Adam, Guard or Keeper?
Genesis 2:15 has recently stirred the imaginations of a whole group of OT scholars. The reason for this is that they think they observe intimations that all was not well with the good world which Yahweh Elohim had made. For one thing, as we have already said, the garden of Eden was an enclosed garden (gan). Why was it enclosed? Well, maybe because it was the initial safe point of departure for the man within the Creation Project? In this view the garden was started by God and was to be a laboratory model for Adam’s own gardening enterprises after his progeny had themselves begun to explore and subdue the rest of the good earth.
But there is another supposed “clue” in the passage that all was not well outside of the enclosure. The Hebrew words usually rendered “to cultivate” (abad) and “to keep” (shamar), may also be translated as “serve” and “guard”. If, as some surmise, evil lurked outside the enclosure, then the picture before us is of a park which God has separated off from the rest of the early earth, perhaps by a wall or fence; hence a sanctuary. Adam’s role in this scenario would not be just pastoral and creative; it would also be; in fact, it would mainly be, to act as a sentry, stopping the repeated attempts of Evil from despoiling the island of beauty which the garden must have been.
A corollary to this would be to interpret Adam and his family pushing out the edges of the garden in stages as they brought the untamed outland into order for God. Thus, Adam would be seen as an Empire-builder for the Lord. This is attractive to some people because they construe this account typologically as the first of several failed attempts by representative “Adam’s” to spread God’s kingdom throughout the world. The final successful King is Jesus, the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45). Depending on our choice of eschatology, either Jesus either subdues the whole world spiritually from heaven before casting it away and replacing it at His second coming (amillennialism), or else brings it to heel through the efforts of the Church before coming back (postmillennialism). Still another view which would be amenable to this “Man as Guard” motif is historic or covenant premillennialism, although this would have Christ coming back to actually set up His kingdom reign on earth and finally driving evil out of the world like Adam (and many after him) ought to have done, though in double-quick time.
Let me provide a couple of examples of this kind of thinking. The first is from G. K. Beale:
Adam was to be God’s obedient servant in maintaining both the physical and the spiritual welfare of the garden abode, which included dutifully keeping evil influences from invading the arboreal sanctuary…Thus, he was to rule over and subdue the serpent, which was reflective of God’s own activity in Gen. 1 of subduing the chaotic darkness of creation and ruling over it.
Then there is this from William Dumbrell:
The Garden of Eden is thus a place separated from the outside world, which presumably is very much like our own world…the garden is a special place, separated from a world that needs to be brought under the dominion of the divine rule, for which Eden is a model… At the end of the canon, however, the new creation is presented in varied symbolism, but lastly and most significantly in Revelation 22:1-5 as a new and universalized Eden.
Beale links the Genesis account directly to ANE creation myths and interprets the words “enclosed”, and “keep/guard” negatively, along with seeing only the Garden in Eden as truly reflecting the name God assigned to it. Adam is somehow to subordinate the serpent, (whom we know is the immensely powerful being Satan), thus recapitulating what God Himself is said to have done in overcoming and subordinating the anarchic chaos. Dumbrell adds to the picture by describing the world beyond the enclosure as anything but “very good.” It is not under God’s rule, and man’s task is to bring it not only under his dominion, but under God’s dominion also. He also betrays further theologized ideals about the last book of the Bible by calling the New Jerusalem a symbolic “universalized Eden.” (more…)