A couple of years ago I was picking up my son from daycare. We were waiting at a stoplight on the intersection of 41 and Fowler Street near Page field. There was a gentleman in his mid-30s on a bike getting ready to cross this busy intersection. I was getting nervous for him because you could tell he was not paying attention to the pedestrian crosswalk, informing him that a flashing red hand means, “Don’t go.”
He decided to ignore the warning and cross at an unsafe time. The first car swerved to the side of the road. Miraculously the man on the bike pedaled far enough to dodge the first car. Then a second car was coming down this intersection on the other side and the man on the bike was able to brake just in time to avoid this car too. The young man swiftly pedaled back to the side of the road and was unharmed.
When I saw this unfold, my heart was in my throat. I was rooting for him to avoid both cars. I was desperately praying in my spirit for this man to make it out alive. I even had my phone ready to call 911 in case he was hit. It all happened so suddenly but if felt like an eternity. It was such a relief when I knew this stranger would be okay.
Why is it natural for us to hope and desire for a person to make it safe from impending doom, whether it’s being rescued from a burning house, stuck inside a cave for several weeks, or evading a major hurricane? Deep down, I believe all of us want goodness for our fellow human beings. But why is this the case? What makes a human being distinct from the rest of creation? What gives us intrinsic worth or value? I believe the answer lies in being created in the image and likeness of God. The (Bereisheet) or Genesis narrative gives us a perfect picture of what this means. Let’s begin in Genesis 1:26-27.
“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness! Let them rule over the fish of the sea, over the flying creatures of the sky, over the livestock, over the whole earth, and over every crawling creature that crawls on the land.” 27 God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the land, and conquer it. Rule over the fish of the sea, the flying creatures of the sky, and over every animal that crawls on the land.”
29 Then God said, “I have just given you every green plant yielding seed that is on the surface of the whole land, and every tree, which has the fruit of a tree yielding seed. They are to be food for you. 30 Also for every wild animal, every flying creature of the sky and every creature that crawls on the land which has life, every green plant is to be food.” And it happened so. 31 So God saw everything that He made, and behold it was very good.
So there was evening and there was morning—the sixth day.
In the Genesis narrative, God spoke the world into existence. This is the prerogative of any true king with power and authority. When He speaks, it happens. It also demonstrates Adonai’s reasoning and intellectual ability to create the complexity of life. For instance, God saw that the earth was formless and void so he said, “Let there be light” and there was light. God brought order out of chaos by His Word. He declared the lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. He pronounced to the sea: you will be filled with living creatures. Adonai Elohenu commands the earth to bring forth living creatures after their kind.
But there is something unique about humankind. God doesn’t just speak male and female into existence. He crafts them into His image. He breathes into man’s nostrils the breath of life. He is intimately involved like a potter is to their masterpiece.
Theologian Herman Bavinck, a Dutch theologian who lived in the late 1800s said it best: “The entire world is a revelation of God, a mirror of his virtues and perfections; every creature is in his own way and according to his own measure an embodiment of a divine thought. But among all creatures only humans have the image of God, the highest and richest revelation of God, and therefore head and crown of the entire creation.”
Let us go back and examine this passage in further detail. The Hebrew word for image is Tselem צלם and it is derived from a root word that means “to carve” or “to cut” out. This indicates that man is a carved out image. Man is a representative or image-bearer of Adonai. Tselem also expresses image as a form or a shadow, which is the outline or representation of the original. The reality is God. We are the shadow representing the reality. Before we can understand how we are like God, let’s take a moment to discuss how our reality is different.
I think it’s fair to say that at this moment in time, reality for you is at its apex. You are listening to me speak. You can visibly see the synagogue, smell the wonderful food that we will be eating after the service, and maybe checking your watch to see how much time is left for this sermon. This is the now. This is ultimate reality from your vantage point.
But God’s reality is more than you and I can connect or fully know with our senses. A supernova bright star is powerful, but God is more powerful. A mother and her newborn expresses great love and care, but God’s love is infinitely greater. Albert Einstein was a genius, but his intellect pales in comparison to Elohim. The most notable attributes of humankind are only shadows of the great I Am.
His attributes are perfect and unattainable. He is the essence of reality. All of us, no matter how great or small, rely on God’s existence for survival. We are finite, created from the ground which in Hebrew “afar” expresses this notion of humility. It is a good reminder of our creatureliness, frailty, and utter dependence.
Scripture informs us of this truth. When Moshe was confronted by the Lord God in a burning bush, He was told to take off his sandals since he was standing on holy ground. Holiness is distinction. Holiness says I am creator and you are created. Other examples include Uzzah being struck down for his irreverence when handling the ark of God, Isaiah the major prophet pronouncing He is a man of unclean lips in the midst of the consuming fire of Almighty God, or in the gospel of Mark when Yeshua calms the storm. The disciples were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” It’s clear from Scripture that God is uniquely different from us.
God’s reality being greater than us is best encapsulated in Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”Declares Adonai. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
In spite of this, God continues to reiterate that we are created in His image. He says it 4 times in Gen 1:26-28. In Genesis 5:1-2, the writer of the Torah Moshe expresses the genealogies of Adam and says, “When God created Adam, in the likeness of God he made him. Male and female He created them, and blessed them and called their name “Adam” when he created them.
Even after the fall of man, when sin entered into the world by the choices our first parents made to disobey God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Moshe still writes in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, For in the “image” of God he made man. This is in reference to Cain killing his brother Abel after the fall. Therefore, if anyone tells you that we are no longer created in the image of God because of sin, this is a strong verse to refute that idea. If anyone tells you that we are no longer created in the image of God because of sin, this is a strong verse to disprove that assertion. We may be fractured, broken, and disfigured His image, but our image remains intact.
Recall from (Bereisheet) Genesis 1:26 that God has a distinct plan for humankind. He tells them to rule over the fish of the sea, over the flying creatures of the sky, over the livestock, over the whole earth, and over every crawling creatures that crawls on the land. He repeats this in 1:28 with this idea of being fruitful, multiplying, and “subduing” and having “dominion” over the natural world. It is clear from the text the author is conveying that being an image-bearer of God is connected with the action of dominion.
Dominion, or “radah” in Hebrew, has this idea of granting humans the right and responsibility to rule and govern creation. It provides a hierarchy of power and authority in which the human race is positioned above the rest of the natural world. “Radah” is used to signify the rule over a household in Leviticus 25:43 and those who were under the authority of King Solomon. The verb can also denote a forceful verb like “destroy” or to strike down an enemy during battle.
The other word, to subdue, comes from the Hebrew word Kavash. Once again, this description complements radah, giving permission for humankind to have authority over the universe. King David reinforces this truth in Psalm 8:6 “You made mankind rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet.” keep in mind this word is even more forceful than radah, expressing the actual act of subjugation or defeat.
Why would God choose this idea of ruling over creation as an expression of His image? It reveals our image bearing has a purpose. It helps us ask the deep questions in life, such as: Who are we? Why are we here? What is our purpose?
Rulership also signifies we are mentally, socially, and morally like God. For instance, God created the heavens and the Earth with imagination, direction, and thoughtfulness. God manages every atomic molecule in our universe and calls it good, which points to his volitional and moral agency. He desires relationship with others. The same thing is true for humankind.
In Genesis 2:19-20 the Torah says, “Adonai Elohim had formed from the ground every animal of the field and flying creature of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. Whatever the man called them—each living creature—that was its name.”
Essentially, Adam was a Zoologist. He was commanded by God to use his reasoning skills to study the behavior, structure, physiology, classification, and distribution of animals. I doubt anyone in this room is a Zoologist, but we can relate to the idea of mentally or physically putting in effort to achieve a purpose or result.
All of us have or have had jobs that require radah or Kavash, ruling or subduing. I work at Lee health. There are different jobs and skills, but all of us work together for a concerted purpose. For example, my dominion is to assist Physical therapists in the hospital by helping them lift heavier patients, get ice, refill oxygen tanks, and have walkers ready for mobility exercises. Doctors are there to treat diseases and diagnose illnesses. Janitors disinfect the rooms to prevent microbes from spreading. Case managers’ work with nursing homes and rehab facilities to make sure insurance can cover their medical costs. Each profession has a carved out dominion within the sphere of Lee health that imitates God-like qualities.
While work does give us a sense of dignity and purpose and is a reflection of God’s productivity, it’s not our ultimate identity. It can even distort and dehumanize us. For example, there are major corporations who treat employees as impersonal machines for profit rather than image bearers of infinite worth and value. Work can also strain our ethical convictions. There may be managers or employees who take advantage of you or even condemn you for doing what is morally good. I don’t know too many people in this world who are “upset” with clocking out and going home. I think this reveals there is a greater purpose for humanity than achievement and success in the work arena.
More importantly, if one finds their image or identity solely in the work they do, what happens when they no longer have the cognitive or physical capacity to perform these tasks? Does this mean they are no longer a reflection of Elohim? Of course not. Our self-worth is not found in what we do. It’s found in who we are. Our self-worth is not found in what we do. It’s found in who we are.
How do we know this? As we continue through the Genesis narrative, notice that God gave Adam all these great responsibilities. He could have spent his entire life naming all the animals with a great purpose, but something was missing. He was lonely. There is an incompleteness of Adam. He tells God, “There is no suitable helper for me.” Notice that Adam came to this recognition through introspection. He was made for relationships!
So then God made woman from the rib he had taken out of man, and man said in Genesis 2:23: “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man. That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
I have been married to my beautiful wife for seven years. She is my best friend, companion, and lover. There is no one on this planet that knows my fears, joys, frustrations, and personal struggles more intimately than her. Proverbs 31:10 describes her best: “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”
Marriage points us to the image of God. Husband and wife are united in one flesh through an eternal covenant relationship. Isaiah 54:5 compares God as a husband and we are his bride: “Your Maker is your husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name; and the Holy one of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of all the earth he is called.” Ephesians 5:22 expresses this notion: Husbands, love your wives, as Yeshua loved the congregation and gave himself up for her.
There is a connection here between sovereignty and dominion to service. Husbands, like Adonai, have authority over their spouses, but this authority is with selfless sacrifice, protection, and honor for their bride. Yeshua said the greatest of all must be the servant of all. As you can see, marriage gives an opportunity for expressing sacrificial love and affection towards one another. It is a characteristic trait most resembling of God, who is defined as “love.”
Does this mean one must experience marriage to know what it’s like to be created in the image of God? Of course not. God is also expressed as our heavenly Father. We are his children. This doesn’t mean you have to know your biological father or mother. Ephesians 1:5 makes this clear, that we were “adopted into the family of God through the redemption that is found in Yeshua.” And what’s amazing about this verse is it says God wanted to do this, and it gave him great pleasure! The key to all of this is that God is relational and so are we. All of us know what relationships are, whether it be friends, family, co-workers, or marriage partners.
Unfortunately, sin distorts this image. According to the American Psychological Association, 50% of married couples in the United States divorce. Some of these numbers could be due to legitimate reasons like physical abuse or adultery, but keep in mind that whatever the situation is, I think most people desire for their marriages to be fruitful and everlasting.
No one denies relationships can be difficult in this fallen world. Before I talk about the cure for all of this, I want to mention one more aspect of being created in the image of God according to the book of Genesis.
After Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they became ashamed of their nakedness. In Genesis 3:21, it says that God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And then God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
When Adam and Eve sinned, they were banned from the Garden of Eden for not heeding to the stipulations made by God. When they chose to listen to the serpent, God said they have become like “us, knowing good and evil.” This means being created in the image of God requires moral responsibility.
When I was younger, I had a dog named Blazer. He was a good friend of mine. My Dad and Mom, who are sitting here today, might recall the times when I would throw the ball on top of our roof, it would roll down about 20 feet, bounce off the gutter, and then Blazer would jump way up in the air and catch it in his mouth. This was my favorite thing to do when I got home from school.
We also taught Blazer how to sit, shake hands, and wait patiently before giving him a treat. Blazer was a smart dog. He had the mental capacity to understand simple commands and even felt human emotions like happiness and sadness. I think this is why pets are special to human beings.
But there is a distinction. Pets are not made in the image of God. There is a moral obligation we presume for humans that we don’t expect from our pets. For example, we don’t put a dog on trial for biting another dog, but we will put a human on trial for hurting his or her neighbor. That’s why dog courts do not exist but human courts do because our species, created in the image of God, demand justice.
I would say most humans, religious or not, want the world to be a better place. People want justice to reign on earth. One of the most famous songs by the Beatles is “Imagine all the people.” Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people sharing all the world. You may say I am a dreamer but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.
Humanity has a longing and desire for peace and restoration on this broken planet. The popularity of this song affirms this desire. And the good news is that we have the cure! A cure that would pick up the broken pieces of man’s image and restore it back to Paradise. This is found in Genesis 3:15 when God speaks to the serpent, the devil: He tells the serpent, “I will put animosity between you and the woman—between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head, and you will crush his heel.
The offspring of the woman is the seed promise of the Messiah who would defeat the enemy Satan. The savior who, in the fullness of time, was born of woman. Isaiah 7:14 and 9 talk about a virgin who will conceive a son, a son, who according to chapter 9, will have the government upon His shoulder.[c] His Name will be called Wonderful Conselor, Mighty God, My Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and shalom there will be no end—on the throne of David and over His kingdom—to establish it and uphold it through justice and righteousness from now until forevermore.[f] The zeal of Adonai-Tzva’ot will accomplish this.
Hebrews 1:3 says that Yeshua, the promised messiah, is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. While humans are created in the image of God, Yeshua is the exact image. This is who we are to conform into.
How is this possible? When Yeshua came to the Earth, he perfectly obeyed the Father. While Adam and Eve failed in the Garden of Eden, Yeshua succeeded in the wilderness when he was tempted by the devil. Yeshua becomes our chief representative. When Adam was told to have dominion over all the earth, he failed this endeavor. He was supposed to cultivate the relationships he had, especially with his wife Eve. But he allowed the serpent to come into his dominion and wreak havoc. Instead of protecting Eve, he was seduced alongside and lost his authority and power.
When Yeshua arrives on the scene, He makes a kingdom proclamation of having total dominion and protecting the most vulnerable. He quotes in the synagogue Isaiah 61:1-2 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”
Luke 4:20 records that Yeshua rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant, sits down. Everyone is gazing at him, wondering what he will say next. Then he began by saying to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Yeshua promises justice, mercy, freedom from bondage. He demonstrates exactly what it means to be an image bearer of God. He is not a malevolent dictator like we see in today’s world, where dominion and authority has been abused. As some have said: Power corrupts; but absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Not with Adonai. He is a benevolent king. A king who shockingly tells people: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” A king who reminds us that the best way to have authority and dominion is to be a servant of all. A king who tells us that the two greatest commands in all of Scripture that will certainly transform us into the divine image is: “To Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
A king who shows his relational dominion, not just by dying for those whom he loves, but dying on the execution stake for those who persecuted, mocked, and ridiculed him. This unconditional love cuts to the heart of forgiveness and restoration that is desperately needed in a world full of fear and hatred.
Yeshua is the image of the invisible God. He is the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us. If we want to bear the image of God, what must we do? Repent of our human wickedness and failure to have dominion. Recognize that our representative is now Yeshua. Ask Him to give us the spirit of God, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.
When we allow Yeshua to have dominion over us, we will surely have better dominion in our professional lives, in our family relationships, and in our moral capacities. When Yeshua reigns in our hearts, peace will reign in our lives, not because of us, but because we serve an all-loving King.
In heaven, Revelation 22:3-4 states: “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in the city, and His servant shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.” This is the greatest hope we have. In our glorified bodies, we will finally know what it fully means to be created in the image of God. Aren’t you looking forward to that day? I know I am.