Genesis, Genesis 2, Genesis 3, Old Testament, Sermons and Lessons

Created for Work

In this and the next two posts, I want to focus special attention on particular aspects of the second creation story of Genesis, which occurs in chapters 2 and 3. I want to hone in on particular characteristics of the state in which God made humanity and the way sin distorted or set about destroying that state. I also want to explore how the gospel of Jesus Christ restores that state – sometimes, I think, in surprising ways. Because the gospel of Jesus Christ is at its heart a story whose meaning depends on a context. The story of Jesus is the climax of the story of God’s salvation for humanity, and that salvation implies some questions: saved from what? Saved to what? The Bible depicts God’s salvation of humanity as both restorative and progressive. There is an original state that we have lost because of our sin. When God saves us, he restores something of that original state. But actually, he does something else, too. He moves us beyond that original state into new territory. At the risk of getting ahead of myself somewhat, God’s plan for humanity was never static. He never intended to create us as dolls in some kind of cosmic doll-house, set us up in a particular position, and then leave us there. What we’ll see over the next three posts on Genesis 2-3 is that there are hints that God had plans for Adam and Eve, plans to educate them, to mature and perfect them, to expand their territory. But sin got in the way and threatened to abort that mission.

If you want to read the whole story, you can find it here. Read chapters 2 and 3.

Part 1: Created for work and for the earth

Genesis 2 tells us that humanity were created for work, and that the earth and humanity were created for each other. These are actually two sides of the same coin, and each side helps us understand the other. Let’s begin by taking a close look at Genesis 2:5.

Now no shrub of the field yet existed in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no human to work the ground.

The picture in Genesis 2 is a little different than that in Genesis 1. In the beginning, the earth was a barren, dusty wasteland. There were certainly no cultivated plants, but there were not even wilderness plants – shrubs of the field and herbs of the field. The two words here are mostly associated with plants one would experience in the wilderness. One can potentially get food from them, but they do not actively give us that food like fruit trees do. So not even wild shrubs are on the earth. Why is that? Because the conditions were not yet right. First, God had not yet caused it to rain. There was, however, a mist that went up from the earth to water the ground, so there was some moisture. The most important condition, however, was that there was no human to work the ground.

This is an important detail not to be passed up in our mad dash to reconcile every detail of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. In Genesis 2, the fullness of creation was awaiting a necessary precondition: the presence of humanity to work the ground and to protect it. Humanity was made to fill a lack, to pursue a purpose. This purpose is closely connected to the earth. We were made for the earth, and we were made for work.

These two facts really turn out to be one fact once we examine them closely. Work, in the primitive environment of Genesis 2, is tantamount to cultivating and caring for the earth. It’s not until civilization brings the division of labor that we start to see work whose connection to the earth is less obvious. In Genesis 2, there is no work other than earth-related work. And interestingly, even though earth-related work seems to be the work that is most closely connected to sustenance and therefore to survival, unlike today, the work God set the man to doing is not ultimately about survival. Rather, it is about obedience to God’s created purpose:

(15) The LORD God took the man and set him in the garden of Eden to work it and to keep it. (16) And the LORD God commanded the man saying, “From the fruit of any tree of the garden you may eat,

The man’s material needs had already been provided for when God put him in the garden of Eden and set him to work. The garden had already been planted and there were already trees of every kind that were pleasant to look at and that produced food that was good to eat. The reason for man’s work in the beginning was not survival. It was joyful obedience. So what we see is that man was made for work and he was made to work the earth, to care for it, to learn about it, and to improve it (this is what cultivation is). At the same time, the earth was made for man. It was made to provide for his needs and to bring him joy.


Created to Work
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Created to Work
In Genesis 2 it says that humanity were made to work, but sin has turned our relationship to our work into one of pain and toil. Fortunately, in Jesus our work has been redeemed and no longer has to be toilsome and pointless.
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Bite-Sized Exegesis
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