July 5, 2013

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe




Topic #B: The Primeval State of Man and His Fall. Gen. 2.8-3.4

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 hears 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 afterwards 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 has 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. 



God did more than simply exert His authority by stipulating to him what he should do; He confirmed His desire to continue Adam’s present happiness by granting him this freedom, “Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat.” Thus He showed partiality by giving him the delicious fruits of paradise, as a reward for his care and labor in dressing and keeping it—“Who ever serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating its produce? Or who shepherds a flock without using some of the milk from the flock?...or is he not really speaking for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope, and the thresher in hope of receiving a share” (1 Co. 9:7, 10; NABWRNT).  Everyone has the right to expect remuneration for his labors, and that is supported by natural law. Whoever heard of a soldier who went to war by paying his own way? The same is true for the owner of a vineyard, or a flock of sheep. They have the right to expect to be supported by the vocation to which they devote themselves. It is only natural and right, but more than that, it is scriptural that one should expect profit from his labors.


God has given Adam an assurance of immortal life, upon his obedience, because the tree of life was put in the midst of the garden (v. 9); it was the heart and soul of it, and no doubt God had it in mind when He made this concession; and therefore, when Adam revolted, God cancelled this grant. But still, no tree of the garden was prohibited to him, except the tree of life—“Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Gen 3:22; NKJV). If Adam had eaten the fruit from this tree he might have lived for ever, that is, never died, or ever lost his happiness. The rule is still in force: “Continue holy as thou art, in conformity to thy Creator’s will, and thou shalt continue happy as thou art in the enjoyment of thy Creator’s favor, either in this paradise or in a better.” Accordingly, Adam was sure of paradise for himself and his heirs forever, upon the condition of maintaining perfect personal obedience. It was not God’s original intention for man to die, but man is now put on probation. You see, man has a free will, and privilege always creates responsibility. This is a true statement that goes without saying. This man who is given a free will must be given a test to determine whether he will obey God or not.


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. 

God warned Adam, “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Just as the emphasis upon eating of “every tree” was indicated positively by the word “freely” (v. 16), so is the negative expressed by the strongest form of prohibition in the Hebrew language, “shalt,” as in the Ten Commandments. The results of eating are also expressed by a construction that relates the certainty of death (“in the day that thou eatest thou shalt certainly die”). The death depicted is not a physical death, but spiritual death which is a separation from God and this occurred on the day they ate the fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”—“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5; KJV). This is the first positive principle God gave to man; and it was given as a test of obedience, and a proof of his being in a dependent, probationary state. It was necessary that while God set him up as lord of this lower world, he know that he was only God's vice-regent, and must be accountable to Him for how he uses his mental and physical powers, and for the use he made of the different creatures put under his care. Any man from whose mind the strong impression of this dependence and responsibility is erased, loses sight of his origin and purpose, and is capable of all kinds of wickedness. Since God is sovereign, he has a right to give to his creatures whatever commands he thinks proper. An intelligent creature, which does not have a law to regulate his conduct, is an absurdity; this would destroy his dependency and accountableness. Man must always feel that God is his sovereign, and act under his authority, which he cannot do unless he has rules to govern his conduct. God gave Adam this rule, but it doesn’t matter what the rule is, as long as obedience to it is not beyond the powers of the creature that is to obey it. God says: There is a certain fruit-bearing tree; thou shalt not eat of its fruit; but you can eat all the other fruits, and they are all that you need, you may eat all you want of them. Didn’t He have an absolute right to say it? And wasn’t man bound to obey?


This was to be a test of Adam’s obedience, and failure meant the forfeiture of all his happiness: "But of the other tree which stood very near the tree of life (since they are both said to be in the midst of the garden), and which was called the “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” you cannot eat. It is as if he had said, "Adam, you are now placed on probation, you are in paradise, but be on your best behavior and be obedient; otherwise you will be as miserable as you are now happy.” Observe:

1. Adam is threatened with death if he is disobedient to God’s command: “Thou shalt certainly die” indicates certain and dreadful consequence, just as, “thou mayest freely eat” denotes a free and full endowment. Observe—

a. Even Adam, in his state of innocence, was frightened by this threat; fear is one of the sensations that will grip the soul and hold it. If he then needed this guard against sin, how much more do we need it now? 

b. The penalty threatened is death: “Thou shalt certainly die”, that is, "Thou shalt be barred from the tree of life, and all the good and all the happiness that is associated with it; and thou shalt become vulnerable to death, and all the misery that precedes it. 

c. This was threatened as the immediate consequence of sin: “In the day thou eatest, thou shalt die,” that is, "Thou shalt become mortal and capable of dying; the gift of immortality shall be cancelled, and there will be nothing to defend you from the perpetual threat of death. Thou shalt hate death, like a criminal that is condemned to die (It was only because Adam was to be the root of mankind, that He received a reprieve). Hereafter, yours shall be a dying life: and this is an established rule, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.”

2. Adam is tested with a well-defined law, not to eat of the fruit “of the tree of knowledge.” Now it was appropriate to test his obedience by such a command:

a.  Because the rationale for it comes purely from the will of the Law-maker. Adam had in his nature a dislike for everything which was evil, and therefore he is tested by something which was evil only because it was forbidden; and, since it was such a small thing, it was well-suited to prove his obedience—

b. Because the restraint of self-control must defeat the desires of the flesh and of the mind, which, in the corrupt nature of man, are the two great fountains of sin. This prohibition must resist both his appetite for sensual pleasure and his curiosity for bizarre and intriguing knowledge, so that his body might be ruled by his soul and his soul by his God.


This very happy man was in a state of innocence, and he had all that heart could wish for, to keep him so. How good was God to him! How many favors did he did he lay on him! How easy was the rule he gave him! How kind was the covenant he made with him! Yet man, acting like he did not know what was good for him, soon became like the beasts that only want to satisfy their physical needs.


“For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” No reason is given for the prohibition, but death was to be the punishment for disobedience. A positive command like this was not only the simplest and easiest, but the only trial which would expose their faithfulness. Remember that man is a trinity, and he would have to die in a threefold way. Adam did not die physically until over nine hundred years after this, but God said, “In the day you eat, you shall die.” Death means separation, and Adam was separated from God spiritually the very day he ate, you may be sure of that.


Some expositors suggest that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was poison. On the contrary, I think it was the best fruit in the garden.