The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
We have spent the last several days focusing on the first of the tasks that God gave to the man in the garden of Eden. This task, as you recall, is tilling, or, if we render the Hebrew more literally, serving. As tillers in our work, we labor with considerable effort so that the world might produce the fruit God intended.
The second of the tasks specified in Genesis 2:15 is “keeping.” The Hebrew verb translated in the NRSV as “to keep” is shamar. In the Bible, this verb has various meanings, including: “to keep, guard, preserve, observe.” It will be used in the next chapter of Genesis to describe the action of the cherubim who “guard” the way to the tree of life, keeping human beings out of Eden (Gen 3:24). The sense of shamar in 2:15 is captured well by the CEB rendering, where God places the man in Eden “to take care of it.”
Further on in Genesis we discover another nuance of shamar. In 17:9 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep [shamar] my covenant.” Throughout Scripture, this verb is frequently used for remembering and obeying God’s commandments (for example, Exod 20:6). Thus, the use of shamar in Genesis 2:15 suggests that our effort to guard and care for creation is not unlike our effort to live out our covenant relationship with God.
As in the case of tilling, most of us are not caring for an actual garden in our daily work. Yet, if we pay attention to the metaphorical power of this passage, we might see our work in a new light. For example, as the executive director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership, I have lots of “tilling” responsibilities. I am expected to help the Center produce resources and encourage relationships so as to serve leaders. But I also have “keeping” duties as well. With my colleagues at the Center, I seek to preserve the teaching, example, and witness of Max De Pree.
As you think about the work God has entrusted to you, let me encourage you to consider the following questions about “keeping.”
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
In what ways does your work involve “keeping,” that is, guarding, preserving, or caring for? Do you think of your “keeping” tasks as something entrusted to you by God? How might Genesis 2:15 inform your work today?
Gracious God, again we thank you for entrusting your world to us. Thank you for placing us in the world so that we might “till” and “keep” it. Show us how our work can be a faithful exercise of our “keeping” responsibility. May we care well for that which you have given to us. Amen.