Image and Likeness: A Quick Reflection* on Gen 1:26

I was recently thinking about Gen 1:26 (thanks to Old Testament History and Theology I class, perhaps…). And I cannot help but share what I’ve learned. I really shouldn’t, because maybe I could file this away for possible sermons to preach in the future. Ha! No, I must be generous…

Here is Gen 1:26. I will use the NIV, as that is the familiar version for many:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

I’m sure we’ve all heard a lot about being made in the image of God, but we don’t hear much about the likeness…why? Because likeness = image, right? Basically, Gen 1:26 is repetitive. We get the point…or do we?

Image actually has a very concrete definition: the Hebrew is used in Daniel to refer to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. Also, in the Ancient Near East, the Hebrew word translated image refers to idols, i.e. concrete¬†representations of God.

So perhaps that’s why we have the second commandment. We aren’t to make images of God, because he has already made them himself: humans! We are his concrete representations!!! And of course, Jesus Christ is the human image of God par excellence!

So the image of God in us really means that we are to represent God to his creation. That’s we are to subdue and have dominion over creation. We are to be as “divine” kings over creation. This is the human to creation aspect.

Also then, as God’s physical representation, Israel (or the Church) is called to represent Yahweh to all the peoples so that through God’s chosen people and ultimately through his perfect image, Jesus Christ, all peoples may see and know Yahweh.

Okay, so that was image. How about likeness? Well, I may be splitting the difference between image and likeness too much, but look at where it shows up next: Gen 5. In Gen 5:3, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth” (NIV). Image crops up again, but I want to zero in on likeness.

Here we see that likeness has a “sonship” connotation. Sons take after the likeness of their fathers. So when humans are created in God’s likeness, they are, in a word, sons. So from the beginning, we were to be the sons of God. That is why we will inherit the earth and all of the good creation of God. (Of course, humans fall from grace and into sin, and so we will need the true Son of God to come and redeem us from the cosmic powers/terrorists of Sin and Death, but that’s for another day, as important as it is).

And from the biblical backgrounds, we know that sonship is a big deal. Sons inherit. So it’s not a bad, outdated, sexist thing for both men and women to be called sons of God. For God created humanity male and female. But it is not only the men who will be sons, but also the women. God’s children will all be sons, in the sense that all God’s children (*clarification: not all people…those who are adopted by God through his Son, Jesus Christ), male or female, will have an inheritance.

So when we read that verse in Genesis, let us thank our heavenly father that he has chosen us to be his representatives to all of creation and to those who are still prodigal sons. We represent God both as his concrete image of who he is and as his son, unworthy recipients of his glory and majesty and all that he has to offer. We lost all this in the Fall, but God, in his providential love, has provided us with his true Image and true Likeness, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And those who are united to Christ by faith will also be adopted as royal sons, given an unimaginable inheritance! May we live up to our call (indeed, our reality) of being his image so that through our lives and our actions, we may represent God faithfully, that all peoples will see Him in all his exalted glory and know that he is Yahweh!

*Update (12/15/11): Thanks to Dan for this – In the title, no pun intended.

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