The human being is one fascinating creature. We are capable of the greatest good and the most heinous acts. A close look at human history reveals something fundamentally wrong with us. As the famed English journalist and satirist, Malcom Muggridge put it; “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact”. But if as we concluded in our first episode, humans are the walking talking representatives of God in His good world, why are we so messed up? How did we blow this privilege? Join us as we explore these thoughts in episode two of our Imago Dei series dubbed; ROGUE IMAGES.
In the creation account in Genesis 1, we read seven times where God proclaims over His creation that it was good. This sevenfold proclamation of goodness was to emphasize the fact that God handed over a perfectly good world to Adam and Eve, the first humans, to rule over. They were endowed with superior intellect and creative prowess to rule and legislate on behalf of God. In Genesis 2, we see this invitation into partnership when God presents the animals to Adam for him to assign names to them. What we see God do in chapter 1 (i.e. assigning names to creation), Adam does in chapter 2. This mirroring of roles reflected the relationship that God intended for humanity. We were to look to Him for guidance in the discharge of our dominion mandate.
However, in chapter 3 of Genesis the story of humanity takes a downward spiral. The newly inaugurated images of God go rogue. Right after God made the first humans, He made a home for them in a temple garden called Eden. In the center of the garden, there were two trees; the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Humanity was granted access to all the trees God made except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The instruction basically meant; as God’s images, humanity had creative freedom to exercise dominion over all of creation, but what they were not supposed to do is to define for themselves good and evil. The power to define good and evil was a power left for God alone. He is the and still remains the ultimate reference point. This is exactly what the tempter was driving at when he said to Eve in Genesis 3:5; “…when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Humanity unfortunately fell for this lie and ate of the tree. As a result of this treasonous act, humanity was kicked out of the garden and cut off from their life source; God. The rest of human history is an outworking of what happens when images of God define good and evil for themselves. Right out of the garden we see humanity on a free fall. We encounter the first murder in the story of Cain and Abel, violence in the earth in the flood narrative and the development of societies in mass rebellion against God (Tower of Babel). This is the biblical worldview of what is wrong with our world. We are the images of a powerful creator, endowed with creativity and wisdom but have decided to live on our own terms, wreaking havoc and chaos in our pursuit of independence.
How is God going to take back His world from these rogue images? How will He restore fallen humanity?
In Genesis 12, right after the Tower of Babel narrative, God appears to a man named Abraham. He (God) promises to bless him and protect him and make his name great. He further promises that through his lineage all the nations of the earth were going to be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). The words of the blessing sound strange, but not entirely so if you’ve been tracking with the biblical authors. In Genesis 3 humanity fell because they wanted to do things on their own terms. In the Babel narrative, an entire civilization was scattered by God because in rebellion they sought to make a name for themselves. On the back of these, God promises a man with no biological children at the time to make his name great, make his family a great nation and bring about a global blessing through his family. This was the beginning of God’s remedy. This family grows gradually and becomes the great nation of Israel. 430 years after the promise, Abraham’s descendants are stuck in Egypt serving as slaves to this world superpower. On the surface it looks as though all is lost and God has neglected them, but this was all accounted for in God’s plan (see Gen 17). God in response to their cries and pleas for help, raises up Moses as a deliverer to rescue Israel from the shackles of slavery and in an epic showdown involving Moses, Pharaoh, the gods of Egypt and Yahweh (the God of Abraham), the family of Abraham is released from slavery and a nation is born.
In Exodus 19, the Israelites meet God for the first time. In this meeting God enters into a covenant (actually a wedding ceremony of sorts) with the nation. In setting the terms of the covenant, God reveals His purpose for the nation of Israel.
On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt —on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
God’s plan for Israel was to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. That is to say he wanted them to be different from the rest of the surrounding nations (holy) and also make them His walking talking representatives here on earth (priests). The nation of Israel had been called into humanity’s initial mandate. Israel, as a collective, was now the new image of God. In order to achieve this, God gave them a set of laws and codes to govern their conduct. When we read the laws in the Old Testament, we are tempted to see them as limiting and restrictive, but for the nation it was a gift. It was their defining feature. Here’s how Moses puts it:
See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
How did Israel fare in their new role as the image of God? Well the Old Testament record of the history of Israel is that of a nation gone rogue. Not long after they settled in the promised land they abandoned the laws that were set out for them. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Soon they abandoned God as their king and asked for a human king like the rest of their neighboring kingdoms. God reluctantly gave in to their request and instituted the monarchy. The kings of Israel were as flawed as the people they represented. With the exception of a few righteous ones, these kings led the nation astray. They built corrupt societies, decreed unjust laws and introduced the worship of other gods in Israel. The covenant people of God, who had been called to be an example to the rest of humanity, wanted to be the exact opposite. They wanted to be like everyone else. God, however, always remained faithful to His part of the covenant. He constantly sent special messengers (the prophets) to His people to draw attention to their evil ways and call them to repentance. He promised them blessings for adherence to the terms of their covenant and reminded them that their unfaithfulness would not go unpunished. These calls for repentance, however, fell on deaf ears. In one of the laments of the prophet Isaiah, popularly known as the vineyard song, we read these words;
The vineyard of the LORD Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Israel had become the exact opposite of what God intended them to be. As such, as the first rogue images were cast out of the garden of Eden, the rogue nation of Israel would be exiled from the promised land to serve the other nations they wanted to be like. “Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding…”(Isaiah 5:13).
If the Israel project failed, what then becomes of God’s promise to Abraham? What happens to the promise to bring a blessing to all the nations?
In the ministry of the prophets, they kept alluding to a divine human who would appear in the future of Israel, who would right the wrongs of Israel in particular, and humanity as a whole. The prophet Malachi calls him “The Lord” and “The messenger of the New covenant” (Mal 3:1). When the Prophet Isaiah speaks concerning this individual he says his name will be Immanuel which means “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). God Himself is going to come down as a human to get the job done. That’s what the prophets meant when they called Him “LORD or God with us”. As an Israelite, He would fulfill His promise to Abraham, to bring a blessing to all humanity. As a man, He would model for us what it truly means to be human and as messenger of the new covenant, He is bringing all humanity (not Israel alone) into a covenant relationship with Yahweh.
Who is the divine human? Your guess is as good as mine. Join as in our next episode as we explore Jesus; the perfect image.