Genesis 2:15-17 by Robert Dean
Series:Genesis (2003)
Duration:55 mins 54 secs

Doctrine of Divine Institutions
Genesis 2:15-17

1)         The laws of divine establishment are principles ordained by God for the protection, perpetuation, orderly function, survival and blessing of the human race. In His omniscience God knew the limitations of mankind. He also knew that man would sin, so He is establishing certain institutions from the very beginning. These we call the laws of divine establishment and they are covered under five divine institutions. These are for everyone, not just for believers.

2)         The term “divine institutions” has been used by Christians to speak of the absolute social structures that have been instituted by God for the entire human race—for believers and unbelievers alike. The term “divine” emphasizes the fact that they have their origin in God. These are social structures that have been built into creation and into the nature of man by God.

3)         There is a conflict between the divine viewpoint, which says that there are absolute social structures established by God, and human viewpoint which teaches that these are simply social customs or conventions that have been developed pragmatically through human history and are different in every culture. Postmodernism would say that the various expressions of these customs are all equally valid. So human viewpoint sees these as purely relative, something that man just developed over time to pragmatically handle the situation.

4)         These divine institutions represent absolute structures which God has built into the social constitution of man. If these institutions are violated then something fundamental falls apart, and there are serious long-term consequences in human society.

5)         There are five divine institutions: a) Human responsibility or individual responsibility; b) Marriage; c) Family; d) Human government; e) Individual nations. Each of these are established over the course of human history. The first three were established pre-fall because the command was to be fruitful and multiply and that envisions family even though there are no offspring until after the fall. Human government and individual nations doesn’t come in until after the flood. Government institutions are introduced to restrain sin and to control unrighteousness.

6)         The first divine institution, human responsibility, or sometimes, individual responsibility. Sometimes it is labeled simply volition, emphasizing individual human choice. Sometimes it has been called personal responsibility, responsible dominion, or responsible labor. The issue is responsibility. Genesis 1:26-30; 2:15-17; Psalm 8:3-8. The main idea here is that man has been placed on the earth and given responsibility. He is answerable to God and he is to manage the earth under God’s authority.

7)         The very concept of being responsible for something includes the idea of volition. A person makes a choice as to whether they will be responsible or be irresponsible, whether they will fulfill the obligation or not. So the issue: Will man fulfill the responsibility that God gives him in the garden in perfect environment?

8)         As we look at each divine institution each has an authority with it. In human responsibility the authority is God. Adam is responsible and accountable to God for his actions. In human responsibility man is ultimately accountable to God at the judgment seat of Christ for believers and at the great white throne judgment for unbelievers. In marriage the authority is the husband. The wife is under his authority, under his leadership, and she is responsible to the husband. 1 Corinthians 11:3. It is the man Adam who is the federal head, the representative head of the human race. When Eve sinned nothing really happened, but it is Adam’s sin that causes the human race to fall. It is in Adam all die, not in Eve. So man is the head. In the family it is the parents who are the authority and who are accountable for the welfare of that family. They are responsible to God for what happens in the family. Children are to be obedient to their parents. That is where they learn authority orientation. If they don’t learn authority orientation in the family, then when they become adults they are going to have major problems handling any other situation where they have to face authority. Then we come to human government, and whether that government is a monarchy, some form of totalitarian government, a dictatorship, an empire, whether a democracy or a republic, there is always an individual or a group of individuals who are the final authority. Then the individual nations are accountable once again to God. And the nations will be held accountable and there will be a judgment of the nations at the great white throne judgment. So each divine institution has embedded within it an authority structure.

9)         Accountability has to do with either cursing or blessing. This is a major theme in Genesis, that if man is responsible then he will be blessed—if he is obedient to God—and if he disobeys God with reference to the mandate in Genesis 2:17 then there will be cursing and spiritual death which will hinder man in fulfilling his responsibilities.

All that introduces us to the first divine institution, human responsibility. When you have human responsibility, when someone understands the nature of responsibility and grows up, matures, and demonstrates responsible behavior, then this is going to strengthen the marriage, strengthen the family, it strengthens human government and it strengthens the nation. But when there is a nation that fails to understand responsibility and accountability it destroys marriage, destroys family, destroys government, and will ultimately destroy the nation. It sets up the domino effect. That is why it is so crucial for parents to teach responsibility and to have consistent accountability with their children as they are growing up.

Each of these of these institutions is under incredible assault today. There are all kinds of attacks on human responsibility from humanistic psychology—it’s not my fault, it’s my parents’ fault, society’s fault, the education system’s fault, or somebody mistreated me and it’s their fault. It is never my fault that I make bad decisions, it is somebody else’s fault, and so psychology comes along with its sister sociology and they have presented a two-fold frontal assault against personal responsibility and accountability in our society. Marriage is under assault today and one of the reasons is because we’ve allowed the world to redefine marriage. The world has redefined marriage as a loving relationship between two people. That is not how the bible defines marriage. Marriage in the Bible is a relationship between a man and a woman to fulfill certain responsibilities under the authority of God. The Bible never presents marriage in terms of a loving relationship and this idea of dating and courtship and finding somebody you fall in love with, finding a soul mate, and all of that. This is not to put it down but it is not the picture you get in Scripture. In Scripture you have people who have arranged marriages throughout. For example, Mary and Joseph, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, etc. This is not a situation where love and romantic love is the foundation of the institution, that is a human viewpoint concept.

The bottom line to all the other divine institutions is human responsibility. But part of that includes fulfilling responsibility, and in the garden there wasn’t just the responsibility of not eating the fruit—that is the only mandate that carried with it a penalty—there was the positive mandate of working the garden and guarding the garden.

We need to address the issue of labor and how God views it. This is very important because Christians in history have done some thinking about how God views labor. They have done some confused thinking about God and labor and produced some rather odd economic theories as a result.


The first picture we see of God in the Scripture is a craftsman, a laborer who is creating. In Genesis chapter one He is fashioning the universe. He is the arch-laborer.

Later on we see that Jesus labors, and we talk about the work of Christ on the cross. We reap the benefits of His work. Salvation isn’t free; somebody paid the price.

God labored six days, we see, in Genesis and then He rested for one day, and that sets a pattern that is embedded in creation.

In human history man generally divides labor into two categories: toil and leisure. Toil is what you must do to survive, whereas leisure work is optional. Leisure work is work that you would do even if you didn’t have to work.

God portrays labor as a function of the divine image and creativity. He uses the image of a laborer many times to represent Himself. From the very beginning we see this picture of creating or being a craftsman as something that is viewed positively.

God glorifies the laborer by using the images of a laborer to convey His own plans and work. For example, in Psalm 8:3, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained . . .”

God’s creative work is compared to the work of a craftsman who is taking painstaking efforts over his work. He is also portrayed in the Old Testament as a potter, someone who is getting his fingers dirty, someone who is messing with the clay.

God is viewed as a shepherd. In the ancient world the shepherd was viewed as the bottom rung of the work ladder. Nothing was disdained more. He is  the husbandman who trims the vine.

Jesus was a carpenter. So the bible does not see manual labor as something that is beneath man, something that is demeaning, but God

glorifies the work of a physical laborer by using their work to picture His own work.

We see that God’s labor in creation involves thought and planning. Psalm 33:6, “By the word [implying thought and reason] of the LORD were the heavens made.”

God worked, not because He had to but as an expression of His own creativity. The application there is that in our own work we ought to think of it as an opportunity to put our own stamp of creativity on it. This is something that we make, something that we should take some ownership in, some responsibility for.

When we look at those six days not only does God create because He wants to as an expression of His nature but there is a certain pattern there. He sets a pattern of creating the universe in six days. He doesn’t do it all at once, though He could have done it in a split second.

At the end of each day God “saw that it was good.” He evaluates His work and takes satisfaction in it. The application here is that we should take satisfaction in our own work.

God’s creative labor tells us something about His character. Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” We learn something about God and His character by observing what he has brought forth through His labor. The same thing is true for us.

Man’s Labor: Man’s labor is derivative because He is the creature. He is in the image of God; he is a reflection of God.

1)         Man was created to exercise dominion (That’s labor) and to rule the earth, Genesis 1:26, 28.

2)         When the fall occurs it destroys man’s ability to completely fulfill this dominion mandate. Man is still involved in that but he is never going to be able to fulfill the mandate as a sinner. This is part of why Jesus Christ came. He is called the Son of Man, and as the Son of Man Jesus Christ ultimately will fulfill that dominion mandate: He will rule. 1 Corinthians 15:24, 25, “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” So Jesus Christ fulfills the dominion mandate.

3)          In Genesis chapter one we see the mandate that man is to rule over all of nature, that he is to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the creatures of the sea, the sky and the field. The specifics of that are then spelled out in 2:15 where man is to work the garden and to guard it.

4)         Another example of man exercising dominion is given in 2:19. “And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.” There are a number of things going on in that passage but the point is, Adam isn’t working. He has to do a lot of mental work, he has to observe all of the different animals, he has to note their characteristics, he has to categorize and classify the animals. This is the starting point of human knowledge, to take what God has provided and then begin to develop it, to learn about it. So even in an unfallen state man would continue to learn about the environment to bring it under dominion.

5)         Our observation from Genesis 1:26, 28 is that the earth without man is not fruitful. It is man who is to bring forth fruit on the earth, he is not to leave it in a natural state. That runs completely counter to the human viewpoint thinking of modern environmentalists. That is because they are rooted in paganism and not Christianity.

In Genesis chapter three we have the fall and that radically changes the nature of labor. Up to this point labor is positive, beneficial, something that man enjoys. There is complete harmony between man and his environment. But after the fall there is disharmony, antagonism and difficulty. Genesis 3:17-19, “And unto Adam he said,Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Scientists have identified six different kinds of sweat and different kinds of sweat glands. We will deal with three of them. There is the kind of sweat most of us think about, and that is, thermoregulatory sweat. That is perspiration designed to cool the skin and keep the body at the right temperature. There are thermoregulatory sweat glands in various places on the body, but not in the arm pits, for example. There is also emotional sweat, a different kind of sweat gland, and that we have under the armpits. Then there is mental sweat, and when we are under the mental stress it produces activity in a different sweat gland and those are on the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands. It is interesting that there is only one place on the human body that has all of the sweat glands, and that is the forehead. In the Hebrew it doesn’t say “in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,” but “in the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread.” It has to do with mental toil, physical toil, and heat discomfort.

Labor as such is not renovated until Jesus Christ comes back. But in the Church Age believers are given a certain amount of injunction as to their view of work.

Colossians 3:22-24, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: and whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”

This is addressed to slaves. We are not slaves, and it is an a fortiori argument. If slaves were to have this attitude, then we should have this attitude.