Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Genesis 2:7 NASB
From the ground – Why does the text use the word ha-adamah (the ground)? Once more we are confronted with the first occurrence of a word. We might have expected erets (earth) to be used here. After all, erets has been part of the creation story since the opening verse. Why does the account now shift to adamah? The first answer is the obvious word play. Adam comes from the adamah. The Man is intimately connected to the ground. Just like adam, adamah is a derivative of ‘dm. There is no scholarly consensus on the origin of the root word. Similar words in other ancient languages seemed to be connected to the idea of blood (red) and soil. Ancient cosmologies portray men created from the blood of a dead god or the blood of a god mixed with clay. In these pagan cosmologies, “blood” is the source of life, not the “breath of God.” If adamah has connections of these other ancient myths, then its use in the Hebrew account offers another polemic. In Hebrew, blood is not the source. It might be the carrier of life, but the source of life is God. Blood is just one more created thing.
Now we need to investigate why the text uses adamah rather than erets. While the words show a wide variety of uses and sometimes even synonymous application in The Tanakh, in the creation account and the Genesis context there seems to be a distinction. Erets is a word that covers geographic applications. “The heavens and the earth” is a phrase used to designate the entire cosmos. The “land” of Canaan or the “holy land” are uses of erets that describe geographical physical boundaries. Even the use of erets for the “underworld” still designates a “place.” In this regard, the biblical account describes erets in ways that oppose the other ancient mythologies, for example, the “earth” is not the result of a divine war, it is not evil, it is under God’s total control and it arises by the divine word, not by some conflict or sexual action.
Adamah appears to be related to productivity, not necessarily geography. When the Genesis account uses the word adamah, it is often associated with what comes from the ground. The initial use of adamah is about the production of Man and the animals. Subsequently, adamah is the fruitful soil or the soil that no longer responds to men because of sin. This distinction suggests that while men occupy the erets (which belongs to God), they work and serve the adamah as the source of their being and the partner in their fruitfulness. Only men and animals (animate life) have this relationship to adamah.
What conclusions can we draw from this brief examination? First, we recognize that our purpose as men and women is not the same as the Greek idea of destiny. Destiny is what I make of myself. Purpose is what I do with the relationships God gives me. Secondly, we see that even my fruitfulness and the source of my being is within the context of relationship. The fact that adamah can be both cooperative or uncooperative means that there are no fixed and determined factors in my existence. I am all relationship. We are quick to recognize this when it comes to the “breath of life,” but now we see that even our physical being is a relationship concept. It is just as impermanent as God’s animating breath. The earth (erets) is the permanent territory of God’s creative expression, but the adamah depends on the interaction between God-granted life and purpose. In other words, in this context adamah contains the idea of partnership.
Why is this so important? Because once again we learn that the biblical view of what it means to be human is thoroughly dynamic. To be human is to become in partnership, in relationship, with even the physical source of my being. Animation (the breath of life) is a partnership with God. So is my physical existence. And furthermore, my purpose of being is the extension of both of these partnership relations. I am to work/worship/serve the relationship that constitutes who I am. In the biblical worldview, I am not a “what.” I am a “who.” And who I am depends entirely on how I am related to God’s actions.
Topical Index: man, adamah, ground, erets, earth, apar, dust, Genesis 2:7