Fish in the Air and Birds in the Sea - Bible Study 2 - Human Footprints
‘I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened …’ Ephesians 1:17
The title of our series challenges our expectations: the American Dipper, ’bird in the sea’, can swim underwater.
When I first saw the picture of the flying fish we have used to advertise this series, I
thought it was a bird! Why? I looked at it too quickly. My expectation was stronger than my sight when interpreting what I saw. Our preconceptions are challenged when we come to Scripture too.
The Bible recognises this human truth, as we can see in this verse (above) from the New Testament letter to the Ephesians. Paul is praying for the ‘Spirit of wisdom’ to be given to the Ephesians.
And we seek that same wisdom as we come to the Bible
- we are aware of the story in Genesis of Adam and Eve’s disobedience and the consequences of the Fall
- we are aware of our own temptations, of how often we fail in our efforts to do the right
- and we are increasingly aware of the ‘ecological catastrophe’, because it is on our television screens, in media headlines and on our very doorstep.
And while we do have to become properly aware of the problem, we also need to remember that
our faith is in God the Creator and life-giver, whose purposes for his world and humanity encompass the whole of time and history. And which go far beyond our perception of present crises.
Shawn reminded us of the original purpose of God for humanity in his timely sermon about our origins.
He said that ‘we have been designed in a particular way and to ignore it causes trouble’.
In this study, we will see the opportunities we have as lovingly created beings, whose footprint on earth can be positive and not just the problem!
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
This is the first of two accounts in Genesis of the creation of humanity. Three things in particular stand out:
1. We, both men and women (v 27) are MADE IN GOD’S IMAGE ( ‘our image, our likeness’ as it says in v 26), the image of Father, Son and Holy Spirit
2. We (v 28) are blessed, a blessing consisting of fruitfulness and increase
In this, humanity shares the blessing pronounced earlier over the creatures too, ’to be fruitful and increase’
3. We are to ‘rule’ over the creatures of the earth (vv 26 & 28),a distinct responsibility which gives us a different place in the created order. A place and responsibility outlined further in this second account in Genesis:
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. 5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name 2 them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
There is lots to take in here:
1. (v 5) ‘there was no one to work the ground’
It seems that for the earth to fulfil its purpose, God’s purpose, something more is needed -
or someone. And sure enough, we see later that God does task Adam to ‘work the ground’, v 15.
The gap is filled. This, and the naming of the animals (vv 19 & 20) gives us a picture of Adam in some way sharing in creation. Reminding us of the human potential to share in the creativity of God.
2. Again we see something human beings share with the creatures and something which distinguishes them. What we share: we are made from ‘the dust of the earth’ (v 7). Adam the very name is close, in Hebrew, to the word for ground ‘adamah’. And this is something the Bible reminds us often, that we are dust and we will return to the earth when our lives are over. What distinguishes us: Adam as the first and representative human being is seen in v 15, and is placed in the Garden in the presence of the Lord to work it and ‘keep’ or take care of it.
This is God’s original design for us (and is what theologian Dave Bookless calls ‘the first
Great Commission’). And it expands on the first account of our responsibility in Genesis 1
Now this is where drilling more deeply into the words used here is helpful, and while I hold
my hand up and say I am no Hebrew scholar, those who are can give us insight.
The contextual nuance of the Hebrew word for work: is ‘abad/avadth’, which means to till
but at its root it carries the meaning of ‘to serve’. And the Hebrew word for keep, ‘shamar’, means to watch over or ‘guard’ or ‘preserve’, indeed to ‘take care of’ as it is translated in the NIV Bible
So, from these balancing accounts in Genesis of the creation of humanity we learn
- That people are both a part of nature, and apart from nature
- We are made from the dust of the earth and share our origins with all other creatures
- We are made to rule in God’s image and to take care of the earth.
These two elements of our humanity are beautifully expressed and summed up in:
‘O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
When I consider your heavens …
what is man that you are mindful of him
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honour
You made him ruler over the works of your hands
You put everything under his feet…
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!’
The Psalmist knows his place as far beneath the majesty of the heavens, but at the same time, wondrously, only ‘a little lower than the angels’ and ‘crowned with glory and honour’.
These words also point to Christ, in whom the image of God is reflected completely.
The beginning and the end of the Psalm is a worshipful recognition of God’s glory. Such worship is a further element of humanity’s ‘rule’ in the created order, where service and praise counter any sense of overbearing dominion.
The word for to keep or to take care of the earth, ‘shamar’, is the same as we find in Numbers 6, the Aaronic blessing, which we know well and say often: ‘the Lord bless you and keep you’
connecting the Lord’s care and protection for us and the care and protection we are asked
to give to creation. As his image-bearers we want to see, love and value the world in the same way he does.
Hymn: ’How Great Thou Art’
Think about being made in God’s image: what does that look like?
What implications does it have for our lives on earth?
Our original design as human beings in the image of God was to take care of the Garden,
which has been made more difficult because of sin but which matters as it has always
As Christians, fully aware of God’s sacrificial and reconciling love for all things through
Christ, we are liberated to demonstrate this care in all sorts of ways.
‘Our responsibility is to receive life and give it away in all relationships. We can do
this with hope and joy because we know that the Creator is the everlasting giver of
life whose giving can never be exhausted.’
'used with permission’ Jonathan Wilson, Professor and ordained Baptist pastor in Canada,
Peter Harris’ comment last time: ‘We have great resources for restoration’