March 2, 2012 Session 1. Good Work.
The Point: Work is a gift from God, not a curse.
The Bible Meets Life: Work. We treat it like a necessary evil sometimes. While many of us
enjoy what God gives us, others of us look at our tasks as hard, tedious, or even downright
boring. We dread them. We tackle a lot of our responsibilities with a sense of drudgery. The
Bible does not gloss over the stress and difficulty that can come with work, but that was not
God’s original intent. Work is a good thing, and God’s plan is for us to approach any task with
responsibility and joy.
The Passage: Genesis 1:28; 2:8-9,15-17.
The Setting: Genesis 1 tells us of God’s work of creation. Genesis 2 focuses on one aspect of
that creation: His creation of man. As the culmination of His creation, God placed Adam in the
garden of Eden. In the midst of this perfect setting, Adam was given the assignment to work the
garden and watch over it. With that task came the freedom to enjoy the garden and the fruit of his
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.
Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”
The concept of work has often been misunderstood. Scripture distinctly indicates that
work was part of the creation account and thus not considered bad or punishment from God. A
close reading of the biblical text reveals that God entrusted Adam and Eve with working,
tending, and taking care of the garden as His agents. Thus the first couple was to work with and
on behalf of God in the garden. Scripture is clear that this co-working ordained by God was His
gift to Adam and Eve to be shared with one another.
The creation narrative shows that humanity is the crowning point of God’s creation—the apex of
God’s work in that the Creator and creation interact with one another in love and commitment.
This interaction between God and man is particularly highlighted in Genesis 1:28, where
humanity is charged with several tasks. Among those are to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue and
rule over the creation. The two couplets (fruitful/multiply, subdue/rule) of four verbs denote
God’s assignments to humanity. These assignments are best summed up as procreation and
First, Yahweh told Adam and Eve to be fruitful, multiply. Up to this point in the creation
account, the text has simply noted God’s instruction to the animals to be fruitful and multiply
(1:22). Here, however, the command to be fruitful, multiply is given to the first couple with the
note that God said to them, implying a personal relationship between Creator and Adam and Eve.
This personal note of fruitfulness to Adam and Eve highlights humanity’s intrinsic connection to
Yahweh as the image of God spoken of in 1:26. Just as God created the first human life, Adam
and Eve would share in this divine prerogative by propagating humanity. Reproduction, the
power to reproduce humanity, is a blessing and a gift from God to be enjoyed in a covenant
union of marriage. God not only gives Adam and Eve this ability to procreate but blesses them
with the command.
Second, God explicitly gave humanity the ability of dominion over nature via subduing and
ruling. In Hebrew, the concept of subduing usually carries the connotation of a display of force.
However, in this case subdue is best seen as bringing into submission or subjugating. God is
specific in the text of what humanity is to subjugate—fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and
every creature that crawls on the earth. In essence, Adam and Eve as well as their descendants
received the task of “stewardship” of every living creature (cf. Prov. 12:10; 27:23; and Deut.
25:4). Closely related to the idea of subduing is the notation of ruling. Here, in Hebrew, the
concept of ruling might be best understood as impelling, taming, or subordinating. Since Adam
and Eve were created in the image of God, they were given the divine prerogative to rule, tame,
or subordinate the earth on behalf of Yahweh. This subordination or ruling over the earth was not
to be done in a harsh manner; rather, it was to be done on behalf of the Creator in love and
commitment. Just as God had planted and tended the garden before the first couple, now they
sought to imitate Yahweh in their work.
As the couple set about to follow the commands of Yahweh, they were to further the human
species by procreation and exercise loving dominion over the earth He had given them. In
following these commands, Adam and Eve revealed they were in a covenant commitment with
God. The human line would continue to grow and serve as regents on behalf of the Almighty.
The Scriptures are clear that the tasks Yahweh commanded of Adam and Eve were not
burdensome nor were they harsh; rather, they were a template for future generations that would
follow the couple. Christians have the responsibility to be at work with God exercising holy
stewardship not just over creation but at every task we set out to accomplish. If we read this text
narrowly and see only the injunction to exercise dominion over the creation, then we fail to see
the heart of the matter. God called Adam and Eve to work at whatever they did as to the Lord
8 The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man He had
9 The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for
food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil.
15 The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over
KEY WORDS: Garden (v. 8)—The word comes from a Hebrew verb meaning to defend or
protect. In the garden in Eden, Adam and Eve experienced the full protection and provision of
Knowledge of good and evil (v. 9)—Interpretations of the meaning of this phrase vary
but this much is clear: the knowledge this tree offered was unnecessary, inappropriate, and
forbidden for humanity. Partaking of it led to shame, punishment, and expulsion.
Contextually 2:8-9,15 follow the creation of Adam by Yahweh. It is important to note
this progression and the sequence by which the text progresses. Notice that the overall scope of
this narrative is that Eden was not simply a place of leisurely enjoyment; rather, Adam was
created and given responsibility to work and guard the garden of God!
The term garden in 2:8 has a rich history in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Used by
itself the term can refer to simple designations such as a vegetable garden (Deut. 11:10) or it can
simply mean a well-watered and tended garden (Isa. 58:11; Jer. 31:12). Yet in Genesis 2 the term
garden has a special significance in that it signifies that the owner is none other than God
Himself. Here in 2:8 it is God who planted the garden and gave Adam the job of tending His
creation. This garden, which God planted and Adam tended, was an oasis—a place of
contentment, joy, and repose. Classically the garden of Eden has played a pivotal role throughout
the Bible. Passages such as Isaiah 51:3; Ezekiel 36:35; and Joel 2:3 point to the coming reversal
of humanity’s fall within the garden.
Yahweh planted the garden in the east, in Eden subsequent to the creation of Adam (2:7). God
prepared the habitat for humanity. Two elements must be noted and examined. First, God planted
the garden not for the sake of simply planting, but rather He did so in order to provide for
humanity. The fact that Adam and Eve—as well as their coming offspring—were humans
demonstrably shows the need for continued sustenance. It is by this garden and humanity’s
responsible tending that nourishment would be provided. Second, the garden is noted as being in
Eden, in the east. As a proper noun Eden is used nearly 20 times in the Old Testament. Eden is
often thought to derive from the Hebrew that implies land of bliss or happy land. Scripture is
clear that Eden was the garden of God—a place for humanity to grow and protect.
In 2:9, we are told that from the ground in the garden of Eden God made every tree and plant
spring forth. Two particular trees are present within the narrative—the tree of life and the tree of
the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil has particular
connotations for not only the entirety of this passage but also the whole of the biblical narrative.
So, what is meant by the description, knowledge of good and evil? Perhaps the best
interpretation of this adjectival phrase is that it connotes divine wisdom. It is worth noting that
the serpent promised the first couple that, upon partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good
and evil, their eyes would be opened and they would become as God Himself (3:5). In this light,
the knowledge bestowed upon Adam and Eve seems to be a type of wisdom but not what the
serpent promised. The partaking of the tree gave the first couple insight which was beyond their
purview. While Adam and Eve falsely sought the divine knowledge reserved only for Yahweh,
they instead acquired a limited, heightened human insight.1
In verse 9, we also read that God made trees that grew out of the ground good for food to eat. An
extravagance was lavished upon humanity by the Creator. Not only did Yahweh plant
horticulture which was beautiful to the eye (every tree pleasing in appearance) but also fruitful
for food (and good for food). Conceptually we cannot lose sight of the fact that God ascetically
and practically fed Adam and Eve. Yet, after presenting humanity with the garden, Yahweh
explicitly enjoined the first couple to continue to feed themselves from the produce which they
would collect. Productivity within the garden was a good thing and it was expected of Adam and
Eve if they wanted to eat. The fact that Yahweh calls Christians to be productive (in whatever
they do) has not changed.
If anything, we who are believers in Christ Jesus are called to be even more productive since we
are endowed with the gift of the Holy Spirit! Historically, God has assigned tasks to His people,
such as Moses (leading the exodus from Egypt), Joshua (taking of Canaan), David (ruling the
united nation of Israel), the prophets (propagating of His Word), and the disciples (fulfilling the
Great Commission). We should be doing what God calls us to do because working with God is
not a burdensome chore.
Adam’s job description is given in verse 15: The Lord God took the man and placed him in the
Garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. Implicit in this verse is the idea that Adam in
particular, and humanity in general, was designed by God to work and be productive. Regardless
of the task God gives us, we can have joy and happiness in the midst of our labor because God is
with us. Notice that in verse 15, God placed Adam in a supervisory role in the garden. Two verbs
give us clues as to what Adam’s role was to consist of in the garden. First, Adam was to work the
garden. Interestingly, the Hebrew word here conveys the ideas of labor, service that is rendered
(often for or on behalf of Yahweh), or even service of worship. As we work for God, what is our
attitude? Working, as evidenced by Scripture, can constitute consecrated service on behalf of
God or even a service of worship if we allow God to direct our attitudes.
Second, Adam was to watch over the garden. The Hebrew range of meaning of this word is vast,
and it can be translated a number of ways. In some instances it can mean “to take care of,
preserve, or protect,” “to save or retain,” “to watch or observe,” “to do something very
carefully,” “to devote oneself to a task,” or “to be a watchman or guard.”2 Clearly, these ideas
are all present in this verse as part of Adam’s task within the garden. The labor which Adam and
Eve, as well as their continual offspring, undertook was as intrinsic to life as breathing.
It is not a moot point that God gave humanity the tasks of working and watching over the garden.
The end of verses 15-17 sets up the theological segue to humanity’s fall in Genesis 3.
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden,
17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat
from it, you will certainly die.”
In 2:16-17 we tend to focus only on the prohibition that God put upon humanity, namely, “You
must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Yet to focus only on this
prohibition is to miss one of the major blessings Adam was afforded by God. In 2:16 Yahweh
told Adam, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden.” God addressed Adam personally
and individually as a created being. This is significant because in the eyes of Yahweh, Adam was
a unique person with whom He communed. Relationally, God set both positive and negative
boundaries for humanity—a set of parameters for the physical and spiritual safety of the first
couple. Adam and Eve had the freedom to eat from any other tree of the garden. This declarative
statement has within it an implicit expectation of required obedience. We know that Adam was
capable of obedience, for we see his naming of the animals in 2:19-20 at God’s insistence.
Clearly in 2:19-20, God and Adam were at peace, and harmony existed within their relationship.
Notice carefully that as long as Adam obediently worked with God, all of creation was at peace!
However, as Genesis 3 amply demonstrates, when humanity rebelled and decided to shun the
divine partnership, creation suffered in grave turmoil.
The only restriction placed upon Adam was unvarnished and unbending (the Hebrew uses the
strong negative and could be translated “never eat …”). God was not being harsh but rather was
demonstrating His love for humanity by warning them against rebellion. The Lord gave such a
warning to Adam and Eve because, of all the created order, they alone bore both physical flesh
and immaterial spirit. Adam and Eve were not merely flesh and thus like the animals, nor were
they simply of the spiritual realm and thus like the angels. They were unique. Like each of us,
they were crafted in the image of God and yet possessed freedom to labor with God or against
Him. Of all the initial creation, the first couple alone could cross the moral boundaries that had
been set in place by the Creator!
In light of Genesis 2, what should our response be? Clearly, when God and man labor together
there is blessed harmony. As we labor, we must keep in mind the plain truth of Scripture
concerning work; it is a gift of God and not a result of the curse. Rebellion has no place in our
work ethic as we go about our labor. The results of crossing those moral boundaries that God has
set in His Word are self evident. A catastrophic break in the divine/human harmony is painfully
obvious in Genesis 3. Therefore, let us embrace work as a good thing, as a gift from God. God’s
plan is for us to approach any task with responsibility and joy. When we embrace the labor that
God puts before us, we find that we become divinely content and the cares of this world are
momentary. Does this mean that difficult work will suddenly become joyful? Not necessarily.
However, if we see our labor as a God-ordained gift, then our outlook will be tempered not by
what we do but for whom we do it! What has God called you to do with Him? What work has He
given you? Labor with God need not necessarily be a task we are paid to perform. A divine labor
of love or godly task might be giving a hungry person food or water. Clothing a homeless person
or visiting the sick and those imprisoned could constitute divine labor. Jesus shows plainly in
Matthew 25 that our labor with God does not go unnoticed. Whatever we do either in word or
deed must be done with God by the parameters He has set for us in the Scriptures. Paul
emphasized the ultimate target of our efforts when, in Colossians 3:23, he warned the church at
Colossae, “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for
Live it Out
So what does God want us to do in relation to work? Choose at least one application to complete
Guard against discontentment. Choose contentment and gratitude. As you go about your daily
routine this week, take note of every task and thank God for the tasks he has given you to do and
the ability to do them.
List the ways God can use your work. Your work is a gift from God that is a means of His
provision both for you personally and for His kingdom. List some things you do at church and/or
in the community. Write down how each benefits others. Thank God that you are His tool to
impact others with Christ’s love.
Encourage another person. Let someone see and hear from you that any task can be viewed as a
gift from God. Identify one friend or family member who is frustrated with work. Be an
encourager by calling, writing, or visiting regularly. Pray for wisdom as to when to listen and
when to speak. Make your first contact this week.
Through the good times and the bad, God is working in your life to accomplish His purposes.
Many times He uses simple, routine tasks to teach us how to follow Him in a deeper way.
Anticipate good things from what God is going to do.
Garden (v. 8)—The word comes from a Hebrew verb meaning to defend or protect. In the
garden in Eden, Adam and Eve experienced the full protection and provision of God.
Knowledge of good and evil (v. 9)—Interpretations of the meaning of this phrase vary but this
much is clear: the knowledge this tree offered was unnecessary, inappropriate, and forbidden for
humanity. Partaking of it led to shame, punishment, and expulsion.
Garden—The Hebrew word in Genesis 2:8 comes from the verb which means “to defend, to put
a shield about, to protect.” Literally, it was a plot of ground protected by a wall or a hedge.
Usually it was irrigated and used to cultivate flowers or fruits and vegetables. The word Eden “a
plain,” “bliss,” or “delight,” emphasizing the beautiful appearance of the place God created for
Adam and Eve to live. The garden is mentioned outside of Genesis in Ezekiel 28:13; 31:8-9,18;
36:35; and Joel 2:3.
Garden: A garden (2:8) was an enclosed plot of ground often surrounded by a hedge or wall.
While vegetables and flowers were cultivated on the grounds, overall the area was more like a
fine estate or a park surrounded by stately trees. The trees were not only beautiful to behold but
their fruit provided a food supply and their shade a cool refreshing place to rest. The Septuagint,
the Greek translation of the Old Testament, borrowed a word from the Persians to translate the
Hebrew word: paradeisos, meaning paradise. Obviously, God wanted the man and woman to
dwell in a place that was productive and pleasurable.
Knowledge of good and evil: Bible students have speculated widely on what the tree of
knowledge of good and evil in 2:9 represented. Some have suggested it refers to sexual
knowledge. Others speculate the reference is to all knowledge. To eat of the fruit of the tree
would make one omniscient, thus like God. Another option is that it referred to moral
knowledge, meaning the ability to determine what was good and what was evil according to
one’s own standard. Still, to some, the tree represents the desire for knowledge over trust in
Knowledge of good and evil—The connection of knowledge with good and evil is a common
one in Scripture. For example, in Deuteronomy 1:39 Moses spoke of Israel’s children who
didn’t know good from evil. Isaiah 7:15-16 speaks of a child’s ability to reject what is bad and
chose what is good. In 2 Samuel 19:34-35 Barzillai attributed to his old age his inability to
discern what was pleasant and what was not. Obviously, this tree allowed those who ate from it
to discern good from evil, removing them from an innocent state in which they knew no evil.
KNOWLEDGE: Translation of several Hebrew and Greek words covering a wide range of
meanings: intellectual understanding, personal experience, emotion, and personal relationship
(including sexual intercourse, Gen. 4:1, etc.). Knowledge is attributed both to God and to human
God’s knowledge is said to be omniscient. He knows all things (Job 21:22; Ps. 139:1-18); His
understanding is beyond measure (Ps. 147:5). He knows the thoughts of our minds and the
secrets of our hearts (Ps. 44:21; 94:11). He knows past events (Gen. 30:22), present happenings
(Job 31:4). and future events (Zech. 13:1; Luke 1:33).
The knowledge which God has of nations and human beings indicates that He has a personal
interest—not merely an awareness—of people (Ps. 144:3). To be known by God may mean that
a nation or individual is chosen by God to play a part in God’s purposes in the world (Jer. 1:5;
Amos 3:2; Gal. 4:9).
The Bible speaks often about human knowledge. Knowledge of God is the greatest knowledge
(Prov. 9:10) and is the chief duty of humankind (Hos. 6:6). In the Old Testament, the Israelites
know God through what He does for His people (Ex. 9:29; Lev. 23:43; Deut. 4:32-39; Ps. 9:10;
59:13; 78:16; Hos. 2:19-20). This knowledge of God is not simply theoretical or factual
knowledge; it includes experiencing the reality of God in one’s life (compare Phil. 3:10) and
living one’s life in a manner that shows a respect for the power and majesty of God (compare
In the New Testament one knows God through a knowledge of Jesus Christ (John 8:19; Col. 2:23). The apostle Paul closely connected knowledge to faith. Knowledge gives direction,
conviction, and assurance to faith (2 Cor. 4:14). Knowledge is a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:8) which
can grow, increase, be filled, and abound (Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:9-10; 2 Cor. 8:7). It consists in having
a better understanding of God’s will in the ethical sense (Col. 1:9-10; Phil. 1:9), of knowing that
God desires to save people (Eph. 1:8-9), and of having a deeper insight into God’s will given in
Christ (Eph. 1:17; 3:18-19).
But though Paul recognized the importance of knowledge, he also knew that it could be a
divisive factor in churches such as at Rome and Corinth where some Christians claimed to be
more spiritual because of their knowledge of spiritual matters (Rom. 14:1-15:6; 1 Cor. 8:1-13).
Paul argued that knowledge puffs up but love builds up, and the knowledge exercised by the
“strong” in faith could cause the “weak” in faith to go against their Christian conscience and lead
to their spiritual ruin. Knowledge can be misused (1 Cor. 8). Love is more important than
knowledge (1 Cor. 13), yet knowledge is still a gift, necessary for Christian teaching (1 Cor.
14:6) and for Christian growth toward a mature faith (1 Cor. 8:7; 2 Pet. 1:5-6; 3:18).
In the Gospel of John, knowledge is a key concept, although the noun “knowledge” itself never
occurs in John’s Gospel. John instead frequently uses the verbs “to know.” Jesus and the Father
have a mutual knowledge (John 10:14-15), and Jesus’ knowledge of God is perfect (John 3:11;
4:22; 7:28-29, for example). Jesus brings to lost humankind the knowledge of God which is
necessary for salvation (John 7:28-29; 8:19), but which humankind has distorted through sin
(John 1:10). God’s knowledge of Jesus consists of giving Jesus His mission and the power to
perform it (John 10:18). Jesus’ knowledge of the Father consists of His hearing God’s word and
obediently expressing it to the world.
Knowledge of God is closely related to faith, expressing the perception and understanding of
faith. Full knowledge is possible only after Jesus’ glorification, since the disciples sometimes
failed to understand Jesus (John 4:32; 10:6; 12:16). In John, knowledge is expressed in Christian
witness which may evoke belief in Jesus (John 1:7; 4:39; 12:17-18) and in love (John 17:26).
Whereas Jesus’ knowledge of the Father is direct, the disciples’ knowledge of Jesus is indirect,
qualified by believing. The Christian’s knowledge of Jesus is the perception of Jesus as the
revelation of God which leads to obedience to His word of love. So the Christian is caught up
into God’s mission of love to the world in order that the world may come to know and believe in
Jesus as the revelation of the Father’s love for the world.
ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:
God “Created” A Word Study
By T. Van McClain, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew and director of library services at
Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Northeast Campus, Schenectady, New York.
YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISTS believe the universe is likely 6,000 to 10,000 years old and
reject evolution as an explanation for the human species. Old Earth Creationists generally hold
that the earth is billions of years old, and they also often reject evolution. Those who affirm
Intelligent Design would argue that scientific evidence supports the belief in a Creator God. The
BioLogos Foundation, for instance, argues that God did create the universe, but they also accept
the processes of evolution as the explanation for how He created life. Opinions by Christians
about how and when God created the universe are quite varied.
While not all Christians may agree on the details of how God created the universe and life, all
believers would agree that He is the Creator of it all. The Hebrew word to express creation first
occurs in Genesis 1:1 and is the word bara’. Other Hebrew verbs (such as yasar, meaning “to
fashion something”) serve as synonyms of bara’. The term bara’ is unique, though, in that it
“emphasizes the initiation of [an] object.”1
God’s Initial Work of Creation
Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”2 God is always the
subject of this Hebrew verb when it means “create.” Said one Old Testament theologian and
The scope of the use of the verb bara’ is greatly limited. It is used exclusively to denote
divine creation . . . . As a special theological term, bara’ is used to express clearly the
incomparability of the creative work of God in contrast to all secondary products and
likenesses made from already existing material by man.3
In English, we can use the same verb in two sentences and the context will help determine the
intensity of the action. For instance, we can say, “He closed the door.” Or, if someone slammed
a door, we might say, “He didn’t just close the door; he CLOSED the door!” The second
describes a more intense action. Similarly, Hebrew also uses variations to indicate action
intensity. Some Old Testament passages use bara’ to show intense action, and the verb means
“to cut down” (Josh. 17:15,18; Ezek. 23:47). God is not the subject of the verb in these few
verses, and these passages may have actually used a word similar to bara’. (Remember that
Hebrews does not have vowels.) Or, bara’ originally may have meant “to cut, divide,” although
this is by no means certain.
In contrast, when the Hebrew text uses the less intense form of the verb bara’, it always means
“to create.”4 The etymology of the word is quite disputed, as it occurs seldom if ever in the other
Semitic languages.5 As with many English words, when the Hebrew Old Testament uses bara’,
context is generally more helpful than etymology in determining the meaning.
The first chapter of Genesis uses the verb bara’ in only three verses. In Genesis 1:1, the context
indicates that God created the universe ex nihilo or “out of nothing.” Such action is beyond
human capabilities. “The use of the term . . . strongly supports the nuance of ‘bringing into
existence’ . . . without the utilization of previous material.”6 Other passages also affirm creation
as ex nihilo. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “By faith we understand that the universe was created
by God’s command, so that what is seen has been made from things that are not visible” (Heb.
11:3; compare Ps. 33:6,9; Col. 1:16). In fact, the statement in Genesis 1:1 that God created the
heavens and the earth is a way of saying God created the total universe. This does not mean,
however, that bara’ always means “create out of nothing,” as I will discuss below.
The next two usages of the word bara’ in Genesis chapter one highlight the creation of life, both
animal and human life. Genesis 1:21 highlights the creation of animal life: “So God created the
large sea-creatures and every living creature that moves and swarms in the water, according to
their kinds. He also created every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was
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Likewise, Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the
image of God; He created them male and female.” The use of bara’ with reference to living
creatures indicates that God affirms the value of animal life. They are a special creation of God.
The use of bara’ with reference to the creation of man indicates the special value that God places
on humanity. In fact, man is the Lord’s highest creation, for man is created in His image. God
formed (created) man from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7)—a clear indication that bara’ in this
instance does not mean to create out of nothing.
Continuous Creation Work
God’s creative work did not end with what we see in Genesis. The word bara’ actually appears
more times in the Book of Isaiah than any other Old Testament book, including Genesis. Isaiah
promised that the creative work of God would be at work in the coming Messianic Age (Isa.
4:5). Much of the Book of Isaiah was written as a comfort for the people of Israel who would be
in exile. Throughout the book, Isaiah reminded his readers that the Lord was the Creator. He
further explained that just as the Creator God could fashion the universe, so He would give His
Servant for a new covenant in the future, not only for Israel but also for the Gentiles (42:5-7).
Also, the Book of Psalms uses bara’ in a couple of ways that highlight God’s continued creative
work. Psalm 102:18 says, “This will be written for a later generation, and a newly created
people will praise the Lord.” Does this phrase “a newly created people” mean that God creates
every soul out of nothing at each person’s conception? Some would answer affirmatively, and
this view is known as “creationism.”
Others would suggest that parents pass down the soul just as they pass down the body to their
child. This view, called “traducianism,” teaches that human beings propagate whole beings—
body and soul. With traducianism, each person is still a result of the creative work of God.
Supporters of traducianism hold to this view, arguing that the essential idea in creation is to bring
something into existence that had not previously existed. Each view has its strengths and
weaknesses, and notable theologians have not agreed on the best way to answer the question of
how God creates each soul.7
Also in Psalms, David prayed, “God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit
within me” (Ps. 51:10). David’s request affirmed his dependency on God’s continued creative
God will still create a clean heart in one’s life today, if that person will only call on Him. David
was asking that his heart be cleansed of sin; that cleansing is available for all who will place their
faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
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Future Work of Creation
All of those who have placed their faith in Christ will take part in God’s future work of creation.
Isaiah 65:17 says, “For I will create a new heaven and a new earth; the past events will not be
remembered or come to mind.” The promise of a new heaven and a new earth that are made up
of the redeemed people of God is one of the greatest promises of God’ Word. Just as scholars
disagree regarding God’s initial creation and how that took place, they also disagree as to how
and when God will create this new heaven and new earth that Isaiah promised. Will it
immediately follow the second coming of Christ, or will it immediately follow the millennial
reign of Christ on earth? However, God brings it to pass, the re-creation or new creation of the
heavens and earth will usher in a place of indescribable peace and joy, where believers are
finally delivered from the presence of sin.
EDEN All We Know
By Kevin Hall, associate professor of religion and occupies the Ida Elizabeth & J. W. Hollums
Chair of Bible, Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.
A CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN ARTIST recently recorded the lyrics “they paved paradise
and put up a parking lot.”1 In doing so, she revived not only a classic folk song, but also she
relied on a classic idea—the notion of an original unspoiled paradise. An almost universal idea,
the concept of a pristine beginning for the world receives its inspiration in our culture from the
biblical garden of Eden.
Yet what do we really know about Eden? Where was it located? What was life like in Eden?
Was it a blissful, almost supernatural paradise of flawless perfection or a bountiful home for the
first humans? And what is its connection to and meaning for the world we live in? We must
formulate answers to these and similar questions with care and humility, for the details we have
about Eden, thought abundant, do not tell us as much as it might seem.
For example, of the four rivers associated with Eden (Gen. 2:11-14), we are least certain about
the identity of the two rivers the Bible describes in greater detail. Known from antiquity, the
Tigris and Euphrates (v. 14) still flow through Iraq today. But attempts to locate the Pishon and
Gihon have never been fully successful though the Bible describes them in some detail. So the
biblical details suit the purposes of the biblical account first and foremost. They provide answers
to our questions about Eden only if examined and evaluated carefully.
What’s in a Name?
The name “Eden” may be explained in various ways. When ancient Near Eastern libraries began
to be uncovered that contained ancient Akkadian and Sumerian texts, it became common to
associate the biblical name “Eden” with the Akkadian term edinu (Sumerian, eden) meaning
“plain, steppe,”2 This explanation of the name made sense to those who thought it likely that
Eden was in or around the broad plains of “the land between the rivers,” Mesopotamia.
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More recently, however, Aramaic and Ugaritic studies have yielded evidence associating the
name with the idea of a “garden of abundance.”3 This explanation comports well with the basic
meaning of the Hebrew term ‘eden, “luxury, delight.” The early Greek translation in the
Septuagint further supports this concept with its rendering: ho paradeisos tes truphes, or “the
garden of luxuries” (Gen. 3:23).4
Along with this understanding of the name “Eden”, we may notice several aspects of the Bible’s
use of the name. First of all, “Eden” seemingly refers to more than just the garden in which God
first placed man and woman. Genesis 2:8 speaks of the Lord planting “a garden in Eden, in the
east.” Next, the text describes a river flowing from Eden “to water the garden” (v. 10). Then
finally, the Lord took the man and “placed him in the garden of Eden” (v. 15).
In this context of a region named Eden (“luxury, delight”) with a well-watered garden, we can
instructively consider ancient Near Eastern parallels. Ancient Near Eastern monarchs such as
Assyria’s King Sennacherib lavished their capitals with parks and gardens irrigated by springs
outside of the city. So if the Bible intends for us to imagine a spring pouring forth from Eden to
irrigate a garden or park, then the biblical text describes “a situation that was well known in the
ancient world: a sacred spot featuring a spring with an adjoining, well-watered park, stocked
with specimens of trees and animals.”5
Ancient Near Eastern parallels to the magisterial parks and gardens of the great kings of old may
remind us of the Bible’s acclaim of Israel’s God as the king of all creation. Yet the Bible’s
account of Eden and its garden provides geographical details about the location of Eden. It is
hard, therefore, to be satisfied with simply accepting that the scene described was familiar to the
ancient audience of the Bible. We are drawn to seek the location of Eden.
Where Was Eden?
Based primarily on the association of Eden with the well known Tigris and Euphrates Rivers,
several proposals for the location of Eden are possible. The headwaters of these rivers are in the
Armenian Mountains; from there they flow through Mesopotamia into the Persian Gulf. One
proposal for Eden’s location, therefore, is in the Armenian Mountains near the source of the
Tigris and Euphrates.
Another suggestion puts Eden in southern Mesopotamia. With either of these proposals, the
unknown rivers of Pishon and Gihon are explained in plausible, albeit no demonstrative ways.
In one view, they would have been other rivers of the Armenian Mountains; in the other view,
they either originate in the southern Zagros Mountains or are to be identified with the numerous
irrigation canals of the southern Mesopotamian plains.6
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Knowing, however, that the river Gihon flowed through “all the land of Cush” (v. 13), a region
traditionally associated with Egypt, some biblical scholars have suggested Eden was located in
the broader, more general context of the ancient Near Eastern world stretching from Egypt to
Mesopotamia. In this view, the Pishon and Gihon would be identified with the White and Blue
Niles of Africa.7
Working from this broader identification of Eden’s location in the center of the ancient Near
East, two other possibilities for the location of Eden present themselves. One possibility, which
is interested in the strategic value of Eden’s location, suggests that the scriptural account of
Eden’s location is more interested in asserting the “cultural and political centrality” of Eden
within the ancient Near Eastern world than with providing a roadmap for pinpointing Eden’s
location.8 The other possibility, interested in the theological significance of Eden’s location,
correlates the Gihon that flowed through Cush with the “river of Egypt” and proposes to locate
Eden within the boundaries of the land promised to Abraham (see 15:18, NASB).9
This association of Eden with the promised land leads to a consideration of details about Genesis
1—3 that are often overlooked. For example, Genesis 1:1 uses the Hebrew word eretz, a word
that is normally translated “land” and is used to reference the land promised to Abraham and his
descendants. Thus, most Israelites would have been drawn by the opening verse of Genesis into
consideration of a major theme of Genesis-Deuteronomy, God’s gift of a good land as a home
for God’s people.10
What Are The Lessons of Eden?
Recognizing Eden’s possible location allows us to consider afresh the important theological
aspects of the account of the garden of Eden. Most importantly, we should remember that the
most significant aspect of the location of Eden is that God was present there. The tragedy of the
sin is that the man and woman hid from the presence of their Creator (3:8). As God’s dwelling
place, Eden has significant parallels to God’s later dwelling place, the tabernacle, most notably
the presence of gold (2:12; Ex. 25:3), precious jewels (Gen. 2:12; Ex. 25:7), and the cherubim as
guards (Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:18).11 The verbs used to describe the human role in the garden,
though traditionally translated “to till it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15, RSV), are the Hebrew words
‘abad and shamar that normally describe human service to God. Genesis 2:15 likely, therefore,
indicates that the core responsibility of the first humans in the garden was to “worship and obey”
Ultimately, then, as citizens of this world we are not all that different from the inhabitants of
Eden when it comes to the call on our lives. We may not live in paradise, but we do live in a
world crated by God and sustained by God’s presence. Thus, “worship remains the truest, most
real experience we can hope for.”13 So may we live lives of worship, offering all of our “tilling
and keeping” as service to the living God who abides with us.
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In God’s Image
By Harold R. Mosle, assistant professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at New Orleans
Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana.
AS SHE OBSERVED MY INFANT DAUGHTER, my friend said to me, “She looks exactly
like you.” Those words would make any father proud. Such things are often said about a new
baby as family and friends converge on the hospital to welcome the new arrival. Children do
resemble their mother or father in many ways. They are the image of their parents. We can
easily understand what is meant by the assertion “He is the image of his father” or “She looks
like her mother.” Not so easily understood, however, is the statement in Genesis 1:26. “And
God said, ‘Let us make man1 in our image, according to our likeness, and they will have
dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over
all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’”2 In what way are human
being created in God’s image? No simple answers are available.
The assertion that human beings are created in God’s image or likeness is found in three different
passages: Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1; and 9:6. The passages relate the importance of human beings as
possessing “the image of God.” None of these passages, however, explains what is meant by the
phrase. As such, the interpreter is left with a somewhat ambiguous notion of what God’s image
implies. Theologians long have pondered the meaning with no full assurance as to a certain
answer. All is not lost, however. Even though we may not be able to understand fully all the
implications of what is involved in the phrase, we can glean some important insights into the
significance of mankind being created “in the image of God.” The passages themselves offer
some clues as to how we are created in God’s image.
Clues to Interpretation
Two Hebrew words are generally translated into English as “image” and “likeness.” A study of
these words helps us understand some possible implications intended by the biblical writer. The
word translated “image” is the Hebrew tselem. This word can refer to a physical representation
of something (such as an idol)3 or it may indicate a more abstract meaning.4 The Hebrew word
translated “likeness” is demut, which carries the meaning “to be like.” This word occurs often in
Ezekiel’s visions of God.5 In his description of the glory of God, Ezekiel never said he actually
saw God. Rather, he was a “likeness” or a “representation” of God. The indication of likeness
need not be in physical appearance.6 The two words “image” and “likeness” function as
synonyms, and as such, no major distinction need be applied to them. This is shown by the fact
that the words appear to be used interchangeably in Genesis 5:1 and 9:6.
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The Hebrew words provide only a vague and general idea as to meaning. Both words can
indicate a likeness in some physical appearance, but both words can also imply a more abstract
idea of similarity. Thus, the words do not give the expression “image of God” a clear meaning.
The surrounding contexts in which the phrase appears also provide some clues concerning the
meaning. In Genesis 1:26-27, the image of God clearly connects with the dominion that human
beings are to exercise over creation. “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness,
and they will have dominion . . .” The passage plainly implies that the image of God in human
beings relates in some way to the dominion mankind will have over the created realm. Genesis
9:1-7, although not stated as clearly, also joins mankind’s responsibility of dominion with the
possession of image of God. Both Genesis 1:26-27 and 9:1-7 mention the fish, birds, beasts (or
cattle), and creeping things. Obviously 9:1-7 intends to reflect the idea of dominion over
creation in the same way the is intended in 1:26-27. Although the passage in Genesis 5:1-2 does
not specifically mention dominion, the blessing referred to in that passage may well reflect the
blessing of 1:28, that is, the blessing of dominion. Obviously the image of God in human beings
has some connection with the function of having dominion over the earth.
Different scholars have presented varying opinions as to what constitutes the “image of God” in
mankind. One early church opinion distinguished between the word “image” and the word
“likeness.” The “image” referred to a person’s correspondence to God in spiritual attributes.
The “image” was said to remain after the fall into sin while the “likeness” was lost upon sin’s
entry into the human realm.7 In this view, the ability to reason distinguishes mankind from the
other created beings. Such a clear distinction between “image” and “likeness,” however, is not
certain from the passages.
A few interpreters have ventured to argue for a physical resemblance between God and human
beings. Certainly the Hebrew words in the passages would allow for such a possibility. The fact
that God is defined as being “spirit,”8 however, must dictate a cautionary approach to any
dogmatic assertion in this area.
Interestingly, other ancient Near Eastern cultures also had a concept of mankind possessing the
image of God. Only the kings received the distinction of being in God’s image in the other
cultures. In Mesopotamia the kings were representatives of the patron deities and were
considered to be “sons” adopted by the gods as vice-regents.9 Egyptian theology also viewed the
pharaohs as divine. One inscription of the Egyptian pharaoh Amen-hotep III depicts the
Egyptian deity Amon-Re calling the pharaoh “my son” and “my living image.”10 The other
cultures actually viewed the kings as deities. Israel’s theology never gave any hint of such a
possibility. Scripture always clearly distinguishes between Israel’s kings as God’s
representatives and God as the only God there is.
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Some interpreters focus on the aspect of human beings exercising the function of dominion over
creation.11 This view sees human beings as representing God’s presence in the world.
Conquering kings in the ancient would often erected statues or images of themselves in subdued
territories to show their sovereignty over those conquered lands.
In a similar manner, God’s image in human beings functions to show God’s authority over
creation. Mankind is not sovereign. Rather, human beings represent the sovereign Lord of
creation. Human beings serve as stewards of God’s creation, using its resources but responsible
to God for their use or abuse.
Still other interpreters see God’s image in mankind as the ability to relate to God in a personal
way. This relationship is unique among the creatures of the earth. Scripture never so much as
hints at the possibility that fish, birds, or any other beast can share an intimate relationship with
God. Only human beings enjoy this capacity. The fellowship of Adam and Eve with God in the
garden of Eden shows this ability. In fact, God desired throughout both the Old and the New
Testaments to bring human beings into a relationship with Himself. The image of God, for all it
may imply, certainly includes the capacity to relate to God.
The image of God survived the fall into sin. Even after the judgment of the flood, mankind still
possessed God’s image in Genesis 9:1-7. Sin’s abuse may have marred and disfigured that
image, but we today still have the imprint of God’s image on us.
To Have Dominion Over All The Earth
By Bryce Sandlin, professor of Bible and Hebrew, Howard Payne University, Brownwood,
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GENESIS 1:26 T0 2:3 for the environmental and ecologic concerns
of today is recognized rather generally by those who study the roots of the present crisis. In fact,
the passage long has been of interest in the study of the implications of Scripture for cultural
concerns. Philo, a Jewish philosopher of the first century, spent much effort relating the passage,
especially 1:28, to the culture of his day.1 Joseph Rickaby, a nineteenth-century Catholic
moralist based his views of the manner in which people should think of and use animals on the
passage and found in the dominion theme justification for all but the “wanton” use of animals.2
It generally is agreed that at least one of the causes of our present ecologic crisis is to be found in
a particular understanding of this and related biblical passages, against which there has been an
absence of sustained Christian criticism. The purpose here is to present a perspective of the
dominion theme that brings the abuse of the environment and the self-centered use of natural and
human resources into focus in the light of the deeper implications of this passage and other Old
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Genesis 1:26—2:3 is the climax of an exquisitely fashioned literary unit that is very precise in its
description of creation. The larger passage 1:1—2:3, begins with a comprehensive statement
that embraces the entire chapter. All subsequent statements basically move along the line that is
given in the first verse of the chapter: everything was created by God and there was no creative
power apart from Him.
Within this description of creation is an ascending line expressing the relationship of creation to
the Creator. Not all of creation has the same place before God. Farthest from God is plant life,
which has a direct relationship to the earth. The animals are nearer. At the end of this
succession are “human beings,” and they are directly responsible to God. The world is oriented
toward humanity; in people it has its purest direct relation to God.
People are created in the image of God. The purpose of God’s image is the real intent of the
passage. There is less said about the image itself than about the task which the image makes
possible—the domination of the world. The commission to rule is the consequence of the image,
that is, that for which humanity is capable because of God. The practice of kings erecting
images of themselves in distant quarter of their empires where they could not appear personally
is a parallel to God erecting His image in persons in His kingdom. Humans are only God’s
representatives to maintain and enforce His claim to dominion over the earth. “The decisive
thing about man’s similarity to God, therefore, is his function in the non-human world.”3
Seen in its context, the dominion theme is the climax of the ascending line of likeness to God,
with people as the nearest and having the responsibility to exercise God’s rule over all other
aspects of creation. Likeness and responsibility to God are emphasized in being created in the
image of God, and likeness to the other animals is indicated by the food they share. In verses 2930 human food is to be the same as that of the other animals. As people and animals were
created on the same day, they are to partake of the same food. The exercise of dominion over
animals does not include the useless shedding of their blood. “This word of God, therefore, also
means, a limitation in the human right of dominion.”4
This arrangement, with people exercising God’s dominion over the natural world and
environment, and at the same time belonging to nature, is a well-balanced provision for the good
of all creation, including persons. In verse 31 “God saw everything that he had made, and,
behold, it was very good.” This statement refers more to the wonderful purposefulness and
harmony of creation than to its beauty. The concluding phrase could be translated “ . . . it was
As the Sabbath was the climax of the week in Judaism, so the climax of the creation week was
the “rest” of God. Chapter 2:1-3 often is interpreted as the establishing of the Sabbath as a day
of rest for the people of Israel, but the verses have far greater significance. The verses
emphasize, first, that the world is no longer in the process of being created. God finished His
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work of creation and turned the care and protection of it over to humans, His image. God then
“blessed” the day of rest, “sanctified” it, and thereby expressed His concern for the world. “Thus
Genesis 2:1ff. speaks about the preparation of the exalted saving good for the world and man.”5
The “rest” God took established His intention that all creation takes time for rejuvenation, and
the institution of the Sabbath in the life of Israel was meant to be an expression of that intention.
Concern for domesticated animals was also a major consideration in the purpose of the Sabbath
(Deut. 5:14-15). The motivation cause for keeping the Sabbath came in verse 15: “remember
that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out . . . “
(RSV). Although the motivation was theological, the humanitarian quality of the practice was
just beneath the surface because the memory of their own servitude was to provoke compassion
for others who had fallen into the same lot.
The sabbatical year and the year of jubilee, obviously extensions of the Sabbath idea, further
limited dominion of the earth and taught concern for environment and life. Leviticus 25 details
the proper observance of the sabbatical year and the jubilee. According to this passage the main
feature of the sabbatical year was the cessation of working the land for food purposes.
Exodus 21:1-6 emphasizes the freeing of slaves. Deuteronomy required the cancellation of
debts. If this was an absolute cancellation, lending money as a business transaction would never
have been practiced in Israel; it would only have been an offer of assistance to the needy. “The
sabbatical year laws appear to be the most radical social legislation prior to the twentieth
The year of jubilee had characteristics of its own, but the laws for the sabbatical year applied to
the jubilee as well. The year of jubilee began with the sounding of the loud trumpet on the Day
of Atonement, thereby proclaiming “liberty” to all the inhabitants of the land. Liberty was the
hallmark of jubilee, as emphasized in Ezekiel 46:17, where it is called the “year of liberty.”
An important aspect of liberty was the returning of land that had been sold during the years since
the last jubilee to the original owners or to their descendants. If the land were not returned to the
newly freed slaves, they could find themselves compelled to enter bondage again. The aim of
the jubilee was the restoration of the position as if was of old—free persons living on free land.
In other words, the jubilee legislation concerning the land and liberty was a perpetual land
reform program which guaranteed the equitable distribution of the land. There can be no
mistaking the emphasis on humane concerns and the proper use of the land. Humanity’s
dominion over the land was not considered to be absolute, but was limited by the legislation
regarding Sabbath, sabbatical year, and year of jubilee.
The principle of jubilee as stated in Leviticus 25:17, “for I am the Lord your God,” declares that
jubilee was grounded in the person and character of God. God is identified three times in
Leviticus 25 as the one who “brought you forth out of the land of Egypt.” The strong
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implication was that God’s historical activity involved coming to the aid of the oppressed and
setting them free, and that the land and Israel both belonged to God.
A second principle of jubilee was to view the poor as brothers and sisters. The phrase, “if your
brother becomes poor” (RSV), occurs four times in Leviticus 25, where it means fellow citizens.
“This means, therefore, that the Israelites were not just to look after their immediate families.”7
It particularly should be noted that it makes no difference how the poor became poor, whether
through misfortune or Laziness. Jubilee was based on the theological truth that ownership of the
land was not absolute, that it was given to Israelites as a stewardship. God was the owner, and
the individual head of a family His overseer. God wanted the country to remain equally divided
among His people, as was the case in the days of Joshua. The land itself was to have rest, the
implication being that when Israel treated the land with respect it would respond in kind.
Finally, humanity’s dominion over the earth must be seen in the light of “the web of life,”8 a web
involving all of creation in mutual relationship and dependency, coming very close to the
modern concept of “ecology.” That this web is “good” in all its parts was indicated in the tightly
knit account of creation in Genesis 1, with every “thread” of the web existing in its own right,
decreed so by the word of God.
The creation account in Genesis 1—2 speaks eloquently of life in the natural world, the basic
necessities for life, and the space in which to live “ . . . as an endowment that is always
preordered and given together with life itself.”9 Genesis 1—2 reflects a perception of a basic
connection and the condition of existence.
Because the Old Testament world view of humanity and nature are linked closely in a divine
order from which persons cannot extract themselves and act independently of that order, the
dominion of humanity is limited to what can be done without harm to the remaining parts of the
The creation hymn in Psalm 104 emphasizes humanity’s involvement in the natural order of
things, especially verses 27-30. Natural life and the fulfillment of life is not at the disposal of the
living thing; life is a gift, an event conferred, upon which everything is dependent. People are
elementally dependent for their existence, their environment, and the length of their natural lives.
For people today the world is the material and potential for human activity, and the result is a
“manipulation reduction of all life, including man, to the level of objects.10 In contrast, the
psalmist sees it as a gift of Yahweh the Creator who offers life and life-span, living room, and
the provision of life’s necessities to all living things.
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