24 And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.Now there's a ton going on here. We can't discuss everything, but a preliminary observation is in order. Following the parallel structure of the creation story, the parallel between the sixth and the third day must be noted. On the third day, God acts twice. This double action is signaled by the double mention of God speaking ("Let there be...") and God seeing ("And God saw that it was good"). First, he creates the land by gathering the seas with his word. Second, he calls forth plants from the land. On the sixth day, God again acts twice. The pattern of double speaking and double seeing recurs. First, he calls forth land creatures from the earth. Second, he creates human beings in his own image.
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, [b] and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
This not only creates an aesthetically pleasing parallel, but also makes an important material point concerning the differentiated unity of animals and humans. On the one hand, humans and animals are united. Human beings are members of the animal kingdom. They are among the land animals created on the sixth day. This unity must be remembered in the face of any 'spiritualistic' tendency to rip human life out of its created ecological context. On the other hand, humans and animals are distinct. Human beings are in a class of their own. They are created as a second step on the sixth day, and in the image of God to boot! This distinction must be remembered in the face of any 'naturalistic' tendency to reduce human life to its biological properties.
But what does it mean for human beings to be unique? What does it mean that God has created them in his image? Putting our usual questions to this passage to draw out themes may help to begin answering this question.
How does God create?
First, let's not a unique twist on an old theme that takes place on the sixth day. In this series there has been a lot of talk about talk. That God creates by speaking what the first theme identified in this series. That God names what he creates was the third. That God blesses what he creates was the fifth. The God who creates is a talkative God. He is talkative prior to the creation of humans. But, God talks with humans in a unique way. When God speaks to the creatures of the sea and air on the fifth day, only one verb appears in the original ("God blessed them"), followed by a quotation that constitutes the spoken content of the blessing. But when God speaks to humanity on the sixth day, two verbs appear: "God blessed them and said to them." God does not simply talk at us, but talks with us. He expects a verbal response from us -- something which God does not demand from the rest of his creation (though he can call it forth if he so chooses, cf. Balaam's donkey and Jesus' rocks that would out if we did not). God initiates a conversation with us. This conversation comes to the forefront in the second creation story (Genesis 2) and continues throughout the Bible as its central story line. But God's initiating moment in this conversation, the moment of address, appears on the sixth day of creation. God addresses the creature whom he has made in his image.
What does God create?
God addresses humans.
Of course, we have already been talking about what God creates when we talk about God addressing humans. And perhaps the most important thing that could be said about humans is that God addresses us. But that is not the only thing we can say about humans, for the narrative of the sixth day goes on to say a little bit about the humans which God creates. It does so by interjecting a little poem:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
From this little poem we can glimpse at least a bit of what it means to be created in the image of God. There are lots of theories floating around, both old and new, concerning the content of the image of God. Variety rightly rules the day, because there is not a lot to go on from this pithy little poem. Perhaps some other time I will discuss these options. But at this point we can assert that there is at least one thing that must be part of any account of the image of God: sexual differentiation. In closest possible proximity to the soaring statement that we are created in the image of God is the carnal claim that we are created male and female. Too much can be made of this divinely-willed distinction. But too little can also be made of it. The crucial thing is to recognize is that the story of humanity as the creature addressed by God begins not with a solitary individual but a differentiated community of persons. Note that the first time God says something is "not good" in his creation is the aloneness of Adam prior to the creation of Eve (Gen 2:18). The conversation God initiates with the human community has as its corollary (image?) the conversation within the human community. As God addresses us, so we address one another.
Why does God create?
God addresses humans so that we may enjoy and serve him and his creation.
God addresses humans with both command and promise. He begins his address to us with the imperative verbs of v. 28: "be fruitful," "fill," "rule." Then he shifts to the gift-talk of v. 29-30: "I give you." Yet these commands and promises cannot be separated from each other, for they are nearly identical in content (befitting the style of Hebrew parallelism). So the command is the promise and the promise is the command. We could say that God gives promissory commands that are also commanding promises. God simultaneously blesses us with possibilities and charges us with necessities. Similar to the creatures of the air and sea, we are called to be fruitful and multiply (v. 28a). God blesses us with the possibility and charges us with the necessity of reproduction. Unlike the other animals, we are called to "subdue" the earth (v. 28) while along with the other animals we are given plants and their fruit for food (v. 29-30). God blesses us with the possibility and charges us with the necessity of horticulture. Unlike the other animals, yet similar to the luminaries who govern day and night, we are called to "rule over" the animal kingdom (v. 28b). God blesses us with the possibility and charges us with the necessity of husbandry. In all these spheres, God calls us to the task of serving creation while at the same gives us the gift of enjoying creation. Within this interplay of gift and task, we are reminded again that human beings are both united to and distinct from the rest of creation. Humanity is both the apex of creation and also its weakest, most dependent member. As such it is addressed by God. God addresses humans so that we may serve and enjoy his creation.
Within the command and promise to serve and enjoy God's creation is prefigured our service to and enjoyment of God himself. This covenantal response is not yet narrated in the first creation story. We must wait for the shift in perspective that comes with the second creation story to see the initial unfolding of the back-and-forth conversation between God and humanity. But God initiates this conversation on the sixth day of creation. God addresses humanity as a creature who may respond not only by fulfilling her God-given role as other creatures do, but also by talking with God as the one creature made in his image. These are two responses are not absolutely distinct but intimately related, for we talk with God about the fulfillment of our role within creation. When the rest of creation fails to perform its God-given task, it is simply dealt with by the orderly system of nature. But when we fail to perform our God-given task (which we do far more often than the rest of creation), God addresses us. God in his justice calls us to task, and God in his grace gives us the time to perform it. In the conversation that ensues, we come to serve and enjoy God himself. God addresses humans so that we may serve and enjoy him as well as serve and enjoy his creation.
- Do you buy the claim that God speaks to humanity in a different manner than the rest of creation? Does the language of "address" adequately describe this difference?
- Is the 'communal' reading of the image of God I have presented here work? Does it fit with the theme of 'address' in the way I propose?
- Do command and promise interweave in the way I suggest? If not, how would you speak of their relation?
- What are some other exegetical details (parallels, patterns, themes) that you notice?