Reading Genesis 1:26-31
God’s creatures, at the start, all had their own distinct place in the creation. God made the water and populated it with fish. God made the sky and populated it with birds. God made the dry ground and populated it with living creatures: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals. Remember, too, that each of these were made according to their kinds. Ruling out any evolution from a single-celled creature. Ruling out any evolution from one species to another.
Today, we want to continue our look at the filling of the earth by looking at the creation of man.
From this point on the Bible focuses on mankind..
Man is Special
You can’t escape this conclusion – the text screams it out. We are not just one animal amongst others, not simply superior because we can think, create music, use tools. We are special because the God of creation made us special.
There was a time when man’s superiority over animals was argued because we used tools – Humans are the only animals that use tools, we used to say. But what about the birds and apes that we now know do as well?
Another argument for man’s superiority was that man was the only one who is empathic and generous, But what about the monkeys that practice charity and the elephants that mourn their dead?
Or that mankind alone experience joy and a knowledge of the future. But what about the U.K. study of two years ago that showed pigs raised in comfortable environments exhibit optimism, moving expectantly toward a new sound instead of retreating warily from it?
Do you see what is going on here? We are being led to believe that animals are exactly the same us. That they are in the exact same business as us: the business of survival and reproduction.
Regardless of what others may say, our text makes the case that mankind indeed is special. First, did you notice the creation of man starts with a divine conference: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness …” (Gen.1:26)?
“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness …” (Gen.1:26). This tells us that the creation of mankind is the result of a divine decision. The triune God has carefully thought over the matter before deciding to create mankind. Since this kind of language is used for man and man alone, we are being told that mankind stands alone and above everything else. In this way, mankind’s creation is unique and special.
Note also that one of the ways God’s creation activity is organized is in terms of movement. Nothing made the first three days can move. Everything made the second three days has increasing freedom of movement: the sun, moon, and stars move, but only in fixed orbits and cannot change their paths; fish, birds, and animals can change their paths though they do this largely by instinct; man alone moves in paths and ways that he can set for himself. In this way, mankind’s creation is unique and special.
Man is the last of God’s creation activity. So what does God do once everything, including man, has been made? God looks at all that He has made and pronounces it good. More than that, He pronounces it “very good” (Gen 1:31). Meaning what? Meaning that with the creation of man, the whole created realm is now complete, lacking in nothing.
Why man is special because man alone is said to be made in the image or likeness of God (Gen.1:26-27). Being god-like, human beings really are different from and higher than the animals.
Keep in mind the original audience of Genesis: the children of Israel who were enslaved in Egypt, travelling through the wilderness, and on their way to the Promised Land. How do you think these slaves and former slaves reacted to the message that they were special? How do you think they felt when they heard about man’s creation? It must have thrilled them and filled them with hope!
The Hebrew word translated as “image” has as its root meaning “to cut off, to chisel.” This first of all speaks of a statue as an “image.” A statue, of course, has been cut and chiselled and formed by the stone-smith or wood-worker so that it becomes an image or likeness or resemblance of someone or something. In the same way, man is the image of God so that he is like God.
Reformed theologians generally speak of the broad and narrow aspects of the image of God in man. Let’s start with the broad. What is God like? What have we seen so far in our study of Genesis? God speaks, commands, names, blesses, and hallows. God creates, makes, separates, and sets. God looks at and beholds what He has made. God judges the goodness of what He has made. God provides for what He has made. In short, God exercises speech, creative activity, perception, judgement, and care – all of which implies reason and powers of contemplation. Even atheists have to admit that humans have all these traits – traits as a whole shared with no animal. Human beings – alone among all creatures – speak, make, perceive, judge, and care. Human beings – alone among all creatures – reason and have powers of contemplation. Human beings – alone among all creatures – can think about the whole, marvel at the order and variety, wonder at its beginning, and feel awe in beholding its grandeur. All of this is the broad aspect of the image of God. It is what makes us different from the animals. It is what makes us all equal. It is what makes us all worthy of respect.
But there is more. Look at the first thing our text says after the divine conference to make man in God’s image:
(Gen.1:26) Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Gen.1:28)
What have we seen about God throughout Genesis 1? Haven’t we seen that God is the Ruler? Haven’t we seen that God is in charge? Haven’t we seen that God is sovereign? Haven’t we seen God filling the earth? So, in v26 & 28, what does God say to a mankind made in His image? God says man is in charge. Man is given the highest place in creation. Man is told to subdue the earth and fill it – which is why we are made male and female.
Man’s goal, as image bearer, is to show God’s righteous rule over all of creation. In the ancient Near East, a king would set up statues of himself across the land to show his sovereignty over his kingdom. In the same way, man in the image of God is meant to show God’s sovereignty over creation.
Ruling the earth in God’s name involves so much. It involves earth-keeping – wise use of the earth and its resources without needless waste. It includes the raising of godly children and the conversion of the nations. It means we use our talents to bring glory to God in every area of life. And, it says something to how we do our work and our play.
Man’s place of dominion over the earth, the highest place in creation, explains the attack of Satan; for Satan had once held this position and wanted an even higher position – he wanted to be God. So what does Satan do? He tempts man to be like God – that is, to take God’s place. Satan tempts man to fall even as he himself fell.
Our text is not as clear about the narrow aspect of the image of God. To see this part of the image, we need to turn to the New Testament. In Eph. 4:24 Paul tells us to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. To be like God, to be in the image of God, means “true righteousness and holiness.” In Colossians 3:10 Paul identifies the new self with being renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, To be like God, to be in the image of God, means knowledge – knowledge of God and things spiritual.
We are special. However, Man may be – of all the creatures – the most intelligent, resourceful, conscious, and free. Only man – of all the creatures – may have been made in true righteousness, holiness, and knowledge. Man alone – of all the creatures – may have powers that resemble divinity. Yet, man is at most merely an image. Man, who is given dominion over the earth, is reminded by the Biblical text that he – like all other creatures – is NOT divine.
Like everything else in creation, man was brought forth by a creative act of God. Man may be godlike but the text makes clear he belongs to the world of animals. For instance, it is no accident that man was made on the same day as the animals. And, as v 29 & 30 remind us, man needs food just like the animals and birds; like the animals and birds, man is needy and vulnerable.
One should never read the story of man’s creation without keeping Psalm 8 in mind. Psalm 8 asks a very important and relevant question – a question we should ask. Psalm 8 asks, “what is man?” Listen to what the psalmist says:
(Ps 8:3-8When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, 4 What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? 5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honour. 6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, 7 All sheep and oxen— Even the beasts of the field, 8 The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas..
Next to the sun, moon, and stars – which so many worship – what is man? Next to the sun, moon, and stars, man appears so small, so tiny, so insignificant. Yet, God has crowned him with glory and honour and made him ruler over everything.
What is man? He is an image-bearer of God! He is special! Yet, he is also a creature of God’s hands.
What we have been looking at this morning says something about worship.
One of the themes that has been running throughout Genesis 1 is idolatry. So far, what idols have we been warned against? Day three – do not worship “mother earth” or Baal or your hard work because fertility is a created capacity. Day four – do not worship the sun, moon, or stars that God has set into place for the sake of the earth and man. Day five – do not worship the sea creatures God has made. Day six – do not worship animals whether it be sacred cows, the stock market bull and bear, or mythical creatures like the unicorn.
Which brings us to the second half of day six. What is one of our biggest idols today? What has man been tempted to worship throughout the ages? Don’t we, like Satan, attempt to turn ourselves into gods? Aren’t we guilty of the worship of self? Don’t we live for ourselves and our desires and our wants?
In Genesis 1, the message comes through loud and clear: don’t worship yourself, don’t worship man (don’t forget, like the animals he is but a creature).
But there is also another message: don’t worship what is below you, what is under you, what is under your care. We have been made kings of creation. We have been given stewardship of creation. We have been put in charge of creation. To worship what is under us doesn’t make sense. In fact, it is ridiculous.
Instead of idolizing ourselves, instead of worshiping what has been put under us, we are to bow before and worship God. We are to bow before the God Who made us and everything else in all creation.
But more than that, we are to bow before the God Who, in Christ, rescues us and saves us.
Take a look at man in the image of God. What have we done with the broad aspect of the image of God? It has been severely compromised or distorted by the fall into sin. As we look around us, we see that man still follows the God-given command to have dominion, but now it often expresses itself in tyranny. No longer are all men treated as equals. Men oppress women instead of working alongside them. Nations war against nations instead of working together to multiply and share resources. The environment is abused, neglected, and poisoned. Animals are exploited. In short, we are hard put to see God’s sovereignty in how man acts.
Look at what man has done with the narrow aspect of the image of God. Because of sin, no longer are we righteous and holy. And, we deny or repress the knowledge of God. This part of the image of God is not merely compromised or distorted but actually lost by man’s fall into sin.
Whether we are talking about the broad or the narrow aspects of the image of God, we fail. In fact, we fail miserably. What does God do? He sends Christ. When it comes to the image of God in man, there are two things we need to say about Christ.
First, Christ was born without sin and remained without sin. His was a perfect knowledge of God. He, like no other, was and is the perfect image of God (Col 1:15; Heb 1:3). As far as the narrow aspect is concerned, Jesus succeeds where man fails.
Second, Jesus is the One Who is given dominion over everything. Earlier, I mentioned Psalm 8 and the dominion given to man. The book of Hebrews tells us this dominion has been given to Jesus (Heb 2:5-9). It is Jesus, not man, Who exercises perfect dominion over everything. Again, Jesus succeeds where man fails.
What does this mean for you and me? In Christ, we are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). In Jesus, we will finally live up to what God originally created us to be.
As we think of all of this, we can only end with the words of the Psalmist: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Ps 8:9).