As we are yet again in the throes of another presidential voting cycle, I was reminded recently of navy vice admiral, Commander William Stockdale, whom Independent candidate Ross Perot chose as his running mate back in 1992. Stockdale famously—or perhaps infamously!—began his vice-presidential debate by asking: “Who am I? Why am I here?” Though in popular memory these questions have been taken as indications of Stockdale’s cluelessness, his point was that because he wasn’t a so-called “Washington insider” he would be able to bring fresh insights to the governing of our nation. Though I’ve never for a second considered running for office, I, too, from an early age began to ask the very questions Stockdale posed: “Who am I? Why am I here?” Early on I wondered about the meaning of life, of our existence here on earth. Now had I been raised in a Christian home, I might have learned that some answers to these questions are provided for us in the book of Genesis, the book about creation and beginnings.

As we saw last week in considering the entirety of Genesis 1 into Genesis 2, God who created the heavens and earth went on to form the formless and fill the empty and bring light to the darkness that was there. And he did so by means of his speech for each time he said, “Let there be…,” whatever he declared came to pass.[1] This morning we’re going to focus on the part of creation that Genesis ends with in the first chapter and elaborates upon in the second, the creation of humanity. And as we do, we’ll be pointed to answers to the questions, “Who are we? Why are we here?”

In returning again to Genesis 1:26–28, we’re provided the final part of God’s creation as he creates humanity:

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind 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 in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

The first thing we see here is that in the vastness of God’s entire creation humans are the only beings that God creates in his own image and likeness. This imaging of God underscores the uniqueness and dignity of humanity. As God’s image-bearers, all humans are worthy of honor and respect. After the Fall this foundational teaching becomes the basis for much of God’s law as it seeks to rein in the many ways humans hurt each other: by murdering[2]—and lying—and coveting—and cursing each other[3]—and lusting—and stealing, to name but a few. We’re not to act in these ways towards one another for we have been made by God, our Creator, in his very own image. Therefore to dishonor and disrespect each other is akin to dishonoring and disrespecting him. Conversely to honor and respect each other is akin to honoring and respecting him. Is it any wonder that Jesus summarized the law and the prophets in the two commands of loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and our neighbor—whom God made his in own image—as ourselves? [4]

Now again, as noted last week, not everything that God required of humanity was unique to it. As was the case with the creatures of the sea and birds of the air, God told our first parents to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth….”[5] In this we see that the God who made the heavens and the earth communicates with his creation. And as to the animals, isn’t it interesting that after God blessed them, he spoke to the animals he had made in giving them this command?[6] What I gather from this is that when we talk to our pets, we’re following in the steps of our Creator! But you’re free to interpret otherwise. J

So, too, as God had the sun, the greater light, and moon, the lesser light, to govern the day and night, respectively,[7] so he told our first parents to rule. But in the case of humanity, he gave them the task of ruling over the entirety of that creation. As stated in verse 28 of Genesis 1 God said to them, “Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” This command to be fruitful, increase in number, fill the earth, subdue it, and rule over God’s creation is known as the creation or cultural mandate. For God made us in his image, our Creator and King, to rule and be stewards over the world he made and in which he placed us.

Next God said to our first parents in verse 29, “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.” Upon creating the woman and man, our kind Creator went on to provide food for them. He did this as well with “all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it.” As stated in verse 29, he gave them “every green plant for food.” It’s no wonder that in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus encouraged his disciples not to worry about their lives, what they would eat or drink, or their bodies, what they would wear, in exhorting them, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”[8] Jesus was reminding his disciples about a basic truth found in the book of Genesis. For God didn’t just create the world and its inhabitants; he went on to feed and care for them. As Jesus went on to state, “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”[9] So we see that a Scriptural understanding of creation is that God not only creates creatures to inhabit the world he’s made but he, as their Creator, takes care of them—whether flowers, birds, or people—and especially people for only people are made in his image.

Now as we turn to Genesis 2, we’re provided with a complementary account of creation. Whereas the creation account in Genesis 1 culminates with God creating humanity in his own image, Genesis 2 focuses specifically upon the creation of first Adam and then Eve. As Genesis 1:27 states “in the image of God he created him,” starting with verse 7 in Genesis 2 we’re told how this “he” was created: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Like a potter[10]—an image of God used elsewhere in Scripture— God the Creator took the dust of the ground and from it formed a man. Some of your Bibles may note a word play that in Hebrew the word for man, “adam” sounds like the word for ground, “adamah.” When God takes this dust from the ground he breathes his very life, “the breath of life,” into it with the result that this dust of the ground became a “living being,” mere dust no more.

In verses 8–9 of chapter 2 we have another echo of what was stated in Genesis 1. Whereas there we saw God giving his image-bearers “every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth” for food,[11] here we’re told, “Now the Lord God had planted a garden”—translated as “paradise” in the Greek[12]—“in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” So a detail provided here that wasn’t given in the Genesis 1 account of creation is the existence of two trees: one of life and the other of the knowledge of good and evil. Their importance—which we’ll consider again next week—is underscored by the fact that God placed them in the center of the garden.

Next we see how the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28 began to be carried out for in verse 15 of chapter 2 we’re told that God assigned to Adam a task: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” As we’ll see momentarily, Adam was unable to properly work and care for it by himself but first we’re provided with another glimpse of the importance of the two trees in the middle of the garden. As stated in verses 16–17, “16 …the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’” It’s interesting, isn’t it, that God made no prohibition against Adam eating from the tree of life but only of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now in all that God said to Adam, this was the only negative command given him. And disobedience to this warning would come with a steep price: “when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Now at some level this warning must have seemed incomprehensible to Adam as he was surrounded by lush, rich, beautiful life everywhere he turned. What was death? What did it mean that he would certainly die if he ate of this one tree? How could the fruit of this tree be any different from that borne by the other trees that were similarly “pleasing to the eye and good for food”[13]? Yet regardless of whether or not Adam understood the meaning of death, this prohibition against eating from this particular tree is what his good Creator—who had made Adam and the entirety of his creation good—required of him. Adam was to trust in God’s goodness and act accordingly. From the beginning it’s evident that our Creator required his image-bearers to have faith and place their trust in him as they obey his word.

Now despite the lushness of the Garden of Eden, God who made humans in his image had, at this point, only made the “male” part of the “male and female” from Genesis 1:27.[14] Yet a male without a female was never what God intended. As stated in verse 18 of chapter 2, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” This verse teaches that God didn’t make us to live only with him, alone with him. Though having made us in his image God clearly made us for himself, he never intended for us to live without other people in our lives. He made us social beings for whom being alone is not good. For Adam at this point was alone with God. Again, notice that unlike God’s having created “all that he made” and seeing it was “very good,”[15] Adam’s being alone is specifically said by God to be “not good.” If it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone with God, then it can’t be good when Christians determine that all they need is God and God alone. For the truth of the matter is that we need God, yes. But that very God who made us for himself also made us to be together with others, not alone.

Now part of our not being alone is that God made us to enjoy the creaturely part of his creation. As stated in verses 19–20, prior to making Eve, “the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.” As we noted last week, in the Ancient Near Eastern world for a king to call something was a way of indicating that he had dominion over it. Since God calls the entirety of creation—the heavens and earth and all they contain—into being, he, as its Creator and King, has the right of dominion over it. And in these verses we see the LORD God confirming to Adam, his image-bearer, this kingly dominion already granted him and the yet-to-be-created Eve in Genesis 1:28 when they were told to “Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” In these verses from Genesis 2 we’re provided another glimpse of how Adam began to fulfill the creation mandate as God brought his creatures to him, his image-bearer, “to see what he would name them.” As God spoke, and it was so, so here we see that “whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” Therefore, again, we see that humans were created not only for relationship with God but also for relationship with the world of nature as humans were tasked with working and caring for the garden and naming all of its creatures.

And yet…. In spite of the greatness of “all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals,” the end of verse 20 indicates that humans were made for more as we’re told for the second time about Adam’s need of a “helper”: “But for Adam no suitable helper was found.” God had promised to make a suitable helper for Adam in verse 18 but that helper was not to be found in the animal kingdom noted in verses 19 and 20. This makes sense, of course, for God’s image-bearers were made to care for all the animals, not rule with them. Though animals are able to care for their own young, no animal could possibly help Adam make decisions with regard to the care of other animals. Therefore God made him a helper who could. The word translated as “helper” is ‘ezer in the Hebrew. As one commentator notes this “is one who supplies strength in the area that is lacking in ‘the helped.’ The term does not imply that the helper is either stronger or weaker than the one helped.”[16] Another similarly observes, “The word ‘helper’ entails his inadequacy, not her inferiority, for elsewhere it is often used of God.”[17] In other words, Adam needed another image-bearer, another human being rather than an animal, if he was to fulfill God’s creation mandate, his purposes for him.

Clearly, the fulfillment of the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28 was a task requiring both male and female image-bearers. Therefore now we see in verse 21 of chapter 2 God creating the “female” of the “male and female he created them” of Genesis 1:26. The suitable helper for Adam is about to be formed: “21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs”—which can also be translated as “side”—“and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” With the creation of Eve, God’s cultural mandate can now be fulfilled. For

Without Eve, Adam cannot be fruitful and increase in number;

Without Eve, Adam cannot cannot fill the earth and subdue it;

Without Eve, Adam cannot rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.[18]

But with Eve, all of these were now possible for the creation of humanity, fully and equally made in the image of God, was now complete.

And once Eve was created Adam, quite naturally, immediately recognized the difference and uniqueness in his human counterpart as he exclaimed, verse 23, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” Wonderful as God’s animals, fish, and foul may have been, at the end of the day they were but animals, not human beings. But this woman, taken from Adam’s side, shared his skeletal framework—and skin—and breath, the very breath his Creator had breathed into him when he had taken him from the dust of the ground. For the breath God had initially breathed into Adam was now shared with the mate he had taken from Adam’s side. God didn’t breathe new life into Eve but he had Adam share the life God had given him. Further, as one commentator notes, in this first marriage “It is important to observe that God creates only one Eve for Adam, not several Eves or another Adam. This points to heterosexual monogamy as the divine pattern for marriage that God established at creation.”[19]

And the uniqueness of this first marriage is affirmed beginning with verse 24, “24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” The fact that the man is to leave his father and mother and unite to his wife indicates that for those who marry, this relationship is to take precedent above all others, even that of their parents. What is more, the word used for “united” may also be translated as “hold fast” which is elsewhere used in the context of practicing faithfulness to the covenant. It’s remarkable to consider that as a husband is united to, holds fast to, his wife, so our Creator chooses to unite to, to hold fast to, his people, his bride.[20] Therefore, as one scholar notes, “Humans are never more like the covenant-keeping God than when they pledge themselves in covenant to one another.”[21]

So let’s review the many ways that Genesis 1 and 2 help us answer the questions, “Who are we? Why are we here?”

God created us, first and foremost, for himself. Of all of his creation only humans are made in God’s very own image. He made us. He provided food for us. He gave us a task as his image-bearers and representatives to care for the good world he had made. And as those who were made for him, he expects us to trust in his goodness and obey his commands for his Word ever and always is given for our good;

Second, God created us for each other. Whether married or single, with children or without children, the one thing in all of Genesis 1 and 2 that God said is not good is man being alone. Therefore part of the way in which we are to care for the good world he’s made is by getting to know and caring for one another. For every human being we ever come across is worthy of the dignity, respect, and honor that is due all who bear the image of their Maker. And for those of us living this side of the Fall, though not all of us are able to be fruitful and increase in number biologically, our Lord Jesus nonetheless called us to do what we can to increase his kingdom when he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”[22]

Third God created us to do work. Each of us is tasked to care for and watch over and protect the small slice of the vast world in which he’s placed us with whatever gifts, time, and strength we may have. For part of the reason God made us is to care for this beautiful, good world he has made. Again, as those living on the other side of the Fall, we see the apostle Paul underscoring this point in the brief passage from Ephesians 2 read earlier. As stated there,

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Dear sisters and brothers, you and I are God’s handiwork, created in the image of God, in the image of Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord, that we might do good works. That is who we are. That is why we are here. So let us today and always ever avail ourselves of the opportunity to do good to those around us that others might see the goodness of their Creator and turn to him in whose image they have been made.

Let us pray.

[1] Genesis 1:3: And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.; 1:6–7:And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” …. And it was so.; 1:9: And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.; 1:11:  Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.; 1:14–15: 14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.; 1:20: 20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”; 1:24: 24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.; 1:26: Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

[2] Murder is prohibited on the basis of humans being made in God’s image. See Genesis 9:6: Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.

[3] Cursing is also prohibited on the basis of humans being made in God’s image. See James 3:9–10:With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

[4] Matthew 22:34–40:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” and Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

[5] Genesis 1:28a.

[6] Genesis 1:22: God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”

[7] Genesis 1:16: God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.

[8] Matthew 6:26.

[9] Matthew 6:28–30.

[10] See, e.g., Isaiah 64:8: Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand Isaiah 29:16: You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?; Isaiah 45:9: “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?;Jeremiah 18:5–6:Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.; Romans 9:20–21: 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”[quoting Isaiah 29:16 and 45:9] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

[11] Genesis 1:29.

[12] παράδεισος, ου, ὁ – paradise, a place of blessedness, from the base meaning of garden < https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/paradeisos>

[13] Genesis 2:9.

[14] Genesis 1:27: So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created [him]; male and female he created them.

[15] Genesis 1:31a: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

[16] Stated in the footnote to Genesis 2:18 in the Crossway ESV Study Bible.

[17] Stated in the footnote to Genesis 2:18 in the Reformation ESV Study Bible.

[18] Genesis 1:28.

[19] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 2:23–24.

[20] See, e.g., Psalm 139:7–10: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.; Ezekiel 16:8–14: “‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine. “‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. 10 I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. 11 I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, 12 and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. 14 And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord.; Isaiah 54:5: For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. Conversely, God’s people are to hold fast to, to unite with, him: Deuteronomy 10:20: Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name.; Deuteronomy 13:4: It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.; Joshua 22:5: But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

[21] Reformation ESV Study Bible comment on Genesis 2:24.

[22] Matthew 28:18–20.