bility of this conclusion is confirmed by the fact that Dahood was not the

first to understand ‘ed in the sense of "rain cloud;" the ancient Targums

consistently render 'id with Aramaic ’nn ("cloud")!21


    19 See John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) 475, and Marvin

H. Pope, Job (AB 15; Carden City, NY: Double Day, 1965), 273.

   20 Dahood, "Rain Cloud," 536.

   21 Tsumura, Earth, 94. For Onkelos, see Alexander Sperber, ed. The Bible in Aramaic, Based

on Old Manuscripts and Printed Texts (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992), 1.2; for Pseudo Jonathan, see

E. G. Clarke, ed. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan of the Pentateuch: Text and Concordance (Hoboken,

NJ: Ktav, 1984), 2; for Neophiti I, see Alejandro Diez Macho, ed. .Neophyti 1: Targum

Palestinense Ms de la Biblioteca Vaticana (Madrid: Consejo Superior De Investigaciones

Cientifieas, 1968) 1.8.



An immediate objection arises, however, if we translate Gen 2:6, "A rain

cloud came up (qal of ‘lh) from the land," since rain clouds do not literally

come up from the land. So, for example, David Tsumura has said,

       On the other hand, ed is described as "coming up" (ya’aleh) from the earth

('eres), either from the surface of the earth or from underground. Thus, ‘ed,

the water from below, is clearly distinguished from rain water, the water

from above, in Gen 2:5-6.22

But consider a text like Ps 135:7,

He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth ('eres);

he sends lightning with the rain

and brings out the wind from his storehouses.

The verb translated "makes rise" in v 7a is the hiphil of ‘lh, and the word

for rain in v 7b is matar. Ps 135:7 thus provides a close parallel for Gen 2:5-6,

showing that clouds do rise from the land, at least in terms of how things

appear to an observer standing on the land. Clouds appear on the horizon,

whether the horizon is a plain or a mountain, and thus give the appearance

of rising from the land. The seventh time Elijah's servant looked out over

the Mediterranean he said a "cloud as small as a man's hand is rising (‘lh)

from the sea" (1 Kgs 18:44), not literally rising from the sea, of course, but

rising in terms of appearance, since the cloud was rising in relation to the

sea that formed the western horizon. Compare also Jer 10:13 || 51:16,

When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar;

he makes clouds rise (hiphil of ‘lh) from the ends of the earth ('eres).

He sends lightning with the rain (matar)

and brings out the wind from his storehouses.

In light of these texts, I am also inclined to agree with Dahood23 when

he takes ya’aleh in Gen 2:6 (used in the context of mtr and 'eres) as a hiphil

with God as the subject for the following reasons: 1) Ps 135:7 and Jer 10:13

use the hiphil of ‘lh + "clouds" as the direct object with God as subject in

the context of matar and 'eres, and thus the legitimacy of collocating the

hiphil of dh + "clouds" is established, 2) God is the subject of the preceding

himtir (Gen 2:5) and the following wayyiser ("formed;" v 7), so continuity of

the subject would result,24 and most significantly 3) God would be the


Pseudo Jonathan says, "But a cloud of glory came down from beneath the throne of glory, and was

filled with water from the ocean, went up again from the earth, and sent rain down and

watered the whole surface of the ground;" periphrastic elements are italicized in Michael Maher,

trans. Targum Pseudo Jonathan: Genesis (The Aramaic Bible IA; Collegeville, MN: The

Liturgical Press, 1992), 1A.22.

   22 Tsumura, Earth, 93.

   23 Dahood, "Rain Cloud," 536.

    24 While continuity of the subject is not required (see 2:21 and Collins, "Exegetical-

theological Notes," 13 n79), such continuity is a consideration along with the other two factors.

BECAUSE IT HAD RAINED                                   9


explicit solver of both the problem of no rain and the problem of no cultiva-

tor--God caused the rain clouds to rise and God formed the cultivator.

A second objection to taking ‘ed as a reference to rain (cloud) would be

that Gen 2:10 says a "river" watered the garden, not rain. In fact, the

repetition of the hiphil of sqh in v 6 and v 10 is part of an argument for taking

ed as a reference to the river of v 10.25 The repetition, however, can be

explained as a means of connecting the source ("rain clouds;" v 6) with the

result ("river;" v 10). But even if 'ed is defined by the "river," the presence

of rain simply becomes an unargued presupposition of the text. This is so

because the ancients were as well aware as we are that precipitation is the

source of river water (see, for example, Matt 7:25, 27). Moreover, the word

for "river" in our text, nahar, is typically used for perennial rivers like the

Euphrates. Since such rivers are fed by rain (and melting snow in the

surrounding mountains), the presence of a nhr would be proof of the pres-

ence of rain rather than an objection to it. The burden of proof rests

squarely on the one who would wish to argue that something other than a

precipitation-fed river is in view in the use of the word nahar in Gen 2:10,

since the word is never used for anything other than a precipitation-fed

river in the Hebrew Bible. But ultimately the resultant illogical text (as

discussed above) when 'ed is taken as "stream" outweighs all other con-

siderations and precludes understanding ‘ed as a reference to a river or


Meredith Kline has adopted Dahood's interpretation of ‘ed as "rain

cloud" and has further suggested taking the imperfect of '1h in an inceptive

sense,26 "he began to make rain clouds27 arise." Grammatically the incep-

tive sense is possible,28 and contextually the inceptive sense is required, for

if there had been rain clouds previously, there would have been rain and

the reason clause ("for the LORD God had not sent rain") would be irrele-

vant and illogical.

            As with the second prong of the two-fold problem and reason, so also with

the first prong, a coherent picture emerges: "no wild vegetation had ap-

peared in the land ... for the Lord God had not sent rain ... so29 he began

to make rain clouds arise from the land and water the whole surface of the



    25 See Cassuto, Genesis, 104.

   26 Kline, "Space," 12.

   27 I am taking the singular as a collective.

   28 Bruce K. Waltke, and M. O'Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona

Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 31.2c.

    29 For the use of waw + non-predicate + predicate in a consecutive clause, see GKC §166a;

while most of the examples are of volitives, Prov 30:3b is not, weda’at qedosim ‘eda  ("so I do

[not] know the Holy One"), waw+direct object+imperfect. The consecutive nature of the

clause is not essential to the argument; the clause could (with less likelihood) be adversative;

for an adversative clause introduced with waw following a negative clause, see GKC § 163a and

Paul Jouon and T. Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Subsidia Biblica 14; Rome: Ponti-

fical Biblical Institute, 1991), §172a.



1. Summary

Gen 2:5-7 is quite logical, highly structured, and perfectly coherent:

Problem                                Reason                       Solution

1) No wild vegetation   -->   1) No rain         -->   1) God sent rain

2) No cultivated grain   -->   2) No cultivator --> 2) God formed a cultivator


II. Implications for the Reading of Gen 2:4-25


The narrative of Gen 2:4-25 flows at a steady pace, moved along by a

sequence of waw-relative verbs. The "most obvious and frequent" use of

the waw-relative is "that of simple chronological succession."30 "That is,

when a wayyiqtol verb is used, the story usually takes an incremental step

forward along a timeline."31 So, the prima facie reading of Gen 2:4-5 is

chronological. A clear exception to the apparently chronological sequencing of

material is the information provided in vv 10-14, pertaining to the river; this

section is marked as non-sequential and circumstantial in the normal manner:

by the use of the waw + subject + predicate construction (wenahar yose').32

External considerations (comparing Gen 2:4-25 with Gen 1:1-2:3) and

internal considerations (the flow of the narrative in Gen 2:4-25), however,

disallow a strictly chronological reading of Gen 2:4-25.

An external example of dischronology is found in Gen 2:19a, "Out of the

ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of

the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them."33

The Hebrew verbs translated "formed" and "brought" are waw-relatives,

resulting in the prima facie sequence of God's forming (wayyiser) of Adam

(v 7a), followed by God's forming (wayyiser) of the animals (v 19a). A straight-

forward reading of Gen 2:19, in other words, puts Gen 2:4-25 in conflict

with a chronological reading of Gen 1:1-2:3, where the animals were formed

before the man (Gen 1:24-27). One may resort to the use of the waw-

relative for a past perfect in this case to harmonize the two texts,34 but a


   30 S. R. Driver, A Treatise on the Use of the Tenses in Hebrew: And Some Other Syntactical Questions

(2nd ed.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1881), 80. See also Waltke and O'Connor, Syntax, §33.2.la.

   31 Randall Buth, "Methodological Collision Between Source Criticism and Discourse Analysis:

The Problem of ‘Unmarked Temporal Overlay' and the Pluperfect/Nonsequential wayyigtol,"

Biblical Hebrew and Discourse Linguistics (ed. Robert D. Bergen; Dallas, TX: Summer Institute

of Linguistics, 1994), 138.

     32 See Buth, "Collision," 140, and Niccacci, Syntax, 35-41. See also C. John Collins, "The

Wayyiqtol As ‘Pluperfect': When and Why," TB 46 (1995) 118. Sequence would have been

expressed by the waw-relative, wayyese ; see Jouon and Muraoka, Grammar, § 159d-e.

   33 NASB. The same sense is found in the KJV, NKJV, 1901 ASV, RSV, and NRSV

    34 See Collins, "Wayyiqtol," 135-40, for a discussion of the issue in general and his appli-

cation to Gen 2:19 in particular. The waw-relative can be used for the pluperfect in a limited

set of environments: when there is lexical repetition or when knowledge of the real world leads

to the conclusion that an explanation of a previous event or situation is being provided; see

Buth, "Collision," 147. Buth, "Collision," 148-49, argues that Gen 2:19 does not meet the

BECAUSE IT HAD RAINED                                   11


waw-relative is not the obvious syntactic choice for dischronologized material,

as Gen 2:10 has already shown. The point is that while the prima facie

reading is chronological, a closer reading (aided by an external comparison

with Gen 1:1-2:3) leads us to the conclusion that the prima facie, chrono-

logical reading is not correct. The author is guided at this point by concerns

that are not chronological.35  For, in keeping with the style of the text, had

Moses been concerned about strict chronology and the chronological har-

mony of Gen 1:1-2:3 with Gen 2:4-5, he could have syntactically signaled

the dischronology of Gen 2:19 with the waw + subject + predicate construc-

tion, as in Gen 2:10, or with a relative clause containing a perfect verb for

the past perfect, as in Gen 2:8 ('aser yasar, "whom he had formed").

A key internal consideration confirms that strict chronology is not the

organizational control for Gen 2:4-25. Having formed Adam (v 7a), God

proceeded to place Adam in the Garden (v 8b),


     7Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his

      nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 8And the Lord God

      planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom

      He had formed.36


But then in v 15 we read,

      Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to

      cultivate it and keep it.31


Again, the verb translated "took" in v 15 is a waw-relative, that, if taken

to indicate chronological sequence, would result in Adam being placed in

the garden in v 8 and then being placed in the garden a second time in v 15.

I suppose one could argue that Adam was put in the garden in v 8, was

removed from the garden or that he left the garden without our being told,

and was subsequently put back in the garden in v 15, but such straining to

maintain a chronological reading of the text is unwarranted, especially


criteria for temporal overlay. See also Waltke and O'Connor, Syntax, §33.2.3 for a general


   35 Using the waw-relative for the pluperfect instead of the usual constructions (waw +

subject + predicate or the perfect in a relative clause) serves to elevate the material to a

main-line situation in the narrative, rather than demoting the material to a subordinate level;

see Buth, "Collision," 148. An author may use the unexpected waw-relative form for a variety

of reasons. Collins, "Wayyiqtol," 139, argues that the communicative effect in Gen 2:19 is to

emphasize the anthropocentric nature of the story. A better explanation seems to be that

introducing the forming of the animals at this point creates dramatic tension by raising the

question, "Will a suitable helper for the man be found among the animals?" The answer is,

"But for the man, no suitable helper was found!" (v20b). Then, after this dramatic delay, the

suitable is helper is made, and the man exclaims, "zo’t (This one [as opposed to the previous

animals])! happa’am (This time [as opposed to the previous parade])!" (v23).

   36 NASB. The same sense is found in the KJV, NKJV, 1901 ASV, RSV, and NRSV.

    37 NASB. The same sense is found in the KJV, NKJV, 1901 ASV, RSV, and NRSV.



since there is an easier solution, one that is explicable within the conven-

tions of Hebrew style.

Gen 2:4-25 provides an example of the Hebrew stylistic technique of

synoptic/resumption-expansion.38 A Hebrew author will at times tell the

whole story in brief form (synopsis), then repeat the story (resumption),

adding greater detail (expansion). Such is the case in Gen 2:4-25.

Gen 1:1-2:3 is the prologue to the entire Book of Genesis,39 and Gen 2:4

is the heading to Gen 2:4-4:26, the first of ten "toledot" sections that provide

the structure for the Book of Genesis as a whole.40 Gen 2:5-7 provides the

setting for Gen 2:8-25 in particular. Gen 2:8 is a synopsis of the whole that

is resumed and expanded in Gen 2:9-25.

The synopsis has a two-fold nature, in keeping with the two-fold nature

of the introductory vv5-7. First, God planted a garden (v 8a), then he placed

in the garden the man whom he had formed (v 8b). This synopsis with its

focus on vegetation and the man in the garden is clearly integrated with--

and flows from--the preceding concern with the lack of vegetation and the

lack of a man to cultivate the ground. In other words, the coherent picture

that emerged in vv 5-7 continues to manifest itself in the synopsis of v8.

Gen 2:4-25 is not a second account of the creation of the heavens and the

earth, but is rather an account that focuses on the planting of a garden and

human life in that garden (vv 9-25), as the introduction anticipates and the

synopsis articulates.41

Verses 9-14 resume and expand v 8a, the planting of the garden. Verses 15-

25 resume and expand v 8b, the putting of the man in the garden.

Verses 9-14 resume and expand v 8a. In v 9a the planting (nt’) of the

garden is detailed in terms of God causing to sprout (smh) from the ground

"every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food." Pleasing to

whose sight and good for whose food? The man's sight and his food, obvi-

ously. In addition, God caused the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge

of good and evil to sprout (v 9b); both of these trees find their meaning in

relation to the man as well. Not only does v 9 pick up the first half of the

two-fold synopsis in v 8a, but it also picks up the first half of the two-fold

problem in v 5a: there was no vegetation. Verses 10-14 go on to describe the

river that waters the garden and that then divides and flows through such

places as Havilah, Cush, and Ashur: places where people live. The gold and

precious stones are of value to the people who would live in these places and


   38 Herbert Chanan Brichto, Toward a Grammar of Biblical Poetics: Tales of the Prophets (Oxford:

Oxford University, 1992), 13-19.

   39 Ian Hart, "Genesis 1:1-2:3 As a Prologue to the Book of Genesis," Tyndale Bulletin 46

(1995) 315-36, and Kline, "Space," 11.

    40 See Meredith G. Kline, in Donald Guthrie and J. A. Motyer, ed., "Genesis," The New

Bible Commentary (3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 83, and Sarna, Genesis, 16-17.

   41 I understand Gen 2:5 as having a global reference that would parallel the situation prior

to Days 3b and 6b, i.e., before God created vegetation (Day 3b) and people (Day 6b); see


BECAUSE IT HAD RAINED                                   13


to those with whom they would trade. Gen 2:9-14 describes a garden of

vegetation clearly designed for human habitation.

Verses 15-25 resume and expand v 8b. Verse 15 repeats v 8b with different

vocabulary and adds the explicit purpose for placing the man in the gar-

den: "to cultivate (‘bd) it." Not only does v 15 pick up the second half of the

two-fold synopsis in v 8b, but it also picks up the second half of the two-fold

reason in v 5b: "there was no man to cultivate (‘bd) the ground." Verses 16-

17 explicitly connect the man and the vegetation, as the two were implicitly

connected in v 9. The remainder of the text (vv 18-25) provides the details

of how God created a suitable helper for the man in the garden. By the end

of Genesis 2 the man and the woman are living blissfully in the garden.


1. Summary


Gen 2:4-25 is a highly structured topical account with a two-fold focus

on vegetation and humanity. The two-fold problem of no wild vegetation and

no cultivated vegetation (v 5), owing to the two-fold reason of no rain and

no cultivator (v 6), provisionally solved in a two-fold way by the sending of

rain clouds and the forming of a man (v 7), is roundly resolved in the

two-fold synopsis of God planting a garden and putting the man in the

garden to cultivate it (v 8), and the two-fold expansion with the same focus

on vegetation and humanity (vv 9-25).


III. Implications for the Reading of Gen 1:1-2:3


Gen 1:1-2 and 2:1-3 form a frame around the creation account. The

initial sentences of the opening and closing sections with their repetition of

"the heavens and the earth" form an inclusio.

Genesis 1 begins with the grand affirmation that in the beginning God

created everything. Like Gen 2:5-7, Gen 1:2 provides the setting for the

following material. Parallel to Gen 2:5 with its two-fold problem, Gen 1:2

presents a two-fold problem: 1) the earth was "unproductive and unin-

habited"42 and 2) "darkness was over the surface of the deep." Both of


    42 Bruce K. Waltke, "The First Seven Days: What Is the Creation Account Trying to Tell

Us?," CT (August 12, 1988) 43 and Cassuto, Genesis, 22, argue against over interpreting this

phrase as having two distinct referents. But Tsumura, Earth, 17-43, has made a compelling

case for understanding the phrase to refer to the earth as unproductive and uninhabited; note that

at the end of Day 3 the earth is productive ("The earth produced vegetation;" 1:12), and at

the end of Day 6 the earth is inhabited ("And God said, `Let the earth produce living crea-

tures;"' 1:24), and thus the problem of the earth being "unproductive and uninhabited" has

been resolved in a symmetrical way. The topic of another paper would be to trace this

protology of "unproductive and uninhabited" through the typology of Israel as the new

people in the new fertile land to the eschatology of the new creation inhabited by a people no

one can number.



these problems are resolved in the following material, just as the two-fold

problem of Gen 2:5 was resolved in the text that follows it.

Gen 2:1 signals the end of the account by means of the repetition of "the

heavens and the earth." Gen 2:2-3 then brings us to the telos of the text,

God's Sabbath rest.

Gen 1:3-31 tell the story of God's eight creative acts in six days.43 Day

1 recounts the first creative act ("And God said, ‘Let there be light"'), Day

2 recounts the second ("And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse"'), then

Day 3 recounts the third and fourth ("And God said, ‘Let the water under

the sky be gathered to one place and let dry ground appear"' plus "And

God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation’”). Like Day 1, Day 4 recounts

a single creative act, the fifth ("And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the

expanse of the sky"'); like Day 2, Day 5 recounts one, the sixth ("And God

said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures and let the birds fly above

the earth"'); like Day 3, Day 6 recounts two, the seventh and the eight

("And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures"' plus "And God

said, ‘Let us make man in our image’”). This arrangement of 1 + 1 + 2

followed by 1 + 1 + 2 makes the parallel nature of Days 1 through 3 and

Days 4 through 6 obvious.

The parallels go beyond that of the number of creative events and days,

however. There are other obvious parallels between Days 1 through 3 and

Days 4 through 6. The creating of light on Day 1 parallels the creating of

the luminaries on Day 4. The creating of the waters below and the sky

above on Day 2 parallels the creating of the fish and the birds on Day 5. The

creating of dry land on Day 3a parallels the creating of land animals on Day

6a, and the creating of vegetation on Day 3b parallels the creating of

mankind on Day 6b.

It may seem that the parallelism breaks down at the end, because vege-

tation and mankind may not seem like much of a parallel. But when one

recalls the two-fold focus on vegetation and humanity in Gen 2:4-25, the

parallelism becomes evident. The parallelism between vegetation and people

is not only evident in the text but is highly significant for the theology of the

text (see below).

The first three days find their telos in the creation of vegetation on Day 3b,

and the second three days find their telos in the creation of humanity on Day

6b. Thus Gen 1:1-2:3 has the same two-fold focus as Gen 2:4-25, a focus on

vegetation and humanity. Rather than being two disparate accounts from two

disparate sources, Gen 1:1-2:3 and Gen 2:4-25 form a highly integrated

literary unit. Rather than being a second creation account, Gen 2:4-25 is

properly read as a resumption and expansion not of Day 6 but of Days 3b

and 6b taken together as a unit.


    43 For a schematic presentation of this well known point see Henri Blocher, In the Beginning:

the Opening Chapters of Genesis (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1984), 54-55.

BECAUSE IT HAD RAINED                                   15


Day 3b speaks of the creation of vegetation (dese’) in two broad kinds:

"seed-bearing plants" (‘eseb mazria’ zera’) and "trees that bear fruit" (‘es

peri’oseh peri).44  Day 6b specifies that people are permitted to eat from both

kinds of vegetation: "seed-bearing plants" (‘eseb zorea’ zera’) and "every

tree that has fruit with seed in it" (kol-ha’asaser-bo peri-ha’es). So Days 3b and

6b are bound together by linguistic repetition as well as by thematic con-

ception. So too, the people of Day 6b are bound to the vegetation of Day

3b through the motif of food.45

Gen 1:3-31 is topically arranged. Granted 1) the common focus in Gene-

sis 1 and 2 on vegetation and humanity, 2) the general parallels between

Days 1 through 3, 3) the specific parallels between Days 3b and Day 6b,

4) the fact that Gen 2:4-25 resumes and expands Days 3b and 6b taken

together, and 5) the topical nature of Gen 2:4-25, we should not be surprised

by the suggestion that the coherent reading of Gen 1:1-2:3 (that is, the

reading that coheres internally as well as externally with Gen 2:4-25) is

topical rather than chronological. Such a reading is confirmed by some

further details from Days 1 and 4, as well as by the theology of Gen 1:1-2:25.

The parallelism between Days 1 and 4 goes beyond the general corre-

spondence between the creation of light on Day 1 and the creation of the

luminaries on Day 4. What did God accomplish on Day 1 by means of the

creation of light? "God divided the light from the darkness" (wayyabdel

elohim ben ha-‘or uben hahosek), and the result was "day" (yom) and "night"

(layla). So by the end of Day 1, God had successfully divided the light from

the darkness and established the sequence of day and night. Now, what was

God's purpose in creating the luminaries on Day 4? We are given a variety

of purposes, e.g., they will serve as signs and will rule the day and the night.

But what is the overarching purpose? The overarching purpose is indicated

by the repetition of "to divide" (lehabdil) in v 14 and v 18, a repetition that

forms an inclusio around Day 4. In v 14 we are told that God created the

luminaries "to divide the day from the night" (lehabdil ben hayyom uben

hallayld). But God had already divided the day from the night on Day 1!

In v 18 we are told that God created the luminaries "to divide the light from


    44 Whereas Gen 1:11-13 divides all vegetation into two general groups (non-trees and trees),

Gen 2:5 divides all vegetation into two other groups (uncultivated and cultivated); both

divisions are based on ordinary observation. It is clear by this point, moreover, that Gen 2:5

interfaces with Gen 1:1-2:3 at the end of Day 3a (when there was 'eres but no vegetation) and

the end of Day 6a (when there was no man); see David Toshio Tsumura, "Genesis and Ancient

Near Eastern Stories of Creation and Flood: An Introduction," I Studied Inscriptions From Before

the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Gen 1-11 (ed. Richard S.

Hess and David Toshio Tsumura; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1994), 28-29, who situates

Gen 2:5  at Gen 1:9-10, when the waters were cleared from the land but there was not yet any

vegetation, but does not see the connection with Day 6b.

     45 The man and the woman being permitted to eat from the trees in Genesis 1 is an obvious

setting of the stage for Gen 2:16-17, where prohibition regarding eating from the tree of the

knowledge of good and evil is added to permission regarding eating from other trees; see Kline,

"Space," 11.



the darkness" (lehabdil ben ha' or uben hahosek). But God had already divided

the light from the darkness on Day 1! These linguistic parallels between

Day 1 and Day 4 must not be overlooked. Either God's work on Day 4 is

redundant, reaccomplishing the same thing he had already accomplished

on Day 1, or the accounts of God's work on Days 1 and 4 are two different

perspectives on the same creative work.

      The forming and stationing of the sun, moon, and stars are attributed to day four.

      Their functions with respect to the earth are also stated here, first in the fiat

      section (Gen 1:14,15) and again (in reverse order) in the fulfillment section (Gen

      1:16-18). They are to give light on the earth and to rule by bounding light/day  

      and darkness/night, as well as by demarcating the passage of years and

      succession of  seasons. These effects which are said to result from the

      production and positioning  of the luminaries on day four are the same effects

      that are already attributed to  the creative activity of day one (Gen 1:3-5). There

      too daylight is produced on the earth and the cycle of light/day and

      darkness/night is established.46

The repetition of language binds the work of the Days 1 and 4 together

into a single activity.

       In terms of chronology, day four thus brings us back to where we were in day

       one, and in fact takes us behind the effects described there to the astral

       apparatus that  accounts for them. The literary sequence is then not the same as

       the temporal sequence .47

But the account of Day 4 adds information to that given on Day 1: the

luminaries are the sources of the light created on Day 1, and there are

subordinate purposes for the creation of the luminaries as well. In other

words, Days 1 and 4 are another application of the synopsis-resumption/

expansion technique employed on a variety of levels in Genesis 1 and 2.

There is a consistent style of narration employed in both texts: just as Gen

2:15 is not chronologically sequential to Gen 2:8b, but is a repetition with

additional information regarding the placing of the man in the garden, so

Day 4 is not chronologically sequential to Day 1, but is a repetition with

additional information regarding the creation of light.48


   46 Kline, "Space," 7-8.

   47 Kline, "Space," 8.

   48 A rarely discussed but important text that bears on the question of a chronological

reading of Gen 1 is job 38:4-7,

            4Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?

Tell me, if you understand.

5Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!

Who stretched a measuring line across it?

6On what were its footings set,

or who laid its cornerstone-

7while the morning stars sang together

and all the angels shouted for joy?

   This text assumes the creation of the stars before the founding of the earth and

before the separation of the seas and dry land; see Ps 104:5-9 for this same architectural picture of the

BECAUSE IT HAD RAINED                                   17


One might object that had Moses wished to represent Gen 1:14-31 as an

overlay of Gen 1:3-13 he would have begun v 14 with the expected we’elohim

‘amar (waw + subject + predicate), and that the use of the waw-relative

indicates that the events of Day 4 are temporally sequential to those of

Days 1 through 3. But as we have already noted, the waw-relative (here

wayyo'mer) can be used for temporal overlay when either lexical repetition

or knowledge of the real world signals such an overlay.49 Here both criteria

are met: lexical repetitions abound between Day 1 and Day 4, and light

without luminaries is not part of the real world in which the original audience



1. Summary

Gen 1:3-31 is a coherent account of creation that has been arranged

topically to focus the reader's attention on vegetation and humanity. This focus

sets the stage for the sequel, Gen 2:4-25, which resumes and expands upon

this two-fold focus in a variety of ways, one in particular being the role that

rain plays in the production of the vegetation that people eat. These literary

conclusions have significant implications for understanding one key aspect

of the theology of the text.


IV. Implications for the Theology of Genesis 1-2

The literary structure of Genesis 1 and 2 is significant for the theology of

the text in a variety of ways. The primary reason for lifting the event of Day

4 to the main event-line (rather than marking it grammatically as a tem-

poral overlay) and shaping the account after the pattern of a week is clearly

the sabbatical theology of the text. The theology of the Sabbath is certainly

central to the theology of Gen 1:1-2:3. In his self-published work, "King-

dom Prologue," Meredith G. Kline spells out the sabbatical theology of

Gen 1:1-2:3 and its relation to the parallel arrangements of Days 1 through

3 and Days 4 through 6.51 He also articulates the sabbatical theology of

Gen 1:1–2:3 in his recent article.52 Here I


founding of the earth and the separation of the seas and dry land. Job 38-39 should give us

all pause, if we think we fully comprehend God's ways at the time of creation.

   49 Buth, "Collision," 147.

   50 The objection that supernatural light (e.g., the light of God's glory as in Rev 21:5) is in

view in Days 1 through 3 has been adequately countered by Kline's argument that such an

interpretation "distorts the eschatological design of creation history, according to which the

advent of God's Glory as the source of illumination that does away with need for the sun awaits

the Consummation" ("Space," 9); see footnote 30 where Kline points out that in the con-

summation there will be light from the Glory and not from the sun, but that this is also joined

with the absence of night, a situation that clearly does not pertain to Days 1 through 3, thus

undermining the attempt to use Rev 22:5 to explain the light without luminaries of Days 1

through 3.

   51 Meredith G. Kline, "Kingdom Prologue," 26-32; see also Hart, "Prologue," 315-16,


    52 Kline, “Space,” 10–11.



want on focus on a different but vitally important aspect of the text’s theology by

answering the question, “Why the concern with rain and the resultant vegetation

that people eat?”

            Who is the presumed original reader of Genesis 1–2? Assuming a late date

of composition, many read Genesis 1 against the backdrop of Mesopotamian

religion with a presumed post-exilic reader in view. Genesis 1 is consequently

read as a theological polemic against Mesopotamian religion. What difference for

the theology of the text would it make, if we presume the original reader to be a

pre-exilic Israelite and the polemic to be against Canaanite religion?

The dominant religious threat for pre-exilic Israel was Baalism. “The

agrarian peoples of the ancient Middle East were acutely aware of the most basic

equation: water = life.” So water played a major role in the theologies of ancient

Near Eastern peoples. Canaan, however, was not like Egypt or Mesopotamia,

where agriculture was based on irrigation from rivers. Canaan was a land where

agriculture was dependent on rain,

    The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from

     which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a

     vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is

     a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven (Deut 11:10–11).


Canaanite religion was consequently not concerned with river gods, as were the

religions of Mesopotamia and Egypt.  The primary god of the Canaanites was

Baal, “the rider on


     53 I am not the first to suggest a Canaanite background for Genesis 1–2. In God’s Conflict with

 the Dragon and the Sea (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), John Day read Genesis 1

as a demythologized Canaanite Chaoskampf: “In so far as tehom’s mythological background is concerned

 this is not Babylonian at all, but rather Canaanite . . .” (50) and “The wind of Gen 1:2 derives ultimately

from the wind of Baal employed against the sea monster” (53). In “The Canaanite Background of Gen I-III,”

VT 10 (1960), F. F. Hvidberg said, “At the back of the narrative is the prophet’s struggle against baal. It is

 against him the story fights” (286) and “My aim has been to call attention to what they [Gen 1 and 2]

have in common: a glimpse of the life-and-death struggle with Baal of the Canaanites for the soul of Israel

(294). In “Interpreting the Creation and Fall Story in Gen 2–3, ” ZAW 93 (1981), N. Wyatt said, “We may

 then accept F. F. Hvidberg’s general theory that the story is intended as a polemic against Canaanite

religion, with the proviso that it is the cult of El and Asherah and not that of baal which is attacked” (19).

    54 John Day, “Baal,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 vols., New York: Double

 Day, 1992) 1.547.

    55 Fred E. Woods, Water and Storm Polemics Against Baalism in the Deuteronomic History (New York:

Peter Lang, 1994).

    56 Yehuda Karmon, Israel: A Regional Geography (London: John Wiley & Sons, 1971), 27, says of Israel,

“Rainfall is the decisive climatic factor in the physical existence of population and for plant life and agriculture.”

    57 Woods, Water, 1, suggests that the unpredictable nature of the Tigris and Euphrates over against the

predictability of the Nile helps to explain some of the fundamental differences between Mesopotamian and

Egyptian religion.

BECAUSE IT HAD RAINED                                   19


the clouds,” the storm god whose rain was considered absolutely necessary for the

growth of crops and hence for life itself.

      When the Hebrew tribes left the stable environment of Egypt and headed toward     

      the land of Canaan, they encountered a people who worshipped the storm god called   

      Baal and his retinue. Such an encounter created a culture conflict. Israel had been led

      by Yahweh through the sea and the desert, but as she entered the new land, Israel

      asked, “Was Yahweh also the god of Canaan?” As the Israelites settled in Canaan,

      they were tempted to ask their Canaanite neighbors, “How does your garden grow?”

      Such inquiry was seen by later writers as having led to eventual apostasy and exile as

      Israel became idolatrous and eventually drowned in Baalism.


This struggle against Baalism is part of the fabric of Genesis through

Kings.  The contest on Mt. Carmel brought this struggle into sharp relief. The

alternatives were clear: “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow

him” (1 Kgs 18:21). The means of determination was clear: “The god who

answers by fire—he is God” (1 Kgs 18:24). When Baal failed to answer by fire

and the Lord sent fire from heaven, the conclusion was clear: “The Lord—he is

God! The Lord—he is God!” (1 Kgs 18:39).

But this contest was not about which deity controlled fire. The issue at hand

was, “Who controls the rain?” The struggle began with Elijah’s words,

     As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew     

     nor rain in the next few years except at my word (1 Kgs 17:1).


And the struggle ended when the Lord God of Israel sent rain,

       The sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on. . . .

        (1 Kgs 18:45).


            The polemic against Baalism is at the heart of OT covenant theology. Having

quoted Deut 11:10–11 above, let me now quote those verses again in the context of a

few of the verses that follow:

     The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you

      have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable

      garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of

      mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven.  It is a land the


   58 Day, “Baal,” 1.545, says that Baal “is clearly the most active and prominent of all the Canaanite

deities . . . the great storm god: the fertility of the land depends on the rain this god supplies. . . .”

   59 Woods, Water, 2.

   60 Of his own book Woods, Water, 17, says, “this study will demonstrate that the Deuteronomic

History supplied the Israelites with polemical literary material, especially dealing with water and

storm, in order to fight Baalism rather than to conform to it.”




    LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from

    the beginning of the year to its end. So if you faithfully obey the commands I am

    giving you today-to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart

    and with all your soul--then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn

    and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide

    grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. Be careful, or

    you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.

    Then the LORD's anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that

    it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the

    good land the LORD is giving you (Deut 11:10-17; emphasis added).


The land of Canaan was not a land that just "naturally" drank in rain

from the sky. It was a land that drank in rain from heaven because YHWH

Israel's God, cared for the land. Covenant loyalty to YHWH would result in

rain, vegetation, and life. Worshiping other gods would result in no rain,

no produce, and death. Now, what god in particular would Israel have been

tempted to turn to with a view to procuring rain and the resultant vege-

tation? Baal, of course.

    Reading the OT, it becomes clear that it was the Baal cult that provided the

    greatest and most enduring threat to the development of exclusive Yahweh wor-

    ship within ancient Israel. The fact that the Israelites were settled among the

    Canaanites, for whom the worship of Baal was so important, and that Palestine

    is a land utterly dependent for its fertility upon the rain, accounts for the tempting

    nature of this cult as well as the strength of the OT polemic against it.61

The ubiquitous threat of Baalism provides the theological context in which

Genesis 1-2 is to be read.

Genesis 1-2 proclaims that YHWH, the God of Israel, is the Lord of the

rain, the resultant vegetation, and life. This central aspect of the message

of Genesis 1-2 is embedded in the structure of the accounts. Why the

two-fold focus on vegetation and the people that live on that vegetation?

Why even bring into consideration the lack of vegetation owing to a lack

of rain? Is this simply geographical decoration?

No, for the Book of Genesis serves as the prologue to the history of

Israel.62 Genesis makes the point that the God of the nation of Israel is the

God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 12-50), and that the God of

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Creator of the heavens and the earth

(Genesis 1-11). The God of Israel is the Creator. From the beginning the

God of Israel, not Baal, has been the provider of the rain that is the pre-

requisite of life. YHWH God of Israel has been the Lord of the rain from the

beginning! Redemptive theology, as exemplified in texts like Deut 11:10-17 and

1 Kings 17-18, is rooted in the creation theology of Genesis 1-2. Redemption

is rooted in creation. YHWH God of Israel claims to be the true and living


    6l Day, "Baal," 1.547.

    66 Youngblood, Genesis, 10-11.

BECAUSE IT HAD RAINED                                   21


God, the God whom Israel must serve to the exclusion of all rival deities,

Baal in particular. This claim is most deeply rooted in the fact that YHWH

God of Israel created all things by his powerful word (Ps 33:6), including

the sending of the very first rains in the beginning, and has ever since

sustained all things by his powerful word (Heb 1:3), including the sending

of all rains subsequent to the beginning.


V. Conclusion


One central aspect of the kerygmatic message of Genesis 1-2 is now clear:

Not Baal but "The LORD he is God! The LORD he is God!" This is true simply

because it had rained.63



    63 With this article I wish as a student and colleague to express my appreciation to Dr.

Kline for the scholarly service he has rendered and continues to render to the Church.





This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Westminster Theological Seminary

            2960 W. Church Rd.

            Glenside, PA  19038


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu