Dust of the Ground, Breath of the Divine

the components of a living soul
June 11, 2024

In the beginning, God utilized two elements to create man: dust and breath (Genesis 2:7). While dust was the earthly component, breath was the divine one. The union of dust and breath made man a living soul. The term soul is translated from the Hebrew term “nephesh,” which derives from the Hebrew verb “naphash.” The verb “naphash” means to breathe. That indicates that God created man to be a living breather. This means that man does not have a soul. Rather, man is a soul. As long as he stays connected to the source of breath, he will remain a living soul.

Unfortunately, sin drastically altered God’s creation. While the union of dust and breath had bought life, death created separation. This concept is significant because death represents an undoing of God’s creation. Notice how separation takes place. 

  • The body returns to the dust. Genesis 3:19. Ecclesiastes 12:7.
  • The breath returns to God. There is a separation of body and breath. Ecclesiastes 12:7. Matthew 27:50. Mark 15:37. Job 34:14-15. 
  • Like man, animals were also created from dust and breath. Hence, death also separates the dust and the breath from the animal. Genesis 2:19. Genesis 7:21-23. Ecclesiastes 3:18-22.

However, as soon as sin entered the world, the plan of redemption was implemented. The plan of salvation involved the promise of receiving life again after having died. God’s greatest blessing for His creation was to make dust live (Genesis 2:7). Sin’s greatest curse was to return the dust to its initial condition, to be dry land (Genesis 1:9-10, 4:10-11). At first, the ground was God’s means to give life (Genesis 1:11-12, 24-26). After sin, the role of the ground was to receive back the human dust. There is no other place where dust goes. Dust does not have a place of torment. Moreover, God’s work of creation in the beginning did not include a place of torment.

The promise of resurrection was first implied in Eden in two ways. One, God promised the serpent that the seed of the woman would crush his head (Genesis 3:15). Satan’s ultimate defeat and man’s final restoration were assured. Two, before expelling the first couple from the garden, God clothed them with tunics of skin (Genesis 3:21). Their leafy coverings were not enough (Genesis 3:7). By faith, they needed to accept and wear God’s gracious provision.

God also alluded to the idea of resurrection while interacting with Jacob. This time, the Lord presented Himself to the patriarch as the God of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 28:13). By this time, one of Jacob’s forefathers, Abraham, had already died and returned to the dust. Isaac was still alive. Nonetheless, the living God considered Himself to be their God. The implication was clear and meaningful. 

  • God does not reign over dust or virtual names. He governs over real people.
  • Based on their faith, Jacob’s forefathers will again become real people. 

God reiterates the same view to Moses and the children of Israel (Exodus 3:6, 13, 15, 16; 4:5). Nevertheless, he does it in a new and pivotal context.

Israel was in bondage and God was going to liberate His people. Thus, He revealed Himself as “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). God’s name is associated with eternal life. It’s derived from the Hebrew verb “to be,” which is then cited in the imperfect tense as YHWH. That means that He has no past or future. He only exists in the continuous present. Whoever serves Him will not die forever. Instead, they will live an ongoing present for eternity. Jesus clearly understood and correctly interpreted this passage in the light of the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 20:37-38, Matthew 22:31-32, Mark 12:26-27). God’s early response to the problem of sin and death was to offer humanity the promise of resurrection or a new creation.

The concept of resurrection became very special for New Testament writers. For them, eternal life is based on the divine miracle of reuniting the breath with the body through resurrection. Without resurrection, there is no hope (1 Corinthians 15:13, 16-17, 32). The hope of life is not founded on the existence of an immortal (bodiless) soul. It is established on the beautiful truth that our gracious God will breathe one more time on the dust and the dead in Christ will live again. What a glorious promise given to man!

By Jorge E. Rico, D.Min., Ph.D. Rico is a professor and the department chair for the Department of Religion at Southwestern Adventist University in Keene, Texas.