Question: How do Genesis 2:5 and Genesis1:11 in the NIV (about the earth bringing forth vegetation) go together? On the surface they seem to contradict each other. I know that is not possible so am wondering what they mean.
Here are the two verses in question:
Gen. 1:11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.[i]
Gen. 2:5 "Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground."[ii]
The apparent contradiction lies in the assertion in Genesis 1:11 that vegetation came into existence on day three of creation, yet Genesis 2:5 seems to suggest that vegetation had not yet appeared!
The answer is to be found in the way Genesis chapters 1 and 2 relate to each other. The natural assumption is that Genesis 2 continues the chronological description of creation begun in Genesis 1, but that is not the case. Chapter 2 is intended to give us a closer look at certain aspects of the creation account of chapter 1.
Genesis 2:4 is the key:
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens…
The word “when” lets us know that our attention is being directed backwards, back to the creation account in the previous chapter. Therefore, when 2:5 tells us that “no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up,” we are being referred back to moments before the appearance of vegetation in chapter 1. Genesis 1 gives us a general overview of the events of day three, while Genesis 2:5 zooms in for a closer look.
In this close-up view, God shows us two things in verse 5 that were closely linked in his plan with regard to the timing of the appearance of plant life: first, water would be needed for the vegetation to thrive, and second, the vegetation itself was intended to be cultivated. That meant that when it sprang from the ground irrigation also had to be provided so that the plants could mature. And this is exactly what God did, as described in verses 6 and 7.
Genesis chapter 1:1-2:3 then, gives us a chronological overview of creation, culminating in the creation of man in God’s image and in the establishment of the Sabbath as the goal of creation—being set aside in completed perfection for God. Chapter 2:4 and beyond shows us how that vegetation was nourished by streams that “came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground” (2:7). It rapidly blossomed and matured to a beautiful garden, Eden, within a matter of days in preparation for the creation of man on day 6.
God has wonderfully revealed His work of creation, and that revelation almost shouts with joy as life springs into being and comes to full maturity in a matter of days.
Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
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