A Word for Today: Earth (Heb. Adamah)


Adam (Man, man of low degree)
Adamah (Earth, land, ground)
Adamdam (Reddish)

We hear a considerable amount today about the environment and the preservation of planet earth. The green agenda has never been stronger and all of us are probably actively recycling waste. The idea of earth management is not something new, however, but was incumbent upon Adam as he was given the responsibility of dressing and keeping the garden of Eden, Gen. 2. 7, 15. When God created the earth (adamah), Gen. 1. 1, it was always His intention that man should serve, hence the Hebrew words abad for ‘dressing’ meaning to serve and samar for ‘keeping’ meaning to exercise great care over something, Gen. 2. 15.1 It was from the dust of the earth that God created Adam, v. 7, and the Hebrew feminine noun adamah is used to translate the word ‘ground’. In Hebrew, there is a play on words in verse 7 as the Hebrew word for man is adam who is formed from the dust of the earth adamah. As Paul reminded the Corinthians, ‘The first man is of the earth, earthy’, 1 Cor. 15. 47a. This emphasizes man’s relationship to the earth, and as Gordon J. Wenham states about man in this context, ‘He was created from it; his job is to cultivate it (2. 5, 15); and on death he returns to it (3. 19). “It is his cradle, his home, his grave” (Jacob)’.2Ultimately though, for the believer, to slightly paraphrase the words of Horatio Spafford, ‘it is the sky not the grave - that is our goal’!

The fundamental difference in the two statements made about the creation of man is that in Genesis chapter 1 verses 26 and 27, God makes man in His own image and likeness, whereas in Genesis chapter 2 verse 7 man is made from something that already exists, the dust of the earth. But it is because man is in the image and likeness of God that makes him morally accountable to God for his stewardship of the earth and the environment.3 Even though man was given authority from God to ‘subdue or master’ the earth, Gen. 1. 28, our attitude towards the earth should still be one of responsible stewardship not thoughtless exploitation, because the earth belongs to the Lord, Ps. 24. 1. The fall of man brought a curse to the earth, Gen. 3. 17, and while Romans chapter 8 verses 19 to 22 outlines the effect that this has had on creation generally and its state of frustration, nevertheless, there will come a day when creation will be able to attain the goal for which it was made, Rom. 8. 20, 21.

The word adamah occurs more than 200 times in the Old Testament. Essentially, it refers to the land or the ground on which things move and exist, including human beings, Exod. 8. 21, and animals, of various sizes.4 In a broader sense, it is used of the dust put on the head of the Amalekite to show his mourning for the death of Saul in 2 Samuel chapter 1 verse 2, and of the Israelites when they fasted and wore sackcloth, putting dust on their heads as they confessed their sins before God, Neh. 9. 1, 2. In counselling Job, Eliphaz expresses the view that ‘hardship does not spring from the soil (adamah)’, Job 5. 6 NIV, but all human beings bring hardship upon themselves, v. 7. In other words, hardship and suffering is not a product of the earth (adamah) but produced by man (adam) himself. The word adamah is used to describe the earthen moulds that Solomon made so that he could cast bronze items for the temple, 1 Kgs. 7. 46, compare also the clay used for the potter’s wheel in Isaiah chapter 45 verse 9. Naaman pressed Elisha for two-mules of earth (adamah) as he was convinced that the true God could only be worshipped on the soil of the land of Israel, 2 Kgs. 5. 17. The ground is described as ‘cursed’ on account of Adam’s sin, Gen. 3. 17, but can also change to ‘holy ground’ when God sanctifies it with His presence, Exod. 3. 5; cp. Josh. 5. 15.

The prized inheritance and possession of the nation of Israel was the land of Canaan, which God gifted to Abraham and to his seed in perpetuity.5 So, in this context the word adamah is used to describe a geographical area of land, i.e., the Promised Land, ‘flowing with milk and honey’, Exod. 3. 8. For Israel, the attainment of this land was critical to their national identity, hence the prescribed delineation of this inheritance.6 It was when Israel entered Canaan that the respective tribes were instructed by God to claim their inheritance by lot, Num. 34. 13 et seq., and thus it became their homeland. Israel’s chequered history with God might suppose that He has forsaken them, Isa. 54. 7, but this is just a temporary measure. He has not rejected them finally;7the day will come when Zion will be restored, and instead of being called ‘forsaken’ and the land left ‘desolate’, her name will be changed to ‘Hephzibah’ (‘my delight is in her’) and the land to ‘Beulah’ (‘married’),8 Isa. 62. 4. As Alec Motyer states, ‘the past is gone (4ab) because of the Lord’s delight in Zion, and there is a new, fertile land (4cd), which in turn is explained by illustrations drawn from marriage’. God’s flock will be secure in His land, Zech. 9. 16.

In the Septuagint (LXX) the Hebrew word adamah is translated by the Greek word ges as in Deuteronomy chapter 33 verse 28 where Moses predicts that Israel will one day be ‘a land of corn and wine’. The absence of a smith in the land, ges, meant that Israel could not make their own spears and swords, thus giving the Philistines a military advantage, 1 Sam. 13. 19. This same Greek word, ges, is the dynamic equivalent in the New Testament of adamah where it is used extensively to translate words such as ‘earth’ as contrasted to heaven, Luke. 2. 14, ‘land’ in contrast to the sea, John. 6. 21, and ‘ground’ in Paul’s contrast between Adam and Christ, 1 Cor. 15. 47 - see above. There is the hope of ‘a new heaven and a new earth’, meaning that the first heaven and earth will have passed away, Rev. 21. 1. This new earth will be the eternal home of righteousness, 2 Pet. 3. 13, and ‘shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’, Hab. 2. 14. What a thought, then, for today that finally the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven, Matt. 6. 10.

For further reading/study Introductory

‘Land’ in Leland Ryken et al (ed.), Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, IVP Academic, pp. 487, 488.


‘Ground, piece of land, earth’ in Willem A. VanGemeren (ed.), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, (Vol. 1), Zondervan, pp. 269-274.



Victor Hamilton points out that ‘The same root is used in the next chapter to describe the cherubs who are on guard to prevent access to the tree of life in the garden (Gen. 3. 24). The garden is something to be protected more than it is something to be possessed. The point is made clear here that physical labor (sic) is not a consequence of sin. Work enters the picture before sin does, and if man had never sinned he still would be working’. (The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17 - NICOT, pg. 156).


Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (WBC), Word Books, pg. 59.


This is also the reason why Peter commands us to treat everyone with dignity and respect because all human beings are made in God’s image, 1 Pet. 2. 17; cp., Jas. 3. 9. Interestingly, Peter suggests that we give the same honour to all human beings as we do to monarchy.


Lev. 20. 25; Mal. 3. 11; Isa. 30. 24.


Gen. 15. 7, 18; Deut. 4. 40; Jer. 16. 15.


Gen. 15. 18; Exod. 23. 31; Num. 34. 3-12; Deut. 11. 24; Josh. 1. 4. Many scholars take the view that the ‘rivers of Egypt’ referred to in Genesis chapter 15 verse 18, which is the southern border of Israel, is not, in fact, a reference to the River Nile, but the Wadi el Arish in the Sinai desert. Wenham states that in his view, ‘It is not clear whether “river of Egypt” is an alternative name for Wadi el Arish (so Simons, GTOT, 27) or means the eastern branch of the Nile delta (so Aharoni, Land of the Bible, 59). Assuming that there is no corruption of the text and that usage is consistent with, the latter would be more probable’ (op. cit. pg. 333).


Isa. 14. 1; Jer. 16. 15; Rom. 11. 1, 2.


Alec J. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, IVP, pg. 506.


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