In the Image of God
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Recite Genesis 1:27 from memory.
2. Explain the significance the “image of God” has in terms of his or her relationship to other created things and to other people.
3. Suggest one way for his or her church to treat those of other races with the respect due them as beings created in the image of God.
How to Say It
Ezekiel. Ee-ZEEK-ee-ul or Ee-ZEEK-yul.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Sept. 3—The Creator of All (Isaiah 40:25–31)
Tuesday, Sept. 4—Created in God’s Image (Genesis 1:26, 27)
Wednesday, Sept. 5—God Provides (Genesis 1:28–31)
Thursday, Sept. 6—A Hallowed Day (Genesis 2:1–3)
Friday, Sept. 7—God’s Glory in Creation (Psalm 19:1–6)
Saturday, Sept. 8—Thanksgiving for God’s Greatness (Psalm 103:1–14)
Sunday, Sept. 9—Remember God’s Commandments (Psalm 103:15–22)
God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over … all the earth.”
Why Teach This Lesson?
Most science classes teach that people are animals—mammals, to be more specific. Perhaps that is an accurate characterization in terms of a specific classification system. However, I never feel good about hearing that I am an animal or a mammal. It’s not that I feel bad about being warm-blooded or having hair. It’s just that it doesn’t address all that I am.
Today’s lesson offers your learners much more dignity than the simple science lesson offers. We are the favored creatures, made in the very image of the almighty God. While we can glean important insights from a discussion of what it means to be made in God’s image, one thing is clear: it is an honor that sets us apart from all other life on earth.
The weight of this idea should influence every relationship your learners have. Each person they encounter is also created in God’s image. Think about how respectfully, gently, and thoughtfully your learners will treat others if the power of this reality saturates their thoughts!
A. Family Resemblance?
Many people seem to be enthralled with detecting “resemblances.” They look at a baby’s picture and can’t help exclaiming, “He has his father’s eyes” or “She has her mother’s nose.” Some people are able to hire themselves out as celebrity look-alikes for parties. Late-night comedians occasionally even amuse their audiences with pictures of people who look like their dogs!
We may have two eyes, two ears, one nose, etc. as dogs do, but that and any other kind of resemblance between them and us is ultimately superficial. The being we most closely resemble is God. We are created in his image. Parts of the Bible can be thought of as a kind of mirror in this regard. When we look into its pages, we can see descriptions of God—his love, his holiness, etc. As we see those descriptions, we realize that they should be reflected in our own character as well (example: 1 Peter 1:15-16).
We hasten to add that there are many ways that God is not like us. He is all-knowing and all-powerful, but we are not. His divine nature is not ours. He is ever the creator while we are ever the creature.
Attempts to “be like God” in these ways is satanic (Genesis 3:5). Yet through Christ we put off the old man of sin and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22–24). That is where the ideal family resemblance lies! When that renewal in Christ happens, the image of God from Genesis 1:27 shines brightly in our lives.
B. Lesson Background
God formed light on the first day of creation. God then waited until the fourth day to fill the cosmos with sources of that light. On the second day of creation, God formed the sky and established terrestrial waters. God waited until the fifth day to fill that sky with birds and those waters with living creatures. On the third day of creation, God formed the dry land. He waited until the sixth day to fill that land with animals and people.
In six creative days, then, God formed and filled this world to be the theater of his glory. Psalmist and prophet alike proclaim that God’s glory is revealed and praised from the east to the west (Psalms 50:1; 113:2-3; Isaiah 45:6; 59:19; Malachi 1:11). If everything that is exists by the command of God, then the whole creation must give glory to God.
Taking center stage in this theater is humanity, the pinnacle of God’s creative activity. The verb created occurs three times in Genesis 1:27. This makes clear that here the goal has been reached toward which all of God’s creativity from verse 1 onward was directed. Only after the creation of mankind does God judge his work to be “very good” (1:31). Up to that point, he had found all that he had made merely “good” (1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). The most striking feature of the creation of mankind is that both male and female are created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27).
I. God Creates (Genesis 1:26, 27)
A. Image, Part 1 (v. 26a)
26a. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,
Visual for Lesson 2
Point to this visual as you ask, “How do we get into trouble when we forget this truth?”
Genesis 1:26 is the initial verse in the narration of humanity’s creation. The shift from Let there be to Let us make is clue enough that something momentous is being narrated.
But what does God really mean when he says Let us make man in our image, in our likeness? Our lesson introduction notes that we “resemble” God in certain ways. Yet we are also very different from him. We have physical bodies and are subject to death; God, on the other hand, is Spirit (John 4:24; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16). Furthermore, he does not originate or decay in time (Psalms 90:2, 4; 102:24–28; Isaiah 44:6; 48:12).
Over the centuries, theologians have explored our “resemblance” to God in terms of a group of spiritual qualities. Note how human behavior is based on (or should be based on) the following divine characteristics: compassion (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), forgiveness (Colossians 3:13), holiness (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:14–16; 1 John 3:3), humility (Philippians 2:3–11), kindness (2 Samuel 9:3), love (Ephesians 5:2; 1 John 4:7–21), mercy (Luke 6:36), peacemaking (Matthew 5:9), and righteousness (Ephesians 4:24).
These passages strongly suggest that we resemble (or should resemble) our creator in some vital ways. Let us not forget that as his image-bearers, we represent him. In the ancient world, images of “gods” or kings were viewed as representatives of deity or royalty. Mankind, created in the image of God, is the representative or viceroy of God. We are not God, but other people should be able to see Christ in us. Our holy living should reflect God’s majesty.
At this point, we should pause to consider how sin has affected the image of God in us. Has humanity’s decision to sin defaced God’s image in us or caused the loss of that image altogether? The answer to this question is supplied by three biblical references: Genesis 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; and James 3:9. All three speak of humanity after the fall into sin in terms of humanity before that fall. This suggests that the image of God in us is not lost through sin.
A claim that fallen humanity no longer bears the image of God would compromise our uniqueness. On this view, sinful humans would no longer have unique moral, rational, or religious capacities. Our Bible and our experiences tell us otherwise!
Sin clearly does, however, hinder our relationship with God. Sin hinders God’s desire that we represent his interests. Accordingly, the New Testament points us to one who can restore our relationship to God.
As the sinner turns to God through faith in Jesus Christ, he or she begins to live for the glory of God, not for self and sin. Upon following the biblical plan of salvation, he or she becomes a member of a different kingdom—the kingdom of God. As such, this person begins to represent the concerns of his or her new king. What a privilege!
B. Dominion (v. 26b)
26b. “… and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
This half-verse reflects the priorities of creation. It shows the hierarchy of God’s attention and intention. God lets us rule over the earth, and we exercise that dominion (both wisely and not so wisely) every day. That is not to say that we rule over every aspect of existence on earth. No one can predict the exact course of a hurricane or the time of the next earthquake, let alone control them. Being the dominant species on earth has not resulted in the defeat of AIDS or even the common cold. Dominion has limitations.
Having dominion also has implications for ecology. Although the environmental movement often errs on the side of fanaticism, we still have a responsibility for stewardship of the earth’s resources. That responsibility is a clear reflection of our mandate to have dominion over all the earth. Rulers bear responsibility in the eyes of God for that over which they rule. As we rule the earth, we will answer to God for our deeds (or lack of deeds) in that role.
Being created in God’s image is God’s acknowledgment that he puts more value on humans than on other elements of creation. Yet this fact does not negate the value of the rest of creation. Our concern for the creation is driven by our love for the creator. We look forward to the day when the ideal of Psalm 8 and Genesis 1:26 will be realized fully (compare Revelation 21:4-5).
The text before us describes the extent of human dominion. Obviously, domesticated animals, livestock, are ruled by people. There is no question about that. But what about the other creatures listed?
Birds and fish in ancient times were not particularly subject to humans in any practical sense. Apart from limited hunting and fishing techniques, ancient people had little impact upon such creatures. Perhaps the confidence expressed in this verse is a kind of prophetic hint—a God-given awareness that humanity’s future reach will extend to the depths of the oceans and beyond the heights of the atmosphere.
King David was one who was well acquainted with the idea of human dominion, particularly in light of what he wrote in Psalm 8:6–8: “You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.”
Years before he became king himself, David was a regular in King Saul’s presence. David knew that kings may rule countries, but their personal impact on the day-to-day lives of their subjects was often quite limited. Many of a king’s subjects lived their lives without ever seeing the king. Yet a king’s influence can be felt profoundly through taxation, conscription into military service, etc. A king’s dominion is extensive, but it also has limits.
We may draw a similar parallel concerning our dominion over the earth and her creatures. We do not influence directly the daily lives of every bottle-nosed porpoise, sparrow hawk, or giant anteater. Yet human ability that is exercised improperly can result in eventual extinction of various species. As those with dominion over creation, we need to use care.
The Two Sides of Dominion
The human race has condemned itself for despoiling nature, allegedly causing global warming, and abuse of our planet’s resources. Some of the accusations are valid. For example, widespread use of DDT and other pesticides almost brought the noble bald eagle and other avian species to extinction. Strip mining once left vast tracts of land as wastelands upon which nothing could grow. Chemical spills poisoned the ground, and oil spills polluted the oceans.
But there is also good news: DDT was outlawed and the bald eagle has made a spectacular comeback. Reforestation, restoration of landforms, and pollution controls on automobiles and industry are all part of a concerted effort to undo the damage done in an earlier, less informed era. A specific example of this turnaround is the whooping crane. Only about 20 were left in 1941; now there are about 475.
There are indeed two sides to our dominion over creation: to be responsible and to be irresponsible. The Bible calls on us to be stewards who use the earth’s resources properly, resisting the temptation either to abuse the creation or to worship it. We glorify God when we are good stewards. —C. R. B.
C. Image, Part 2 (v. 27)
27. So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
All humans are stamped with God’s image. Male and female, old and young, rich and poor—it doesn’t matter. Possessing this image means that God expects us to treat each other with the respect and dignity that that image calls for. Yet so often respect is not what we see. The problem is sin.
The New Testament teaches us how sin must be handled: God’s image in us must be transformed into conformity with the God-Man, Jesus Christ. The challenge is “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).
Our conformity to Christ should grow day by day. Full and final conformity to Christ comes at our own death and resurrection. Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
Paul also tells us that, “You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10; compare Ephesians 4:22–24). Could there be any greater privilege than this?
What Do You Think?
In what ways does being created in the image of God affect your daily living? In what area are you best in this regard? In what area do you need the most improvement?
II. God Blesses (Genesis 1:28)
A. Family (v. 28a)
28a. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
God gives people the power to reproduce themselves. This mandate should also be seen as a blessing and gift from God. The mandate carries an unspoken promise that God will enable us to fulfill it.
This mandate is repeated to Noah (Genesis 9:1). The patriarchs are reminded of God’s part in this divine promise (Genesis 17:2, 20; 28:3; 35:11). The book of Genesis rejoices in the fruitfulness of the human race.
What Do You Think?
God could have filled the earth with people all by his own direct, creative power. So why do you think God chose instead to create just two people and tell them to be fruitful and multiply?
B. Dominion (v. 28b)
28b. “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
What Do You Think?
What does it mean to you personally to rule over God’s creation? What cautions do you (or should you) take in this role?
We discussed the meaning of dominion earlier. Here we may add that the Hebrew root behind the verb to rule is elsewhere in the Old Testament applied to a king’s rule (Isaiah 14:6), to Messiah’s rule (Numbers 24:19; Psalms 72:8; 110:2), and to God’s rule (Isaiah 41:2). In Genesis 1 the dignity of royal rule is granted to the multitude of humanity. Ezekiel 34:4 implies that proper rule includes strengthening the weak, healing the sick, binding up the injured, and searching for the lost.
The Hebrew root behind the word rule occurs 15 times in the Old Testament. This verb carries the idea of some sort of coercion—for example, the subjection of a country through war (Numbers 32:22, 29). It follows, then, that creation will not easily oblige humanity’s dominion, especially after sin enters the picture. Humans will have to bring creation into submission through strength or force.
III. God Provides (Genesis 1:29, 30)
A. Humanity (v. 29)
29. Then God said, “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.
Here we see how God made provision for humanity. People are to have as food the seed and fruit of plants. God’s original intent is for humans to exist on a vegetarian diet. In Genesis 9:3, after the fall and the flood, people will be given permission to eat meat: “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”
Much later, Isaiah’s expectation will be that one day “the lion will eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 11:7; compare Isaiah 65:25). This prophecy suggests that a return to the paradise that originally existed in the Garden of Eden is to come.
What Do You Think?
How has God been the provider for your life and your church?
B. Land Animals (v. 30)
30. “And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God also provides for the animals and birds in the form of every green plant. This can imply that there is not yet a predator-prey relationship among the animals at this point in the biblical narrative.
Some students of the Bible propose, however, that to give the animals every green plant to eat doesn’t necessarily exclude the possibility that the animals also ate each other. If they did, then Adam and Eve certainly would have known what the phrase, “you will surely die,” meant, because they actually would have seen death among the animals (Genesis 2:17).
Today, we know that felines (cats) need a substance called taurine to survive. This is an amino acid that is found in animal tissue. (You can see taurine listed as an ingredient on a can of cat food.) Did the felines that were created before humans need taurine? If so, did they get it by eating other animals before humans chose to sin and thus bring about their own deaths? No one knows—the Bible doesn’t say.
IV. God Appraises (Genesis 1:31)
A. Great Creation! (v. 31a)
31a. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
We discussed in the Lesson Background what it means for God to appraise his creation as very good. The strong implication is that the creation of mankind is indeed the ultimate purpose of God’s creative week. Humanity is not an afterthought in the creation, but is the result of God’s intention and good pleasure.
What Do You Think?
Why do you think God created us last?
Part of What Makes Us “Very Good”
When God had finished his creative work, capped by creation of man and woman, he pronounced it “very good.” Part of what made it “very good” was the character of life itself that enables us to overcome adversity and see beyond ourselves. We can excel at this trait at times.
An example is Jessica Esquivel. In 1990 she contracted chickenpox when she was six years old. She became gravely ill, with streptococcus bacteria shutting down her organs and cutting off the flow of blood to her extremities. Surgeons eventually had to amputate her legs and arms below the knees and elbows ( www.chsd.org ).
Twelve years later, her indomitable spirit demonstrated itself as she prepared for her high school prom. Jessica showed off her new “high-heeled feet” that allowed her to wear dressy shoes that evening. Now, as an adult, she works in a hotel chain and aspires to write profiles of people like herself to encourage others to accept the challenge of overcoming life’s adversities.
It is this character trait of “getting outside one’s self” that reflects God’s self-sacrificing nature. It is part of what makes the human spirit “very good.” We are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). —C. R. B.
B. Great Day! (v. 31b)
31b. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
The expression the sixth day is also fascinating. The previous five days of creation were all referred to indefinitely; translated literally from the Hebrew, they would come out as “day, first,” “day, second,” etc. However, the sixth day in Hebrew is definite—it is “day, the sixth” (as is also the seventh day). Our English translations add the definite article the to all the days, but in the Hebrew the definite article is attached only to days six and seven. Days six and seven are thus intended to stand apart from the other five. Day six is the day on which God created us!
There is no idea more sinister than philosophical naturalism. Its explanation of human origins devalues us, it leaves us without meaning, it results in despair and misery. Parents, teachers, and preachers should take every opportunity to teach that human value, dignity, purpose, and hope are based first of all in the biblical teaching of creation.
To connect the “created … created … created” of Genesis 1:27 with the “Holy, holy, holy” of Isaiah 6:3 is tempting! The uniqueness of the latter suggests significance in the former. As the Lord is the super-superlatively holy one, so the human is the super-superlative creature. We stand in a unique relationship with the holy one, who is in our midst!
Thought to Remember
Live up to God’s image in you.
Loving Father, we praise you that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We thank you for the right to represent you and your kingdom. We ask that the Holy Spirit will empower us to reflect you before a watching world.
We thank you for the relationship we have with you through Jesus Christ our Lord. May we be true sons and daughters of you, the creator. In the name of Jesus, the one into whose image we are being transformed, we pray, amen.
Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2007-2008. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing, 2007