Did Adam Have to Work in Eden?
Scripture plainly answers that he did. (Genesis 2:15) Did he also have more work after the Fall and his exclusion from the garden? Certainly. But a misconception here reflects, I believe, a bigger issue of how the Fall changed man’s relation to the natural world. The change was certainly profound. The question is: in what way? We need to be careful not to materialize things and miss the fact that spiritual, mental, or attitudinal changes may be much more important. So, the work issue may be a good and simple one to examine and the other issues may be seen to follow the same pattern.
We need to remember “it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.” (1 Cor. 15:46) It was never God’s purpose for Eden to be “heaven on earth.” Genesis 1:28 tells us that Adam was given the responsibility to “subdue” the earth. The word “subdue” includes the thought of struggle and effort with the implication that there will be resistance.1 It is similar to a battle. In Gen 2:15, Adam was given responsibility in the Garden “to till it and to guard it.” So, the Garden was likely a very pleasant environment where all was prepared for him and all he had to do was “keep it up.” Yet, “tilling” is work. Adam was not to be a “man of leisure.”
This is an important principle. When I was young and resisted doing my chores, I was told, “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” There is a good deal of truth to that statement. It is well known what evil can prevail in a so-called “Island of Pleasure.” While we certainly need certain vacation “down-time” a steady diet of that is not good. (Prov. 30:8–9)
It is also quite reasonable to say that Adam had “more work” after the Fall. Looking at the wording in the curse it certainly conveys the idea that things were going to be worse, to say the least. But, it is certainly a mistake to think that Adam had nothing to do in the Garden, then afterward he had to work; as if work were punishment for his disobedience. Having additional work after the Fall actually reflects the goodness of God in providing an environment necessitated by our Fallen nature. This would just be an advance of the principle of “devil’s playground” given above.
In addition, the same activities would take on a different character. The “tilling” in the garden is turned into “toil” outside the garden. In one case it was in service to God in the other it was toil based on the perception that God was punishing me and would thus produce resentment and discouragement. The truth is that in both cases it was a necessary activity. It is important here to remember that Adam was created outside the Garden and then placed in the Garden after God planted it. This indicates that God was showing Adam His goodness in providing him with a lovely place to live. We are all familiar with famous gardens planted by men, but I cannot even imagine what a garden planted by God Himself would be like. This also suggests that the “curse” really reflects the reality of Adam being sent out from the Garden, a part of the world that had been specially prepared for his comfort and pleasure, into a hostile world that had been specially prepared for him in view of his new-found sinfulness.2
It will be helpful to look a little closer at the actual wording of the “Curse”.
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;Genesis 3:17.
Here we are interested in examining the basic character of the curse, not the details. The wording suggests that God is declaring a new condition only. The condition could be a result of Adam’s newly incurred sinfulness. What was joyful tending in the Garden became a burdensome toil when he had to tend his own garden. Notice the phrase, “cursed is the ground because of you.” I believe we should take from this, that it was Adam’s sinfulness reflected in his behavior that brought the curse on the ground.3
Isaiah 24:5–6 provides an explicit example,
5 And the land is polluted under the inhabitants thereof; for they have violated the laws, changed the statute, broken the everlasting covenant. 6 Therefore doth the curse devour the earth, and they that dwell therein are held guilty; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are consumed, and few men are left.
These verses show us an explicit connection between Israel’s behavior and a resulting effect of “the curse”. Notice the word “therefore” in verse 6 connects the curse in verse 6 with those who “violated the laws” in verse 5. This is suggestive that in Gen 3 God was declaring to Adam and Eve what the consequences of their behavior would be. As sinners, they would be bringing a curse not only on themselves but on all creation, which had been placed under their dominion (Psalm 8:6). But, that is not all. The world they were being sent out into was not Eden. And, as we already saw, it was likely to be very different even before the Fall. Recall the strong sense of battle implied in the word “subdue.”
So, I don’t believe it is correct to take the curse declared in Genesis 3 as an actual infliction of punishment, especially one that massively changes the natural world. Instead, the natural world outside the garden was prepared from the beginning to be a limit and restraint on man’s willfulness for when he would be expelled from the garden for his disobedience. The work of subduing a resistant wilderness to make a living would be a constant reminder of his dependence upon the One who would still be a gracious provider. This is emphasized in countless Psalms and the Lord himself. (Matt. 5:45)
1. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1980), 430.
This verb and its derivative occur fifteen times in the OT. …
Despite recent interpretations of Gen 1:28 which have tried to make “subdue” mean a responsibility for building up, it is obvious from an overall study of the word’s usage that this is not so. kābash assumes that the party being subdued is hostile to the subduer, necessitating some sort of coercion if the subduing is to take place. Thus, the word connotes “rape” in Est 7:8 or conquest of the Canaanites in Num 32:22, 29; Josh 18:1; I Chr 22:18. In II Chr 28:10; Neh 5:5; Jer 34:11,16 it refers to forced servitude.
Therefore “subdue” in Gen 1:28 implies that creation will not do man’s bidding gladly or easily and that man must now bring creation into submission by main strength.
2. Frederick W. Grant, “Chapter III: Nature in Scripture” in Spiritual Law in the Natural World (New York: Loizeaux Brothers 1891) 40-43.
Scripture being witness, however, nature does teach. “The invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being known by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.” (Rom 1:20.) “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” (Ps 19:1.) The work must needs declare the Artificer and the Worker is, we are assured, He who, because He is the Revealer, is called the “Word of God.” (John 1:1-3.) Creation must be, then, part of this revelation.
The parables and types of Scripture take up, therefore, and use Scripture to this end. They are not merely an adaptation of what has strictly another meaning. Rather, they develop what is there. It is in this way that they become so significant for the interpretation of nature. Analogies of this kind we argue from constantly without apology, and without suspicion of deception. They are the marks of the One Mind which everywhere delights to show itself to us, and thus would make all things intelligent to creature intelligence. The proof is that it really does this: as light, it illumines.
Yet nature remains unfallen from its place as the eldest of revelations. There is nothing fallen but man, and even his fall has only in a sense confirmed its witness to us as from Him to whom man’s ruin is no surprise, and redemption no after-thought. Assuredly, such a world of conflict and destruction, beast preying upon beast, down to the minutest being that comes under the microscope, would be to an unfallen being an inharmonious and incongruous mystery. How striking, then, that we find the yet unfallen parents of our race shut off from it in a specially prepared and sheltered garden of delight, which might be for them a better witness of Creating Love, — a memory of blessing to them when fallen. Then, when at last sent forth into the earth, with the new strife that had been awakened in their souls, they could find from the conflicting elements around, with which they were in so manifest sympathy, the assurance of omniscient foresight undeceived and undethroned.
Has science done aught but deepen this thought, when it bids us note that the very ground they trod upon was already the wreck of former worlds? yet that mountain-upheaval, and glacier-plow, and the long list of catastrophic forces had been used of Him whom Scripture reveals as the God of resurrection, to prepare and fertilize and beautify their yet wondrous dwelling-place?
And this Scripture also confirms, even though we may have been a long time coming to read it right, and for this too are indebted, as they say, to science. Science did not, however, put it in the book of Genesis, that while God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth, before the first day’s work the earth was waste and empty, and darkness on the face of the deep. Then the Spirit of God and His Word bring in the light, and the work of renewal begins.
Here the analogy, then, is perfect. The history of the earth is the prophecy of the man who is to be put upon it; and this prophecy proceeds step by step with the history of the six days, creation being the type of new creation, until the Man comes for whom all is destined, the first man here the type of the Second, Christ, who is the Heir of all. This can be shown even minutely, though here is neither time nor place; and the spiritual significance is the seal of the natural, the perfect assurance of whose inspiration has guided Moses.
3. The point here is that the curse did not bring about a systemic change in the character of the natural world. See comments by F. W. Grant in a nearby footnote.