The Original Blueprint for a Better World

In our search for the original blueprint for a better world, in which justice and care for the needy and oppressed prevail, we would do well to examine the creation models for human relationships found in Genesis 1:1-2:3. These paradigms contain the elements that enable human beings to find their value, engage in mutual love and trust, and regard all others as worthy of equal treatment as themselves. The command of Leviticus 19:18c—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord”—rests upon the assumptions built into our creation, that God created us for goodness and we are valuable, not because of what we earn, do, or accomplish but because—and only because—God created us. Of course, Jesus’ death for us demonstrates our value, but it does not establish it like God’s creation of us does; it merely confirms it. That is, we did not lose our value in God’s eyes through the fall; that is why Jesus came to us and died for us (John 3:16).

Even more significantly, our creation in the image of God elevates us, above all the natural world, to a level of acting as representatives of who God is to that world. In contrast to ancient Assyro-Babylonia, the language of the Hebrew Bible indicates clearly that we are created in God’s image, not as his image. That is, even in our origins, we were not created as gods. But there’s more to this: Assyrians and Babylonians viewed their divine images as doubles of or as substitutes for their deities. As doubles, the image could only speak, act, or behave exactly as the god for which it served as its image. The image had no autonomy or freedom to think or act for itself. By contrast, because human beings were created in God’s image and because God is a God of freedom, human beings could resemble God by thinking and acting for themselves within the boundaries of love and trustworthiness. They could further act in that image by allowing all those around them to think and act for themselves.

However, as stated in Genesis 1:28, the first humans were not only to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth;” they were to subdue that world and have dominion over nature. Like many Hebrew words, the word translated, “subdue” has a spectrum of meanings including to “subjugate” something, to humble someone into slavery through force, or to rape a woman (HALOT 460). On the surface it sounds as though violence and force lie behind this term when applied to human governorship of the natural world. Why would creation, in its pristine state, need “subduing”? If we keep in mind that Genesis 1 is written from the backdrop of a concern for monotheism, we can better understand this strong language. To subdue nature meant, in ancient Near Eastern thinking, to subdue deities and other divine entities that represented various elements of nature. In ancient Mesopotamian perspectives, these divine elements were their masters and human beings were their slaves. Instead of humbling oneself as a slave to these gods and elements, human beings were to bring the natural elements they represented to heel as subordinates to themselves. This dominion, therefore, elevated human beings to a higher level than nature but not to the level of divinity. And nowhere does living in God’s image give any human license to dominate, abuse, or control another human being.

To further enlarge the scope of what it meant to be created in God’s image, Genesis 1 alludes to three models by which that image represents God. These are nature and natural law, family, and Sabbath. (Admittedly, for the family model, I will draw a little from Genesis 2, since Genesis 1 merely gives only limited parameters for families.) Since we can use these models to outline the ingredients of our human value, they serve as timeless reminders of who God created us to be and how we ought to treat one another even in our less-than-perfect world.

Nature and Natural Law

What binds together all the elements of nature we call “natural law.” By the word “natural,” we often mean that the laws that allow plants, animals, and other living things to live and flourish stem from the intrinsic elements that make up their nature. Nothing in nature is arbitrary (forced into place and without a reason for existence) and everything operates within cause-and-effect relationships. For this reason, we can depend on the natural world’s reality without fear that something unexpected will take place. For example, we can plant corn and not find, a few weeks later, spinach instead. All nature conforms to the principle of inevitability in which we recognize that the kernels of corn we plant will, given the right set of circumstances (sunlight, water, and good soil), inevitably produce stalks containing ears of corn. These kinds of cause-and-effect actions form the basis for an orderly, predictable universe and serve as the foundation of human reason. Without these natural laws, chaos would ensue. As an extension of these laws, human beings were to live under similar laws of love with love leading to love and trustworthiness leading to trust.

Still another principle, equally significant, emerges from a study of nature—its interconnectedness. Nothing in the natural world operates disconnected from the rest of the whole. Our natural world is holistic and everything depends on everything else. The great ecosystems of our planet provide a complete nurturing sequence such as the streams flowing into the oceans, the oceans giving rise to weather systems that bring rain clouds to the land that water the streams. These close connections illustrate something of the love God intended every creature to experience, not as an island, but in close bonds that in the human sphere, we call friendships or families.


By granting them the right of dominion over the natural world, God did not intend that they abuse nature, but rather refuse to allow it to dominate them. In ancient times, one either ruled or became subservient to someone who ruled. There was little space in between those two roles. Yet by right of the fact that God created both male and female in his image, no human was to rule another, male or female. That meant that the original family unit was not about who was in charge but about bonding in trust. This concept finds its voice in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (NRSV). In the patrilocal aspect of the “house of the father” that dominated much of the second millennium Near Eastern social landscape, the bride left her father and mother and clung to her husband. In consequence, she became ruled by him, his mother, and his father in the compound in which such families often lived. Genesis 2:24 turns this social norm on its head indicating that the husband was to leave his father and mother. Though not stated, the idea may have been that both were to leave their families to form a new household. There then would be no room for the patrimonial father (the husband’s father) to rule.

This verse breaks up the “house of the father” in other ways. The verb “cling to” interestingly is used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible of the Leviathan’s scales knit so close together that the wind could not come between them or of the close attachment of skin to the body. This “joining” of two people could only occur in bonds of love and trust that would prepare them for the ultimate attachment of “one flesh.” No economic arrangement or political connection could allow the couple to truly become “one flesh.” This level of intimacy would only happen to the extent that neither dominated the other in their committed love to each other. In their “fruitful multiplying” of offspring, they would also create bonds of love and trust that would provide a non-hierarchical heritage to pass on to their children. A community of such bonding would likely treat those outside their households with the values they held as families.


Though in Genesis 2:1-3 God does not directly give the Sabbath to humankind, He blesses and sanctifies it. Since he has just given the planet to the first humans, he would hardly bless and sanctify the Sabbath for his own interests alone. Blessing and making something holy is usually done with those in mind who are present when he makes that blessing and sanctification.

In the Hebrew Bible, the Sabbath comes to represent many things: God’s completion of his work of creation; the Israelite deliverance from slavery; and a sign that Yahweh is God and that he sanctifies his people who keep his Sabbath. Consequently, in the two treatments of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath commemorates God as Creator (Exodus 20:8-11) and as Deliverer from slavery (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). The Sabbath then models both the original template for humanity in creation and the right of human beings to equal treatment. Certainly, according to Deuteronomy, there were no slaves on Shabbat. Furthermore, the Sabbath as a sign suggests that the weekly Sabbath brought a divine message or revelation of a God forming yet another sanctifying bond between himself and his Sabbath keepers in “a sign between me and them” (Ezekiel 20:12). This lies in contrast to the divine judicial verdicts ancient Near Eastern diviners read that prescribed doom or blessing. The Sabbath, then, was to tighten the bond between Yahweh and his people, akin to that of marriage. Once established, that same trust and love should be extended to all peoples everywhere.

Invented Models

Not long after Eden, humanity began the long trek away from the three models founded in creation. As they lost their bond of love and trust with God, they correspondingly found that they could not love or trust everyone else. In a desperate effort to save themselves from fraudulence, theft, adultery, violence, and murder, they devised models of their own. The Mesopotamians contrived three models—economics, hierarchy, and contractual relationships—for how to keep some semblance of trust and loyalty between themselves and others. In consequence, they began to lose their creation value, coming to view themselves and others as valuable for what they earned, made, or accomplished. Instead of working together with one another, they competed against one another. Objectification of persons, stratification of society, and arbitrary imposition of one will over another all but obliterated the bonds of love and trust. Self-interest dominated all three models. Without mutual trust, all forms of relationships found viability in contracts that bound one another in legal relationships. With hierarchical leaders at all levels of society, dominance and control became the norm, and these, in turn, affected relationships to the extent that posturing, flattery, and pretense took the place of authenticity. Moving increasingly away from nature and its laws, humans came to view all events in their lives as decreed by the gods, and subsequently lost their internal locus of control and personal responsibility for the results of their poor choices.

Because of these changes, all societies everywhere needed reminders to love their neighbors as themselves, to leave the edges of their fields for the poor and the immigrants, not to withhold the wages of a day laborer until morning, not to show partiality to the poor or defer to the great, not to obstruct the way of the handicapped, not to slander anyone, not to oppress the immigrant residing with them in the land, but to love the immigrant as themselves. These verses in Leviticus 19 merely serve as extensions of the original creation models for how to treat others.

Selected Bibliography

Annus, Amar. “on the Beginnings and Continuities of Omen Sciences in the Ancient World:

Introduction.” Pages 1-18 in Divination and Interpretation of Signs in the Ancient World.

Edited by Amar Annus. Oriental Institute Seminars 6. Chicago, IL: The Oriental Institute of the

University of Chicago, 2010.

Bahrani, Zainab. The Graven Image: Representation in Babylonia and Assyria. Philadelphia, PA:

University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

Koehler, Ludwig and Walter Baumgartner. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old

Testament (HALOT). Revised by Walter Baumgartner and Johann Jakob Stamm. Translated

and edited under M. E. J. Richardson. Leiden/New York/Köln: E. J. Brill, 1995.

Schloen, J. David, The House of the Father as Fact and Symbol: Patrimonialism in Ugarit and the

Ancient Near East. Studies in Archaeology and History of the Levant 2. Winona Lake, IN:

Eisenbrauns, 2001.

Warburton, David A. Macroeconomics from the Beginning: The General Theory, Ancient

Markets, and the Rate of Interest. Civilisations du Proche-Orient Serie IV Histoire-Essais 2.

Neuchâtel: Recherches et Publications, 2003.

Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 1-15. WBC 1. Dallas, TX: Word, Incorporated, 1998.

Jean Sheldon is professor of Old Testament at Pacific Union College.

Photo by Michael Fischer from Pexels

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Thanks Jean for the wonderful article. For demonstrating how this monotheistic God differs Himself from the other ANE cultures/ gods that He separates Himself from.
Yes, after the fall, the atoning death of Christ did not give us worth. The plan of Redemption showed us our worth in that the only begotten Son of God was sent as an atoning sacrifice and sweet smelling incense/savor to Himself/the Father to offer salvation to His created ones. We mortals dont really fully understand but God in justice to Himself/ character felt it was needful and chose it that way. In this way God loved the world.
I used to enjoy Bruce Waltke and Richard Pratt elucidating OT scripture and the prophetic books,
I likewise appreciate this article. I appreciate the 7 and 50 yr. Releases. Law written ahead of time so that it also could be anticipated “not a fly as you go” macroeconomic principle…tho never seemingly practiced and thus part of the cause of captivity.
Again thanks. Share again.

The Lectionary for this coming week-end [July 14] goes along with this model
of disintegration of society when the value of human beings is lost.
Psalm 82 begins with "God stands up to open heaven’s court. He pronounces
judgment on the judges. [meaning judges in the human court systems of the time]
How long will you shower special favors [show partiality] on the wicked?
Accusing them of giving bad judgments to the poor, the afflicted, the fatherless,
the destitute.
It has God saying to the judges – “I have called you all 'gods” and ‘sons of the
Most High’. But in death you are mere men. You will die like any other man.
Closes with calling on God to Stand Up! Judge the earth! Because all of it
“belongs to You!” All nations are in Your hands.
[This psalm was to be read in the Temple every Tuesday – 3rd day of the
week according to my Jewish Book of Common Prayer – Siddur Sim Shalom]

Amos 7:7-17 – The picture of a Master Stone Mason checking on the wall
that other stone masons have built and has found it full of defects and not
structurally sound because it is not straight up and down.
For this Israel is going into captivity at a near future date. Because they are
out of line with God’s ways, the nation will be laid to waste.

The other readings are Luke 10 – the lawyer who stood up to test Jesus.
Colossians 1:1-14 – commending them for their faith, love, hope, and witness
to the Gospel. Then asks God to grant them knowledge, wisdom, spiritual
discernment, and patience as they “bear fruit in every good work.” Concluding
as it expresses confidence that they will grow in strength as they give thanks
for the redemptive work of Christ.

We have a problem. The word love so misunderstood, misused, Respect in its full meaning would serve better Since we don’t have the option of the Greek Dicotomy.

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I read the Lectionary for this week, also. The thread of love thy neighbor as thyself and the value of humans came through each of the readings.

Thank you for referring to them from time to time. I read them every week.


There’s one sentence in this essay that disturbs me deeply and it is this, " Of course, Jesus’ death for us demonstrates our value, but it does not establish it like God’s creation of us does; it merely confirms it."

I get the distinct impression from a number of SDA authors in recent months that there is an increasing emphasis on creation rather than the cross. I tend to think that the reason for this is to justify the focus on the seventh day Sabbath.

My argument is not against our worth as revealed in the creation story or against a Sabbath rest…

For me, Christ’s death establishes the worth of every human being at a far greater value than creation ever could, as wonderful as our creation is. At creation God saw that His work in creating man, male and female, was very good and then He rested in a completed work.

But what about our worth in the light of God, the Father and The Word, our Creator giving everything their heart of love could give or ever conceive of giving to redeem us?

It’s no wonder Christ gave us a new commandment just hours before He went to the cross. “Love one another, even as I have loved you.” And we know how John and Paul interpreted this command in the light of the cross.

“Love your neighbour as yourself” could never express the depth of the meaning of divine love and human worth because it is in terms of ourselves. Our value is determined as we see portrayed the Son of God hanging on the cross, bearing the sins of the whole world.

That’s love. That’s how God values us.


Creation established ownership. The Cross reiterated ownership, and established the value placed on us by God. We are worth a King’s Ransom. Some owners do not value their possessions and are prepared to let others take them. Ownership doesn’t convey value. What you do to maintain ownership demonstrates the value you place on the object.


I have the same impression, have been noticing the same thing. It seems that a process of radicalization is taking place. The more puzzling things are being found in nature, the more radical the 7-day creation message becomes. Puzzling indeed… :wink:

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Hi Ray,
The way I see it is value is established in both the creation of mankind and the redemption of the cross of fallen mankind. Without both mankind has no hope.
Humanity is not just an evolutionary creature of progression. At minimum there is a special creation of Adam & Eve who after sinning needed a plan of Redemption which is found in Christ alone.

Without these natural laws, chaos would ensue.

Would that be natural law before or after quantum physics?

Chaos theory anyone?

We have to be careful of natural law arguments, as they have sometimes been used to argue against the “unnatural” in nature. Nature is not just orderly. It can be unpredictable and full of surprises, as well.


I believe God fixes the parameters of a very non static earth and universe.

I had the same reaction and suspect the same reasoning, Ray. The incarnation and cross are the ultimate display of divine love and of human worth. God becoming one with humanity, and then giving his life to redeem human beings, outstrip what was revealed at creation.

On a related note, Hebrews 4, which compares Christ and his work to the completed work of creation and the seventh day, says something similar. He, and his completed work, are the ultimate rest. The quoting of Ezekiel in reference to the Sabbath as the sign between God and his people simply does not take into account what the NT says about the death and resurrection of Christ, and his inauguration of new creation through the gift of his Spirit. The presence and power of the Spirit to forge a new, united, multi-national community of messiah followers is the sign and seal of God’s people, and their relationship to him. Something that the Torah and its observances such as the Sabbath pointed to as a map, so to speak.

Why continually refer people to the two dimensional map, when the vehicle has already arrived at the 3D reality? Christ, and living in his Spirit, is that reality! Paul makes the same type of comparison in Colossians 2, when he refers to Jewish holy times, including the Sabbath, as a shadow of things to come, but the reality is Christ!




Frank, I appreciate what you’re saying and there is nothing like Christ. I read the author not as comparing Christ and Sabbath but as saying our special worth to God was created in the beginning.
God, after our fall, demonstrates His love again for us, the created, and our worth to Him by providing His only begotten Son for our redemption. And, not only us but all creation mourns in anticipation of the reality of parousia and eternal rest with the Godhead when sin is no more.
I agree if there was meant a comparison with Christ then the sabbath fades.


Thanks, Pat. My issue was saying that Christ and his death merely confirms our worth. That’s almost outrageous to me. Merely confirms? How about resoundingly declares? How about incredibly displays beyond anything that came before or since… including the initial creation? This is the tenor of the NT, which I discussed a bit in my previous post.

The second issue was referring once again to the Sabbath as the sign of God’s relationship to his people… an Adventist shibboleth. The NT is clear that the sign and seal of belonging is the Spirit, and his power and presence among the Messiah’s people, producing the fruit of love, unity, and care for one another, in the way that Christ welcomes, cares for, and loves us.

I guess I’m just sensitive to the Adventist buzz words and phrases that are there to uplift the Law and specifically the Sabbath as central to Christian life, experience, and identity. While this article made many wonderful points, I don’t agree with that agenda, even if it’s unconscious or unspoken.




Anytime “merely” is used in regards to anything of Christ’s life, death. burial and Resurrection it should be viewed with skepticism. I do feel it was a poor choice of words.


Another viable interpretation for “subdue nature” is to subdue our own personal natural inclinations that go against God’s law. The “deities and other divine entities” are basically projections of our own selves distributed to our external world to exert control. A perfect example of this interpretation is exemplified in Genesis 4:6 -7 “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”


Genesis 4:6 [New Living Tr.] “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain.
“Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right.
But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the
door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

Living Bible says “Why is your face so dark with rage? It can be bright with
joy if you will do what you should!.. Sin is waiting to attack you, longing to
destroy you. But you can conquer it.”
Message. “Why this tantrum? Why this sulking? If you do well, won’t you be

A lot of times we can “see” thinking processes in facial expressions.


And mastering the “thought process” that goes along with the facial expression can be subdued and stopped even before acting out and placing into action the thought content.


Is there an implication that nature is somehow wild and needs to be subdued. God seems to have made man His co-worker in finishing creation. It’s as if God gave man th canvas and the brushes and said, “Go paint.”


Sirje –
“Subdued”. or would “trained” be more clearer?
In the Hebrew there is a word. One of the words by itself means “good”,
maybe “OK”.
Two of the words repeated [like we would say, yes, yes] means “very good”.
If three of the words in a row are used it would mean “perfect”.
What is in the Hebrew after each creation activity on Genesis 1 only
the word for “good” is repeated twice. So means only “very good”.
Perhaps what God wanted man to do was to make God’s world “perfect”.
Perhaps THAT is what God means by “subdue”. That would go along with
with your thought of “canvas, brushes and saying, Go! paint!”
Only “paint” with color and texture. Part of the “exploration” is creating with
genes to create new things God decided NOT to create at the time.
Dogs-- we have lots of breeds today not around thousands of years ago.
At the time of Louis XIV there were only 13 colors of roses. Now look at all
the colors. Look at all the varieties of fruits not known several hundred years
ago. House plants and garden plants always a new color or texture.
Wild single bloom trees, the cultivated varieties can have “double” blooms.
Large and miniatures of the same types of plants.
All this is from “playing” with genes.