Posts

After the fall Adam’s work is a struggle. A painful, thorny, sweaty work. As sons in our father’s image and likeness we share in this curse. We labor. We toil. We grind. And very rarely does the product match the input. Thorns and thistles sprout up where we planted grapes and olives and wheat. Because work now bears a curse we long for the day when we can rest. How often do we hear about reaching the great day when we can retire and finally cease working? And yet those who have attained that end often look longingly back on the days of their toilsome tasks. Work, while effected by the curse of sin, is not entirely cursed.

What about before the fall? Did Adam have work in Eden? If so, what was it? And why? What does a consideration of working in Paradise contribute to our understanding of our work now?

“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…The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:5, 15)

In His wisdom God created the world dependent upon man’s working of the ground. The creation could not reach its maturity unless man was there to work.  The first thing to note is that from the beginning, even before sin, man created to work.

Now, surely God could’ve made the plants grow and produce fruit without any help from man. So why give Adam work? Could it be that even in Eden, the paradisiac garden of God, that work was good for man even as man was good for work?

Man’s work in Eden was meant to bring fruitfulness, abundant fruitfulness to his realm. This had the self-serving purpose of providing food for him to eat. But his work was not only limited to what he ate. The ratio of fruit that Adam would’ve eaten compared to that which was not must’ve been tremendously low. Adam’s work was not primarily for himself, but for the good, for the fruitfulness of the rest of creation.

In our age we have become increasingly abstracted from our realm. Advances in technology and global trade have diminished the number of farms and farmers required to feed us. Our present economic realities have made it increasingly common to see our labor without connection to fruitfulness. But there remains some truth to this reality. Work that is not just lucrative but is truly good for us is work that is that is productive, that advances God’s creation toward fruitfulness.

While it is true that work has fallen under the curse of sin, it is not true that all work is a curse. We are not closer to Eden when we retire than we are while we work. Nor should it be our goal to escape work. Rather, we ought to pursue labor and toil and work. And if the last things will be as the first things, then even in heaven and the new creation there will be work to do, though then the curse and futility of labor will cease to exist and our work will be our joy and delight: “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.” (Rev. 7:15)

In addition to being placed there to work the garden, Adam is also to keep it. This is commonly the job description of Priests or Levites as they serve in the temple. Upon closer examination the Garden of Eden was a holy place, made so by the Lord’s presence with Adam and Eve. If we pursue this reasoning, Adam is rightly called a priest. As the prototypical priest Adam was to keep the garden by guarding and defending it from any desecrating threat that may appear. Tragically he did not.

Each man has been given his own soul to guard and keep (Proverbs 4:23). Each married man has been given a bride to guard and keep (Ephesians 5:29). And each father has been given a family to guard and keep (Proverbs 22:6). This responsibility may also be extended into congregational life. While the Pastor is specifically tasked with keeping the good deposit entrusted to him (2 Timothy 1:14), this cannot be carried out without the members of the church. Any crack in the armor gives entry to the serpent and his leaven. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

 

 

 

After the Lord formed Adam from the dust of the ground outside of Eden, he then placed him within the Garden to work the ground and keep it. At that moment, God issued the Law to Adam: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17). Though brief, this passage is instructive for understanding the Law of God.

First, the Law is not evil. Paul explicitly denies such a conclusion: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” (Romans 7:7). The Lord, after all, promulgates the Law before the fall into sin. Adam is subject to the Law also in his perfection, not only after the Fall. Even Paul’s distinction between law and grace in passages like Romans 6 and Galatians 5 is not a dichotomy between evil and good. Rather, the one who seeks to be justified according to the law seeks to be held righteous according to the very standard that proves him to be faithless. “Like Adam, they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me” (Hosea 6:7). The sinner cannot be declared innocent by the same Law which proves that he is guilty! The character of the Law has not changed, even with the Fall. It is we who are law-breakers.

Second, the Law is revealed by God. Adam, while still in the garden before sin, received the Law through revelation. He does not implicitly understand it, as if it was a matter of common sense or something similar. Adam hears the Law from the very mouth of God. The Law is not a set of rules seperate from God which He clarifies to man. The Lord is the Law-Giver, the one who speaks. Authority is rooted in this act of speaking, shown in a different way by Adam exercising his own authority through naming both the animals and his wife.

Thus, it is a misnomer to speak of natural law as if the creation had a set of implicit laws which are self-evident. This could lead to thinking that natural law is separate from God, which makes God’s positive law a mere clarification or addition to what is already generally known. But if that were true, how could men be held accountable to God for suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18)? God reveals Himself to all men in such a way that all are without any excuse before the judgment seat. Ignorance is not a valid defense, because “his invisble attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). Rather, all men seek to suppress what they know because they do not want to submit to His Law. There is only one Law, the Law of the Lord of heaven and earth.

Third, the Law proceeds from God. The Lord is the one who determines what is good and what is evil, apart from any consideration of man. This is not capricious, but the nature of law. The one subject to the Law, the hearer, must listen to the Giver of the Law, the speaker. The specific command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil demonstrates this. Would you know what is good? Good is not eating of this tree. Would you know what is evil? Evil is eating of this tree. If this commandment seems arbitrary to us, it is because we are following after Adam, who refused to be subject and faithful to God and sought instead to be the arbiter of good and evil. After all, Satan, through the serpent, lied to Eve when he claimed that disobeying God would make them like Him (Genesis 3:5).

Fourth, the Law is eternal. If it was given to Adam prior to the fall into sin, it is not simply meant for this world as a corrective for sin. Sin itself is “missing the mark,” a mark set by the Law. Holiness is conformity to the Law, being set apart from the world and conform to the will of God. Therefore, the Law will not cease, just as the Law has not ceased for those who are in Christ. Rather, the curse of the Law, brought on by sin and necessary if Law is to be Law, has been taken away in Jesus. Christians are no longer a part of the old body, whose head is Adam, the body of sin and death. Christians have a new head in the New Adam, Jesus Christ, and are therefore placed back into a right standing before the Law.

Finally, the Law is all encompassing. The Lord commanded Adam to not eat of the tree as an act of obedience and worship. Because the Lord speaks, Adam demonstrates his righteousness through obedience to God. Yet Adam was not therefore free to do whatever he pleased when he was away from the tree. Such a reductive view of the Law was the mistake of the Pharisees, as if God only forbade a specific act and allowed for all others. Jesus Himself corrects that notion to show the true character of the Law (Matthew 5). Rather, the command given in the garden articulated the Great Commandment of the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Heart, soul, and mind are not limited to a “religious” part of our lives which have no bearing on anything else. Rather, we are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), because there is only one Law-Giver, the Lord God Almighty.

Genesis 2:7-17 is part of the first “generations” section of the book which begins in Genesis 2:4, if the preceding material is taken as a kind of introduction to the following divisions. It is a foundational section not only for Genesis, but also for all of Holy Scripture, since it includes the creation of man, the creation of woman, the fall into sin, and the murder of Abel. Moses has different purposes in mind here than he did in the introduction of Genesis, and the “generations” structure helps illustrate this. “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth” points to what comes after them. The primary focus is the generations and not the generator, which is why the “generations of Terah” in Genesis 11:27, for example, is primarily concerned with Abraham, his son. This first section, therefore, is concerned primarily with the “descendants” of God and the heavens and the earth: man, particularly Adam and his family.

This reading is also an excellent exercise in Biblical interpretation, because every passage of Scripture is important. Genesis 2:10-14 is a geography lesson which we will explore in more detail, but there is a sinful inclination to dismiss it as irrelevant. But the Holy Spirit does not speak in vain: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4; see also 1 Corinthians 10:11 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17). If the passage in question seems pointless, the problem is with us, because we do not understand.

Consider, then, the first part of this reading. God creates Adam from the dust of the ground and breathes into him the breath of life. He also plants a garden in Eden and places every good tree in it. The Lord is our Creator and apart from Him there is no life. However, note that the garden is placed in Eden. The garden itself is not named Eden! The reference is a specific location, which Moses clarifies below, not a world-garden or anything of the sort. This is especially important because Adam is created outside of Eden and placed into it. He is not in the garden “by right,” but because of God’s almighty Providence. Everything which Adam has belongs “by right” to God, and Adam receives it because of God’s love toward him. The Lord “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). In Eden, just as now, everything we have is a gift.

The special trees also emphasize this. God does not give the tree of life as a kind of super-fruit which perpetuates physical life. He gives the tree as a constant reminder that life flows from God and is not ours “by right.” The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is also not a super-fruit which brings death or knowledge in eating it. It is a sign toward Adam of his creaturehood: what is good and what is evil is the prerogative of God and not man. What is good? To listen to His voice and not eat of this tree. What is evil? To disobey His voice and eat of this tree. God speaks and man listens. If this seems unjust or arbitrary, this speaks to our sinful nature. Adam was not content to be a hearer and desired to be the judge instead. This sinful desire against our creaturehood is the basic root of all sin.

All of this brings us to the geographical description of Eden. This section has a real point and should not be passed by for two reasons. First, it is not good to dismiss this as being the geography of the pre-Flood world which is no longer in existence. Such an approach is too easy, by which I mean that it consigns the description to being useless for us, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Second, Moses writes this with a view to his hearers. Why would he write something which would be incomprehensible even to those who first heard it? The mention of Assyria itself in Genesis 2:14 is proof of this. Moses is writing with real geography in mind to describe a place which could, in fact, be located. Nor is it sufficient to say that we no longer have rivers named Gihon or Pishon, because place-names change all the time, even in the Bible (Jerusalem was called Jebus by the Jebusites, for example in Judges 19:11).

The world has, of course, physically changed over the course of time. Rivers flow in different beds than they did in ancient days, especially in a shifting land like Mesopotamia. Nor should an attempt to locate Eden be taken as a kind of “proof” for the Bible, because men would worship such a “proof” as an idol, like they did the bronze snake which they named Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4). But even if we cannot accurately locate Eden anymore, Moses is not writing fantasy. Eden was a real place and had a real garden. The Flood may have wiped it away, but we are not told this. It is entirely possible that the Flood changed essentially nothing, geographically speaking. It was, to use an expression of George Stoeckhardt, a “wonder-judgment.” Being a miracle, we are called to believe the one who speaks with authority through His holy Scriptures. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4)!

Therefore, I think two serious possibilities exist. The first is a bit more difficult reading, but in my opinion (and only as an opinion) a more likely. If one follows Genesis 2:10 upstream by translating “became four rivers” with the more literal “became (or had) four heads,” this would place the region of Eden near what is now the Persian Gulf. The Tigris and the Euphrates empty into the Gulf. If one reads this passage from the context of the land of Israel, the Pishon and the Gihon are the “furthest away” in the east. The Tigris and the Euphrates are respectively “closer.” Therefore, the Pishon may be the modern Karun in Iran and the Gihon the modern Karkheh (also called the Ulai river in Daniel 8:2). All of these rivers join together into one before dumping into the Gulf. The difficulty is, of course, having to “read upstream,” which is more awkward.

The other possibility is placing Eden near the actual headwaters of the Tigris and the Euphrates in modern Armenia, which are actually quite close to each other. The Pishon and the Gihon would be rivers flowing in opposite directions, probably into the Black Sea and/or the Caspian. This has the advantage of being a more “natural” and “downstream” reading, but these rivers have never been known to actually connect. It is not impossible, since Sodom used to be “well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10).

Ultimately, these two possibilities are better than relegating this to myth or engaging in allegory. Identifying the Pishon and the Gihon with other, but farther away, world rivers is not helpful for this reason. Better to consider real options than engaging in sheer fancy.

Three final observations. First, the names of the rivers are instructive. The Pishon is likely derived from the word meaning “to leap, jump” used in Jeremiah 50:11, Nahum 3:18, Habakkuk 1:8, and Malachi 4:2. Pishon therefore means “Jumper” or maybe “Bubbler,” emphasizing its liveliness. The Gihon likely comes from the verb meaning “to burst forth” used in Judges 20:33, Ezekiel 32:2, Micah 4:10, Job 38:8, and Job 40:23. Gihon therefore means “Gusher” or “Charger.” Such names are fitting for rivers which are connected to the one (nameless!) river which flows through the garden of God.

Second, Moses records that the land of Havilah was filled with all kinds of “expensive” things, like gold and precious stones (Genesis 2:11-12). Bdellium itself may be a resin, an incense related to myrrh, though this is uncertain. What is certain is the general wealth of that land. However, note the location. Gold and “expensive” things are not in the garden. They are not evil, but they are also not necessary. To obtain them, Adam would have to leave Eden. In Eden is life and the words of the living God. Gold is good, but the Gospel is far better. “The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:9-10). “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).

Finally, the Lord places Adam into the garden to work it and till it. Work is not in itself evil. Toil where the fruits do not match the labor is the curse laid upon mankind (Genesis 3:17-18). Work is God-pleasing. “If anyone is not wiling to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Like the giving of the Law in Eden, work precedes the Fall and is therefore a part of God’s good creation.