7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
First, then, we are told that the Lord God formed man, that is, moulded his bodily shape as the potter does the clay. Indeed the meaning of the Hebrew verb is so decided that its present participle, used as a substantive, is the ordinary word for a potter. To this first act of God, Job refers when he says, “Remember, I beseech Thee, that Thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt Thous bring me into dust again?” — Pember, page 103.
God used the “dust of the ground” to make man’s body, a remarkable phrase conveying the thought that the smallest particles of which the earth was composed (in modern terminology, the basic chemical elements: nitrogen, oxygen, calcium, etc.) were also to be the basic physical elements of the human body. “the first man is of the earth, earthy” (1 Corinthians 15:47). — Morris, page 85
Whereas 1:26-27 refers generally to the fact that God created mankind and underscores the distinctive gift of God’s “image”—i.e., the soul—that He granted them, this verse presents us with a detailed description of the process by which He did so. Extremely significant among the details that we are here given are 1) the proximity of God to that which He is here creating, and 2) the imparting of a “soul” to man from God’s own self. The first point, concerning God’s proximity to man, is emphasized in this verse by the use of the verb formed, which, when not applied to God’s creation of man (cf. Isaiah 49:5; Zechariah 12:1), is typically employed—especially as a verbal adjective—to describe the role and work of a potter, which perhaps more so than any other human activity, requires the direct, constant, careful, and gentle use of the potter’s own hands. Since God could unquestionably have created man in any other way He chose—such as by simply calling him into being (as He did for everything else up to this point)—the question naturally (and necessarily) arises: Why did He create man in this way? And the answer to which we are inevitably led: to demonstrate His special care (i.e., love) for man and desire to relate to him in an intimate way.
As to the second point, concerning the imparting of a soul to man—it is this that constitutes the “image” of God and which allows us, uniquely among God’s living creations, to commune or “relate” to God at a level that transcends material creation. In other words, as far as the evidence of Scripture itself, it was only into mankind that God breathed that which derives exclusively from Himself—not simply “breath,” though this is often the word employed in translation, but in fact the soul, which is the proper meaning of the term here used (i.e., neshama). Of its 24 occurrences in the Hebrew Bible, this term is applied only to God and man, and hence describes that which is uniquely shared between us and our Creator—the capacity for spiritual relationship, which is fulfilled when we cease from our own attempts to find spiritual “rest” and instead enter that permanent Rest which has been provided for us in Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 4:10). — Wechsler, pages 77-78.