Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Gold of Havilah

Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there.
Genesis 2:10-12 (NKJV)

These seemingly parenthetical remarks in the midst of the creation narrative provide some fascinating insights with regard to the dominion mandate, or the cultural mandate as it is sometimes called. The very fact that it seemed worthwhile to the Holy Spirit, speaking through Moses, to note the presence of gold within the land, along with the added pronouncement of its goodness (an echo from Chapter One), is significant and a cause for meditation. Scripture, along with much uninspired human literature and poetry down through the ages, often casts a hue of disfavor upon the natural glimmer of gold. To be sure, the inordinate lust for gold is a sin which brings a great curse, but that is all a result of the Fall. The gold itself, and by extension man’s thoughtful appropriation and use of it, is proclaimed as an unqualified good here in the pre-Fall context.

The gold and precious jewels mentioned here can be taken as a synecdoche for all of the precious resources which God saw fit to embed within the earth at creation. The obvious expectation is that man would discover and seek them out, extract them from the soil and rock, study and analyze them, and subject them to various processes of molding and transformation, culminating in their glorified use for a variety of practical and aesthetic ends. This has man, as a sub-creator, mimicking God’s own actions as described in the previous chapter wherein God creates, then further transforms what has been created by a process of division, separation and refinement (light from darkness, waters above from waters below, dry land from water, one kind of light from another kind of light, etc.).

Gold and other valuable resources are only in exceptional cases found just lying around waiting to be picked up. Locating them and separating them out from the other, less valuable elements typically takes a lot of effort. (Again, we see that the principal of work is not a result of disobedience.) Proverbs 25:2 says that It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter. God did not lay out everything in easily accessible terms for Adam and Eve, the king and queen of his new creation, right from the beginning. It would seem that God’s original plan for mankind involved a process of maturation wherein man was to employ his faculties of thoughtful observation and creativity (recall what has already been noted with regard to tending and keeping) to guide the creation through a progression of glorification.

In many obvious ways, this stands in direct opposition to the radical environmentalism which is currently in vogue. It should be noted though, that traditionalist or reactionary conservatism is also just as much to blame in ignoring biblical principles of thoughtful stewardship as laid out in Genesis and elsewhere. (Deuteronomy has some poignant examples.) Practices such as clear cutting and strip mining naturally result in a curse rather than a blessing.

As a final observation, a glorious prefiguring of the cross can be seen operating on at least a couple of different levels as we consider these things. It is noteworthy that there are four rivers flowing out of Eden and into the lands beyond. Symbolically at least, if not literally, these four rivers would be regarded, particularly to the ancient mind, as stretching out to the “four corners of the world” in a cross-shaped pattern. Some scholars (e.g. James Jordan) have sought to do some informed speculation as to what the progress of history might have looked like had the Fall not interrupted. It seems likely that man, in fulfilling the commandment to multiply and fill the earth, would have spread outward from the garden and the land of Eden, most likely along the convenient routes of the four water courses mentioned above. This motion would likely not be in one direction only but would involve a sort of ebb and flow: initial forays into the outlying lands, followed by revisitations to the garden sanctuary, followed in turn by progressively longer, farther and more permanent journeyings to the hinterlands. As the gold, precious stones and other resources were discovered by man in these other regions, they would be carried back to the garden in order to enhance its own glory and, gradually over time, the borders of the garden itself would be expanded outward. Step by step, the whole of creation would be transformed from glory to magnificent glory until the whole earth were a vast horticultural temple.

But the Fall did interrupt, as we are painfully reminded after a few brief moments of such tantalizing reverie. However, an essential and often over-looked aspect of the Good News is that everything that was lost in the Fall has been regained in Christ – plus much more! This spectacular vision is no daydream; it is the inexorable reality toward which our world is being carried, suggestions to the contrary by the circumstances of any given moment notwithstanding. We can take great encouragement and inspiration, knowing that our faithful labors – in the arts or in any other lawful endeavor – are used by Christ as decisive means for manifesting His Kingdom in our midst with ever-increasing clarity and glory.

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