Noah: Man of the Soil

In Genesis 9:20, Noah is called “a man of the soil”. This phrase is a bit of a shock in the Hebrew; though it’s made up of two very common words – ‘ish is “man” and ‘adamah is “soil” or “ground” – these two words are never used together before this verse, and this particular phrase never appears again in the Bible.1 Three chapters earlier, in Genesis 6:9, Noah is also called a “righteous man” – ‘ish tsadiq – the first time tsadiq is used in the Bible.

These two ‘ish phrases work as bookends to the story of Noah. Noah begins as ‘ish tsadiq, and in the end, he is ‘ish ha’adamah. Seen in this light, Genesis 9:18-28 is not an appendix, an odd story about what Noah went on to do after the flood. Instead, this is the climax of the flood narrative, and the phrase ‘ish ha’adamah serves as a new title, a promotion for Noah. This new title helps frame Noah as a new head of humanity, and it serves as a declaration that part of Adam’s curse has been reversed, as foretold by Lamech in Genesis 5:29.

Genesis 1-2

To set the context for ‘ish ha’adamah, we’ll start with how these words are used earlier in Genesis.

In Genesis 1, ‘adam is created, referring to all of mankind, male and female. Mankind is created in God’s image (v. 27), blessed, and commanded to multiply, filling the earth and taking dominion over all of creation (v. 28). God also gives a unique food to ‘adam; in addition to green plants, man is also given fruit from a tree – p’ri ets (v. 29) – which is only given to man.

In Genesis 2, we get more details on the creation of mankind. In verse 5, we zoom in on barren soil, where there is no food. There is no food because there is no ‘adam to “till” the ‘adamah/soil. The word for “till” here is ‘abad, a word usually translated “serve” or “servant”. So the ‘adamah/soil has no worker, no servant, and to solve this, God forms ‘adam/manfrom the dust of the ‘adamah/soil (v. 7). The servant for ‘adamah is made from ‘adamah.

After forming and breathing life into ‘adam, God continues doing all the work. It is God who plants the garden (v. 8), full of fruit-trees for food (v. 9). When the garden is ready, God “takes” ‘adam and “places him in the garden” (v. 15) – ‘adam doesn’t even go to the garden himself – and God gives ‘adam fruit-trees to eat from (v. 16). This is a special place for ‘adam to do his work for ‘adamah, and it’s where ‘adamah can give to ‘adam its fruit to eat.

In v. 18, we’re presented with another problem. Just as we had no ‘adam to ‘abad/serve the ‘adamah/soil, we have no helper2 for ‘adam. And just as with ‘adam from ‘adamah, God fills the need by making ‘ishshah/woman from ‘adam (v. 22). At this point, ‘adam names his helper, and consequently uses a new word to describe himself: “she will be called ‘ishshah/woman because she was taken out of ‘ish/man.”

At this point, we have two linguistic pairs: ‘adamah/soil -> ‘adam, and ‘ish/man -> ‘ishshah/woman. In both cases, a helper/servant was formed from the other. We also do have some crossover usage between the pairs – in 2:25, “the man and his wife” is ‘adam and ‘ishshah. But we don’t have the reverse – there is no talk of ‘ish and ‘adamah as a pair, only of ‘adam the ‘abad/servant of ‘adamah.

Genesis 3-4

In Genesis 3, after ‘ishshah and ‘ish eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (v.6), God twice points out specifically to ‘adam that he has eaten from what God commanded him not to eat (v. 11, 17). He’s failed to do what God said, and as a result, all the relationships established in Genesis 1-2 begin to break down.

First, there is enmity between animal and humanity – specifically for ‘ishshah/woman (v. 15). Second, ‘ish will now rule over ‘ishshah (v. 16), breaking the husband/wife relationship. And lastly, the ‘adamah/soil is ‘arur/cursed because of ‘adam (v. 17). The word for “because of” – ‘abur – seems to be a pun of both ‘abad/servant and ‘arur/cursed. Adam is not ‘arur/cursed himself, but he is ‘abur, the reason for the curse on ‘adamah. Instead of being an ‘abad/servant to ‘adamah/soil, he is the ‘abur/reason for its curse.

After the curse, man is still the ‘abad/servant of the ‘adamah/soil (v.23), but ‘adam loses fruit, mankind’s special food. Instead, they’re left with only bread made from the thorns and thistles from the cursed ground (v. 18-19). More specifically, ‘adam loses access to the tree of life, the fruit that can let them live forever (v. 22).

Genesis 4 starts with a note of optimism, though: Eve (the name ‘adam gave to his ‘ishshah/wife) gives birth to a son (v. 1). The wording here is curious; instead of saying she’s born a “son”, Eve says “I have gotten an ‘ish/man from the Lord!”3 ‘ishshah/woman, who was formed from ‘ish/man, has given birth to an ‘ish!

This ‘ish/man is Cain, who becomes an ‘abad/servant of the ‘adamah/soil (v. 2), like ‘adam was meant to be. Cain tries to bring the p’ri/fruit of the ‘adamah/soil as an offering, but God rejects it4 (v. 3-5), and like the first ‘ish/man, Cain fails to listen to God’s voice. He kills his brother, and God ‘arur/curses him for it (v. 11). His relationship with the ‘adamah/soil is even more broken down, and he is no longer able to ‘abad/serve it (v. 12). Cain is a failed servant of the soil, like his father was.

In verses 10-11, Cain’s killing of Abel is described as Cain shedding Abel’s dam/blood, which is poured out and swallowed by the ‘adamah/soil.5 Cain, the servant of the soil, is pouring blood into it, and the dam/blood cries out to God from the ‘adamah/soil.

After Cain is cursed and sent out, he builds a city, and we are given a brief list of his descendants. The focus is on Lamech, who pronounces a judgment of vengeance in imitation to God’s earlier judgment on Cain (v. 23-24). Lamech is the first man to pronounce a judgment in the Bible – but he’s a corrupt ruler. He is an ‘ish-slayer and also an ‘ishshah-taker (v. 19, where he “took two ‘ishshah/wives for himself”).

Genesis 5 continues with a genealogy that’s noteworthy for its emphasis on death – each entry ends with the phrase “and he died”, unique among Genesis genealogies. There’s a break with Enoch, who walked with God, but the phrase begins again with Methusaleh.

At the end of the chapter, we’re introduced to Noah, the son of a new Lamech. Lamech gives Noah his name as part of a prophecy that Noah will bring comfort from man’s toil, which comes from the ‘adamah/soil which the Lord ‘arur/cursed (v. 29). Then Lamech dies, and the chapter ends in the middle of Noah’s genealogy (v. 32). This is a cliffhanger – we’re not told that Noah dies, but we’re also not told how Noah will do anything to reverse the twice-cursed soil.

By the end of Genesis 5, this is where we are:

  • ‘adam was meant to be a ‘abad/servant of the ‘adamah/soil, but failed, and now the ‘adamah is ‘arur/cursed ‘abur/because-of ‘adam, yielding only thorns-and-thistles bread, not fruit, man’s original food.
  • In losing the garden full of fruit-trees, man lost access to the tree of life, and so every man now dies.
  • Mankind, in spite of their knowledge of good and evil, have only disobeyed what God has commanded. They have not learned good judgment – the only judgment rendered has been from Lamech, a corrupt ruler.
  • Man has become an ‘ishshah/woman-taker, with Lamech. Hearkening back to ‘ishshah’s curse, ‘ish/man is ruling harshly with ‘ishshah.
  • Man has become an ‘ish-killer, first with Cain, and now with Lamech. The ‘adamah is full of the dam/blood of ‘ish.

At this point, the outlook is bleak. Man has not been a faithful ruler over creation. Instead, all aspects of creation have been breaking down, and the cursed soil is soaked with blood. And yet, we’re introduced to Noah, the man who will reverse the curse of Adam and Cain on ‘adamah.

Genesis 6-7

In Genesis 6, we get a summary of mankind after they had “began to multiply on the face of the soil” (v. 1). Man sees that the daughters of ‘adam are good6, so they take wives for themselves, whoever they choose (v. 2).7 As they’ve filled the earth, they’ve filled it with evil (v. 5) and violence (v. 11). Like Cain, all the children of Eve have been mastered by sin. Lamech’s sin of murder and ‘ishshah-taking has spread over the whole earth. Because of this, the earth is now shahat/ruined (v. 11-12).

God responds in kind; just as mankind has spread evil on the earth and shahat/ruined it, so God will shahat/ruin them (v. 13). We see echoes of Genesis here, but with a twist. God is going to blot out mankind, beast, crawling thing, and fowl of the heavens (v. 7), the same list of animals God originally created. The language in v. 12 also echoes creation: “God saw the earth, and behold, it was ruined.” What was good and meant to be filled with life is now filled with evil and violence and is ruined, and so God will ruin it all, undoing His creation.

In the midst of this, we get Noah (v. 8-10). The language here echoes Enoch – Noah also walks with God – but it goes a step further. Noah is an ‘ish tsadiq – a righteous man. This is the first time we’ve ever seen the word tsadiq, and it comes at a shocking time. At the creation’s lowest point yet, in a ruined land where every man’s heart is full of evil, a land full of murder and ‘ishshah-taking, we get the first ‘ish tsadiq we’ve ever encountered.

Noah continues to stand out through the whole story. After God tells Noah his plan (v. 13), He gives Noah a command: build an ark (v. 14). Then, once you’ve built it, take your family and all kinds of animals, and take food for them all, too, so they can remain alive (v. 18-21).8 The language here, again, is reminiscent of the end of Genesis 1. All animals, “male and female”, bird and cattle and creeping things, all after their kinds come to Noah “to remain alive” (v. 19-20). And just like God in creation, Noah is to provide food for mankind and animals (v. 21).

Again, this is nothing like before. For Adam, God planted the garden, took him, and placed him in it. The only command God gave Adam was to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And Cain was commanded not to be mastered by sin. But Noah? God commands him to build the ark, gather all the animals, and gather all their food, and in that, save the lives of all living creatures.

This is an enormous increase in responsibility. And yet also unlike Adam and Cain, Noah obeys. The language in 6:22 is emphatic: Noah did “all God commanded him”, and twice, it says Noah “did it”. The emphasis continues in chapter 7, as we see Noah obey. Three more times we’re reminded that Noah did as God commanded (7:5, 9, 16).

By the end of chapter 7, we’re back before creation. All the land and mountains are covered with water (v. 19-20), and everything with the breath of life has died (v. 22). The ark floats “upon the face of the waters” (v. 18), and it’s filled with mankind and animals, in which is the ruach/breath of life (v. 15). Just like at creation, the ruach hovers over the waters – this time inside of man and animals – and there is no land to be seen.9

Genesis 8-9

Genesis 8 has strong echoes of Genesis 1, restoring the original creation. The water gradually decreases, eventually revealing dry ground (v. 7), as in Genesis 1:9. Birds and trees appear first (v. 7-12). Then, God commands Noah and the rest of the animals to yatsa/go forth from the ark (v. 16-17).10 They are to be fruitful and multiply upon the earth.

Again, in v. 18-19, we see that Noah obeys, doing exactly what God commanded in v. 16-17. Noah then offers a sacrifice to God, which leads to God reversing the curse on the ground. Specifically, He says He will not again curse the ‘adamah/soil ‘abur/because-of ‘adam. This is the same phrase as we saw in Genesis 3:17, and it fulfills Lamech’s prophecy. Because of Noah’s obedience, the twice-cursed ‘adamah has been cleansed of its curse, and God promises to not curse it again.11

Finally, in v. 9, when bringing the dove back into the ark, the language is surprisingly detailed. When the dove returns, Noah “put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her unto him into the ark.” Noah has not only kept the animals alive in the ark; he has tamed a dove enough to take her to his hand. He has taken dominion over the animals, and they are helping him.

By the end of chapter 8, creation has been restored. In chapter 9, though, God goes beyond simply restoring creation and undoing aspects of mankind’s fall. He uses new language about mankind’s relationship with animals, telling Noah that fear and dread will be upon the animals, and they are all “given into your hand” (v. 2). He can now eat the flesh of animals (v. 3-4), beyond the plants given at the end of Genesis 1.

Finally, in v. 20, Noah is called ‘ish ‘adamah, a “man of the soil”, and he plants a vineyard.12 Noah, the ‘ish tsadiq, has restored the ‘adamah and given mankind rest from the curse. Therefore he is now ‘ish ‘adamah, who can plant a vineyard and expect ‘adamah to give fruit.

Unlike Adam and Cain, Noah has obeyed all of God’s commands. He has offered a good offering. They failed at being ‘abad ‘adamah, and so the soil bore no fruit. But Noah has succeeded. He is ish ‘adamah, and so the soil bears fruit for him. Not only that, but in contrast with Adam, who is simply taken and placed in an already-planted garden, Noah plants his own vineyard himself, the first time the word “plant” is used in reference to a man. Noah has planted a new Eden, full of fruit from the ‘adamah/soil, and he is ‘ish over this garden.

Just as Lamech prophesied, Noah finds rest in this restored relationship with ‘adamah. He drinks his wine and rests. And just like Adam was tested in Eden, Noah is immediately tested. And just like Adam, a ‘arur/curse follows. This time, though, Noah is the judge. He “wakes from his wine”, and he judges his sons, pronouncing an ‘arur/curse on Canaan, and a blessing on Shem and Japheth. Yet again, Noah is stepping in to do something God, not man, had done in the past.13 He even explicitly speaks for God: “God will enlarge Japheth” (v. 27).

By the end of the story, Noah the ‘ish tsadiq has been promoted into three new roles. First, after saving the lives of all animals – and working with them to do so – he has become lord over the animals, and God has given him animals as his food. Second, for his obedience and offering to God, the curse is lifted from ‘adamah, and he has become ‘ish ‘adamah, planting in ‘adamah and enjoying man’s original food, the fruit of ‘adamah. Finally, he’s been made judge over other men, pronouncing a ‘arur/curse and blessings.

But there’s one notable aspect to the curse Noah hasn’t reversed: there is no tree of life in this garden. And though the new food – the flesh of animals – is from living things, man cannot eat flesh “with the life”. The flesh is dead flesh, drained of all life (9:4-5).

Chapter 9 also ends with Noah’s death. In fact, Genesis 9:28-29 completes the genealogical structure from chapter 5 that was left hanging in 5:32. Compare Noah’s genealogy to Methuselah’s:

And Methusaleh lived a hundred eighty and seven years, and begot Lamech.
And Methusaleh lived after he begot Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years, and begot sons and daughters.
And all the days of Methusaleh were nine hundred sixty and nine years; and he died. (Genesis 5:25-27)
And Noah was five hundred years old; and Noah begot Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years.
And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died. (Genesis 5:32; 9:28-29)

In spite of all of Noah’s obedience, man is still under death. He still has no tree of life, and so the genealogy of death continues.

Jesus as a New Noah

Jesus, like Noah, is an ‘ish tsadiq. He also obeys God and delivers mankind from the curse of ‘adam. Afterwards, just like Noah, Jesus gives mankind wine and flesh. But Jesus’ food is different. In John 6, when a crowd finds Jesus the day after his feeding of the five thousand, they are looking for more bread. Jesus tells them “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life” (v. 27).

He goes on to contrast his bread with the manna in the wilderness. Unlike the manna, Jesus is “true bread from heaven” who “gives life to the world” (v. 32-33). Those who ate the manna died, but not so with Jesus’ living bread, His flesh: whoever eats of it will never die (v. 48-51).

Jesus’ contrast with manna applies to Noah’s food from ‘adamah, too. Those who ate Noah’s food still died. And even more, with Jesus’ food, you drink the blood. Jesus doesn’t offer lifeless, dead flesh of creatures formed from ‘adamah. Instead, Jesus says, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” and “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (v. 53-55). Jesus lives, and He lives because He is sent by the “living Father”. Therefore, when we eat Jesus, we also live (v. 56-57).

All this is from the Spirit, who gives life, while the “flesh is no help at all” (v. 63). Noah’s food was earthly, fruit and flesh and bread all ultimately from ‘adamah, drained of any ruach/spirit that gave it life. Jesus’ food, though, is spiritual, descended from the Father and still full of the Spirit.

We see this same contrast in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul explicitly refers back to Genesis. Paul says that ‘adam was a “living being”, while the last ‘adam, Jesus, is a “life-giving spirit” (v. 45). The first man was “from the earth, a man of dust” but the second man, Jesus, “is from heaven” (v. 47).14

Noah is a son of ‘adam. He is an ‘ish ‘adamah, a man of the earth, a man of the dust. In spite of all he does to restore mankind’s relationship to ‘adamah, the food he gets from ‘adamah only keeps mankind alive for a brief time. Noah is only a “living being” saving other living beings; he is not a “life-giving spirit”. He still dies and “returns to the ‘adamah/earth” (Psalm 146:4).

Christ, though, is not a man of the earth. He is a man of heaven, an ‘ish shamayim/heavens. He is not born by an ‘ish; He is sent by a living Father. He is born when the ruach/spirit comes again to make a new ‘adam, this time of Mary, with no seed from ‘ish and no dust of ‘adamah.

When the curse was reversed after the flood, Noah planted a vineyard, and the ‘adamah bore fruit. When Christ died, He planted Himself in the ‘adamah. And being a ‘ish shamayim/heavens, the ‘adamah yielded him back as an imperishable fruit, the new food given to man by God. God tells man to eat this food, the new tree of life, and live forever.

But when we eat this food, we don’t just live forever; we also become fruitful ourselves. Just as the fruit trees bear fruit with seed after their kind, so this tree of life multiplies. We also bear fruit, the fruit of the Spirit. When Jesus sends the Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples become like Him, going about doing works like His. With the Spirit, we become like Jesus, not only living things but also sources of life to others, life-giving spirits.

Donald Linnemeyer is a software engineer living in Galveston, TX.

  1. The closest exception to this is Zechariah 13:5, which combines ‘ish ha’adamah with another phrase we’ll discuss soon, obed ha’adamah: ‘ish obed ha’adamah, something like “man-servant of the soil”. This phrase is also only used in this one verse in Zechariah. ↩︎
  2. The word for “helper” here is unrelated to ‘abad/serve. ↩︎
  3. “From the Lord” is very ambiguous in the Hebrew, since there is no preposition, so it could mean “from the Lord” or “like the Lord” or “with the Lord”. Paul echoes the general meaning 1 Corinthians 11:12-13 – woman is from man, but man is also from woman, and all is from God. ↩︎
  4. Perhaps because it’s thorns-and-thistles bread from the cursed ‘adamah? It presumably can’t be mixed with oil – as levitical bread offerings are – because they have no access to oil, which comes from fruit? ↩︎
  5. It’s not explicitly called out in the verse, but this gives us three related words – the dam/blood of ‘adam/man swallowed by the ‘adamah/soil. ↩︎
  6. The language here is like when Eve sees that the fruit of the tree is good for eating. ↩︎
  7. This not only echoes Lamech’s taking of two wives – and so implies polygamy – but the violence of the chapter also seems to imply rape. These are men who kill and take what they want. ↩︎
  8. The language here – “Noah and his wife” – appears a few more times in the narrative. The repetition highlights that Noah is not an ‘ishshah-taker; he has one wife. ↩︎
  9. It’s fair to infer darkness, too. We’re meant to think of a raging flood, a storm over the seas. This means dark clouds. ↩︎
  10. as the earth yatsa/brought forth the animals in Genesis 1:24. ↩︎
  11. It also seems relevant that when the dove returns in v. 11, she carries an olive leaf. The soil is already bearing fruit trees, even before Noah is off the ark. ↩︎
  12. There’s an interesting parallel between this and the stories of Adam and Cain. In those stories, both Adam and Cain know their wives, and they bear children. In Noah, this shifts to his relationship with ‘adamah. Noah plants, and the ‘adamah bears fruit. Noah’s story is focused ‘adam and ‘adamah and restoring that fruitful relationship. ↩︎
  13. Lamech also acts as a judge, but Noah is his reversal. Unlike Lamech, Noah has one wife, he does not murder, and he judges rightly. ↩︎
  14. Paul uses language here that references the Septuagint. The words for “earth” and “dust” are the same Greek words used in Genesis 2:7. ↩︎
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