Lately I have been reading the Genesis accounts and looking in my Hebrew commentaries for clarification on some of the things I heard a professor of mine say about the garden, Adam’s role in protecting it, and the consequences of his actions for all of us. What I have found is that there are disputes amongst scholars on what some of the specific words mean. With that as a background what I propose below does need some further study, particularly in regards to the various categories of animals discussed in the creation narratives. Also, although I was not able to find any one commentator who agreed with all of what I propose, there are several commentators who agree with much of it. OK, enough of my disclaimer…
Genesis One is a creation story where all instances of “God” are spelled ‘Elohim’ in the Hebrew. Genesis Two is another creation story, some say it is an expansion of day six recorded in Genesis one, but all instances of “God” are spelled out ‘Yahweh Elohim’ or LORD God. This points to possibly a different author of Genesis two versus Genesis one. I mention this for two reasons:
- My remarks start in Genesis two, but I will refer back to Genesis one.
- Only the serpent and Eve call God simply ‘Elohim’ in Genesis Three, all other instances of his name is Yahweh Elohim or LORD God.
In Genesis two we see God creating man out of dust, breathing life into him and then putting him into the garden (2:8). Next comes a description of Eden and then in verse 2:15 we come back to God putting man in the garden. It is in 2:15 we find out that man is supposed to work. Work is NOT a curse; it was always part of the plan. Working hard amongst thorns and thistles apparently is part of the curse, but not work itself. Verse 2:15 tells us that God put man into the garden to “till and keep it”.
As an aside, ‘adam’ in Hebrew is the generic word for ‘man’. The author of Genesis two uses this same word, in a play on words, and changes it into the proper name of the man, i.e., Adam.
Here is where things get interesting. First God told Adam to ‘till’ the ground. Keep this in mind; it is EXACTLY what Cain did for a living so we become baffled as to why Cain’s offering was refused. This word rendered as ‘till’ is just what we expect it to mean; it means to turn over the ground, prepare it for planting, and then actually do the planting and bring up crops. Since tilling is an idea that comes from God it must be a good thing.
Second we see that Adam is supposed to ‘keep’ the garden. This word rendered as keep is the Hebrew word ‘shamar’. Shamar is a verb and it means ‘to keep’ or ‘to guard.’ Many commentators choose to simply leave it at this and move on. In fact one commentator said “The question from what the garden had to be protected is one that should not be pressed.” I don’t quite agree and my proposition is that Adam was supposed to guard the garden from the “wild animals” that didn’t belong there. Now, bear with me as I work this out.
You will see in Genesis 1:24, the sixth day, God created “cattle (behema), creeping things (remesh), and wild animals (chayee).” In Genesis 2:19 God forms every “animal (chayyat) of the field and bird (op) of the air” and brought them to Adam as helpers. The difference I want to point out is wild animals versus animals of the field or cattle. The Hebrew word used for cattle (behema) and animals of any kind (chayee) are different words. In Hebrew, when chayee is used alone, it mainly denotes a wild beast, one with fangs and claws like a lion or panther. When the Hebrew text was translated into Greek in the fourth century BC, the book we know as the Septuagint (70) or LXX was made. In the LXX the term chayee when used alone is always translated with the Greek term ‘therion’ which means wild, and more than wild, maybe uncontrollable. In Genesis, when chayee is used to refer to beasts of burden, or domesticated animals, upon translation into Greek it is always associated with the adjective ‘agrou’ which means an arable field or crop-producing field (where we get agriculture from). Thus, the Hebrew chayee or Greek therion when used alone refer to wild, untamed beasts and when used of farm-type animals it comes with an adjective stating so. From the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament we have:
Linked with man and yet distinct from him, the animal world with its domination of instincts seems to have in fallen creation the significance of a perversion of that whereto man is called as the image of God. This fact is evident throughout the animal kingdom, but is particularly clear in wild animals. Hence individual animals, and especially the therion, can serve as a figure of the demonic, which perverts the divine similitude of man into that which is sub-human.
The Genesis 2 account has God creating animals of the field and bringing them to Adam. Genesis 1 talks about God creating cattle (a generic term for beasts of burden) being different than wild animals. Genesis 3 starts out saying that the serpent was the craftiest of all the “wild animals”. So we should ask ourselves, how did the crafty wild animal known as a serpent get into the garden and begin hanging out with Eve? My answer is that Adam did not do his job and shamar or guard the garden. It does not appear that God brought the wild animals, the dangerous beasts, to Adam for naming, but only the ‘therion agrou’ or ‘animals of the field’ as possible helpmates.
OK, so the serpent is there, it is crafty, and deceives Eve with its double-talk and half-truth statements. Eve and Adam both eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and realize they are naked. As another aside, there is awesome poetry here that does not come out in the English but is beautiful in the Hebrew.
Genesis 2 ends with “they were naked and not ashamed”. Let’s use the word nude instead of naked. The Hebrew for nude is ‘arum-mim’. Now we immediately move to Genesis 3:1 and we see the serpent is crafty or shrewd. The Hebrew word for shrewd is ‘arum’. So the play on words is that:
- Man is not shrewd, lives his life nude and is not afraid
- Man becomes shrewd, realizes he is nude, and becomes afraid
Back to our story, God finds that the man has become like him in this knowledge, clothes Adam and Eve, and kicks them out of the garden. Immediately God puts Cherubim (this is plural so there are more than one, at least two) at the entrance to the garden for what reason? To guard it! The Hebrew word “shamar” comes screaming back at us. God shows compassion and mercy on Adam and Eve by clothing them, but he kicks them out of his home and replaces Adam with angelic beings to do the job Adam was created to do in the first place – guard the garden. To me, this is the strongest evidence and strongest link to Adam’s original job, his failure to do his job, and God’s need to place angels in his place. The way I look at this, it was Adam who transgressed first and then through Adam’s transgression, Eve was deceived (1 Timothy 2:13-15).
Moving on to Chapter Four we find the story of Cain and Abel. In verse 4:2 we see that Abel was “a keeper of sheep and Cain was a tiller of the ground.” The word play continues! “A keeper of sheep” literally means “a shepherd of sheep”. In other words Abel took on the job of guarding sheep. Cain, on the other hand, took on the job of tilling the ground. Now, back in 2:15, we see God telling Adam to do both these jobs – Adam was supposed to till and ‘keep’ the garden. The Hebrew word for keeper/shepherd is not the same as shamar discussed earlier; it is indeed a different word. They do, however, have the same meaning. In order to shepherd sheep one must care for them, keep them safe, guard them. This is the profession that Abel chose. Cain, on the other hand, chose to till the ground, another profession ordained by God and therefore it must be good.
Excursus into the New Testament: Luke 10 has the story of Martha and Mary. In this story Martha is distracted by many things to be done and Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet. When Martha complains to Jesus about Mary, Jesus says, “Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” OK, notice what is NOT said here. Jesus never condemns Martha for working in the kitchen and being a gracious host. Jesus never tells Martha to stop what she is doing. Jesus does compare the “work” of the two and makes a harsh statement to Martha that Mary has chosen better than she has. I have to believe Martha did not feel too good after that.
After Cain and Abel bring their offerings to the Lord, the Lord accepts Abel’s and rejects Cain’s offering. Why? Commentators say many things, but let’s stay on the example of Martha and Mary. God told Cain and Abel’s dad, Adam, to till and guard the garden. Adam, if I am right, was kicked out in part because he did not guard the garden. Both Cain and Abel were free to choose their professions, I do not believe one was compelled to be a farmer and the other compelled to be a shepherd. Yet God, using his divine prerogative, chose Abel’s offerings and not Cain’s. We don’t know why, but could it be that Abel chose the better way? Abel chose to be a shepherd, the same language used for Jesus. Cain chose to be a farmer. When God did not accept Cain’s offering, God did not condemn Cain, but instead warned him about sin (pride). Cain reacted violently and killed his brother. Now here is the final piece of evidence. When God finds out what Cain did he and Cain have this interaction:
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
You see that word “keeper” again? It is the Hebrew ‘shamar’. Cain retorts to the Lord, “What, am I the one to guard my brother?”
YES, YES and YES!
That is the point. We are all supposed to guard or keep each other. This is completely in line with Paul’s teaching of one body, one baptism, one church, One Lord! As we move on in the OT, we see in Numbers 1:53 that the Levites were to guard the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the first mobile Temple. The Temple is anywhere God dwells. So the Garden was the first true Temple of the Lord. Adam was to guard it. Abel chose the better path. Now the Temple is in our bodies. What will we do?
 John Skinner 1851-1925, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, International Critical Commentary (New York: Scribner, 1910), 66.
 Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 135.