The Meaning of Man: His Duty and His Delight (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:4-25)
Within the last several weeks a rather frightening case was reported in the newspaper. Its implications are almost incredible. The suit involved an elderly gentleman who was apparently a bit senile, and who was also on dialysis. The family determined that the old gentleman had passed the time of productivity and, if he had the mental ability to reason it out properly, would have wished to terminate his meager existence. Had the nurses, who had grown to love this man, not protested, this man might be dead today.
We live in a frightening age. We now have awesome technological and biological powers in our hands, but no solid ethical or moral basis for the determination of how these powers are to be used. Not only have we made it convenient and inexpensive to kill children while still in the womb, there is actually serious discussion of issuing a life certificate which would pronounce an infant legally alive, just as one is now legally certified to be dead. This certificate would not be issued until after the birth of a child, when a complete battery of tests could be administered. Any ‘inferior’ or potentially non-productive infant would simply be rejected and not pronounced ‘alive’ and thus terminated. I am told that in some places of the world suicide is not considered a crime and counsel is now given to those who wish to pursue it—but not to convince them of the error of their ways!
In a day when the power of life and death seems to be more in the hands of men than ever before, we find our society in a moral vacuum in which these life and death decisions are to be made. The age-old philosophical questions about the meaning of life are no longer simply academic and intellectual—they are intensely practical and must be answered.
In the light of such issues, never have these verses in Genesis 1 and 2 been of more importance than they are today. In them we find the meaning of man. I have therefore entitled this message, The Meaning of Man: His Duty and His Delight. To rightly understand this passage is to grasp eternal principles which should determine many of our ethical and moral decisions. Beyond this, we are reminded anew of what it is that really makes our lives worthwhile.
While we have already dealt with the six days of creation in a very general way, it is important for us to understand the relationship between the first three chapters of Genesis. Chapter one outlines creation chronologically. (Actually verses 1-3 of chapter two should be included here also.)
God created the heavens and the earth, and all life in six days, while He rested on the seventh day. Man is pictured as the crown of God’s creation. In order to maintain a chronological format, only a very general description of man’s creation is given in verses 26-31.
Chapter two returns to this matter of the creation of man with a much more detailed account. Far from contradicting chapter one, as some scholars have suggested, it greatly compliments it. While it is stated that God created man, both male and female (1:26-27), it is described more fully in chapter 2. In chapter one man is given every plant to eat (1:29-30), in chapter two man is placed in a lovely garden (2:8-17). In the first chapter man is told to rule over all God’s creatures (1:26, 28), in the second man is given the task of naming God’s creatures (2:19-20). Contradictions between these two chapters must be contrived, for it is clear that the writer of the first chapter intended to fill out the details in the second.
Furthermore, chapter two serves as an introduction and preparation for the account of the fall in chapter three. Chapter two gives us the setting for the fall of man which is described in chapter three. We are introduced to the garden (2:8-9), the two trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:9). The woman who was to be deceived is introduced in chapter two as well. Without chapter two the first chapter would be far too brief and the third would come upon us unprepared.
If chapter one is laid out in chronological fashion—that is in a sequence of seven days, chapter two is not chronological, but logical. Of course the events of chapter two fit into chapter one’s order, but the chapter is laid out differently. If chapter one is creation as seen through a wide angle lens, chapter two is viewed through a telephoto lens. In chapter one man is found at the top of a pyramid, as the crown of God’s creative activity. In chapter two man is at the center of the circle of God’s activity and interest.
Since chapter two builds upon the bare details of 1:26-31, let us begin by considering these verses more carefully. Man, as we have said before, is the crown of God’s creative program. This is evident in several particulars.
First, man is the last of God’s creatures. The whole account builds up to man’s creation. Second, man alone is created in the image of God. While there is considerable discussion as to what this means, several things are implied in the text itself. Man is created in the image and likeness of God in his sexuality.
And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27).
This is not to say that God is male or female, but that God is both unity and diversity. Man and woman in marriage become one and yet they are distinct. Unity in diversity as reflected in man’s relationship with his wife reflects one facet of God’s personhood.
Also, man somehow is like God in that which distinguished him from the animal world. Man, as distinct from animals, is made in the image and likeness of God. What distinguishes man from animal must therefore be a part of His reflection of God. Man’s ability to reason, to communicate, and to make moral decisions must be a part of this distinction.
Further, man reflects God in the fact that he rules over creation. God is the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. He has delegated a small portion of His authority to man in the rule of creation. In this sense, too, man reflects God.
Notice as well that it is man and woman who rule: “… and let them rule … ” (Genesis 1:26, cf. verse 28).
Them refers to man and his wife, not just the males He has made. While Adam has the function of headship (as evidenced by his priority in creation,36 his being the source of his wife,37 and his naming of Eve38), Eve’s task was to be a helper to her husband. In this sense both are to rule over God’s creation.
One more point should be made here. There seems to be little doubt that in the provision God has made for man’s food, only vegetarian foods are included at this time:
Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life; I have given every green plant for food; and it was so’ (Genesis 1:29-30).
It was not until after the fall, and perhaps after the flood, that meat was given as food for man (cf. Genesis 9:3-4). Shedding of blood would have significance only after the fall, as a picture of coming redemption through the blood of Christ. In the Millennium we are told,
The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain, says the Lord (Isaiah 65:25).
If I understand the Scriptures correctly, the Millennium will be a return to things as they once were before the fall. Thus, in the paradise of Eden, Adam and Eve and the animal kingdom were all vegetarians. How, then, can some speak of ‘survival of the fittest’ until after the creation of all things and the fall of man?
But more important than this is the fact that man’s dignity and worth are not imputed by man, but they are intrinsic to man as one who has been created in the image of God. Man’s worth is directly related to his origin. No wonder we are hearing such frightening ethical and moral positions proposed today.
Any view of man’s origin which does not view man as the product of divine design and purpose, cannot attribute to man the worth which God has given him. To put it another way, our evaluation of man is directly proportionate to our estimation of God.
I am no prophet, my friend, but I will venture to say that we who name the name of Christ are going to have to stand up and be counted in the days to come. Abortion, euthanasia, and bioethics, to name just a few, are going to demand ethical and moral standards. The bedrock principle upon which such decisions must be made, in my estimation, is the fact that all men are created in God’s image.
In this light, I can now see why our Lord could sum up the whole of the Old Testament in two commands,
And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-40).
The attitude of the future seems to be to love only those ‘neighbors’ who are the contributors to society, only those who may be considered assets. How different is the value system of our Lord, who said,
Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me (Matthew 25:40).
In my estimation, here is where we Christians are going to be put to the test. Some are strongly suggesting that those who our Lord called ‘the least’ are precisely those who should be eliminated from society. May God help us to see that man’s dignity is that which is divinely determined.
While Genesis 1 describes a progression from chaos to cosmos, or disorder to order, chapter two follows a different pattern. Perhaps the literary thread which runs throughout the passage is that of God’s creative activity in supplying those things which are deficient.
Verse 4 serves as an introduction to the remaining verses.39 Verse 5 informs us of the deficiencies which are supplied in verses 6-17: No shrub, no plant, no rain, and no man. These are satisfied by the mist (verse 6) and the rivers (verses 10-14), the man (verse 7), and the garden (verses 8-9).
The deficiency of verses 18-25 is, simply stated, “no helper suitable for Adam” (cf. verses 18,20). This helper is provided in a beautiful way in the last part of chapter 2.
Again, let me emphasize that Moses goes not intend to give us a chronological order of events here, but a logical one.40 His purpose is to more particularly describe the creation of man, his wife, and the setting into which they are put. These become key factors in the fall which occurs in chapter 3.
While as yet no rain had ever fallen, God provided the water which was needed for plant life. “But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground” (Genesis 2:6).
There is some discussion over this word ‘mist’ (‘ed). It could mean a mist or a fog, as some contend.41 The Septuagint used the Greek word pege, which means ‘spring.’ Some have understood the Hebrew word as being derived from a Sumerian word, referring to subterranean waters.42 It may be that springs flowed out of the ground and that vegetation was perhaps watered by irrigation or channels. This could even explain, in part, the work of Adam in keeping the garden.
The water being supplied, God created the garden, which was to be the place of man’s abode, and the object of his attention. It was well-supplied with many trees which provided both beauty and food.
And out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9).
Specifically, two trees are mentioned, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This latter tree was the only thing forbidden man.
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die’ (Genesis 2:16-17).
It is interesting that seemingly Adam, alone, is told by God that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil must not be eaten. One can only conjecture as to how effectively God’s command to Adam was communicated to Eve. Could this explain Eve’s inaccurate appraisal in 3:2-3?
Into this paradise,43 man was placed. While he was surely to enjoy this wonderland, he was also to cultivate it. Look again at verse 5:
Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth; and there was no man to cultivate the ground (Genesis 2:5).
When placed in the garden, Adam was to work there: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).
Adam’s creation is described more fully in 2:7 than in chapter one. He was formed44 from the dust of the ground. While this is a humbling fact, it is also obvious that man’s origin is not from the animal world, nor is man created in the same way as the animals. In part, Adam’s dignity stems from the fact that his life breath is the inspiration of God (verse 7).
Here was no mythical garden. Every part of the description of this paradise inclines us to understand that it was a real garden in a particular geographical location. Specific points of reference are given. Four rivers are named, two of which are known to us today. We should not be surprised, especially after the cataclysmic event of the flood, that changes may have occurred, which would make it impossible to locate this spot precisely.
I find it most interesting that the Paradise of Eden was a place somewhat different from what we envision today. First of all, it was a place of work. Men today dream of paradise as a hammock suspended between two coconut trees on some desert island, where work is never again to be contemplated. Furthermore, heaven is thought of as the end of all prohibitions. Heaven is frequently confused with hedonism. It is very self-centered and pleasure-oriented. While Adam’s state was one of beauty and bliss, it cannot be thought of as unrestricted pleasure. The forbidden fruit is a part of Paradise, too. Heaven is not the experiencing of every desire, but the satisfaction of beneficial and wholesome desires.
Servanthood is not a new concept in the New Testament. Meaningful service provides fulfillment and purpose for life. God described Israel as a cultivated garden, a vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-2ff.). Jesus spoke of Himself as the Vine and we as the branches. The Father tenderly cared for His vineyard (John 15:1ff.). Paul described the ministry as the work of a farmer (II Timothy 2:6).
While the church of the New Testament may be better described as a flock, nevertheless the image of the garden is not inappropriate. There is a work to be done for the child of God. And that work is no drudgery, no duty to begrudgingly carry out. It is a source of joy and fulfillment. Many today have no real sense of meaning and purpose because they are not doing the work that God has designed for them to carry out.
One deficiency remains. There is now adequate water, the beautiful and bountiful provision of the garden, and a man to cultivate it. But there is not yet a companion suitable for man. This need is met in verses 18-25.
The garden, with its pleasures and provisions for food and meaningful activity was not sufficient unless these delights could he shared. God would provide Adam with that which he needed most.
Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him’ (Genesis 2:18).
Adam’s mate was to be a very special creation, a ‘helper, suitable for him’ (verse 18). She was to be a ‘helper,’ not a slave, and not an inferior. The Hebrew word ezer is most interesting. It was a word that Moses obviously liked, for in Exodus 18:4 we are told that this was the name he gave to one of his sons.
And the other was named Eliezer (El=God), for he said, ‘The God of my father was my help (ezer), and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh’ (Exodus 18:4).
The other three times ezer is found used by Moses in Deuteronomy (33:7,26,29), it refers to God as man’s helper. So also in the Psalms (20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 89:19; 115:9; 121:1,2; 124:8; 146:5).
The point of the word as it is most often employed in the Old Testament is that the help given implies no inferiority whatsoever. In a way consistent with its usage, God is helping man through women. What a beautiful thought. How far above some conceptions this is.
Then also, she is a helper who ‘corresponds to’ Adam. One translation reads, “… I will make a helper like him.”45
This is precisely opposite the point. Yet this is often what we consider the perfect wife—one who is just like us. Incompatibility is by divine design in many instances. As Dwight Hervey Small has correctly observed,
Incompatibility is one of the purposes of marriages! God has appointed conflict and burdens for lessons in spiritual growth. These are to be subservient to high and holy purposes.46
Just as Eve was fashioned so as to correspond to Adam in a physical way, so she complimented him socially, intellectually, spiritually and emotionally.
As a result, when I counsel those who plan to marry, I do not seek to discover as many points of similarity as possible. Instead, I am concerned that each partner has an accurate view of what the other is really like, and that they are committed to the fact that God has joined them permanently. A recognition that God has made man and woman differently by design, and a determination to attain unity in this diversity is essential to a healthy marriage.
Before creating this counterpart, God first whet his appetite. The creatures which God had formed are now brought to Adam to name. This naming reflected Adam’s rule over the creatures, as God intended (cf. 1:28). It probably involved a careful study on Adam’s part to note the unique characteristics of each creature.47
This naming process may have taken some time. In the process, Adam would observe that no mere creature could ever fill the void in his life. Further, I would use a little sanctified imagination to conjecture that Adam observed each creature with its mate, a wonderfully designed counterpart. Adam must have realized that he, alone, was without a mate.
What excitement there is in Adam’s enthusiastic response:
And the man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man (Genesis 2:23).
I like the way the RSV renders Adam’s initial response, “at last … ”51
In this expression there is a mixture of relief, ecstasy, and delighted surprise. “This (for Adam has not yet named her) is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (verse 23a). The name of Adam’s mate is woman. The English translation nicely picks up the play on similar sounds. In Hebrews, man would be pronounced ’ish; woman would be ’ishshah. While the sounds are similar, the roots of the two words are different. Appropriately ’ish may come from a parallel Arabic root, conveying the idea of ‘exercising power,’ while the term ’ishshah may be derived from an Arabic parallel, meaning ‘to be soft’.52
The divinely inspired commentary of verse 24 is of utmost import:
For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
From the account it is imperative that a man leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife. What is the relationship between this command to leave and cleave and the creation of women? Verse 24 begins, “For this cause … ” What cause is this? We can understand the reason only when we explain the command. Man is to leave his parents, not in the sense of avoiding his responsibility to them (e.g. Mark 7:10-13; Ephesians 6:2,3), but in the sense of being dependent upon them. He must cease to live under their headship and begin to function alone as the head of a new home.53
The woman is not commanded similarly because she simply transfers from one head to another. While she once was subject to her father, now she is joined to her husband. The man, however, has the more difficult transition. He, as a child, was dependent upon and submissive to his mother and father.
When a man marries he must go through the more radical transition from a dependent, submissive son to an independent (from a parents) leader, who functions as the head of the home.
As many have observed, the husband-wife relationship is permanent while the parent-child relationship is temporary. Even if the parents are unwilling to terminate the dependent relationship of son to parents, the son is responsible to do so. To fail to do so is to refuse the kind of bond necessary with his wife.
Now, perhaps, we are in a position to see the relationship of this command to the creation account. What is the reason for its mention here in Genesis? First of all, there are no parents to whom Adam or Eve have been born. Eve’s origin is directly from her husband, Adam. The union or bond between Adam and his wife is the union of coming from one flesh (Adam’s) and of becoming one flesh (in physical union). This bond is greater than that between parent and child. A woman is, of course, the product of her parents, as the man is of his. But the original union involved no parents, and the wife was a part of the flesh of her husband. This first marriage, then, is evidence of the primacy of the husband-wife relationship over that of the parent-child relationship.
The last verse is not incidental. It tells us a great deal that we need to know. “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).
We learn, for example, that a sexual side of this relationship was a part of the paradise experience. Sex did not originate with or after the fall. Procreation and physical intimacy were intended from the beginning (cf. 1:28). Also we see that sex could be enjoyed to its fullest in the divine plan. Disobedience to God did not heighten sexual pleasure; it diminished it. Today the world wishes to believe that they have invented sex and that God only seeks to prevent it. But sex, apart from God, is not what it could or should be.
Ignorance, if you will forgive me for saying so, is bliss. In our generation we are cool, if you prefer, sophisticated, only if we know (by experience) all there is to know about sex. “How naive are those who have never had sex before marriage,” we are led to believe. There are many things it is better not to know. Sex was never enjoyed so much as it was in sweet ignorance.
Later revelation does add much light to this text. Our Lord, significantly, quotes from chapter one and chapter two as though from one account (Matthew 19:4,5), a fatal blow to the source document critics.
The divine origin of marriage means it is no mere social invention (or convention), but a divine institution for man. Because God joins a man and woman in marriage, it is a permanent union: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6).
The fact that Adam preceded his wife in creation and that Eve was brought forth from Adam also establishes the reasons why the husband is to exercise headship over his wife in marriage (cf. I Corinthians 11:8-9; I Timothy 2:13). The role of women in the church is not just Paul’s idea, restricted to the time and culture of the Corinthian Christians. The biblical role of women is established on the biblical account of creation (cf. also I Corinthians 14:34).
Having considered the passage in terms of its parts, let us focus our attention on this passage as a whole. No passage in all of the Bible so concisely defines the things which really count in life. Life’s meaning can only be grasped in relationship to the God Who has created man in His image and likeness. While this image has been distorted due to the fall, those who are in Christ are being renewed in Christ’s image:
… and that you be renewed in the Spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:23,24).
… and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (Colossians 3:10).
Furthermore, man’s meaning in life is not only found in the dignity which God has given him as being created in His image, but in the work which He gives him to do. Men often view work as a curse. While work has been affected by the fall (Genesis 3:17-19), it was given before the fall and is a means of blessing and fulfillment if it is done as unto the Lord (cf. Colossians 3:22-24).
Last, the institution of marriage is given by God to deeply enrich our lives. The work we are to do is much richer and fuller when we share it with God’s counterpart for us. Here, then, is the real essence of life—a recognition of our divinely ordained dignity, our duty, and our delight. Our worth, our work, our wife are all a source of great blessing if they are ‘in the Lord.’
39 “Now it is a well-known fact that the book of Genesis is by its own author divided into ten sections, to each of which he gives the title ‘story’ (toledoth); cf. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, (9); 37:2. This circumstance alone, plus the use of the round number ten, would definitely point to the fact that here the expression, ‘these are the toledoth’ must also be a heading. In all other instances of its use in other books the same fact is observable; cf. Num. 3:1; Ruth 4:18; I Chron. 1:29; it is as always a heading.” H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), I, p. 110.
40 “Verse 4b takes us back into the time of the work of creation, more particularly to the time before the work of the third day began, and draws our attention to certain details, which, being details, could hardly have been inserted in chapter one: the fact that certain forms of plant life, namely the kinds that require the attentive care of man in greater measure, had not sprung up. Apparently, the whole work of the third day is in the mind of the writer.” Ibid., p.112.
“I have been very insistent that the first chapter is to be understood chronologically. What is seen by the order of development, the progression of thought. It is seen also by the chronological emphasis--day one, day two, and so on. You do not find that in the second chapter of Genesis. There, instead of giving a chronological order of statement, the Lord is stating matters step by step to prepare for the account of the temptation.” E. J. Young, In The Beginning, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), p. 70.
42 “What are we to understand by the ‘ed? Not a mist! The word is apparently related to a Sumerian word. It seems to refer to subterranean waters, and what we have here is either a breaking forth of water in some way from under the ground, or possibly a river overflowing its banks. I do not think we can be dogmatic here.” Young, pp. 67-68. Cf. also Derek Kidner, Genesis (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1967), pp. 59-60.
43 “The word ‘Eden’ in Hebrew may mean a delight or a pleasure. I am not sure that that is what it means here. There is a Sumerian word that means a steppe, or a plain, a wide plain, and in the eastern part of this plain God planted a garden. Without being dogmatic I give my opinion that that is what ‘Eden’ means. So the garden is planted.” Young, p. 71.
44 “The verb employed here accords more with the “Yahweh” character of God; yatsar means to ‘mold’ or ‘form.’ It is the word that specifically describes the activity of the potter (Jer. 18:2ff). The idea to be emphasized is that with the particular care and personal attention that a potter gives to his task. God gives tokens of His interest in man, His creature, by molding him as He does.” Leupold, p. 115.
46 Dwight Hervey Small, Design For Christian Marriage (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1971), p. 58. Elsewhere Small remarks, “As Elton Trueblood has suggested, a successful marriage is not one in which two people, beautifully matched, find each other and get along happily ever after because of this initial matching. It is, instead, a system by means of which persons who are sinful and contentious are so caught up by a dream and a purpose bigger than themselves that they work through the years, in spite of repeated disappointment, to make the dream come true.” p. 28.
47 “For the expression to give names, in the Hebrew usage of the word ‘name,’ involves giving a designation expressive of the nature or character of the one named. This was not a crude fable, where, according to a Hebrew notion, the accidental ejaculations at the sight of new and strange creatures were retained as names for the future.” Leupold, p. 131.
48 “Tardemah is indeed a ‘deep sleep,’ not a state of ecstasy, as the Greek translators render; nor a ‘hypnotic trance’ (Skinner), for traces of hypnosis are not to be found in the Scriptures. A ‘trance’ might be permissible. The root, however, is that of the verb used in reference to Jonah when he sleeps soundly during the storm.” Ibid, p. 134.
49 “The word tsela translated ‘rib,’ definitely bears this meaning, (contra v. Hofman), although it is not necessary to think only of the bare bone; for, without a doubt, bone and flesh will have been used for her of whom the man afterward says ‘bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,’” (v. 23). Ibid.
50 “The activity of God in fashioning the rib taken from man is described as a building (wayyi ‘bhen). Rather than being an indication of the work of a different author, the verb grows out of the situation as being the most appropriate. It would not have been seemly to use yatsar ‘to mold,’ a verb applicable in the case of clay, not of flesh. ‘Build’ applies to the fashioning of a structure of some importance; it involves constructive effort.” Ibid, p. 135.
53 Caution must be exercised, I believe, in the application of Bill Gothard’s principle ‘chain of counsel.’ While the wise will seek counsel and some of that may well come from parents, undue dependence is a real danger. The problem is not so much with the principle, but with its application.
Related Topics: Man (Anthropology)