In the previous post I delved into the notion that Genesis 1 describes all of creation as Yahweh’s cosmic temple. However, one glaring question left open is how does this understanding of Genesis 1 intersect with human purpose? The answer to this is through realizing that the way in which God rests, that is, the way He takes up residence and rules from inside the cosmic temple, is through the installation of His image. The meaning of being made in the image and likeness of God is not substantialistic (it doesn’t refer to our free will, nor do we physically resemble God, nor are we “three-in-one” as He is[1]) nor relational (our ability to relate to God or each other). Rather, it means that humanity is “God’s representatives and agents in the world, granted authorized power to share in God’s rule or administration of earth’s resources and creatures.[2] “Man[kind] as…created was to mirror God and to represent God.”[3] Put more simply, God manifests His presence in this world through human beings who are His representatives.

Thus, when God calls upon His images to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28), He is instructing the first humans, and all their descendants, to expand the garden of Eden until it engulfed all the earth.[4] God is calling upon humanity to expand the Edenic sanctuary until all the world (the entire cosmic temple) is one giant holy of holies. This is why God has placed in our hearts the deepest desire to not be alone. This is why family is at the heart our purpose. When a man and woman come together, they create a new image of God whom represents Him and bears His presence. When this new image leaves their own father and mother in search of their own family, they extend the presence of God in the world. This how family is not only our purpose but is also the highest form of our worship and of our making God known. It is through the image of God in family that the presence of God fills the cosmic temple and how the earth might be filled with the knowledge of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea.

Additionally, another layer of meaning for the image of God can be added to our study. Besides designating a statue/idol, it was also thought that a king was in the image of God, with the king acting as a representative of the god. “Since in that world the king rules under the ultimate rule of his god, the king must be ruling in his god’s behalf.”[5] Further, these kings would often set up images or statues of themselves in distant lands as a symbol of their rule even where they were physically absent.[6] The Egyptian Pharaohs, for example, would set up statues in conquered territories that would mediate the king’s presence and rule. Thus, though the Pharaoh was only physically present in the seat of the royal palace, his statue in distant lands, as a symbol of his power, was thought to “hold back the forces of chaos”.[7]

In light of this, what we also have in Genesis is a subversion of this ancient Near Eastern ideology in that it is not the king alone who is the image of God, who represents God’s rule, and expands God’s kingdom into distant lands. Rather, all of humanity is God’s royal vice-regents, bearing His Kingly presence, and extending His rule throughout creation. And like ancient Near Eastern kings, humanity is also able to set up images in distance lands to represent the expansion of God’s rule. However, rather than with mere statues, we do this through family. Again, when a man and woman come together, they create a child who is not only made in both their image and their likeness,[8] but also in the image of God. As such, this new child bears the royal rule of God as His vice-regent. When that child seeks their deepest desire for family, they too will venture out into the world and thereby extending the presence and rule of King Yahweh.

How does work fit into all of this? A text cited in a previous post in this series, Genesis 2:15, helps to illuminate the connection between the image of God and work. In that text, it says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” These two terms used to describe Adam’s work in the garden (Heb. abad and shamar) are also used to describe the duties of the priests in the tabernacle (e.g. Num 3:8-9). Thus, Adam’s work in the garden, and the work of humanity in subduing and dominion, are to be understood as priestly work. This is how work, as human purpose, stands beside family as our highest form of worship and making God known. As we work, engaging in the interests and talents God has blessed us with, we naturally develop complex human culture the glorifies our Creator and makes the earth glorious. This is a priestly vocation, as our work and culture ever build the splendor and beauty of this world as God’s cosmic temple and makes the earth worthy to be the sanctuary for God’s majestic presence.[9]

Thus it is in this way, as image bearing, vice-regents of King Yahweh, our work expands the glory of God’s kingdom. As we pursue our God given purpose in work, that is, as we harness the earth’s resources, domesticate animals, and engage an all other kinds of work for the purpose of developing culture, we bring order and beauty to God’s kingdom. Our work, when done in union with God and for God, is our highest form of worship and reverence, as we transform this world He’s gifted us in the name of the King.

Bringing this entire kaleidoscope of imagery together, this is how the bible answers life’s deepest question. God has created this world to be His cosmic temple, to be His kingdom. He has created and placed humans, as His image, in this world to bear His presence. We are the idols of God in the temple, we are the vice-regents of King Yahweh in His kingdom. God has placed within our hearts the deepest desire for family so that we will find each other, and in shattering the bonds of loneliness, our love union will produce children. These new images will eventually leave us in pursuit of their own family, thereby expanding the presence of God in His temple and extending the reign of Yahweh in His kingdom.

God has, likewise, placed within our hearts the deepest desire for work. In our pursuit to mimic our Creator, our work expands the beauty and splendor of this cosmic temple that we inhabit. Our work transforms the world into a kingdom whose glory is worthy of its King. Ours is the work of priests and the work of kings. It is in this way that work, along with family is our purpose and the chief means by which humans are called to glorify God, to worship Him, and to make Him known. Indeed, this is why humanity is to be a kingdom of priests, a royal priesthood.

Next, in part 6 of the series, I will explore how the Fall and the entrance of sin has affected the human purpose of family and work.


[1] While a popular understanding, the idea that humanity is made “body-soul-spirit” in a way that mimics the Trinity’s “three-in-one” nature is not only biblically problematic (scripture uses soul and spirit interchangeably as referring to the same thing) but would have been absolutely foreign to an ancient Israelite.

[2] ; J Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005), 26-27.

[3] Hoekema, “Created in God’s Image”, 67, quoted in Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007), 216.

[4] Oren R. Martin, Bound for the Promised Land: The Land Promise in God’s Redemptive Plan (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2015), 37; G K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: Apollos: 2004), 81-82.

[5] Ian Hart, “Genesis 1:1-2:3 As Prologue to the Book of Genesis,” Tynbul 46, no. 2 (1995): 318, quoted in Waltke, Theology, 218.

[6] Middleton, Liberating Image, 104. A biblical parallel would be Daniel 3:1-5 where King Nebuchadnezzar has an image of gold sixty cubits high tall erected and commanded the worship of it.

[7] Curtis, “Man as the Image of God”, 117-18, cited in Middleton, Liberating Image, 106.

[8] Note that Genesis 5:3 says that, when Seth was born, he was the likeness and image of his father Adam.

[9] Recall, in the OT, God’s concern with the aesthetics of His tabernacle/temple, e.g. Ex 25-31.