Updated: Jun 25, 2020
Some weeks ago I preached a two part series that focused on the concept of shepherding. You can view these sermons here and here. My goal was to show the congregation what biblical shepherding looked like within the church, the role of elders, and the relationship between them and the people. But as I began this task I realized that I was making some assumptions. The task of shepherding was not first introduced within the context of the church, but the family. Many of the points I was about to make assumed that everyone clearly understood what shepherding looks like within the context of the family. I would be naive indeed to build on such an assumption. What I hoped to accomplish in a single sermon would have to wait. First, I had to build a case for shepherding from its origins: the family.
I chose to build my argument around three foundational texts: The creation of the family in Genesis 1 and 2, Moses’ charge to Israel’s fathers in Deuteronomy 6, and Paul’s charge to the Christian family in Ephesians 6. Within the context of an easily digestible blog, I can tell already that I will have to abbreviate this single sermon into three separate posts. Today, we’ll deal with only God’s perfect creation of the family.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (NASB)
This text is so foundational for a variety of reasons. But for our present discussion, I want to bring out only three points: First, Humanity is given identity as God’s image bearers. Second, both man and woman share perfect equality in this identity. And third, God created humanity for a specific purpose.
The Identity of Man
The identity of man is wrapped up in God’s expression of His will in v. 26 and then the account of His accomplished will in v. 27. This inter-Trinitarian conversation expresses the desire of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to create man (humanity) in the image of God and according to His likeness. That much is obvious from even a “devotional” reading of the text. But what does it mean to be made in the image of God?
At its core, this is the language of representation. An image stands in place of a more significant entity. This same word is used in the negative context of idolatry (Num. 33:52). An idol, after all, is not intended to indicate the presence of a pagan deity, but to represent that deity. But the same word (in the Greek translation of the OT) is also used in the positive context of the most accurate representation of the invisible God; namely His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ (Col. 1:15). In placing His image upon humanity, God has given mankind identity. It is the image of God, the imago Dei, which separates man from the animals (not our ability to walk erect or possession of opposable thumbs).
The Equality of Man and Woman
It might seem obvious, but it is necessary to point out that God did not place any lesser amount of His image upon one sex or the other. Note verse 27, “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Men do not possess any more of the image of God than do women, or vise versa. Because the image of God does not speak to roles, but to identity and purpose, it is literally blasphemy to suggest that one human being is of any lesser value than another, or that one human being is of any greater worth than another. Gender, ethnicity, nationality, or any other division one might contrive does not negate the fact that all of humanity bears the image of Almighty God, equally.
The Purpose of Humanity
Because humanity is the only aspect of God’s creation that bears His image, one would expect a particular purpose for him. We are not disappointed. In His expressed will (v. 26) and in the charge He gave newly created humanity (v. 28), we see the purpose for which God placed His image on humanity. In short: To rule the earth as vassal kings under the divine Kingship of God Himself. Verse 26 expresses God’s design for man is to “rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps the earth.” God has placed humanity in charge of His creation. Not as an independent monarch, but as a vassal that answers to God.
After He has created them, God gives both man and woman their charge, personally. “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” We see four imperatives there. Man and woman are to 1) be fruitful, 2) multiply (I suppose one must follow the other), 3) fill the earth (don’t remain in your private corner, but rule all of my creation on my behalf), and 4) subdue it (one cannot subdue the earth by sitting at home). This last imperative is quite forceful. The idea is that violence may be required for the task at hand. God has commanded the man and the woman (who equally share the image of God) to rule the earth as His vassal king and queen. The implication is that God’s will is to be established and enforced upon the earth and man and woman are the ones charged to bring it to pass.
What has that to do with shepherding? Well, that’s just the necessary introduction. Now that we’ve established the identity, equality, and purpose of man and woman (something I like to call the “God-Man dynamic”), let us move on to the “Man-Woman dynamic.”
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (NASB)
As we reflect on these verses that capture the creation of the family, I just want to make three more observations. First, God created man and woman with perfect compatibility for one another. Second, God created man and woman to be united exclusively with one another. And third, God created man and woman with specific functionality in mind.
If you’re a careful reader of Scripture, v. 18 should have set off alarm bells. Every time God spoke and brought creation into existence, He stated that it was “good.” Upon the completion of all of creation God said that it was “very good.” Yet here we see that God Himself states that it is “Not good for the man to be alone”. Why would God say such a thing? Because He is not yet finished with the creation of humanity. Man is not yet complete.
Next we read that God takes man on a tour of all that God has already created. All of the animal kingdom is displayed in front of him. This scene serves two purposes. First, God is bestowing upon the man his role of kingship of God’s creation. God bequeathed the right of naming the animals to man, yet still under God’s sovereign headship. Notice who gets the final say, “and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.” The implication is that God approved it. But I digress.
The second purpose of this exercise it to exhaust all of creation (at this point) to prove that there was nothing in existence that is compatible with man. God continued His creative work by taking a portion of flesh from the man (a rib) and fashioning from that flesh a woman. In the first wedding ceremony in history, with Almighty God presiding (and giving away the bride), man meets his other half. The man’s exclamation proves that he recognizes woman as his compatible mate. “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” Man and woman were created for the purpose of complete and perfect compatibility with each other. Man was not completed with another man, nor woman created with another woman. But one man was completed by one woman. This is what God called very good.
This point is closely connected to the previous point of compatibility, but in our current perverse generation I think it’s a necessary point to make. The man did not find a single creature that met his needs. God Himself declared that it was not good for him to be alone, yet nothing on earth (at that time) was going to fix the problem. Then God fashioned one (count that again, ONE) woman, and man was complete. The man understood this. His wife understood this. God knew this and called this completed and exclusive relationship very good.
This is one of the reasons that we had to first establish the identity, quality, and worth of both man and woman as connected to their possession of the image of God. Man and woman are perfectly equal in worth because they both possess God’s image. They share a singular purpose of jointly (God commissioned them as a unit, not as individuals) representing God as rulers over His creation. But the man and his wife do NOT function in identical or interchangeable roles. When God said that it was not good for man to be alone in v. 18, what did He desire to do? “I will make him a helper suitable for him.” There have been many who have attempted to either add to this word or retract from it. “Helper” does not indicate a servant, but neither does it indicate a partner. The word is better understood as an assistant. Man and woman were not designed to create a partnership with two heads, but one (woman) assisting the other (man) as he leads in their mission of ruling and subduing. This is made obvious in both the manner in which God fashioned woman as well as the language Moses uses to describe the whole event.
The Manner of Woman’s Creation
It is not insignificant that woman was taken from man. If woman were autonomous and her relationship with man were of a joint partnership, why did God not also form her from the dust? This is the same argument used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, but we also see this in the man’s divinely inspired recognition of woman being “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” But it is what happens next that is very telling. It is the man who names the woman, demonstrating his headship over here. It’s worth noting that man was given dominion to name the animals. His wife was not present for this task. Woman was created, not as a servant to do man’s bidding. Neither is she his partner in a two-headed operation. Rather she is man’s helper and assistant created by God to complete him.
The Language of the Text
Moses is very specific in his choice of words throughout this narrative. The man is referred to with the definite article numerous times throughout this text, but his assistant and helper is never referred to in this manner. She is always called “his wife.” She is his helper. The wife belongs to the husband. If there is any doubt as to the validity to this observation, one has only to look into the next chapter when all that is very good unravels in the span of seven verses.
Chapter 3 of Genesis describes humanities rebellion, but that rebellion began with a dysfunctional marriage. The words “the man” cannot be found in this account, but neither can the phrase “his wife.” It is “the woman” (definite article indicating that she is operating as an autonomous being free from her husband’s headship) who is approached and deceived. “The man” is nowhere to be seen, but “her husband” is standing near-by. Adam failed to lead his wife and Eve usurped her husband’s authority. And all of creation paid the price.
Shepherding begins with an understanding of humanity's identity as image bearers, purpose of living out God’s will, and submission to the roles that He designed. Biblical shepherding cannot even begin to exist in a marriage unless both the husband and his wife understand who they are (image bearers) and what their purpose is (to glorify God). God created the family (man as an individual was “not good”) in such a way to fulfill this purpose. Where husbands don’t lead and wives don’t submit, God is not glorified. Shepherding begins here.