Were the Days of Creation 24 Hours Long?- The Structure of Genesis 2
Grasping the literary structure of Genesis 2 and seeing how it builds upon the structure of Genesis 1 is key to understanding Moses’ account of creation. With this, I am much indebted to a journal article by Mark Futato that first brought this to my attention. It is titled, “Because It Had Rained: A Study of Gen 2:5-7 with Implications for Gen 2:4-25 and Gen 1:1-2:3.” I will place a link below where you can read it for free (it is scholastic in nature, but not overly technical and only 21 pages long). I consider it one of the most interesting and helpful articles I have read on Genesis 1-2. I think it has much to add to the discussion regarding how we interpret the seven days in Genesis 1. Therefore, let me provide a simple, easy-to-follow summary of Futato’s work.
Futato begins by closely examining Genesis 2:5-7. He notes how the passage outlines a twofold problem, its twofold reason, and then God’s twofold solution. You can get a general sense of this as you read through the passage (below is the NASB).
“5 Now no shrub of the field was yet on the earth,
and no plant of the field had yet sprouted,
for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth,
and there was no man to cultivate the ground.
6 But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.
7 Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living person.”
Let’s walk through each of these sections.
The Twofold Problem
It may be a little hard to see this in the translation above, but the problem is twofold because it pertains to two distinct forms of vegetation: the first line uses a phrase which refers to “wild vegetation that grows spontaneously after the onset of the rainy season” (this is clear from its three other occurrences in the Old Testament – Genesis 21:15; Job 30:4, 7); the phrase in the second line refers to “cultivated grains” (see, for example, Exodus 9:22-32 where it is equated with flax, barley, wheat, and spelt).
Unfortunately, most translations (like the NASB above) don’t clarify this very well, though some may mention it in their footnotes (like the NET Bible).
The Twofold Reason
The reasoning that follows corresponds perfectly with the two types of vegetation specified above. Here is how it goes: “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.”
The Twofold Solution
Here is how Futato then summarizes the whole passage coming together in God’s twofold solution:
Now, many of us, myself included, may have heard that it never rained until the flood in Noah’s day. This idea is based on a particular reading of verse 6 which interprets the Hebrew word ’ed to signify “stream” or “underground spring” (’ed is pronounced “aid” – like providing aid to the poor). Verse 6 often gets translated as something like this: “but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground” (NIV).
However, Futato makes a strong case that the term is better understood as “rain clouds” and rendered something like this: “So [God] caused rain clouds to rise up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.” Under this reading, the focus becomes God’s provision of rain. Here are some of the reasons Futato gives to support this interpretation.
First, interpreting ’ed as “stream” clashes with the surrounding context. This is by far the strongest indicator that this is not the concept Moses had in mind. Consider these two observations:
- The text does not say that the problem was a lack of water in general (something that could be solved by a stream), but specifically links the lack of vegetation to a lack of rainfall: “for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth” (verse 5).
- Translating ’ed as “stream” breaks the logical development of the passage. Consider how it goes:
“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 (and not rain) was regularly watering the land, then the vegetation would have the water it needed to grow. Thus, there would be no reason for the lack of wild vegetation and the mention of it not raining would be a completely irrelevant explanation. Do you see that?
Second, in contrast to the stream interpretation, reading ’ed as “rain clouds” integrates perfectly with logical flow the passage:
Problem Reason Solution
1) No wild vegetation –> 1) No rain –> 1) God sent rain
The presence of this logical progression is further evidenced by the clear corresponding pattern regarding cultivated gain. Just as the reason (“there was no man to cultivate the ground” – verse 5) is solved through a matching solution (“Then the Lord God formed the man” – verse 7), so also we should expect the reason Moses gives us (“for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth” – verse 5) to be completed with a matching solution (God sending rain). It is clear that “rain clouds” works best in this context. But, is it a valid translation? This brings us to our next point.
Third, rendering ’ed as “rain clouds” better matches its use in its other context as well. This is not a matter of forcing a new and unique meaning onto its use in Genesis 2:6. This rendering fits with how the word is used in Job 36:27. This is actually the only other occurrence of the word in the Old Testament. To determine its meaning outside of these two passages, one is only left with the option of examining similar terms we know of from the surrounding languages of that time. This means that these two passages are our best tool for comprehending this word in Hebrew.
So let’s look at how well the translation “rain clouds” fits the context in Job. Let me present Mitchell Dahood’s rendering of verse 27 (he is another scholar of ancient Semitic languages who is convinced of this meaning). I will follow it by the NIV’s translation of verse 28 so you can how it relates to a standard translation of the surrounding context.
27“For he [God] draws up the drops of water
They distill as rain from his rain cloud,” (Dahood)
28“the clouds pour down their moisture
and abundant showers fall on mankind” (NIV).
As you can see, the mention of “rain cloud” in verse 27b and “clouds” in 28a form a hinge which nicely connects the beginning of the rain cycle (evaporation – verse 27a) with the end of the cycle (abundant rain on the land – verse 28b).
What is also noteworthy in this passage is the repeated association of ’ed (“rain cloud”) with mtr (“rain”) – much like we see in Genesis 2:5-6. These terms are not presented as antithetical to one another (either rain or a spring/stream), but rather as two elements which work together (rain falling from rain clouds).
Fourth, this is not a new reading of the passage. Ancient Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament, which are called the Targums, consistently translated ’ed with the Aramaic word for “cloud.” Thus, Futato is not the originator of this reading. He is simply drawing together data from a variety of sources, both ancient and modern, to show how they come together to form a coherent and tightly structured message.
Now, there are two objections that are typically lobbied against treating ’ed as rain clouds. Let’s examine those.
Objection #1: “Rain clouds” do not “come up” from the land as we are told in Genesis 2:6. Thus, it is better to translate ’ed as a “spring” or “stream” which does rise up.
To counter this, Futato notes several Old Testament examples where this same verb for “coming up” is used in relation to clouds. Just as the sun appears to rise, so do clouds appear to rise on the horizon. This is not an uncommon way to refer to this phenomenon.
Objection #2: Genesis 2:10 says “a river” watered the garden. The word for “watered” is the same word we find in Genesis 2:6 in association with ’ed. Thus, it is best to render ’ed in verse 6 as “stream” since it better corresponds with “river.”
Futato explains how the repetition in these passages serves to connect the source (“rain clouds;” verse 6) with the result (“river;” verse 10). He notes how the word for river (nahar) depicts perennial rivers, like the Euphrates, which are fed by rain and the melting of snow (previous precipitation) in the surrounding mountains. It presupposes the presence of rain as it depicts its overflowing abundance spreading out from the garden to nourish the surrounding land. He writes, “the presence of a nhr would be proof of the presence of rain rather than an objection to it.”
While there are many reasons for interpreting ’ed as “rain clouds” rather than “stream,” it is ultimately the inability of the stream interpretation to integrate with the logic of its surrounding verses that lays that view to rest.
So, having established the validity of God sending rain in verse 6, let’s look at the flow of Genesis 2 as a whole.
The overall structure of Genesis 2:4-2:25
Following Genesis 1:1-2:3 (which functions as the prologue to the book), Genesis 2:4 establishes the first of ten sections which divide and structure the entire book of Genesis. Each of these ten sections are introduced by the word toledot (“This is the account of …” or “these are the generations of …”).
Thus Genesis 2:4 serves a heading which establishes what the first account will focus on.
“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” (Genesis 2:4 NASB).
After this, Genesis 2:5-7 presents us with background information (much like we saw in Genesis 1:2). As we have already examined above, the setting focuses on a twofold problem, its twofold reason, and God’s twofold solution.
Genesis 2:8 then provides a synopsis of the whole story that gets resumed and expanded upon in Genesis 2:9-25. This is a common Hebrew literary technique we call synoptic/resumption-expansion. Fututo defines it nicely, “A Hebrew author will at times tell the whole story in brief form (synopsis), then repeat the story (resumption), adding greater detail (expansion).”
Notably, this synopsis maintains the same twofold focus as verses 5-7: vegetation and humanity.
“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden;
and there he put the man he had formed” (Genesis 2:8 NASB; emphasis added).
Moses then brings us into the expanded account under these same two themes with verses 9-14 focusing on the planting of a garden, and verses 15-25 the putting of the man in the garden. Let me place the text below for you to see this organization yourself.
(Verses 9-14 – Vegetation and Water)
“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground [resuming how God planted the garden in verse 8]—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin[d] and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.[e] 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates” (Genesis 2:9-14 NASB).
(Verses 15-25 – Placing Adam in the Garden and forming Eve)
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden [resuming the mention of God putting man in the garden in verse 8] to work it [the same word used in verse 5 regarding the previous lack of a cultivator] and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs[g] and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:15-25 NASB).
Here is how Futato summarizes it:
“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).” With our space running out here, we will need to examine how the arrangement of Genesis 2 relates to Genesis 1 and the theological message Moses has for us. After this, we will pause to reflect on what these arrangements indicate regarding the length of time involved in these events. Stay with us as we continue along in this study.
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