And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.
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"On the day God made heaven and earth," the text goes on, "before any grass of the field appeared on the earth or any crop of the field sprouted, since God, you see, had not sent rain on the earth, and there was no human being to till the soil; a spring (100a) used to flow out of the ground and water the whole face of the earth." , [ Gen 2:5 ] Great is the treasure concealed in these brief words hence the need for us to unfold the meaning of the text with great sagacity, under the guidance of God's grace, and to lead you to share in this spiritual wealth. The Holy Spirit, after all, in his foreknowledge of future events wishes to prevent anyone's being able to engage in controversy later on, and in opposition to Sacred Scripture to set notions from their own reasoning against the dogmas of the Church; so now again, after teaching us the order of created things what was created first and what second and the fact that from the earth in compliance with the Lord's word and direction the earth produced plants and was stirred into pangs of fertility, without depending on the sun for assistance (how could it, after all, the sun not yet being created?) nor on the moisture from showers, nor on human labor (100b) (human beings, after all, not having been brought forth), accordingly once again he makes mention of all the items one by one so as to stop the unbridled tongue of people spoiling to make a show of their shamelessness.
What in fact does he say? "On the day God made heaven and earth before any grass of the field appeared on the earth or any crop of the field sprouted. God, you see, had not sent rain on the earth, and there was no human being to till the soil; a spring used to flow out of the ground and water the whole face of the earth." He intends to convey the fact that by his word and direction things not existing previously were brought into existence, and what had not been, came into view all of a sudden. 'Crop' means what springs from the soil: when it says 'crop' it means plants of all kinds. And in teaching us about showers, again Sacred Scripture added, "God, you see, had not sent rain on the earth " that is to say, no showers had so far been sent from on high. (100c) And after this it finally shows us that there was no dependence on human labor either: "There was no human being," it says, remember, "to till the soil" [ Gen 2:5 ] as if to shout aloud and tell every one coming later: Listen to this and learn how everything springing from the earth was produced, and don't think it was all due to the care of people working the soil, nor attribute its birth pangs of fertility to them but to the word and direction given it from the beginning by the Creator. All this happens that you may learn that there was no dependence on the assistance of the other elements for the growth of its plants; instead, what was required was the direction of the Creator.
What is really remarkable and surprising is that the one who now by his own word awakens the earth to germination of so many plants and demonstrates his own power surpassing human reasoning, this same earth, heavy as it is (100d) and supporting such a huge universe on its back, he rested on the waters as foundation, as the inspired author says, "He who rests the earth on the waters as foundation." [ Ps 136:6 ] What human reasoning could arrive at this design? I mean, when people build their houses and have in mind to sink foundations, they first dig a hole: if on reaching some depth they see a trace of dampness, they take every step to remove it all and only then sink the foundations. By comparison with this the Creator of all creates everything in a way contrary to humankind so that you may learn even from this his ineffable power and the fact that, when he wishes, the very elements can be seen to per form in a way contrary to their own abilities in compliance with the Creator's wishes.
To make this subject clearer to you, let us make you familiar with the preceding point and then pass on to the next. You see, it is contrary to the nature of the waters to carry a heavy body in this way; and, again, it is foreign to the earth to take its position on such a foundation. Why do you marvel at this? After all, if you take it into your head to study each created thing, you will encounter the infinite power of the Creator and the fact that by his own will he governs all visible things. This, in fact, can be seen happening also in the case of fire: though it has the capacity to burn up, and it prevails over everything, consuming all material of stone, wood, iron and other bodies with ease, yet when the Creator so directed, it left untouched delicate and perishable bodies and, in fact, kept the children unharmed in the middle of the furnace. [ Dan 3 ] Don't be surprised if it left these bodies untouched and if, in fact, this irrational element demonstrated (101b) the kind of restraint that cannot be described. You see, it did not so much as harm their hair; instead, it formed a circle around them and kept them inside it; the substance of the fire, as it were, responded in obedience, and in compliance with the Lord's direction it kept those excellent children safe and sound, so that they moved about in the furnace with such ease as though strolling through a meadow or garden. And, lest anyone think that what they saw was not a fire at work, the loving Lord for that purpose did not hamper its efficacy; instead, he allowed its burning qualities to remain active, rendering his servants proof against its harmful effect but ensuring that those who thrust them in might learn the extent of the power of the Lord of all: the fire showed its force against them, burning and consuming them as they stood outside the furnace while at the same time encircling the children inside.
Do you see how, whenever the Lord wishes, (101c) each of the elements changes its properties into the very opposite? The Lord, you see, is also Creator, and he governs everything according to his own will. Do you want to see this very thing happening also in the case of the waters? Well, just as in the present case the fire refrained from harming the people right inside it, on the one hand, neglecting to exercise its own power, while, on the other hand, it exercised that power in the case of those who happened to be outside it, in like manner we will see the waters drowning some but giving way be fore others so that they crossed over in safety. Remember in this connection, I ask you, Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and the people of the Hebrews, how the latter by the Lord's command and under the leadership of the great Moses crossed the Red Sea in this way as though across dry land, whereas the Egyptians with Pharaoh wanted to go the same way as the He brews, (101d) but were submerged and drowned.8 Thus even the elements know how to respect the Lord's servants and to keep in check their own impulse.
Let us hear an account of the number of times we have betrayed our own salvation through being hot-tempered, and angry, and a prey to the other passions through our indifference, and let us imitate the great obedience of these elements, irrational though they are, while we are endowed with the gift of reason. After all, if fire, which has such capacity to burn, which is so fierce, left untouched in that fashion delicate and perishable bodies, what allowance can be made for human beings not prepared to check their own rage despite the Lord's command and eliminate resentment against their neighbor? What is even worse is the fact that fire, while having this property mean, to burn did not demonstrate this capacity, whereas the human being, a creature gentle, and rational, and mild, behaves in a manner contrary to its nature and through indifference (102a) casts itself in the mold of the wild beasts. Hence even Sacred Scripture, with these sorts of disturbing passions in mind, in many places applies the names of brutes and of wild beasts to those gifted with reason: some times it calls them dogs on account of their shameful and headstrong behavior "Dumb dogs are they," it says, remember, "unable even to bark" [ Isa 56:10 ] at other times horses on account of their unbridled appetites "They turned into rutting horses, each neighing after his neighbor's wife" [ Jer 5:8 ] at other times asses for their folly and stupidity-- "He has resembled the monsters that lack all intelligence," it says, remember, "and has become like them" [ Ps 49:13 ] --at other times lions and leopards on account of their greed and rapacity, at other times serpents because of their deceit-- "Poison of serpents," it says, "on their lips " [ Ps 140:3 ] -- whereas at other times it called them snakes and vipers on account of their venom and malice, as blessed John cried aloud in these words: "Snakes, brood of vipers, who has shown you how to flee from the wrath to come?" [ Matt 3:7 ] (102b) And it adds other names appropriate to the various passions in the hope that eventually they may feel ashamed of this behavior and turn back to their true nobility, coming to terms with their true nature and giving the laws of God pride of place before their own passions to which through sloth they have given themselves up.