The Real Dirt on Adam

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2:4-7 ESV

In the opening chapter, Moses revealed that God made the first man and woman.

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 ESV

But it’s not until chapter two that he tells how God created them. As we saw in yesterday’s post, God spoke the rest of the creation into existence. Repeatedly, Moses wrote, “God said…and it was so.” But that was not the case when it came to God’s creation of man.

…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7 ESV

The Hebrew word יָצַר (yatsar) means “to form” or “to fashion,” and it was often used in the context of a potter using his hands to form a lump of clay into a particular shape. The intended connection between God forming man and a potter fashioning clay can be seen in the similarity between יָצַר (yatsar) and the Hebrew word for “potter” – יוֹצֵר [yotser].

Moses’ description of God’s creation of man adds another intended pottery reference. He states that God formed man, אָדָם (‘āḏām), from the dust, עָפָר (ʿāp̄ār), of the ground אֲדָמָה (‘ăḏāmâ). Verse 7 could be translated, “And Yahweh God formed the man, soil, from the ground.” The first man’s name, Adam, has direct links to the soil from which he was made. Like a potter, God took common, lifeless clay and fashioned it into the form of a man. In a sense, He used the same process that mankind would later use to fashion their false gods. But rather than making a lifeless idol to be worshiped, God was creating a living human being whose sole purpose would be to worship Him.

God made the man, but something was missing. The ‘āḏām had form but no ability to function. He remained lifeless and useless ‘ăḏāmâ until God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7 ESV). This important distinction helps to set man apart from the rest of the creative order. God took the time to personally create man’s form. Moses describes God as taking a “hands-on” approach to forming the one creature who would represent the pinnacle of His creation. This living being would be different from all others. He would bear God’s image and contain the “breath” of God.

Once the breath of God entered the lifeless clay form of man, life was generated, along with the attributes of understanding and conscience.

But there is a spirit within people,
    the breath of the Almighty within them,
    that makes them intelligent. – Job 32:8 NLT

The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,
    searching all his innermost parts. – Proverbs 20:27 ESV

The essential role of God’s breath in the creation of man should not be overlooked. No other creature came into being through this unique life-giving action. And it brings to mind a similar scene portrayed in the book of Ezekiel. The prophet of God was given a vision of a valley filled with bones. Ezekiel describes the bones as being scattered all over the valley floor and dried out – as if they had been there for some time. But God spoke to the prophet.

“Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” – Ezekiel 37:3 NLT

Don’t miss the image being conveyed. The bones, which represented former human life, were slowly turning back to dust. They were lifeless and without form and covered the ground all around Ezekiel’s feet. And addresses Ezekiel as “son of man (‘āḏām), a reminder of his descent from the first ‘āḏām, who was made from the dust of the ground. God questions Ezekiel’s faith in His creative power, and the prophet responds,  “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know the answer to that” (Ezekiel 37:3 NLT).

Ezekiel hedged his bets and made no commitment. This was all out of his area of expertise. But God gave his prophet a faith-stretching assignment.

“Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” – Ezekiel 37:4-6 NLT

God commanded Ezekiel to address the bones, declaring to them God’s intentions to revive them. God was going to reform and refashion them, returning each scattered bone to its proper place in a particular body and covering them with organs, muscles, sinews, and skin. But the key to their restoration to life would be the breath of God.

And Ezekiel describes the somewhat macabre scene that took place.

Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. Ezekiel 37:7-8 NLT

The valley was now filled with a host of fully formed human beings, but they still lacked one thing: Life. So, God commanded Ezekiel to speak to the bones one more time.

“Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’” – Ezekiel 37:9 NLT

And when Ezekiel faithfully followed God’s command, something truly incredible took place.

So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army. – Ezekiel 37:10 NLT

This entire scene was intended as an object lesson for Ezekiel. He had just been given a visual metaphor for the spiritual state of God’s chosen people.

“Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ – Ezekiel 37:11 NLT

They were hopeless and helpless because they were missing the life-giving breath of God. Their ongoing rebellion and refusal to live in obedience to God had left them lifeless and as useless as dry bones scattered all over a valley floor. And even when God miraculously recreated them into fully formed human beings, they were missing the one thing they needed to go from being ‘ăḏāmâ to ‘āḏām. They needed the breath of God. And God promised them that the day would come when He would restore them back to spiritual life by revitalizing them by His Spirit.

“I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’” – Ezekiel 37:14 NLT

The first man, while formed by the hand of God Himself, remained nothing but dirt. He was a lifeless and completely useless icon of God’s creative capabilities because He lacked the one thing that would allow him to not only bear God’s image but put it into action. By breathing life into Adam, God transformed ordinary clay into “a vessel for honor: sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 BSB). God had great plans for Adam and fashioned him in such a way that he would be able to accomplish all his divinely ordained responsibilities. But the primary ingredient that would make possible man’s fulfillment of God’s kingdom mandate was the breath of God. And the apostle Peter reminds us that all those who place their faith in Jesus receive the same life-giving, mission-empowering Spirit that gave God gave to Adam.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

We, like Adam, have all we need to accomplish all that God has called us to do. We have been given life and the Spirit-enabled ability to live in obedience to the will of our Creator. It is the Spirit of God that makes obedience to the will of God possible. And even Ezekiel was given a promise from God that guaranteed the future transformation of the disobedient people of Israel.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

God made man in His likeness. But it would be the Spirit of God that transformed lifeless clay into a vessel of honor, capable of bringing glory to its Creator and pouring out His blessings on the rest of the creation. Without the Spirit of God, humanity remains as lifeless and useless as a valley filled with dry bones. And without the breath of God, ‘āḏām would have remained nothing but ‘ăḏāmâ.

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