Jan 24, 2006

The Breath of Life

Genesis 4:2–9

“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” (Gen. 2:7).

Today we return to our study of Genesis and continue our examination of chapter 2. Having refuted any naturalistic or pagan theories of the universe’s origin, Moses now begins highlighting the importance and dignity of the human race by focusing on man’s creation.

Verse 4 initiates a new narrative with the phrase “these are the generations of the heavens and the earth.” Moses uses this so-called toledot (Hebrew for “generations” or “history”) formula throughout the rest of Genesis in order to introduce new story lines.

Following this introduction, we read that God created man “when no bush of the field was yet in the land” (v. 5). This, coupled with the apparent assertion that the animals were made after man (vv. 18–19), has led some critics to argue chapter 2 is the work of another author and that it contradicts the account of Genesis 1. However, as evangelical scholars have noted, chapter 2 is not intended to describe the creation of the universe in chronological detail; instead, it only briefly recapitulates the entirety of chapter 1 before focusing on Adam and Eve. Therefore, the two histories do not conflict.

Moses gives additional details about the creation of man in Genesis 2 in order to emphasize the status of humankind in creation. In one of the more intimate passages in the Bible, God reaches down to form Adam from the dust of the earth and breathes “into his nostrils the breath of life” so that he becomes “a living creature” (v. 7). While animals are described elsewhere in Scripture as “living creatures,” the Hebrew word for “breath” is used only of God and of the life He gives to mankind. We are unique as God’s image-bearers and have a capacity to relate to Him in a way other created things do not.

Moses’ joint use of our Creator’s covenant name Yahweh (“the Lord”) and title Elohim (“God”) in this chapter is rare in the Pentateuch. He likely includes both here because Israel would be confronting various peoples who believed that a nation’s god was god of that nation alone. In using the phrase “the Lord God,” Moses asserts that the God of Israel is not just a tribal deity like the false gods of Canaan; rather, He is the Sovereign ruler and maker of all peoples.

Coram Deo

Again in today’s passage we see the proclamation of God’s life-giving rule over the entire creation right at the beginning of His creation of man. As servants of the one God, Israel’s role in declaring and manifesting His rule to the nations would later be affirmed explicitly in the covenant with Moses (Ex. 34:10) and in the new covenant with Christ (Matt. 24:14). Spend some time praying for non-Christian friends and seek to share the Gospel with them.

For Further Study