Divine Institution #1: Human Responsibility
Divine institutions develop here in Genesis chapter two with the first divine institution, and then we shall also see the other divine institutions develop in the first few chapters of the book. We are in the second division of Genesis which began in 2:4 as we began the results of the heavens and the earth established in the first section. In this section, from vv. 4-7, we saw the creation of man and that initial environment. This is focusing on the events of that sixth day of creation and an expansion of it. In vv. 8-14 we saw the perfect environment that God created for the human race. In v. 8 He put the man in the garden, and there we have the Hebrew word sim which means to simply put or place. It is a very general word and not the same as we are going to find in Genesis 2:15. Verse 8 gives us the summary statement. Verses 9-14 describe the garden that He plants, including the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the rivers that flow out of Eden which water the garden and provide the basis for the hydrosphere of that early civilization.
Then is verse 15, “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” Now we look at the development of the second idea of verse 8, putting the man in the garden. The word that we have here for putting him in the garden is a much different word, not the general word sim but a much more nuanced word, a word that comes with a certain amount of baggage if you were a native Hebrew speaker, the word nuach, the verb root for the name Noah. Noah means rest. In the hiphil form here it means to place or to set or deposit. But since the root idea in the qal stem is to rest. It has the overtones of security and rest, so that when God places Adam in the garden it is a place of rest and security. The word is the cognate of the noun used of the promised land, a place that is spoken of as entering into God’s rest for the children of Israel. The main idea here is that God takes the man and places him in the Garden of Eden. When we look at the phrase “garden of Eden” we realize that this is a genitival construction. The noun “garden” is a part or region of the genitival noun “Eden.” So once again we see that Eden was not simply the garden itself, it is a much larger area, a part of which is this garden that God has designed for the perfect habitation of man. God places him. We see strong action here. God has a plan and a purpose; this is not some sort of random event. It indicates from the text in v. 7 that the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground, then He forms the environment for the man, then He places the man in the environment. So there is a plan, procedure and order to what God is doing in this process.
Then we have a construction in the Hebrew that indicates purpose. He places him in the garden to tend and keep it. God creates man with a purpose: he has responsibilities from the beginning. Now we have to examine these two words. The NASB translates the first word “tend.” The KJV translates the same word “to dress it.” There is an interpretation that is already frontloading those words by the way they are being translated, indicating that God made Adam a gardener. That is not the picture that we see here. This is a pre-fall condition when man is in harmony with nature and there is a sense of cooperation, not an antagonism as there will be after the fall. God is establishing a purpose for man and He is giving him a particular job. The question here when it comes to guarding or keeping is the Hebrew verb which means to work. This is the core meaning of the word. It also means to labor. It is used in Exodus and Leviticus in all those passages related to the temple with the idea of service. If you were a Jew on the plains of Moab and you are hearing this for the first time, what have you just gone through? A recitation of the Mosaic Law. Moses has given Deuteronomy, the second law, as a rehearsal of all God’s purposes and plans for the nation Israel. And in all of that there is a lot of the use of this word, abad—serving God. So when they hear this and hear the idea of work it is nuanced in the direction of worshiping or ministering in devotion or service to God. The second word that is used here is shamar. This word also is loaded with theological baggage. It has a lot of connotations to it other than the simple one of simply keeping or watching over something. It means to keep, to tend as a shepherd would tend the sheep or a herdsman would tend the herd. It means to watch over something or even to guard. It also has a heavy nuanced meaning of obedience—to keep a covenant, a contract, to keep the way of the Lord. In Genesis 17:9 it is used of keeping the Abrahamic covenant; in 18:19 it is used of keeping the way of the Lord. Throughout the Mosaic Law it is used with the idea of keeping the commandments of the law. So as soon as the Jew hears this he immediately is thinking in terms of the covenantal responsibilities that God gave him. In other words, the language that is used here is covenantal language. This takes us back to the fact that God is establishing a covenant here. A dispensation is defined as an administration of God’s rule on the earth. We have an initial covenant that is established here and is referred to as the Edenic covenant. The responsibility positively for the Edenic covenant is that the man is to serve God and to watch over and guard the garden. Each of these two verbs has a third masculine singular suffix indicating that the object is the garden itself. The question here when it comes to guarding and keeping is, what is he guarding and keeping? In sense he is keeping the mandate of God in relationship to the prohibition that is going to come up in the next two verses, but he is also guarding it in relationship to the angelic conflict. These two words abad and shamar are used throughout the Pentateuch for spiritual service. These words also indicate also something about the function of the priesthood. So there is also a tone here with the abiding of God in the garden that this is like a temple, and it is Adam who is functioning in some way like a priest serving God. All of this is embedded in the language and the tone that is used in this passage.
What we see here in the use of these terms is that man has a responsibility in the garden. His work is not simply in relationship to taking care of the garden as a gardener would do, but that the idea goes far beyond that. He is in the image of God and as such is the image representative of God, and so his work is going to be described in words that connote spiritual service to God. He is going to reflect the creativity of God in his own labor. The act of creation itself is an act of work, an act of labor, and man is going to reflect that in the image of God. The application is that the man’s work in the garden is a reflection of God’s character and God’s work. Therefore, in terms of application, when we think about our own work that we do every day, we should not think of it simply as a way to put food on the table and a way to pay our bills, but that this is an expression of our service to God and a form of our own personal worship of God. In the New Testament Paul says in Ephesians 6, as well as Colossians 3, that we are to all do our work as unto the Lord. So these words indicate that there is a biblical doctrine of labor, a biblical doctrine of labor that begins before the fall, before there is sin on the earth and before environment is tainted by sin. So before the fall we have to look at labor in perfect environment to get an idea of what labor should be like.
Remember, man is placed in a perfect environment in the garden. This is an environment that has a rich and abundant supply of natural resources. Adam did not come along with a full knowledge, he had to learn all about his environment and that was part of his responsibility. We will see this in the next section when he is to name the animals. He does not know all the characteristics of these animals intuitively. They have to come before him; God brings the animals before him; and he has to sit there making observations, he has to note the differences between the different kinds of animals, and he has to be able to categorize and classify the animals and then to choose a name that reflects something about that animal. Man was to exercise dominion over everything and emphasize every branch of knowledge, every sphere of activity, every kind of craftsmanship—everything from the creation of artwork to music, to skills, etc. All of that is part of dominion. Adam’s responsibility in the garden if he had not fallen would have included all of that as he expanded his knowledge base, studying and analyzing and learning how to utilize all of these natural resources that God had given him. Yet it would have been done in an environment that wasn’t antagonistic. We do it in an antagonistic environment and we muck up the environment considerably as a result of the fall. We have to factor all of these things in as we develop the concept of the biblical doctrine of labor. Furthermore, we have to realize that labor and the value of labor is at the very core of the whole idea of economics. So this begins to lay a foundation for a biblical theology of economics, something that is rarely thought about or talked about. We have to realize that labor and work as they are introduced here in v. 15 are sub-categories of an even larger doctrine, and that is human responsibility.
Genesis 2:16, 17, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” The sentence begins, “The LORD God [Yahweh Elohim],” the covenant God of Israel, “commanded the man.” The Hebrew word for “commanded” is the verb tzavah, to command or to give an order. The noun form means a commandment. To a Jew this would be a reminder that this same Yahweh Elohim commanded Israel in the Ten Commandments. The commandment indicates that there is an authority structure and a responsibility structure. God had more than sufficiently provided for the sustenance of Adam. He supplied many different kinds of fruit, many different kinds of trees, and He is telling Adam that from any of these he may eat. When it says “you may eat freely” a particular construction in the Hebrew is used that is important. It is important because the same grammar is used in the next verse. What we have here is a double form of the verb. The first verb form is a qal infinitive construct; the second form is a qal imperfect. If you want to say something in Hebrew and emphasize its certainty, what you use is this idiom. You take a qal infinitive construct of the same verb and pack it in front of the main verb itself. You are not repeating the concept. He is not saying, “Eating, you will eat,” he is saying “Eating, you may certainly eat.” He is giving him permission. So it is an emphasis on the certainty of the action. Then v. 17 begins, But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”—knowledge of good and evil is the name tacked on to this particular tree—“you shall not eat.” What we have in vv. 16, 17 is direct revelation which God is giving to Adam.
There are three different ways that we know anything: rationalism, empiricism, and mysticism. The difference between mysticism and the previous two is that rationalism and empiricism are both based on the rigorous use of logic. Mysticism rejects logic and relies on a sort of intuitive insight into things. No matter how many empirical studies Adam conducted, no matter how rigorous his logic, he on the basis of either reason or empiricism could never have worked out that if he ate from that tree he would die. That was information that was only available through direct revelation. That is our fourth area of knowledge, and it is therefore that revelation that builds a fence around rationalism and empiricism. Rationalism and empiricism are not necessarily wrong but they must be used within the framework of the boundaries that God gives in terms of revelation. What happens in the fall in Genesis 3 is they decide to empirically test revelation. So what have they done? They have established their own experience as the authority over revelation. Principle: You always start with the Bible in every single discipline of life. That sets the boundaries. You either have a God that speaks to everything or you have a God that speaks to nothing. This is where we are building our understanding of reality in Genesis. This is why these initial chapters are so important and why they are so attacked. This information from direct revelation enables Adam to correctly now interpret all the data.
God tells Adam that there is one tree from which he is not to eat, and here a different Hebrew construction is used. Lo akal—the Lo is a negative; the verb akal is the same verb we had earlier in “you may freely eat.” Now He is going to say “You shall not eat,” the qal imperfect of akal. When we take Lo as a negative plus a qal imperfect, this is the strongest possible way to express prohibition in the Hebrew. This is the same construction that is found in the Ten Commandments—“Thou shalt not.” What came to the mind of the Jews on the plains of Moab when they read this? The whole Mosaic Law, the Ten Commandments. It is the same God who gave them the ethical mandates of the Mosaic Law as the God who gave the mandate to Adam. The Jews would be thinking, “Look at what happened when Adam violated the mandate given to him, so what do we think will happen when we violate the ethical mandates given to us?” This is a reminder to them that the same God who told Adam not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as gave them the Mosaic law.
“… for”: He is going to explain why: “in the day” is the preposition be plus yom, an idiom which means “when, at that time”; “you will surely die” is the same grammatical structure we saw with the phrase, “you may eat freely.” The word for to die is muth. When you double it, when you have a qal infinitive construct and then a qal imperfect, it doesn’t mean “dying you will die.” If it did, then earlier it could have been translated “eating you will eat.” We have heard that this refers to two concepts of dying—dying you will die: the first dying being spiritual death, the second being physical death. But if that is true then there would be two kinds of eating in the previous verse: “eating you will eat.” This is not talking about two kinds of death; it is talking about the absolute certainty of death at the instant of eating. This can be checked in any Hebrew grammar textbook, and when you double the verb with the qal infinitive construct plus an imperfect verb it means certainty. What God is saying to Adam is that there are certain consequences to the violation of this mandate, and at that instant you will die. It is not physical death because physical death does not occur for Adam for 930 years, but what does occur when he disobeys is spiritual death. The relationship between Adam and God fragments at that point.
What we have seen in these three verses is a foundation for three very important doctrines. The first is the introduction of human responsibility. Man is responsible to obey God. He is responsible for his decisions and he is responsible for his actions, and he is given certain tasks to perform. The second thing that we note is that there is the introduction of authority and accountability. God has the authority to tell man what to do and what not to do. God defines morality; God sets the absolutes. Absolutes are not derived from empiricism or rationalism. Absolute morals do not derive from cultural convention. They are not derived relatively. It is not the result of man’s experiment in society. This is what we get in sociology classes and psychology, that basic mores of man and basic ideas of morality and ethics have come about as a result of experimentation and that this is the result of man deciding what works and what doesn’t work; it is just the basis of each individual culture deciding what their own values will be. That is not what the Bible says.
The Bible says values come from outside of creation. It begins with the creator-creature distinction. So we have the introduction of authority here, that authority is present in perfect environment. Second, there is the idea of accountability. If you are responsible for something you are accountable for your actions. Therefore we see that man will die spiritually. There are negative consequences to disobedience to God, and they are instantaneous—man will die spiritually. The third thing we see is the first mention of tasks that man has to perform. He is to work and to guard the garden. This mention of tasks underlies the later development doctrines of the calling or vocation of God. Notice the calling and the responsibilities, are directed toward Adam, not the woman. She is created to be the helpmate, the assistant. Now that runs counter to everything in today’s feminized society, because the feminist movement comes along and says that women ought to have equal access to jobs. But the woman is not the one who is called in terms of the divine viewpoint framework, it is the man who is given the task and the woman’s responsibility is to help him, to assist him, to do what she can to make him successful as he can be in that calling.