The Story Starts: Understanding Man in Genesis 1-2

September 28, 2023 at 4:44 PM

Thus far in Genesis, we have seen the “main character,” the Great Creator: God. God is revealed in Genesis 1 in all His eternal grandeur. He is the orderly, life-giving, good Sovereign.

But just as good stories do not just have one character, so does Genesis not end with God. God, the Life-Giver, creates. He creates another character, Adam/Man, and from this character, He creates another who is called woman. And in Genesis 2, the next chapter in the narrative, we learn a little bit about these new characters. Who are man and woman? Why are they introduced into the narrative? What are they created to be?


The Image of God

            First and foremost, at the very outset of learning about man and woman, we learn that they are made in God’s image. Genesis 1:26-27 is abundantly clear on this point. But have you ever stopped to wonder, what does this mean? What does it mean to be made in God’s image?

            Well, an image is a sort of reflection. We look at images on a camera; we view our image in a mirror. To be in God’s image is, most basically, to reflect God.

            Importantly, this does not mean we are little gods on the earth. To be made in God’s image is not to be made as an all-powerful, all-knowing, independent, authoritative, eternal spirit. To reflect God is not to be God – in fact, to try to be God is to wrongly carry out His image.

            Rather, most basically, the image of God is a reflect of God’s good character to the world.

            As God’s image-bearers, Adam and Eve were to live like God. They must reflect His holiness, love, care, provision, compassion, righteousness, and goodness to the world which they lived in. In order to do this rightly, they must be totally submissive to God and obedient to Him, recognizing His authority and sovereign right over creation.

            We actually see Adam functioning as a good image-bearer in Genesis 2. One fun account that is often glossed over unless talking to children is when Adam names the animals. Why does Adam do this? Well, to answer this, let us think whether we have seen naming happen before. Has anyone named something else in the text already?

            Yes! God has named His creation! God called light Day and darkness Night; He called the expanse Heaven; He called the dry land Earth and the gathered waters Seas. In Genesis 1, God the Creator is also the “Namer.”

            Well, in Genesis 2, Adam is calling the animals their names. He is functioning like God, in a sense, reflecting God’s care and orderliness and rule to the creation. If we pretend that we don’t know what happens after Genesis 2, we would be thinking that Adam is a pretty great image-bearer! He is doing what God has asked! What could possibly go wrong?


The King of Creation

            After saying that man is made in His image, God says that man should have dominion over the animals and the earth. We have a clear connotation with the word “dominion.” When asked what sorts of people have dominion, the chances are we will answer “kings” or “rulers.” And that’s right – kings rule whatever is under their dominion! If Adam is to have dominion, then Adam is to be a king over creation.

            Adam is to rule over the created world. How is he to rule? He is to rule as image-bearer – he is to rule in a godly way. Though a king, Adam was not a Sovereign. He was a king under the authoritative rule of Creator God. Hence, Adam, as king, was given one law to uphold: he must not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A good king will uphold this law. To rule as image-bearer is to rule in obedience to this command from Yahweh.

            In Genesis 2, Adam’s rule does obey the Lord. In fact, after Adam’s display of godly dominion and right image-bearing as he names the animals, the text turns to focus on a helper. Man must not rule alone: woman is created for him. Now we understand why, in Genesis 1, God gave them dominion: man and woman, together, have dominion over all sub-human creation (i.e., creation which is not made in God’s image and is thus subjected to human beings for them to rule). Together, man and woman are to promote godliness and righteousness on the earth through a good rule which reflects God’s image. In this rule, man is the king who leads and woman his precious helper who has dominion alongside him. Creation is supposed to be ruled by a one-flesh union of a man and a woman.


The Priest of the Garden

            Man is image-bearer and king, yes. But God created him with another office: priest. A priest is someone who works and keeps God’s earthly dwelling place. There were priests in the tabernacle and the temple; there will be priests in the temple yet to come. There even will be priests in the Church – that is, all those saved are made into a kingdom of priests in Revelation 5. So that’s all fine and good, one may say, but we must remember we are in Genesis 2. There is no tabernacle, no temple, no kingdom of priests. How can Adam be a priest without a place to minister?

            We might consider for a moment that there is a sanctuary in Genesis 2. Adam is put in a garden – the garden of Eden – to work it and keep it. And more than just a gardener, Adam is here a priest in a garden-sanctuary.

            In Leviticus 8:35, Yahweh calls the priests to be at the doorway of the tabernacle and to keep His charge so that they will not die. This language sounds similar to Genesis – stand at an entrance (we’ll see this in Genesis 3), keep something, and thus do not die. It seems the Levitical priestly role mirrored Adam’s role in the garden.

            Moreso, the garden of Eden where Adam was to work is a sanctuary for God’s earthly presence! To show us this, the text implies that Eden is an elevated place. It must be, for a river flow out forth from it (as opposed to through it). Interestingly, we learn in Ezekiel about a future temple. This temple is elevated (Ezk. 43:12) and has a river flowing from it (Ezk. 47:1). In this elevated and watery place, God’s presence dwells. God’s glory dwells in the Ezekiel temple and in the garden of Eden. The purpose of the priest is to mediate God’s presence to the creation. Adam was supposed to be the one with whom God would fellowship, and in seeing God’s glory, Adam was to reflect that to the world in how he ruled and kept God’s law.


Adam at His Finest

            At this point in the story, we have Adam at his finest. Adam is functioning as God’s image-bearer, king, and priest. He has creation to rule, a garden-sanctuary to keep, and God’s presence to enjoy. The conclusion of Genesis 2 finds Adam breaking forth into poetic speech, a sort of first “love poem,” about this woman whom God has made for him. It ends telling us there is no shame. Everything is perfect; everything is the way it should be. The narrative thus begins in paradise.