By Joshua Spurlock
The Serpent’s most crafty deception was telling Khavah (Eve) that she could be like God.
As we read in Parashat Bereshit,
“But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God [Elohim] knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God [Elohim], knowing good and evil.”
– Bereshit (Genesis) 3:4-5, ESV
Tragically, Khavah was intrigued by the possibility of being like God, failing to understand the truth that HaShem (the LORD) had already made her in His image and likeness.
“So God [Elohim] created man in his own image, in the image of God [Elohim] he created him; male and female he created them.”
– Bereshit 1:27, ESV
This struggle—wanting to be like God instead of embracing the ways we have been made like Him—is a core element in the internal battle between good and evil. When we accept, are content with, and act out the ways in which HaShem has made us and called us to be like Himself, we can transcend our mortal form.
Yet when we seek to be like God in ways He has not designed us to be, we end up becoming a shallow and distorted image of Him that turns good into evil.
Being Like God
The Bible does not go into precise details in the ways that mankind was originally made like God. We can, however, glean a few insights into this reality if we look closely.
The first directive from God when He describes making man in His image is the first place to start.
“Then God [Elohim] said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’ … And God [Elohim] blessed them. And God [Elohim] said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
– Bereshit 1:26, 28, ESV
In these first references about mankind, HaShem describes us as having “dominion” over the other creatures of the world. Then, in some of His first words to His newly created likenesses, He tells them to “subdue” the Earth and “have dominion.”
This demonstrates that one of the primary elements of our being “like God” is that we are His authorities on Earth. HaShem is King of all existence, and in a small way we imitate that authority by being stewards of His creation.
David HaMelekh (King David) recognizes this role and highlights it in his description of man in one of his Psalms.
“Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
– Tehillim (Psalms) 8:5-8, ESV
In other words, mankind has authority on Earth—which is comparable to God having authority over all.
One of the only other uses of the phrase “like God” in the English Standard Version is in the Book of Shemot (Exodus). While it’s not the same Hebrew as the phrase C’Elohim (“like God”) in Bereshit 3:5, it is a similar concept.
“And the LORD said to Moses [Moshe], ‘See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh [Elohim l’Paroh], and your brother Aaron [Aharon] shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron [Aharon] shall tell Pharaoh [Paroh] to let the people of Israel [Yisrael] go out of his land.”
– Shemot (Exodus) 7:1-2, ESV
In what ways was Moshe like God?
He spoke to Paroh (Pharaoh) in the authority of God, wielding His power over creation. In both the dominion example and in this example with Moshe, what is the primary means in which man is compared to God? It is in action.
There is great discussion and debate on how we are like God in terms of “being”, but what is often missed in that discussion is that God’s focus on our godliness is not our being—but our doing.
Act Like God
The first instructions from God to mankind are that they act like Him: They were to participate in His creation by being “fruitful and multiplying”, and they were to act as His representative on earth by wielding “dominion” (Cf. Bereshit / Genesis 1:28).
The Serpent made it sound as though HaShem did not want mankind to be like Him, but in fact we have already seen that HaShem’s original intention is that mankind would be and act like Him, as His children—in the ways that we can and should.
HaShem giving mankind opportunities to act like God continues with Adam and his relationship with the animals.
“Now out of the ground the LORD God [Elohim] had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”
– Bereshit 2:19, ESV
It might be missed at first glance, but Adam is acting like HaShem in this passage. How? By naming creation. Throughout the first chapter of Bereshit, HaShem names the things He makes. This ranges from calling light “day” (Cf. Bereshit 1:5) to calling the dry land “earth” (Cf. Bereshit 1:10).
So in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), Adam has the incredible opportunity—given to Him by HaShem—to do something that only God has done to this time: naming, and thereby defining, creation.
This continues with the creation of the first female person. Adam first calls her “woman”, because she was taken out of man, and then gives her the personal name Khavah. What a privilege!
Woman is half of the highest level of creation, a person made in God’s image, and who is given the role to name her? Man. In so doing, Adam acts like God.
But the Serpent, who is HaSatan (the Satan, Cf. Revelation 12:9), suggests that mankind can be like Good without God, by behaving as though we don’t need Him. We can be like God, the reasoning goes, by defining good and evil for ourselves, even if it is in rebellion to the One Who created us. It is the ultimate perversion of godliness.
HaShem did not design us to think of ourselves as independent from Him. Instead, He created us to act like Him by trusting Him following His instructions; acting on His definitions of good and evil.
The tragic and chaotic narratives at the end of the Book of Shoftim (Judges) show the dire consequences of mankind trying to define good and evil for ourselves. In the midst of horrific anarchy—in which group theft, rape, and murder occurs—we read the following.
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
– Shoftim (Judges) 21:25, ESV
While knowing good and evil might be a godly quality, it is overwhelmingly applied by mankind in such a way as to transform people not into gods, but into unreasoning animals, resulting in misery and pain.
Is this not apparent in the immediate aftermath of Adam and Khavah’s consumption of the forbidden fruit?
“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God [Elohim] walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God [Elohim] among the trees of the garden.”
– Beresheit 3:7-8, ESV
Previously, mankind was not ashamed (Cf. Bereshit 2:25). Previously, mankind heard from HaShem comfortably (Cf. Bereshit 1:28-29, 2:16). After becoming like God in knowing good and evil, however, Adam and Khavah found themselves separated from God and from each other.
That, ultimately, is the result of mankind trying to be like God in ways they were not intended to be. Violating his trust, they’re intimacy with God was damaged, and with that the intimacy they experienced with their fellow human beings as well.
So now what can we do?
By acting like God, in the way He has prescribed, we can recover what was lost.
The Return to God’s Image
Just as the first mitzvot (commandments) from HaShem gave mankind an opportunity to reflect His likeness, so do the later mitzvot given to us in the Torah (Instruction/Law).
In describing what His people should and shouldn’t eat—which sounds remarkably similar to His instructions about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—HaShem highlights the impact of doing His mitzvot.
“You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them. For I am the LORD your God [Elohekem]. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground.”
– Vayikra (Leviticus) 11:43-44, ESV
As HaShem says, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ In other words, we have the opportunity to be like God in holiness! Just as HaShem separates one people from another, so HaShem has commanded us to distinguish between tahore (“clean”) and tamei (“unclean”) as HaShem has established (Cf. Vayikra 20:25).
But it’s more than just a matter of holiness. By keeping HaShem’s mitzvot that he gave us regarding loving our neighbors, we can be like Him in those ways as well.
“For the LORD your God [Elohekem] is God of gods [Elohai Haelohim] and Lord of lords [Adonei HaAdonim], the great, the mighty, and the awesome God [El], who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt [Mitzrayim].”
– Devarim (Deuteronomy) 10:17-19, ESV
Yeshua HaMashiakh (Jesus the Christ) further emphasizes the power and importance of loving others.
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven [HaShamayim]. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father [HaShamayim] is perfect.”
– Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:44-48, ESV
You Can Be Like God!
Despite our fall from Gan Eden, mankind is still capable of being like God. We can be restored to the proper image and likeness of God as we once were by faith in Mashiakh Yeshua. And this is the plan HaShem has for all of His people.
“And we know that for those who love God [Elohim] all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
– Romans 8:28-29, ESV
The Lord Yeshua is the image of the Invisible Elohim (Cf. Colossians 1:15) and the exact imprint of His nature (Cf. Ivrim / Hebrews 1:3).
Through his example, we learn about what God does and what He has called us to do. By living out His mitzvot, walking as the Yeshua walked, we transcend our earthly natures and truly become like HaShem.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit [HaRuakh] set their minds on the things of the Spirit [HaRuakh]. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit [HaRuakh] is life and peace…. If the Spirit [HaRuakh] of him who raised Jesus [Yeshua] from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus [Mashiakh Yeshua] from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit [Ruakh] who dwells in you.”
– Romans 8:5-6,11, ESV
As the psalm says, the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which grows brighter and brighter until the full day (Mishlei / Proverbs 4:18). May your life reflect the character and likeness of God more and more each day as you walk out His mitzvot through the power and Spirit of His Memra (Word), our Lord Yeshua HaMashiakh.