And God formed man from the dust of the earth. …
Earth. Dirt. Mud. Top soil. This is what God chose to use when He decided to fashion a being after His image. To us, it seems a rather odd choice of material for something so precious.
Angelic beings are bright – morning stars who sang, according to the book of Job. Their appearance and substance are glorious things. Angels show up and command immediate attention. However, this very brightness led to the downfall of one the brightest among the angels. Lucifer became over-occupied with himself and sought to elevate his standing to be “as the Most High” (see Isaiah 14). He led a rebellion and deceived a number of these bright beings to side with him.
People come from baser stuff. Their makeup is drawn from the mess, the mix of twigs, microbes, worms, bacteria, minerals, etc. Rather than power up and flex His muscles to Satan and his rebel band, the Lord reached low beneath the angelic realm. He grabbed the soil. His strength and wisdom would be revealed in the weak.
The Lord went even further with this project. Once Man had taken shape, God made Man alive with His very own breath. Then, from that first Man, God took something and made a wife for him. And so we read of how humanity came to be.
The Origin Stories
This story was first told by Moses, as he received it from the Lord. The initial hearers of this Creation moment were former slaves, the people of Israel whom God had delivered out of their bondage in Egypt. They had been residing in the midst of this oppressive empire for more than 400 years, according to the book of Exodus.
The question of audience is important, I think. Genesis, with its collection of origin accounts, show these people their place and their connection to the whole of God’s order on earth. The book reveals a record of beginnings to a mixed and confused multitude.
As slaves, the Israelites were forced to labor in the production of bricks. Mud mixed with straw was baked into the primary building material. Given the pagan nature of Egypt at the time, many of these bricks were no doubt used to construct temples dedicated to idols.
Picture Israel’s men, their hands calloused and stained from their toil, hearing these words from Moses. Their thoughts about dirt and mud and soil needed reconditioning. They had cried out under the weight of the work they had been put to. And God heard them.Israel was in the wilderness – a people free from slavery, but also a people nervous about the future. Click To Tweet
His answer was to send Moses. Through this man, the Lord delivered Israel from the mud pits and brick kilns. First, He brought Egypt to disaster with a series of powerful judgments. He plagued the oppressors until they begged the Israelites to leave. Then, He opened a way through the Red Sea for His people and swallowed up Egypt’s chariot forces with the very water He had divided.
Suddenly, Israel was in the wilderness – a people free from slavery, but also a people nervous about the future. God answered this anxiety by telling them of the past. He took them all the way back to the dirt, to the top soil used to make Adam.
After that explanation about where Man came from, the Lord told of how humanity went wrong in the Garden. Human society would become so wretched and profane that God’s earth needed a power wash. This came with the Flood. As the Red Sea soaked and sank the Egyptians, the Lord once soaked and sank the whole planet, save for one family, that of Noah.
Next comes another story about bricks. The descendants of Noah disobeyed the command of God to fill the whole earth and settled in the plain of Shinar. With bricks “burned thoroughly,” the people took slime and began to erect a tower. Their goals: to reach heaven and to make a name for themselves (see Genesis 11:1-9).
The Lord came down and confused the tongues of those building at Babel. The people of earth now had to listen. They had to learn how to hear certain sounds.
Faith Comes by Hearing
With this visitation, God established the primacy of Word and language.
Through the Genesis record given to Moses, the Lord was showing Israel that the way of real life is through taking heed to what God spoke to them. He introduced His instructions to this nation with this declaration: “Hear, O Israel. …” Hearing, He said, would lead them in loving God with their heart, soul, and strength (see Deuteronomy 6:4-15).
Jesus made it clear that the words of God come to us as seeds designed to take root in hearts and minds. The Lord spoke of this in His parable of the sower as He described the types of ground that can exist in us. Hard ground receives no seed. Stony ground has no depth, so seeds that take root in it soon wither in the heat of the day. Thorny ground takes in seeds, but the plants that begin to grow are choked by weeds that spring up from other seeds that are allowed into the mix.
Only good ground receives the seed in the right way, Jesus taught. Expectant, focused hearts hear the Word of God and they do it.
We were made for seed, for the planting of the Lord to take root in us.
God formed Man to hear Him, to represent Him, to love Him with all that he is. Man was put in the Garden and assigned to dress and keep the Garden. But there is another garden God created, another space that man was to guard and tend and cultivate, his heart.
The Lord knows we are dust, but He has made us Holy Ground. He gave us the Son for our redemption. The Spirit was sent for our direction and comfort and power. His Word will dwell richly and deeply in us if we let it. By these truths, we become fruitful, believers who bring glory to the One who made us.
May we rest in this.
For more about the soil that we are made of, check out “Top Soil and the Burning Bush,” a message preached by Thomas Schaller, Pastor of Greater Grace Church in Baltimore.