Kingdom through Covenant Review: Covenant with Creation – Image and Likeness of God (Part 3)


God’s covenant with Adam, or the covenant of creation, is an often overlooked and at times discounted as fiction because the common language for beginning a covenant is not found within the first few chapters of the Bible.  This fact, however, no more disproves that there was a covenant at creation than the absence of the word “Trinity” disproves the Biblical teaching of the Trinity, or that the absence of a written contract means that you don’t have to pay for the electricity you use.  In Toronto “there is an implied contract the moment you begin use of our product.”  Ask your local electrical company, they’ll tell you all about how the absence of you signing a contract does nothing to discredit the fact that you are under a contract when you use their electricity.

The Hebrew expression for starting a covenant is “kārat bĕrît,” which translates roughly to mean “to cut a covenant.”  The reasons it’s called cutting a covenant is because the official ceremony works like this:

1)      Animals are slaughtered and sacrificed.

2)      Each animal is cut in two and the halves are laid opposite each other, creating a walkway between the bodies

3)      Then both parties walk through the bloody pathway of corpses as a symbolic action, saying “may I be slaughtered and cut in half like these animals if I do not fulfill my obligations.”

Essentially, the lengthy and bloody process is a display of one’s seriousness in keeping the covenant.  The process need not take place in order for a covenant to be in place (1  Sam. 18:3; 23:18), but was reserved for usually only the most serious of times – as we will see later, God “cuts a covenant” with Abraham in this very same manner (Gen. 15).  It should be noted that pre-fall the covenant making ceremony, which is really just symbolism of the importance of keeping the covenant, would have been highly improper and baffling to Adam.  Only post-fall does the ceremony appear, once death and faithlessness are present.

The concept behind “cutting a covenant,” namely the seriousness of not keeping one’s end of the covenant, is present even when the official ceremony does not take place.  In one sense, since God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18), everything God says is covenantal – He MUST keep His word by the very nature of who He is.  For God to not keep His word is for God to cease to be God.  That being said, God initiates covenants with man through using the expression “kārat bĕrît,” and even once going through the divided animal pieces, to express more than just the fact that He will keep his word.  God’s words stand by the very nature of who God is, but covenants between God and man mean that the humans have a part to play.

As mentioned in Part 2 of this review, covenants were normally made by stronger parties as a gift to weaker parties in order to establish what sort of relationship the two parties would have and contained the stipulations that would guide that relationship.  Covenants were about loyalty, were person-oriented and were concerned with the quality of relationship between the parties involved.  This is exactly what is seen in the garden.

The terms of the covenant can be seen as such:


Humanity is the crown of God’s creation, made in the image and likeness of God, and placed in the garden sanctuary.  The terms of the sacred relationship between God and man was that each would hold up their part: Adam would obey and represent God on earth, and God would be present with Adam, providing him with life and guidance.

Yahweh’s obligations, while not stated in the text as “and these are my obligations to you Adam,” are apparent by a few different indications.  Firstly, while Adam was holding up his part of the covenant he enjoyed the presence of God: God talked with Adam in the garden, had him name animals (Gen. 2:20), found a mate for him (Gen. 2:18-25), and physically manifested his presence in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8).  Adam knew closeness with God.  Secondly, Yahweh guided Adam by giving him directions on what he should be doing: work the garden and keep it (Gen. 2:15); don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (2:16).  God also provided for man, giving him food to eat (1:29-30).  Ultimately, all of these things taken together are what constitute “life.”  The highest aspect of life is God’s presence itself, as seen by the fact that this was the first thing God took away from Adam when he sinned – God had told him that the day he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the day he would die.  Adam did die that day, he lost true life; he lost the presence of God.  The rest of the lesser aspects of life, such as physical sustenance upon the earth, were lost in Adam’s physical death.  The moment Adam lost God’s presence; he was doomed to return to the earth as dust.  We see the total removal of God’s guidance and provision for mankind in Hell, where God no longer guides people nor provides for them as they are cast eternally and entirely out of Yahweh’s presence.  The fact that God’s part was obligatory comes from the character of God.  God does not change (James 1:17).  Yahweh is merciful and full of steadfast love (Exod. 34:6).  God desires an intimate relationship with His people (the fact that the Israel was called God’s wife and the church is called Jesus’ bride should make this obvious).  Yahweh is obligated by His own nature to be a God of unchanging steadfast intimate love.  Thus God’s actions toward Adam in the garden prior to the fall were God’s end of the covenant.

The obedience God commanded of Adam was, specifically, that he should not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  However, the narrative gives more information about what this means than the command alone does.  The snake offered man to become like God, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:5).  God agrees with the snake, that Adam became like God, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:22).  It should be obvious to everyone that we do not know things exhaustively or omnisciently like God does, so that is not what the snake or Yahweh were talking about.  God “knows good and evil” in the sense that He decides what is good and what is evil.  In the same sense, humanity is rampant with everyone deciding for themselves what is good and what is evil.  Wars rage over this, and so prisons exist because of it.  Thus, the command to not eat of the tree was more to do with willingly submitting to what God declares as good and evil rather than trying to be morally autonomous.  Humanity wanted to decide good and evil for themselves, and disaster ensued.

The rest of humanity’s covenant obligation is found in the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of God.  But before going in to the meaning of these two terms and their resulting obligations upon humanity, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to see the many ways that the text of Genesis stresses that mankind is the crown of God’s creation:

1)      In the creation of man Yahweh, for the first time, says “let us.”  This stands out in the text to indicate that something important is about to happen.

2)      The day 6 paragraph, unlike the other paragraphs, includes God’s decision to make mankind and His purpose for doing so, the action of Him doing so and purpose of Him doing so, and His blessing of mankind and his purpose for doing so.

3)      The fact that humanity is the last thing God makes demonstrates our importance – the world was made for us, not us for the world.

4)      The amount of space dedicated to describing this is noticeably different: the most words any other day occupied was 70, while day 6 has roughly 150.

5)      The fact that chapter 2 zooms in on the creation of mankind briefly mentioned in chapter 1 demonstrates our importance.

6)      The Hebrew uses a definite article, “THE sixth day”, while the definite article “THE” does not appear in any other day (despite the fact our English translations often insert it for the sake of making the text readable in our language).

7)      Chapter 1 only says the word “create” (bārā) three times (1:1. 21, 26).  The third time is when God creates man.  Given how the number 3 indicates perfection so often in the Bible, mankind is the climax of God’s creation.

8)      The fact that humanity is made “in the image and likeness of God,” unlike everything else, indicates humanity’s importance.

9)      The fact that humanity is commanded to have “dominion” over the earth indicates that humans are royalty upon the earth.

These literary techniques employed by the author emphasize the great dignity and importance of humanity in the creation account.  The reason there is so much emphasis on humanity’s importance will become clear as we look at what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

Firstly, one ought to notice that the text clearly indicates that the male/female distinct is not a result of being made in the image of God.  The creation of man forms an explanatory chiastic structure:

Statement (Gen. 1:26-28):

God created mankind in His image, according to His likeness.

Explanatory chiasm:

A        – in the image of God He created him

B        – male and female He created them

B’       – be fruitful/increase in number/fill the earth (command 1)

A’       – subdue the earth and rule over the fish/birds/animals (command 2)

A and A’ correspond with each other, as do B and B’.  A’ explains what being made in the image of God results in: ruling over creation.  B’ explains what being made in the likeness of God results in: being male and female means; procreation.  Thus, the common literary structure adopted by the author demonstrates that diversity in sexes is not intrinsic to the image of God.  A and A’ explain image, while B and B’ explain likeness.  The common usage of “image” and “likeness” in the day that Moses wrote this text, around 1400 BC, clearly demonstrates this fact.  Furthermore, along with ample other evidences, using image and likeness in a way that is clearly linked with the definitions of 2nd millennium BC, justifies the Conservative dating of Biblical events.


In Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Babylonian thinking, from around 1630 BC onwards, the king was the image of god because he the son of God.  The “son of god,” in these cultures, meant that the king acted in a way that corresponded with the god he was the son of.  If the king was the son of the god of war then he’d go to war a lot.  If the king was the son of the god of peace then he’d avoid war and try to make peace.  Etc.  Thus, sonship to a diety was demonstrated by resembling the god through how one lives in the world.


In the Tell Fakhariyeh inscription the themes of “likeness” and “image” are spelled out as distinct from each other.  The image of God had to do with the majesty of the king’s rule over his subjects.  The likeness of God focuses on the king as the supplicant and worshiper of God, similar to that of a son reverencing and submitting to his father.  Thus, “image” is essentially the result of “likeness.”  The “likeness” relationship results in the king being in the image of God – the king’s relationship to the god results in him reigning like that god reigns.

However, in “likeness,” the author of Genesis modifies the common understanding by adding to it that mankind’s procreation is also a result of the likeness of God.  God created life, and humans create life.  However, this is where the fine details of Hebrew grammar come in to play.  According to exhaustive studies on all occurrences of the word being translated “in” (“in the image”) and the word being translated “according to” (“according to the likeness”), there is an important distinction that brings heavy theological implications.  The term being translated “in” means “as similar as possible” and the term being translated “according to” means “similar, but distinct from.”  This means that humans are very similar to God in how we rule over the earth, but we are distinct from God in our creation of life (we don’t make things out of nothing, and God doesn’t have sex to create life), the fact that we are male and female while God is neither (the question of why God refers to Himself in the masculine is beyond the scope of this review) , and in our relationship to God (our relationship to the Father is distinct from Jesus’ relationship to the Father).

Being made in the image, according to the likeness of God, brings obligations upon us to live up to the standard for which we were created.  Humanity was obligated from the beginning to represent God in these ways and Adam’s rebellion was more than just eating fruit – it was a rejection of God as Father; it was rejection of sonship; it was rejection of the image and likeness of God.  Adam failed to uphold his covenant in the sanctuary and thus the covenant was lost.

The fact that the garden is presented as a sanctuary is highly relevant and brings with it important themes that carry on throughout the entire Bible.  Indeed, failing to see Adam as a priest-king is a failure to see why Jesus must come in the order of Melchizedek.  The fact that Adam was a king is apparent from the royal rule given to him.  The fact that Adam was a priest is apparent from his placement in the sanctuary-garden of Eden.


Eden can clearly be seen as a sanctuary from the sever facts presented in the narrative:

1)      The Hebrew word “garden” comes from the root word “gan” which means “enclosure.”  Indeed, Eden was an enclosure, as seen by the fact that the entrance was in the east and guarded by cherubim (Gen 3:24).  One should note that all of God’s temples have entrances to the east and were guarded by cherubim (1 Kings 6:23-38; Ex. 25:18-22; 26:31; 1 Kings 6:29).

2)      The garden of Eden was characterized by the presence of God walking in the garden (Gen 3:8), just as He walks amongst His people in the temple (Lev. 26:12; 2 Sam. 7:6-7)

3)      Life giving river comes out of the garden and expands to bring life to the earth (Gen. 2:10) just as the river of life comes from Ezekiel’s temple and expands to bring life to the earth (Ezek. 47).

4)      The fact that a river comes out of Eden means that Eden is uphill – rivers flow downhill – meaning that Eden is elevated.  In Ancient Near Eastern thinking it was common for temples to be on mountains and hills.  Indeed, God’s dwelling place with man is always in a mountain sanctuary (Ezek. 27:13-14; Exod. 15:17; Psalm 78:53; Isa. 2:2-4; 4:5; 11:9; 25:6-8; 56:13; 65:11, 25).

5)      The garden had the tree of life, while the tabernacle and temple had the menorah – in both cases the fullness of life is found in the sanctuary of God.

6)      Adam’s responsibility was to “work the garden and keep it” (Gen. 2:15), the next time this phrase is used is when Yahweh commands the Levites to work the temple and keep it (Num. 3:7-8; 8:26; 18:5-6).

7)      The garden is a place of divine decrees, and Yahweh sits above the Cheribum in the temple and commands His people (1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; 1 Chron. 13:6; 2 Kings 19:15; Ps. 99:1).

Peter Gentry lists three more reasons for why Eden is clearly a proto-sanctuary within the narrative of scripture, but they arguments are more complex than I am able to simplify here.  The seven reasons above should sufficiently show that Adam was a priest in a proto-sanctuary.  We see that Adam was the first priest-king.  This should be remembered, as we will meet more priest-kings along the way: Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, David, and finally Jesus (the perfect priest-king).

We’ve seen that God had a covenant with creation, that the Priest-King Adam broke when he chose to be morally autonomous.  This resulted in humanity’s loss of God’s covenant blessings and plummeted humanity in to sin.  The next Priest-King we encounter is Noah and what is often called the Noahic Covenant.


About salutations75

Born and raised Atheist turned Reformed Baptist.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Kingdom Through Covenant, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Kingdom through Covenant Review: Covenant with Creation – Image and Likeness of God (Part 3)

  1. Pingback: Genesis Bible Study: How to utilize an Ancient Near Eastern myth as an aid for understanding the Bible (Part 2) | Contemplating the Trivial, Relevant and Divine

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