We are not meeting this week due to the surge in covid cases. We will see how things are next week. When we meet again, the tentative plan is to work our way through Genesis 2:4-9. Genesis 2 describes the initial state of the earth to be without plants or herbs, without rain, and without people. The world is a lifeless, misted place. Into this lifelessness, Yahweh Elohim begins to create. For “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Gen. 2:7.
Throughout our story, there is a deep connection between the first person (Heb: adam) and the ground (Heb: adamah). From the description of the earth’s initial condition through the garden of Eden, to the curse arising out of the Fall, the fortunes of the man and the ground are intricately and inextricably linked. We were created from the ground, we work the ground for a living, and then we return to the ground at death.
In the final description of the initial state of the world, Genesis says that “there was no person to cultivate the ground.” Gen. 2:5. The first description of humanity is functional and directed towards the earth, not directed towards the heavens. What does this tell us about our human condition and where we find our meaning and happiness? Read Psalm 128:2 and see how the psalm helps in the interpretation and application of this verse.
In the Hebrew, this connection between humanity and the ground is reinforced linguistically. Genesis 2:7 says that the Lord God formed adam (the man) from adamah (the ground). The Scriptures could have placed the creation of the first human in the heavens, but they do not. What does it mean that we are initially created out of the ground or the earth and not the stars or the spiritual? Read 1 Cor. 15:46 and see how Paul interprets this means of creation.
The word adam is not a proper noun or a specific name but is simply the generic Hebrew word for “man” or “person.” The Hebrew word for a male human being is ish. Genesis does not refer to God’s created being as an “ish” until after his side is removed and used to create woman. (Heb: ish-shah). In Jewish thought, this first created person is both male and female, because the totality of humanity was contained within the creature. We also see this interpretation in Genesis 5:2 where it reads “Male and female he created them and blessed them and called them man (adam).” We will discuss this issue a little more when we get to Genesis 2:23. However, as we read through Genesis 2, wherever the English says “the man” a more dynamic translation of the Hebrew would simply be a “clay-person” which includes both the male and the female.
Although the first human and all of us are but dust from the ground, we are formed by God. The Hebrew word for “formed” is va-yitser. This word has the same root (yatsar), the Hebrew word for “potter” (hay-yoser). In Genesis 1, Elohim (the generic term for God) simply speaks things into being. Even concerning humanity, the passage uses the same word bara (created) as to does for the rest of creation. Here, however, Yahweh Elohim takes the ground and forms a specific human being like a potter forms a vessel. This is a very personal, hands-on creation. Envision this process.
Think through what it means that God formed us out of the clay of the ground as a potter might form his vessel or art. On the one hand, we are made of the ground and are as insignificant as anything else that comes from the ground. Alternatively, we can envision a personal God individually molding each one of us in the image he would have us possess. Feel God’s hands patiently and purposefully shape you and mold you into the image you are meant to be.
This formation, however, also speaks to both the awe and fear of God’s sovereignty over us. Isaiah says with great awe: “we are the clay, and thou art our potter; we are all the work of thy hand.” Isa. 64:8. However, it is Job that laments in his distress: “Remember that thou hast made me of clay; and wilt thou turn me to dust again?” Job 10:9. If a good God sovereignly makes us, why are there defects and why do things go wrong. This is one of the questions the story seeks to answer.
The creation of the clay-person is completed when the Lord God breathes into that which he has formed. It is Yahweh Elohim that gives life, and that life is in the breath. From Genesis’ point of view, there is no preexistent soul that God implants into the clay, rather it is God’s own breath itself. The word used here is not ru’ah (spirit, breath, wind) as in Genesis 1:2, but naphach which means simply “breath.” However, the Hebrew Scriptures primarily use this word in the context of blowing on a fire or coals to make them burn hotter. Cf. Job 20:26, Isa. 54:16, Ezek. 22:20. Yahweh Elohim is not simply exhaling into the clay-person but blowing hard and hot to kindle the clay.
At this point in our story, the clay-person only knows that he is alive. As we breathe, we are alive. Job 33:4. Ezek. 37. It will be in Genesis 3 at the Fall, however, that they realize the absolute capricious nature of their life and their existence. For when God withdraws his breath from us we die and return to the dust from where we came. Job 34:15, Ps. 146:4. This is the existential issue that Genesis raises and that the remainder of the Scriptures will seek to answer.
As an aside, the idea of the god molding the first human being out of the earth and breathing life into his creation is common in the ancient world. For example, in Egyptian mythology, the first and each subsequent human being is created out of clay by the god Khnum on his potter’s wheel, and the clay is breathed life into by Khnum’s consort Heqet. In Greek mythology, it is the titan Prometheus that shapes the first human out of clay into the image of the gods, and it is Athena that breathes the animating life into this clay figure. In the Babylonian creation account in the Enuma Elish (that we looked at in our study of Genesis 1) the gods create humanity out of clay to work for them. These other stories are similar to that of Genesis 2. This similarity arises because the existential questions of life and death and our consciousness of the same are common to all people. The difference between religions, however, is not in the question asked but in the resolution given.
Hopefully, we will be together next week.
All men are from the ground,Sirach 33:10-13
and Adam was created of the dust.
In the fulness of his knowledge the Lord distinguished them
and appointed their different ways;
As clay in the hand of the potter—
for all his ways are as he pleases—
so men are in the hand of him who made them,
to give them as he decides.