Genesis 2:4-25 – Part 3 – Dust-Man

Two weeks ago we saw a big picture view of Genesis 2.

  • It points forward to The Fall not backwards (the toledot, vss. 4-6, etc).
  • This means Genesis 2 is not a telescoping of Day 6.


Last week we tried to determine the practical meaning of verses 5-6.

  • Our main help was Sailhamer.
  • Based on his comments we paraphrased 5-6 as follows:
  • “Before Adam sinned, before the flood, and before we had to work the ground, God blessed us with a very good creation”.


And in anticipation of this week’s lesson, we did the same for verse 7.

  • “Though Adam bears God’s image, God made Adam out of the dust – the dust to which he would return”.
  • So today we dig into the dust.




Genesis 2:7 (ESV) — 7 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.


How do we know 2:7 is about Adam the man?

How do we know Day 6 is about Adam the man?

If 2:7 is Adam and Day 6 is Adam, how do we account for the differences?

  • Day 6 man/woman were made in God’s image – vs. 7 Adam is from the dust (something that already existed).
  • These leaves us seeing Day 6 man as majestic, sacred and exalted – vs. 7 seems more mundane, profane and lower.


Sailhamer gets us started as we explore vs. 7 and Day 6.

“The differences between the two accounts were precisely what the author wanted his readers to be aware of. Those differences broaden our understanding of the narrative events” – John Sailhamer.

  • In other words, by the differences, Moses is intended to lead us somewhere – into the dust.


But we first have to answer our first two questions.


Adam or Mankind:

Victor Hamilton identifies the problem this way:

  • “In essence the problem is this: is ʾāḏām to be understood generically (mankind) or is it a proper name? And if in translation we shift from one to another, on what basis do we make the shift?” – Hamilton.


He answers the question this way:

  • “As a general rule, when ʾāḏām appears without the definite article, we may translate it as a personal name, following the rule that personal names are not normally preceded by the definite article. When it occurs with the definite article (hāʾāḏām), we may translate it as ‘man.’”
  • And yet he says, “That this neat rule does not apply to all of the instances of ʾāḏām” – Hamilton.
  • Wenham adds that the “fluidity between the definite and indefinite form makes it difficult to know when the personal name ‘Adam’ is first mentioned” – Wenham.


For example, Genesis 1:26’s, “Let us make man” lacks the definite article.

  • Genesis 2:7 contains the definite article.
  • So one would think that the first is “Adam” and the second is “man”.
  • And yet most translations use “man” in both.


The ESV and the NIV don’t translate “adam” as “Adam” until Genesis 2:20.

  • Some translations not until Genesis 3.
  • So where does that leave us?
  • How do we know 2:7 is about Adam?


Paul may help us:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:45 (ESV) — 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
  • Paul tells us that the “adam” in Genesis 2 is the man Adam.


So is Day 6 also about “Adam”?

  • Why do we teach/believe this?


Under Sailhamer’s “eretz” as Eden view, it is the natural reading.

  • Gen. 1 is about preparing Eden/Promised Land for habitation of the first image bearers.
  • Gen. 2 tells us that the first two image bearers to inhabit Promised Land/Eden are Adam and Eve.
  • So naturally Day 6 is about Adam and Eve (with general application to all mankind).


But under the global views of Genesis 1, it seems much more ambiguous.

  • This ambiguity is one reason why Heiser and others suggest there are two different mankind creation events.


Wenham and Mathews defend a Genesis 1 as “Adam” view as follows.

  • Wenham says, “The very indefiniteness of reference may be deliberate” – Wenham.
  • Why deliberate?
  • The reason is because “adam” in Genesis 1 might serve double duty.


In other words, there is both an individual “man” in view and an archetypal “representative man” in view.

  • If you remember, John Walton advocates this view.
  • Mathew’s puts it like this, “The word ʾādām is theologically convenient since it can mean mankind yet can refer to an individual person (e.g., 2:5, 7) or function as a proper name, ‘Adam’” – Mathews.
  • Wenham speaks of this double duty archetypal view, “Adam, the first man created and named, is representative of humanity” – Wenham.
  • In Paul’s Epistles, Paul also speaks of Adam in the double duty way (it is a valid view).
  • In other words, Moses knew what he was doing – deliberate not confusing.


The point:

  • Day 6 can be both “Adam” specifically and “man” in general.
  • We are all made in God’s image, but we weren’t all created on Day 6.



  • So is Day 6 about Adam? Yes. Is Day 6 about mankind? Yes.
  • Is 2:7 about Adam? Yes. Is 2:7 about mankind? Yes.



The Dust:

We now need to figure out what Moses is trying to tell us by pointing us to the dust.

  • As Sailhamer said earlier, the contrasts between Day 6 and 2:7 lie at the heart of this.
  • This contrast centers on image-bearers vs. “dust-man”.
  • We will look at 4 things the “dust-man” highlights that Day 6’s image-bearer does not.


1) Dust as Raw Material:

  • Mathews tell us it can mean “loose surface dirt of the ground (Exod 8:16–17 [12–13]) or the powder of something pulverized (Deut 9:21)” – Mathews.
  • The TWOT agrees and says it can mean “loose earth”.


“The intent of the passage is [to associate] human life [with] the basic substance of our making” – Mathews.

  • Or as Hamilton says, “God formed earthling from the earth” – Hamilton.
  • But is that all?
  • It is easy to argue that this is not the main thrust of the verse 7.
    • Some say it isn’t at all.


2) Dust and The Fall:

Genesis 3:19 (ESV) — 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

  • “‘Dust’ as constitutive of human existence anticipates 3:19, where the penalty for the man’s sin is his return to ‘dust’” – Mathews.


This connection is reinforced with a Hebrew word play.

The adam/adamah (man/ground) word play is “to emphasize man’s relationship to the land. He was created from it; his job is to cultivate it (2:5, 15); and on death he returns to it (3:19). ‘It is his cradle, his home, his grave’ (Jacob)” – Wenham.


3) Dust as Death:

John Walton’s functional view says this:

  • “In Genesis 2:7 the significance of ʿapar is not that it represents the raw materials found in the womb or has any usefulness for sculpting (which would use clay rather than dust), but it represents what people return to when they die” – Walton.
  • I have to point out that (3) does not necessarily exclude (1) and (2).


We only need to look at the Bible to see this play out.

  • Job 10:9 (ESV) — 9 Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust?
  • Psalm 104:29 (ESV) — 29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
  • Ecclesiastes 12:7 (ESV) — 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.


It is clear from these (and others) that “dust” came to represent death.

  • “The human being is linked inexorably with the ground and is limited; because of this limitation the human being is not immortal…” – AYBD.


We might be made in God’s image, but we will die.

  • We are creatures not elohim.
  • We are “earth dust not star dust” – Sailhamer.
  • From Genesis 2’s perspective – The Fall is coming and “man” will be cast out of the Garden.


4) Dust and Christ:

All of the above views of dust ultimately point us to our need for Christ.

  • Genesis 1’s “in the beginning” hints that this is not the end of the story.
  • The beginning awaits a consummation and ending.


The OT uses dust to address this “awaiting”.

  • Isaiah 26:19 (ESV) — 19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.
  • Daniel 12:2 (ESV) — 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.


And Paul brings it all home to Christ.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:42–49 (ESV) — 42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.



Dignity in the Dust:

So 2:7 seems to be the skeptic’s view of being an image-bearer leaving us with this sobering reality:

  • “The fact that man comes from the dust of the earth is a reminder of the…insignificance of man…” – TWOT.


And yet, 2:7 gives us back our dignity even though The Fall is imminent.

  • Moses tells us in 2:7 that God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”.

“Breathed is warmly personal, with the face-to-face intimacy of a kiss and the significance that this was giving as well as making; and self-giving at that” – Mathews.


God not only made us in His image, He personally and intimately brought us life through His breath.

  • Dust-man became living-man by God’s grace; therein lies his humility and his dignity” – TWOT.


Dwelling on these aspects of our being – a “dust-man” dependent on God’s breath…

  • It doesn’t take long to figure out we think too highly of our ability to discern truth outside of God’s Word.
  • Job 38:4 (ESV) — 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.