In a recent post we looked in depth at God’s rest, which occurs at the conclusion of His creation on the seventh day (see Genesis 2:1-3). Among several of the observations and summary conclusions that we reached was that God’s rest may be viewed in terms of an enthronement, rather than a physical rest and that the arrangement and relationship of Creation-Eden-Garden appears to resemble the tabernacle/temple arrangement of Outer Court-Holy Place -Holy of Holies.
With this passage on God’s rest firmly established in our minds, Genesis 2 shifts the focus back to creation, more specifically to man.
“These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.”
5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:4-9
In verses 5 and 6 we are brought, back in time as it were, to the period between Day 5 & 6, just prior to the creation of man. Here we find more details concerning God’s creation of Adam. On this day we read of God creating him from the dust of the ground, God planting of a garden in Eden (perhaps East of Eden), God placing Adam in that garden, then God causing trees to spring up, including the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Additionally, it is in this narrative that we find our description of a pattern similar to the tabernacle layout: earth (vs. 5), Eden (vs. 8), and garden (vs. 8). This geographic distinction is obvious and noteworthy.
Also it should be pointed out that the earth (vs. 5 – ground) had no one yet to “work” the land, which will be a significant point developed below.
As the passage moves to a description of the land and surrounding area, verse 15 brings us back to God and his purpose for Adam
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
On the surface, verse 15 sounds like a simple restatement of verse 8 from above where God “put” Adam in the garden. This verse is often used as a proof text for Adam’s purpose, namely to work. Following this interpretation is usually a discussion on the doctrine of vocation, concluding that man was created for the purpose of work, God’s design for him prior to the fall, therefore we should embrace our toil and labors in our individual vocations. That sounds good and I don’t disagree with the destination, but I do disagree with the starting point.
First, verses 5 and 15 are not referring to the same piece of ground. Verse 5 clearly speaks of the earth in general while verse 15 specifically refers to Eden, more specifically the garden that the Lord created East of Eden.
From the vocation view highlighted earlier, it is commonly taught that Adam was placed in the garden in order to til the land and reap produce or vegetation of some kind, concluding that he was the first gardener or farmer. Perhaps he set the pattern for a farming lifestyle, right?
Not so fast.
In this passage, we are informed that God is the One who brought forth the vegetation in the garden, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” This statement is prior to Adam’s placement in the garden. Adam was placed into a garden that was already lush with vegetation, which God had provided for food (see also Genesis 1:29). It seems clear from this passage that food was not dependent upon Adam’s labor, but instead was a blessing from the hand of God.
Which brings us to the meaning of the following, “Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden”. Prior to the declaration of man’s purpose in the garden, to work it and keep it, we have the straightforward statement that God took him and put him in the garden of Eden. The word translated as “put” actually has the following outline of biblical usage:
- to rest
- to rest, settle down and remain
to repose, have rest, be quiet
- to rest, settle down and remain
- to cause to rest, give rest to, make quiet
- to cause to rest, cause to alight, set down
- to lay or set down, deposit, let lie, place
- to let remain, leave
- to leave, depart from
- to abandon
- to permit
- to obtain rest, be granted rest
- to be left, be placed
- open space (subst)
With this in mind, perhaps a better translation would be that the Lord God “rested” Adam in the garden of Eden. This translation would seem to be at odds with the remaining portion of the verse, “to work it and keep it” that has so often been used as the basis for man’s purpose of work. It simply wouldn’t make sense to say that God rested Adam in the garden to work it and keep it.
Unless of course work it and keep it mean something else.
The idea behind the Hebrew word translated as “work” conveys the idea of serving or tending while the Hebrew for the translated word “keep” conveys the idea of guarding or obeying commands. Collectively when these two verbs are used together they are often found in the context of a priestly service in the tabernacle. Note their usage in the passage below
“7 They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. 8 They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. ” Numbers 3:7-8
Let’s summarize what we’ve seen so far. Adam was “rested” in the garden to be in the service of God functioning as a priest for God to both minister in and guard the garden, His earthly tabernacle. Adam’s purpose was not to be a gardener or landscape architect in the garden of God. His purpose was to worship and commune with God as he fulfilled the duties of a priest that God had assigned. This included obeying several commands as well: the command to be fruitful and multiply, to have dominion over creation, to eat of every tree, avoiding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
As we know, Adam failed his probationary test. He failed to guard the garden and he failed to guard his wife. He failed to guard the garden and he failed to obey the word of God. Ultimately his disobedience led to his being placed outside the garden, where the curse of labor was given.
Humans have the responsibility now, post-fall, to work. However, our original design was to worship and commune with our Creator. The connection between God’s rest and God resting Adam in the Garden cannot be overlooked. This perfect communion with our Creator, resting in Him, is what we were made for. Sin disrupted this union and broke this rest, yet through our Lord Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, this is the end towards which believers will one day return. At the moment of repentance and faith this communion is restored and we experience the rest from our efforts of trying to earn salvation, but communion and rest will not reach its fullness until the return of Christ, the establishment of His kingdom on earth, and the inauguration of eternity. We have already been restored to this communion with the Creator, but it is not yet what it will be.
May He come quickly!