Creation and the Image of God in Mankind

God created the heavens and the earth in six literal days. God created the universe for His own glory. That was the reason, the goal, the end of creation.

Humanity is the crown of creation. Only humanity is made in the image of God. However, the questions become this: “What is the image of God?” and “How do we speak of the image of God after the Fall?” There are three main answers to that question. The first question is that of the Roman Catholic Church. They say that the image of God consisted entirely of the ability to choose, plus a superadded gift (the so-called donum superadditum) by which Adam was enabled to transcend his physical side in order to obey God, and keep the concupiscence (read here “anything physical”) of the flesh under control. When Adam sinned, he only lost this super-added gift. He lost nothing of the rest of the image.

The second answer is the Lutheran answer. Luther argued that the image of God consisted entirely in moral excellence. Inasmuch as Adam obeyed God, he was in the image of God. Consequently, when Adam sinned, he entirely lost the image of God.

As you can possibly guess, the answer lies in between these two extremes. The Reformed view of the image of God is that mankind was created with moral agency (similar to the RCC view) and moral excellence (the Lutheran view). After the Fall, the former was retained, but the latter was entirely lost. This seeks to do justice to passages that seem to suggest that we still have the image of God (Gen 9:6, which is post-fall), and passages which seem to suggest that we have lost the image of God (Romans 1-3). We have not lost moral agency, but we have entirely lost moral excellence.

When Jesus Christ came to redeem the image of God in mankind, He accomplished much more than that: He accomplished a new heavens and a new earth. They are in promise right now. But it has broken in upon us. 2 Corinthians 5:17 reads like this (my translation): “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” That is, being in Christ is proof that there is a new creation of which we are a part.

When the resurrection happens, we will not all be in heaven in some kind of disembodied state forever plucking our harps. Heaven is a holding place for the disembodied souls of Christians. Rather, we will have new bodies (1 Cor 15), and will live on the new earth, with no barrier (like there currently is) between heaven and earth, with full communion between heaven and earth. One is reminded of the old Narnia/new Narnia contrast that C.S. Lewis speaks of in The Last Battle. I believe that he has captured it precisely. The reason we like this world is because it gives us a glimpse of what the real future world will look like. But the future world is the real one. We are merely in the Shadowlands, passing through.

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War of Mothers

Genesis 29:31-30:24

Names do mean something. We don’t think about that very often in our day and age, when we often name someone on the basis of how it sounds. But in Biblical times, names always meant something. You named your child on the basis of something that had happened to you or to the world. Often God had done something for the person, and the person then gave a name appropriate to that occasion. As we will see here, all these names mean something. In fact, what they mean is that Leah and Rachel have been at it hammer and tongs the whole way. This is a very messy situation. You could call it a birth war. The ultimate question here is this: who will be the mother of the promised seed? It is, in fact, an appropriate question to think about on this Mother’s Day. Who will be the mother of the Messiah? Will He come from Leah’s line, or Rachel’s line?

The passage starts out with the Lord actively entering the picture. For quite a while now, God has been more behind the scenes than out in the open. But now, God intervenes. The Lord exercised grace on poor, unloved Leah. The NIV says that Leah was not loved. The word is literally “hated.” Certainly, in comparison with Rachel, Leah was hated by Jacob. Whether that means that Jacob positively hated her, or whether it means he merely loved her less than he loved Rachel, the point is that Leah was not getting the love due to the first wife. Joseph Caryl, the great Puritan, says that anytime we don’t love as much as we should, we are actually hating that person. It is a form of hate not to love someone as much as we need to love that person.

When God saw that Leah was not being loved as she ought to have been, He opened up her womb, so that she could bear children. We must notice here again the principle that we have seen so often in Genesis already: God opens and closes the womb. God is the God of life and death. No one enters into life or death unless God says so. God blesses Leah in this way, since she was not receiving the other benefits of marriage.

God blesses her in this way so much that she will wind up being either a real mother or adopted mother of one child for every year that Jacob works for Rachel. However, all is not well with Leah. Leah has some heart idolatries like we all do. After the first birth, Leah does credit the birth of Reuben to the Lord. However, her heart is set on Jacob loving her. That is more important than anything else to her. This is evident from Levi’s name, which means “attachment.” She thinks that her husband will be attached to her now that she has born him three sons. But she should have known by now that Jacob will never love her for bearing him sons. That is a fault in him, to be sure. However, she will never get what she wants. Her heart idolatry would remain unsatisfied. That is the nature of all heart idols. They will never satisfy. We were meant for better things. The old country song has it, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” I would probably modify it a bit to say, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are prayers to which God answers, ‘No’.”

Now, we see Rachel’s reaction to Leah’s fruitfulness. She is envious. Envy is a cancer of the soul. Envy is being upset at someone else’s good gifts. It is not an easy lesson to learn to accept God’s providential working in this difficult situation, especially when others around her are not having the same difficulty. Rachel did not have the same faith that Sarah and Rebekah had. Sarah and Rebekah had suffered from barrenness as well, you will remember. However, they had recourse to prayer. They turned to the Lord in their distress. But Rachel lacks faith. That is why she turns to the wrong person for the solution to her problem. Why should she rail against Jacob, when she should have known by now that it is the Lord who opens and closes the womb? Note how ironic her statement here is: she thinks that she will die without children (note the plural: she can’t live unless she has a chance to catch up with her sister), when in fact she dies giving birth to the second child. The problem with Rachel is not unanswered prayer at all, but rather unprayed prayer.

Rachel’s response to Leah’s pregnancies is in stark contrast to the mentality of Jesus Christ. Rachel says, “Give me children, or I’ll die.” Jesus Christ says, “I’ll die, in order to procure children for the Father.”

Rachel, continuing to lack faith, tries something desperate. She knows what consequences it had for Sarah, when she did it, but she can’t quite resist doing it anyway. She gives her servant girl to Jacob as a concubine, so that she will adopt any children that come her way. At first, the plan seems to work quite well. She gets two children out of the deal. However, this addition to the family only made the family life even more stormy! See, Rachel gave those two children rather audacious names. The name “Dan” means “judgment.” She thinks that God has judged in favor of her rather than Leah. Then, the second name “Naphtali” means “wrestlings.” She mentions that she has prevailed against her sister in these struggles. So Leah thinks that since Rachel is catching up, and she has no opportunity to get more children (Rachel controlled who got to sleep with Jacob on which night), she gives her servant girl to Jacob. Oh, the joys of polygamy! For now, she has the opportunity to really crush Rachel and prove that she is really the matriarch of the family. She gets two children out of the deal, and from their names it is obvious that this was not even close to being an act of faith. She calls one “good luck,” and the other one she calls “happy.” Those two names are in accordance with the means she used to get them, namely, human means, not prayer. But notice that she never even mentions the name “God” in connection with these two children. She knows that she got these children by human means, and she names them accordingly.

Instead of women calling Leah happy, such as we have here in verse 13, we find out in later history that all generations will call Mary blessed, because she has given birth to the Savior. Even in the midst of such a mess, we find God’s grace working.

Then follows this bazaar episode about the mandrakes. As if this situation couldn’t get any messier. It is important to know what mandrakes are and what they are not. They are a member of the potato family, related to the nightshade also. They produce small fruits that are extremely aromatic. They also have a very interesting root system that often looks like the figure of a human torso. That is probably why they were thought to have certain powers. They were thought to be an aphrodisiac, as well as a help to conception. Belief in the power of the mandrake root was quite superstitious in thomandrakes The fact is that madrakes are something of a narcotic, and are thus mildly toxic. In any case, Scripture clearly gives the lie to the superstitions of the people. Leah gives up the mandrake roots in order to sleep with Jacob, and she is the one who winds up getting pregnant, not Rachel!

Notice how Rachel gets these mandrakes from Leah. First of all, Reuben had found them. He knew that he had a lot to gain if his mother was settled as the matriarch of the tribe, and so he brings these mandrakes to his mother. Rachel found out about these mandrakes, and she is desperate enough to try anything at this point in time. This demonstrates, by the way, that Rachel was not satisfied simply adopting the children that Bilhah had given to Jacob: she wanted children of her own. However, when Rachel politely asks Leah for these mandrake roots, Leah scorns her. Leah’s scorn here is quite misplaced, as well as unjust, since Jacob never really had any affection for her in the first place. She said that Rachel was trying to steal away Jacob, when it was quite clear that Leah had actually stolen Jacob! So Rachel makemandrakegain: she gets the madrake roots, and Leah gets one night with Jacob. It turned out to be a much better deal for Leah than for Rachel, since Leah gets pregnant, but Rachel is still barren!

When this fifth son of Leah is born, she gives him a name that is almost blasphemous: she thinks that God is rewarding her for her lack of faith! She says that this child was the wages, Silvaward, of her giving Zilpah to Jacob! What outright sacrilege!

And then, when she gives birth to a sixth child, she returns to her heart idolatry: she is more concerned about her husband honoring her, than she is about knowing and glorifying God. “Even those idols we think safely dead and buried have a way of coming back to haunt us over and over again. Like vampires, idols often seem to refuse to stay dead,” as Iain Duguid says.

After briefly noting the birth of Dinah, who will be very important later on in the story of Genesis, we find recorded the first glimmerings of faith in the mind of Rachel. The text says that God remembered her. That doesn’t mean that God had forgotten about her. When Scripture says that God remembers someone, it means that God is about to initiate saving acts of mercy on that person. Now, Rachel still has a long way to go.

However, she does say that it is God who has taken away her reproach. Obviously, the mandrake roots didn’t work for Rachel. And so, she says that it is the Lord who has taken away her reproach. Notice that barrenness in those days was viewed as worthy of scorn. People who were barren were also viewed as in some ways dead. What we have here, then, is nothing less that the resurrection of Rachel. Rachel had to come to the end of herself first, before she was ready in God’s eyes. It is a bit like a 5-year-old child squirming on the doctor’s table, knowing that he is about to get a shot. It isn’t until the child stops squirming that the doctor can actually inject the shot. Until Rachel stopped squirming about with every last remedy except the right one, that she could be ready for God to give grace to her, healing grace.

In noticing how God treats these two undeserving people, we should note that God does not play favorites. He does not see who deserves more grace and bestow it like that. We think that way, though, quite a lot, don’t we? We see people around us who obviously don’t deserve the grace of God, and so we won’t help them. God doesn’t look at things like that. Instead, He looks at those people who least deserve it. Those are often the people who receive God’s grace. In fact, that’s us! We don’t deserve any of God’s grace. We don’t deserve children from God. We don’t deserve God’s favor in countless ways. And yet, God gives us grace anyway. How marvelous is His grace!