By Rob Beames
The first interactions between two parties often reveal much about the future of the relationship. That’s one reason why the creation account is often revisited. We learn and remember God’s unchangeable attributes by understanding how He has dealt with us in the past. As many times as this historical report has been told, we’re probably pretty familiar with the part about how God chose to name the animals. But have we gleaned everything God is telling us about Himself in this passage?
After God created land and sea, plants and animals, He culminates His creative exhibition with the creation of mankind who bears His own image. But then history takes a surprising turn. Almighty God takes off His creative hat and allows His pride and joy to make a few decisions: “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” Genesis 2:19.
Isn’t it interesting that the One who, according to Psalm 147:4, “determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name,” doesn’t do this with His carefully created animal life? Instead, He brings each of them to His dear friend, Adam, and gives him the task of naming them.
Most teaching on this passage is fairly similar. One explanation is that God does this to set the foundation for the commission He would later give to the first couple: to be in charge of the earth. The other instruction from this passage usually indicates that God used it to demonstrate to Adam that he was unique and required a unique companion, which the rest of creation could not supply. It is commonly thought this was a living illustration to help Adam appreciate his new mate as the gift from God that she was. Both of these points are entirely appropriate, given the context of the passage, and certainly capture the essence of the event. But what does it tell us about the nature of the relationship between God and man in the beginning, and what does it tell us about God?
God could have named His animal kingdom in a different manner. He didn’t have to involve Adam in the process, but He did. This tells us that God was either planning to be intimately connected with mankind, was already personally involved, or both. This is confirmed later in Genesis 3:8 where we read that God routinely walked in the garden where Adam and Eve lived. So common was this occurrence that immediately after the couple sinned, God still expected to meet with them, and their absence caused Him to go on a search for them. It is clear that God is intentional with the way He personally relates to the first couple.
The way God engages Adam to name the animals demonstrates His sensitivity to Adam’s need for creative expression. God was probably eager to hear the names Adam would create and to enjoy the ingenuity of His friend. We can’t ignore the Creator/creation relationship which was there by default, but we don’t want to overlook the friendship being established between God and man displayed in events like this.
Although this passage doesn’t provide many details, we have enough information to know that God didn’t simply round up all of the animals, trap them in a pen, instruct Adam to go name them and report back to Him when he was finished. It is more likely that God brought to Adam each new creature one by one, stood nearby watching Adam observe the amazing abilities of each animal, and then reacted joyfully at each creative label Adam provided. There must have been some hearty chuckles at some of them.
Since we are made in the image of God, perhaps many of the things we enjoy are things that God enjoys as He interacts with us. For example, when a child tells us what they named a toy, or a pet, we may think, “Yeah, that makes sense,” and it often brings a smile to our face. God experiences a similar joy in His creation. Due to our absolute forgiveness through Jesus, He continues to take pleasure in what we do today.
God is perfect, but that doesn’t preclude Him enjoying watching His children use their cognitive prowess. God is all-powerful, but that doesn’t preclude His interaction with us as friends. Exodus 33:11 says, “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” This means that from the beginning, not just after Jesus came to Earth, God has wanted a relationship with us, even if we do keep trying to screw it up.
There’s another thing we can learn about God’s character through this one exchange with Adam. Notice that whatever name Adam concocted, it became the animal’s name. God must have been pleased with each name because they all stuck. It seems Adam could do no wrong in this process. God’s control of the universe never wavered, although He allowed Adam to call some shots. It may seem trivial, since we are only talking about naming animals, but we can learn from this that despite God’s sovereignty, He may involve us in His work. That’s what friends do.
We may be hesitant to think of God as our friend because we are afraid of disrespecting Him, or we may feel it makes it easier to take advantage of His grace. But God has not chosen to be distant with us, but to interact with us personally as a friend. This close relationship doesn’t cause us to run away; His purpose is to draw us closer.
Who would be drawn to a lord spewing commands from a distant throne, micromanaging how we comply with them and threatening punishment for our failures? In contrast, when our God gives us a task, and comes along side us to take joy in the way we execute it, we are deeply motivated. God is awesome, even frightening, but He’s not distant. His is intimately engaged in our lives, influencing us to use our abilities to positively impact His world. He doesn’t need us to do this. He was doing just fine before we came along, but He created us for this purpose. He doesn’t have to interact with us in this way, but He does, and it gives Him great joy!
(I believe He wanted me to remind you of this!)