Is Adam's Great Commission to...
By Kenneth Westby
Genesis 2:15 reads:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it (RSV).
. . . to work it and take care of it (NIV).
. . . to dress it and keep it (Jewish Publication Society).
. . . to till it and guard it (Moffatt).
. . . to cultivate it and guard it (TEV).
The King James version reads like the JPS, "dress it and keep it" and is the understanding I had of the event for most of my life. I even preached a sermon once on the nobility of work using Adam's God-given job description as my central illustration. But in time I began to feel there was something missing in this picture. We see Great Yahweh with grand theater creating a new and beautiful earth in six days of incomprehensible activity, energy and intensity.
All for what? For mankind, of course. But why for mankind? Because man and woman are "made in his image"! Made in his image for what great and noble purpose and activity? To mow grass, pick bugs, prune trees, dig dirt, and protect the fruit trees from the deer, of course. To me, this common job description didn't seem to fit the context of Genesis 2 and in some ways contradicted it. Why such creative spectacle just to put Adam and Eve into a garden with a command to keep it up -- "and Oh, by the way, don't eat fruit from that tree over there." Something seemed to be missing, but I didn't know what.
I did know this: Genesis is where it all begins and the key events mentioned there are absolutely foundational for everything that follows in mankind's future. Here the beginning principles of God are carefully set forth. Principles that tell of man's purpose, his relationship to his Maker, the purpose of marriage, good and evil, worship and obedience to God. In the Garden are seminal events and seminal instructions that set the tone and rules for all humanity for all time. The first of Genesis is where the record starts and where the record should be gotten straight.
Some years ago while studying one of my commentaries on Genesis -- The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Zondervan, Vol 2 -- I discovered an explanation that solved an old problem I have had understanding God's instructions to Adam. The great commission to mankind to "plow dirt" just didn't seem to make sense in the grand scheme of things. It didn't seem to fit what would be the beginning -- hence, the most important and foundational -- instructions from God to his man/image.
I believe John H. Sailhamer and the other Expositor contributors and editors got it right. They believe a more suitable translation of the Hebrew in Genesis 2:15 is:
Worship and Obey
Expositor's also notes that the English Versions overlook "the specific purpose for God's putting man in the garden."
It should also be noted that immediately after God puts man in the garden to begin a life of worship and obedience (v.15), "God commanded" (v.16) man not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God gave him something to obey. The "worship and obey" translation harmonizes purpose and expectation and makes better sense of the context. This principle given at the very beginning resonates throughout the rest of scripture. Expositor's again:
God made us to take on his image in the fullest spiritual sense. To do that we must become like he is. There is only one way that can be accomplished -- through worship and obedience. Jesus said: "If you love me [worship] you will keep my commandments [obey]. True worship is adoration toward imitation. To come to know God in all his love and beauty is love him; to love him is to desire to become like him. To become like him, we must obey him. That is the true commission given to Adam's race -- to worship and obey.