This section of Scripture contains a number of difficulties. Some of these difficulties have to do with the relation of this text to other passages of Scripture or to attempts to correlate the opening chapters of Genesis with evolutionary cosmologies. Critical scholars have claimed that these verses begin a second creation account that conflicts with the first because it teachers that no plants existed at the time that mankind was created in contrast with Genesis 1:11-13, which teaches that the plants were created on the third day. Some Analogical Day theorists argue that these verses teach a functional hydrological cycle was already in place before the creation of man (thus indicating that the creation of humans occurred sometime after the first historical week of the earth’s existence). Other difficulties arise from the text itself. Does אֶרֶץ mean “earth” or “land” in 2:5, what are the “bush of the field” and the “plant of the field” (esv) and most significantly, what is the אֵד of 2:6?
The central conundrum of this passage is why no rain is given as the reason that the bush and small plant of the field have not yet sprung up (2:5) given that the אֵד is “watering the whole face of the ground” (2:6). A number of proposals have been made. Kidner suggests that 2:4 and 6 refer to the period of Genesis 1:2. Verse 5 is a parenthesis that looks forward to the creation of plants and man. אֵד on this reading carries the sense of flood or ocean. This approach alleviates the apparent contradiction between plants not growing because of lack of rain and ground that is well watered both due to the nature of the watering (an ocean that covers all the land) and the its timing (before the emergence of dry land).
Proponents of the Framework Hypothesis and Analogical Day Theory propose another reading. On this reading a particular land was at the end of the dry season (hence the lack of rain in 2:5) but a rain cloud is rising from the earth, and it will water the ground. אֵד on this interpretation carries the sense of mist or water vapor. The takeaway for proponents of this view is that seasons, the water cycle, and “ordinary providence” is already functioning at the creation of man. Thus man was not created in the historical first week of the earth’s existence. This view alleviates the apparent contradiction between 2:5 and 6 by connecting 2:5 to one season and 2:6 to another. It also provides one reason for why “no bush of the field was yet in the land,” namely, no rain and why “no small plant of the field had yet sprung up,” namely, no man to cultivate them. Verses 6 and 7 then provide the solution: rain clouds and the creation of man.
These two approaches suffer from a number of defects. It is not at all apparent that verse 5 is a parenthesis between verses 4 and 6, as Kidner’s view requires. Furthermore, why stress the existence of the primordial ocean in the account of the creation of man? The Framework/Analogical Day approach does a better job at showing how the passage coheres, but it depends heavily on a contested meaning of אֵד. It also fails to present a compelling case for why the author would emphasize that man was created at the end of the dry season.
The best interpretation of this passage recognizes that with Genesis 2:4 Moses shifts from the broad account of Genesis 1 to a more specific account of the creation and placement of man within the world. In this context it makes sense for אֶרֶץ to refer to a particular land rather than to the earth as a whole (see the esv; hcsb). This understanding alleviates the tension between 1:11-13 and 2:5. Moses is not saying in chapter 2 that no plant life existed on earth before the creation of man. He is saying that in a particular land particular kinds of plants had not yet begun to grow. The עֵשֶׂב (“small plant,” esv) probably refers to edible plants that a farmer cultivates. The field (שָׂדֶה) does not always refer to cultivated fields, but it often does. This is seems to be the best sense in this context. שִׂיחַ is a much more difficult term to define. It occurs only four times in Scripture, and in the other occurrences it seems to refer to a desert kind of shrub. It may be that an allusion exists here to Genesis 3:18. In that passage both cultivated plants (עֵ֫שֶׂב) and thorns and thistles appear. Thorns cannot be mentioned here, since they did not exist before the Fall. Perhaps שִׂיחַ is mentioned as the kind of plant that became thorny after the Fall. Two reasons are given for why these plants are not growing in this land. First, God has not made it rain there. This seems to refer to the type of climate that this land has; it is not the kind of land that receives rainfall. Second, there is no man to work the ground. Verse 6 does mention the אֵד which waters the whole face of the land. This probably refers to the river mentioned in 2:10, which is said to water the garden. It rises from the ground and inundates the whole land like the Nile of Egypt. But for this inundation to be beneficial for the plants mentioned in 2:5, the inundation must be managed. Hence 2:7 and God’s creation of man.
This interpretation makes good sense of all the pieces of the passage. The main thrust is that a man is needed to cultivate the land in which God will place him. In fact, God ordered the land in which he will place the man to be of such a nature that it requires human cultivation. Thus the opening of this second major section in Genesis picks up the theme of the climax to the previous section—Genesis 1:26-30.
This is a complex passage. Several of the terms have a wide semantic range that leave them open to other interpretations, and several other terms are rare which means certainty about their senses is not possible and that several competing senses have been proposed. Nonetheless, the above interpretation is grammatically plausible and makes the best literary sense.
 S. R. Driver, The Book of Genesis, 4th ed. (London: Methuen & Co., 1905), 35-36.
 C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), 111; for a framework hypothesis approach to this text, see Mark D. Futato, “Because It Had Rained: A Study of Gen. 2:5-7 with Implications for Gen. 2:4-25 and Gen. 1:1-2:3,” Westminster Theological Journal 60, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 1-21.
 Derek Kidner, "Genesis 2:5, 6: Wet or Dry?" Tyndale Bulletin 17, no. 1 (1966): 110.
 Collins, 125-27; Futato, 14-15.
 The word אֵד occurs only in Genesis 2:6 and Job 36:27. Those who favor the translation “mist” or “rain cloud” appeal to Job (Collins, 104, n. 6): “For he draws up the drops of water; they distill his mist [אֵד] in rain, which the skies pour down and drop on mankind abundantly” (Job 36:27-28, ESV). The idea of mist and rain make sense in the context of the Job passages. However, this is not the only way of translating the Job passage. The NIV translates “He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams [אֵד]; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind.” Kidner notes, “‘Flood’ or ‘sea’ however would suit the context [in Job] equally, as in M. H. Pope’s translation: ‘He draws the waterdrops that distil rain from the flood’ (treating it as a modification of Accadian edû, and the preposition as meaning ‘from’ (cf. RV as in Ugaritic).” Kidner, 110; cf. John Hartley, The Book of Job, New International Commentary on the Old Testament, ed. Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 479; Thomas Aquinas, The Literal Exposition on Job: A Scriptural Commentary Concerning Providence (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 404. Research in other Semitic languages points away from the translation “mist” and toward something like “flood.” Tsumura argues that it is related to the Akkadian edû “flood.” He concludes that “Both ‘ēd and its allomorph ‘ēdô mean “high water” and refer to the water flooding out of the subterranean ocean (1989:115).” David T. Tsumura, "Genesis and Ancient Near Eastern Stories of Creation and Flood: An Introduction Part II," 9, no. 2 Bible and Spade (Winter 1996): 37; cf. Kinder, 110. The ancient translations also favor understanding אֵד as a river that emerges from the earth and inundates the land. Young notes the following translations: “LXX, πηγή; Aquila, ἐπιβλυσμός; Vulgate, fonts.” The Syriac is also in line with these other ancient translations. E. J. Young, “The Days of Genesis: First Article.” Westminster Theological Journal 25, no. 1 (November 1962): 20, n. 50; U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1961), 1:103 (Cassuto does note, however, that the Targums favor “mist”). The context, with its mention in verse 10 of a river that waters the garden, also fits the flood/inundation understanding better than the mist understanding.
 Futato says that the passage serves as a polemic against Baal worship for pre-exilic Israel. The point is “Yhwh God of Israel has been the Lord of the rain from the beginning!” Futato, 20. It is not clear, however, that the primary purpose of the opening chapters of Genesis are designed to serve as a polemic against pagan theology. There is certainly nothing explicit in the text that indicates this is the point of these verses. In contrast, the interpretation argued for here connects to the major themes of these chapters that are explicitly found in the text.
 Richard Hess, "Genesis 1-2 in Its Literary Context," Tyndale Bulletin 41, no. 1 (1990): 143-53; Collins 110-111; Young, 18-19. Note that the interpretation offered here agrees with the interpretations critiqued above at various points.
 Collins, Genesis 1-4, 110-111.
 Gordon D. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. David A. Hubbard (Waco: Word, 1987), 58; Kenneth A. Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Holman, 1996), 194; Robert V. McCabe, "A Critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Account (Part 2 of 2), Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 11, no. 1 (Fall 2006): 88-89.
 BDB, s.v. שָׂדֶה 1a, 2a. It should be noted, however, that the use of this term in 2:19-20 is likely broader.
 “We will show, however, that 2:5-6 is best related to the judgment oracles of 3:8-24, indicating what the world was like before and after sin. . . . The purpose of this tōlědōt section is its depiction of human life before and after the garden sin; the condition of the ‘land’ after Adam’s sin is contrasted with its state before the creation of man. Genesis 2:5-7 is best understood in light of 38-24, which describes the consequences of sin. This is shown by the language of 2:5-6, which anticipates what happens to the land because of Adam’s sin (3:8-24). When viewed this way, we find that the ‘shrub’ and ‘plant’ of 2:5 are not the same vegetation of 1:11-12. ‘Plant (‘ēśeb) of the field’ describes the diet of man which he eats only after the sweat of his labor (3:18-19) after his garden sin, whereas ‘seed-bearing plants’ (‘ēśeb mazŕia’ zera‘), as they are found in the creation narrative, were provided by God for human and animal consumption (1:11-12, 29-30; 9:3). . . . The ‘shrub [śiaḥ] of the field’ is a desert shrub large enough to shield Hagar’s teenage son (Gen 21:15) and those seeking its protection (Job 30:4,7). Since ‘plant’ is best defined by its recurrence in the judgment oracle (Gen 3:18), shrub probably parallels Adam’s ‘thorns and thistles,’ which are the by-product of God’s curse on the ground (3:17-18).” Matthews, 1:193-94; cf. Cassuto, 1:101-2; Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, New International Commentary on the Old Testament, ed. Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 1:154; McCabe, 88-89.
 Harris, R. Laird. "The Mist, the Canopy, and the Rivers of Eden," Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 11, no. 4 (Fall 1968): 178. Similar, but somewhat different interpretations, found in Cassuto, 103-4 and John H. Walton, Genesis, NIV Application Commentary, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 165, 180.
 Harris, 178; Cassuto, 104.