Beginnings (3): Genesis 1

Breaking the Pattern  

Last time we saw the ascent of the cosmic drama in Genesis 1, culminating in the creation of man. Who is this special creature? Along with the Scriptures, we wonder over him and his absolutely special status in creation; along with the Scriptures, we can ask:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
[1]

The answer to this question we can find in Genesis 1, where it shows us very clearly that although man is created on the same day as the animals, he has a distinctly different status.  Man is presented as the crown of God’s creative work, and the very first thing that indicates this, is breaking  the pattern. In each of the previous days, the pattern is the same: God creates, He sees what He has done and sees that it is good, then “there was evening and there was morning,” and the day closes. However, on the sixth  day, the pattern is broken: even though it begins in the same way as the previous days (verses 24-25), something additional and unexpected then happens —instead of finishing the day the same as all the other days, God says: “let us make  a man”!

Once again, who is this special creature?

You have crowned him with glory and honor.

 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet[2],

The pattern is broken also in the manner of God’s speech: so far, Scripture speaks of God in the third person, whereas in Genesis 1:26 we hear – for the first time – God speaking in the first person. For all the previous days, God spoke: let there be … (something) – and there was… (something); now, however, we see a very different way of speaking and creating – now He speaks these almost contemplative words: “Let us make a man”. This creature that is about to be created requires God’s resolve and contemplation—and also requires God to take counsel with others, because He is speaking here in a first person plural!

Who is God talking to? You probably know all the traditional Jewish interpretations: either we have here a royal plural, or God is speaking to His angelic court. You definitely know the Christian interpretation: Christian theology generally takes the phrase to indicate the triune nature of God. There is one more interpretation that I personally like very much; I will share this with you at the end of this article.

First Man and his “Bloody” Name        (my British readers would probably  love this title 😊)

I have already mentioned several times that it’s precisely with the personal names that we experience the greatest loss when we read the Bible in translation. The name of the first man – Adam – is the first and  amazing example. There are so many things we can say about this one little Hebrew word of three letters—so many deep things that are not seen in translation.

There are two different words that jump at us from this name, and the first one is dam – blood. Wow! Why would the word dam be within Adam? First, it shows us that this creature is indeed flesh and blood? We know that the theme of blood goes through the entire Torah – through all the five books of Moses:

But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood[3].

“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts[4]

For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life.[5]

… but it all starts here, inside the name Adam: this “bloody” aspect is a component of Adam’s identity from the beginning.

There’s another Hebrew word that is connected to the original Hebrew word ‘adam’ – adama, the earth, or the ground.  One cannot really see the etymological  connection between ‘man’ and ‘ground’ in the English translation, but in Hebrew it certainly stands out. In Hebrew, when you say “Adam” you almost hear the word adamah in this name. In fact, they correspond and correlate one to another as masculine and feminine nouns in Hebrew do – which means that their connection is very deep and intimate. For example, in Genesis 3, when God punishes Adam, it’s adama that is cursed as a result of this punishment – another proof of this essential inner bond. We will talk more about Genesis 3 when we get there, but it is very clear that this ‘earthly’ aspect is also a component of Adam’s identity. Why?

The traditional explanation goes like this: the man is called Adam because ‘the LORD God formed man from the dust of the earth” (‘Adamah’).  However, there are many different interpretations – and today I want to share with you the one that you may not have heard before. This interpretation belongs to the great Rabbi of the city of Prague (16th century), Judah Loew ben Bezalel (widely known to scholars of Judaism as ‘Maharal of Prague’). He was wondering why man was the only one to be called after the ground – after all, were not the animals also created from the earth?

His answer was that, while the animals were created ‘almost completed’ (meaning that when animals are born, they grow on the outside but their minds remain basically at the same level), both man (‘Adam’) and the land or ground (‘Adamah’) evolve and develop; they were both created in a basic, pure status, and they both require long and hard work in order to reach their greatest potential and bring forth fruit.

These are the things that we see in the first man’s name in Hebrew. Undoubtedly, these “bloody” and “earthly” aspects form the original components, not only of Adam’s identity, but of God’s message to humanity: this “flesh and blood” man needs to be developed after he comes into this world, otherwise his “bloody” and “earthly” components prevail. We see this happening almost right away, in Genesis 4, where the both words form one of the most tragic verses in the whole Bible: The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground (קול דמי אחיך צעקים אלי מן האדמה).

And now the time comes to share with you the answer that was given by one Jewish sage to the traditional question: To whom is God speaking in Genesis 1:26? His answer was: “God is speaking to you, and to me—to everyone. He is saying to you: “If you agree, if you allow me into your heart, together – you and I – we will make a man (human) from you!”

[1] Ps.8:3-4

[2] Ps.8:5-6

[3] Genesis 9:4

[4] Exodus 12:7-23

[5] Leviticus 17:14

 

 If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying  in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding  eTeacher courses  (juliab@eteachergroup.com) .

If you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you  can get  them  from  my page:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/  . Also, Also,  my last book “Unlocking the Scriptures”, with the Hebrew insights into the Torah and  Jewish Background insights   into NT,  is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11

 

 

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (3 comments)

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  1. Rick

    The interpretation you suggest at the end is very enlightening. Why wouldn’t He consult with love of His heart; His beautiful bride. I believe Proverbs 8:30-31 testifies to this.

  2. Michael Toliver

    Michael – This is the subject I am ministering on in our church, especially verse 26. Anything you care to share about being made in God’s image and we having been given dominion over creation. God bless!

  3. George

    Thank you so much for the wonderful insight,