Man’s Privilege and Duty in the Garden.: Part 1 of 2 (series: Lessons on Genesis)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

July 5, 2013
Commentary on the Book of Genesis
By: Tom Lowe

Lesson I.B.2: Man’s Privilege and Duty in the Garden.

Gen. 2.15-17. (KJV)

15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17 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.


15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

Man was made outside of the garden; because it says here that after God had formed him, he “put him into the garden:” he was made from the common dust that accumulated upon the ground, not of paradise-dust. He lived outside of Eden before he lived in it, and perhaps that was so he might see that all the comforts he enjoyed in paradise were due to God’s free grace. He could not claim to be an official resident of the garden, because he was not born there, and besides that, he did not have anything that was not given to him; there was, therefore, no ground for boasting. Man served his probation there, and as the title of this garden, the garden of the Lord (see Ge. 13:10 and Eze. 28:13), indicates, it was, in fact, a temple in which he worshipped God, and was daily engaged in offering the sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise.

The same God that created him was the creator of his blissful circumstances; the same hand that made him a living being planted the tree of life for him, and placed him near it. This man had dominion, and the forces of nature responded at his beck and call. He that made us is able to make us happy; He that is the maker of our bodies and the Father of our spirits, and no one else, can effectively provide for the happiness of both.

It is very comforting, regardless of what our condition and situation may be, if we can plainly see God going before us and working for our good. If we will only follow the gentle prodding of Providence, and go along with the hints of direction occasioned by divine intervention, we too may find a paradise where we could not have otherwise expected it—“He will choose our inheritance for us…” (See Ps. 47:4; NKJV). God chose Eden for Adam and Eve, originally He chose Canaan for the habitation of His people (Gen 12:1–7). Later, under David and Solomon, He enlarged the boundaries (Gen 15:18). Ultimately, He will rule the world with a rod of iron, through the Son of David, i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice that God delegated him certain work to do. He put him there, not to live like a man on a permanent vacation, to play all the time, but to “dress” the garden and to “keep it.” Paradise itself was not a place of immunity from work. Note the following about work:

1. None of us were created to be idle. God made us these souls and bodies so that we would have something to work with; and he gave us this earth for our residence so that we would have something to work on. He that gave us life has given us work to do, to serve Him and our fellow-men, and to work out our salvation: if we do not willingly do the work He has given us, we are unworthy of our life and care. Secular employment can coexist with a state of innocence and a life of communion with God. The joint heirs with Christ, while they are here in this world, have something to do in this world, and their employment must have its share of their time and thoughts; and, if they do it for the glory of God, they are serving him as truly as when they are upon their knees.

2. The husbandman’s vocation is an ancient and honourable profession; it was needed even in paradise. The Garden of Eden, though it did not need to be weeded (since thorns and thistles were not yet a nuisance), must be dressed and kept. Nature, even in its primitive state had room for improvement. It was a calling fit for a state of innocence, making provision for life, not for lust, and giving man an opportunity to serve the Creator and acknowledging His providence: while his hands were busy with the trees, his heart might be with his God.

3. There is a true pleasure in the business which God calls us to, and employs us in. Adam’s work was so far from being an inconvenience that it was an addition to the pleasures of paradise; he could not have been happy if he had been idle: it is still a law, He that will not work has no right to eat—“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thess 3:10; KJV). (Also see Prov. 27:23).

4. Horticulture, or gardening, is the first kind of employment on record, and that in which man was engaged while in a state of perfection and innocence. Though the garden may have produced all things spontaneously, like the entire vegetable surface of the earth certainly did at the creation, yet dressing and tilling were necessary afterward to maintain the different kinds of plants and vegetables in their state of perfection, and to suppress lethargy. Even in a state of innocence, we cannot conceive it possible that man could have been happy if inactive. God gave him work to do, and his employment contributed to his happiness; for the structure of his body, as well as of his mind, plainly proves that he was never intended for a merely contemplative life.

5. Labor was instituted before the Fall, not as a result of the curse. Man’s position in the garden was the fulfillment of a need described in Genesis 2.5—“Before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, AND THERE WAS NO MAN TO TILL THE GROUND.” “To dress” (from a root meaning to serve) and “to keep” (to look after or to be in charge of) the garden was an activity that, unlike the type of work associated with the earth after the curse (see Ge. 3:17–18), was rewarded by productivity and enjoyment. There is no sense in which the second word indicates a guarding of the garden against evil, as some have said. Everything is still very good at this stage; sin does not enter until chapter 3.

So far we have seen God as man’s powerful Creator and his bountiful Benefactor, but now he appears as his Ruler and Lawgiver. God put him into the Garden of Eden, not to live there as he might wish, but to be under God’s rule. Just as we are not allowed to be idle in this world, and to do nothing, similarly we are not allowed to be headstrong, and do what we please. When God had given man a dominion over the creatures, he would let him know that he was under the government of his Creator. Adam became the caretaker of the garden, but with one distinct prohibition, which are the next two verses.

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

Here we see God’s authority over man, who is a creature that had reason and freedom of will. He has the highest rank that has ever existed among human beings since he is the father and representative of all mankind. In this exalted position, he will receive God’s law, as he had recently received a nature, for himself and all his posterity. God commanded all the creatures, according to the aptitude with which He had endowed them; this law is in view in the obvious principles that govern the course of nature—“He also established them forever and ever; He made a decree which shall not pass away” (Ps 148.6; NKJV). The brute-creatures have their respective instincts; but man was made capable of performing rational service, and therefore he received, not only the command of a Creator, but the command of his Lord and Master. Though Adam was a very great man, a very good man, and a very happy man, yet the Lord God commanded him; and the command did not in the least bit belittle his greatness, refute his goodness, or lessen his happiness. Let us always acknowledge God’s right to rule over us and our own obligation to be ruled by him; and never allow our own will to oppose His will, or compete with it.

The complete freedom of man in the garden was restricted only by this one prohibition: “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.” Since man was still in a state of unproven holiness, God chose to test the moral constitution of His creation by placing him in a perfect environment, but with this one restriction. God had created man with the ability NOT to sin. If he had NOT sinned, he would have been confirmed to be righteous and would subsequently NOT have been able to sin. Instead, he disobeyed God, died spiritually, and fell into a state that made him NOT able NOT to sin.

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