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.”
In the Ancient Near East, there was a commonly held belief that humans were created with the sole purpose of being slave labor for the gods. One ancient myth, known as the Epic of Atra-Hasis, describes how the gods schemed to create humans so that humans could do all of the gods’ hard work. “Create a human being that he bear the yoke, . . . let man assume the drudgery of god.” The idea was that for most humans, the purpose of life was to do back-breaking, menial labor.
Kings and queens were the only people believed to have a higher purpose in life. They did not have to do the slave labor of the gods. Instead, they enjoyed the unique privilege of representing the gods on earth. The reason kings and queens could represent the gods was the fact that they were said to bear the “image” or “likeness” of a god, unlike the common people. Countless inscriptions from the ancient world describe people as bearing the image or likeness of a god, and the vast majority of these refer to kings and queens.
With this mindset in view, Genesis steps in and presents an explanation of the world that would have been a revolutionary viewpoint. Kings and queens are not the only ones who bear the image of God. Rather, all humankind bears God’s image. This would have stood out to the ancient readers as a challenging and even unbelievable claim. It should also challenge us. While the gap between royalty and common people may not seem as wide as it once was, we can still fall into the trap of believing that some people are either above us or below us. The truth is, there is no intrinsic difference between any of us. All people bear the image of God, and all people bear the responsibility of representing Him in the world.
Adam and Eve
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 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.
8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground — rees 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.
10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And 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.”
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
19 Now 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.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 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 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.
23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
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.