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THEOLOGY > Man > Crown of Creation > From the Dust 


Man was created from the earth. “And Yahweh God formed man of the dust of the ground” (Gen. 2:7) is the declaration of the Scriptures, and “for dust you are” (Gen. 3:19) is the simple statement by God regarding His creation of man. Man is made of dirt. “Dust” is aphar, not some special “creative dust” as one writer referred to it, but dust of the earth, the dirt of the gound; Luther’s translation was “lump of earth.”

Adam’s name reflects his association with the earth: adam, meaning “man,” is related to adamah, a word which means “dirt,” “ground,” “soil,” or “earth” (transl. “ground” in 2:7). So, Adam (man) came from the dust of the adamah (“ground,” or “earth”). Not only does the account indicate that man is from the earth, but the etymological relationship of the words indicates the same fact.

Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:47: “The first man was of the earth, made of dust”; the text could read as in the NASB: “of the earth, earthy”; the ESV has “from the earth, a man of dust.” The testimony of Scripture is systematic and uniform—man is from the earth, that is, the ground, the dirt, the dust.

That man was made from the earth is the affirmation of Scripture, but the manner of his creation is not detailed. Exactly how God brought man into existence is nowhere specified, however, the speculation by Keil and Delitzsch is worthy of consideration:

The formation of man from dust and the breathing of the breath of life we must not understand in a mechanical sense, as if God first of all constructed a human figure from dust, and then, by breathing His breath of life into the clod of earth which he had shaped into the form of a man, made it into a living being. The words are to be understood Theoprepos. By an act of divine omnipotence man arose from the dust; and in the same moment in which the dust, by virtue of creative omnipotence, shaped itself into a human form, it was pervaded by the divine breath of life, and created a living being, so that we cannot say the body was earlier than the soul. The dust of the earth is merely the earthly substratum, which was formed by the breath of life from God into an animated, living, self-existent being (Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1, 79).

This description is engaging and appeals to the sense of the wonder of man’s immediate creation—an event that was supernatural, mysterious, and glorious.

Man is related to the earth. He lives on the earth and lives from the earth. In fact, the earth was created in order to sustain man; it is the earth and its resources that maintain man and make life possible. In this fact is the basis for a proper environmental position, even a Christian ecology. Man is to protect the earth, properly use the earth, and not abuse the earth, for from it he lives.

But because of sin, man’s relationship to the earth is cursed and his use of the earth is continually a frustration:

Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread . . . (Gen. 3:17-19).

Sustenance which the earth provides has come to be associated with “thorns and thistles”; the same earth which supports man seems to oppose man. While providing for man, the earth is mocking and troubling man due to the sin of man (see: Man's Disobedience).

Because of man’s association with the earth, man is often hesitant to depart the earth, which seemingly has an allure and a certain hypnotism that will not release man from its attraction. It is understood by the believer that heaven is home, but as long as a measure of health is enjoyed, most believers would like to depart tomorrow, but not today. Earth is home.

Man is distinct from the earth. Though man is of the earth and lives by the earth, yet man is distinct from the earth. Man is material—he is dust—but he is more than mere dust. He is dust that has been animated with an animation that is the image and likeness of God (see: Miracle of Matter). Though man’s identification with the earth cannot be severed, yet man is so distinct from the earth that he is more like God than he is like the dirt (see: Image of God).

Man does not gaze down upon the ground, fascinated with the corruptible matter from which he is made, but rather his gaze is upward, drawn by Him who is man’s true Source. Man has not been made for the earth but for the heavenly places and things, not for time but for eternity, not for the ground but for God. Man feels drawn from himself to something or Someone greater than himself. Man may know that he is dirt, but he also knows that he is more than dirt.

The contrast could not be more vivid: dirt versus glory. Though formed from the dust of the ground yet man has been crowned with “glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5). Despite the fact that man was taken from the earth, man is distinct from the earth, for he has been invested with that which is far greater than earth. Man has “glory” and “honor”—qualities that are not readily identified with dirt. God uses that which has no intrinsic value and gives it incalculable worth.

Man is elevated above the earth. God has taken the man made from dirt and endowed him with prominence and authority. The significance is not the dust from which man is created but the standing that God has conferred upon him: “You have put all things under his feet” (Ps. 8:6). Man is greater than that from which he has been taken. In fact, man is not only superior to the ground but is also superior to all of the rest of creation. His superiority resides in the image he bears and the Dominion that has been given to him. And it is in this sense that man is elevated above the earth.

Simultaneously with his creation from dirt, man was made a rational being, capable of intricate and detailed mental activities. Thus, in this manner and in numerous other ways, he is equipped to discharge the responsibilities of Dominion (see: Dominion Mandate).

With man’s Dominion Mandate comes a responsibility for the earth. He not only is the administrator of its resources, he is also its protector—he is to use the earth but never exploit the earth. Man is simply a steward of the resources entrusted to him; man has been elevated above the earth.

As an impetus to humility, man must constantly reflect upon an essential relationship: he is over the earth but he is beneath the Creator of the earth. The dominion sovereignty which man exercises is a derived sovereignty. Though elevated, man is still man, which means he is contingent; proper reflection empties man of sinful egoism and self-adulation.

Created by God at the end of the week—the culmination and crown of Creation—man was created last in time but first in significance.

Man will return to the earth. Man’s origin from dust speaks of his humble beginning and his fragile existence. Man cannot boast of any intrinsic worth; his value does not reside in the material composition of his body. And because of his dust-nature, he has no real strength nor inner components that guarantee his continued existence—man is dust. Job speaks to God: “Remember, I pray, that You have made me like clay. And will You turn me into dust again?” (10:9-11).

To use another Biblical metaphor, man is like grass, here today and gone tomorrow (Ps. 103:15; Jas. 1:10-11). As the grass withers so the dust is blown away.

It is appointed unto men to die (Heb. 9:27), and in death man returns to his source, to the dirt from which he was made:

Till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return (Gen. 3:19).

You have made me like clay and will you return me into dust again? (Job 10:9-11);

But it will lie down with him in the dust (Job 20:11);

They lie down alike in the dust, and worms cover them (Job 21:26);

You return man to dust (Ps. 90:3);

You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust (Ps. 104:29).

All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust (Eccl. 3:20);

And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Eccles. 12:9).

Adam (man) came from adamah (earth), and Adam (Adam) must till the earth (adamah) in order to live. And when man dies it is to the earth that man returns.

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