GENESIS 2:15-17  


Genesis 2:15-17

After God made the beautiful garden, fully stocked with its full grown vegetation, He placed Adam in it and gave him three mandates.

The first two were mandates of responsibility and the third one was the mandate of access to garden privileges.

The first area of responsibility is indicated by the word "cultivate" in the NASB. The Hebrew word is Abhad and means to serve. It means then, to do whatever is necessary to keep the garden esthetically attractive.

The details of this service is not provided, but we do know, that before Adam was created, there was no one to do it (Gen. 2:5). We also know that the nature of the service did not involve the kind of activity that Adam had to do after the fall, when he was kicked out of the garden (Gen. 3:23). There, he must serve the ground from which he was taken, cursed with the "thorns and thistles" of agricultural disharmony (Gen. 3:17-19).

At Gen. 2:5, the service is to the ground and there was no man to do it. Thus, it was reversed when Adam is placed in the garden. It is therefore, reasonable to conclude that "to serve it" (the garden) at V. 2:15, constituted serving the ground, and accordingly gives him some kind of care-taking responsibility over the growth cycle of the vegetation.

To explain "serve" at V. 2:14, by the following infinitive, "to guard," is not a reasonable option, since that ignores what appears to be a clear connection between v. 5 and v. 15. For on the one hand, (v. 5) we see "no man to serve," and on the other hand (v. 15) we see that God has made the man, placed him in the garden and told him "to serve it."

In this context, then, it means to manage the moral structure within the garden which involves authority over the animal kingdom as reflected at Gen. 2:19-20. Thus, Adam is given "moral" authority over the earth.

The second responsibility mandate is "to guard" the garden.

The Hebrew word is shAmar and means to guard or protect. It is often used for "keeping" God's truths, but even then it carries the idea of preserving them, by consistent obedience, from being forgotten.

Here we have the second indication that there is something wrong in the universe. The first indication was the judgment activity of Gen. 1:2.

For details of this, see Gen. 1:1-2

Here we are impressed with the fact that the garden needs to be protected. Operating on the premise that the reader has studied the topics related to Satan, we can here recognize the danger that Satanic viewpoint or his presence, might infiltrate the garden environment.

Satanic viewpoint is creature arrogance and independence from God which operates on the premise that the creature knows best what it needs and therefore does not need God or His laws.

Thus, Adam is mandated to guard the garden. It is his responsibility to learn and cultivate God's wisdom in his soul in order to first, protect himself from darkness influence, and secondly, to be equipped to handle the invasion of Satan should he happen to show up. Basically, then, it means to preserve the presence and influence of light standards in the garden. That is, Adam is given "spiritual" authority over the earth.

I am writing with the premise that the reader is at least aware of the existence and nature of Satan since it was studied in connection with Genesis 1:1-2

God has taught Adam about the physical appearance of Satan as well as the nature of darkness viewpoint that Satan now promotes as a creature, fallen from relationship with God.

It is also probable, since God created the woman and brought her to him, that Adam had the responsibility to teach and guide the woman into the truths he had been taught. This is not to suggest that God did not come walking in the garden to visit with both Adam and Ishah, but simply that Adam had teaching authority over Ishah by virtue of being the first formed.

Thus, Adam was morally and spiritually the one in authority.
It can be designated as his "rulership" responsibility.

Next, Genesis 2:16 records for us the mandate of access to garden privileges.

AND YAHWEH COMMANDED THE MAN, SAYING: this is information given first to Adam and then either repeated directly to Ishah or passed on as Adam taught her.

FROM ANY TREE OF THE GARDEN: The Hebrew word, kol, communicates "all" or "every," and thus, certainly carries the idea of "any tree."

YOU MAY EAT FREELY: This is an intensive construction that doubles the verb for eat, which is Akal. The construction is a qal infinitive absolute (eating) followed by a qal imperfect, which results in the literal translation, "eating, you shall eat."

It carries the force of assured permission and represents the privilege of accessing all the food benefits of the garden.
It can be rendered either as "may freely eat" or "may certainly eat."

In either case it represents the existence and function of freewill on the part of Adam.

Freewill basically means freedom to think anything you want to think, and the freedom to "choose" a course of action for your life at any point of time in your life. Free will is NOT freedom to DO anything that you want to do, but freedom to "want" to do it.

This verse then, along with verse 17, establishes the institution of personal freedom for the human race since the principles of freewill are perpetuated beyond the fall and apply to every person.
Verse 17 provides the negative mandate as a test for freewill.

If free will truly exists, then there must be the possibility for a creature of God to do that which God does not want him to do.

And IF freewill is the central issue for enjoying a life with God and the key to resolving the angelic conflict, then it is necessary to provide for any volitional creature, a concrete and obvious choice or test.

The potential for disobedience and the "test" are established by the negative mandate as well as the reality of the disobedience that follows not long afterwards.


Good: Does NOT refer to either the knowledge or experience of God's goodness, but that attempt at goodness by a creature who has rejected God's viewpoint and policy.

When a volitional creature of God rebels against Him, there results a soul distortion that transforms that person into a spiritual abnormality that now seeks only the promotion of self and that which benefits self.

In his distorted thinking, he determines for himself what constitutes good, but it is always unacceptable to God.

The existence of "creature" good as an expression of value independent from God's value system (standards) was already a reality in the universe through Satan's sin. He wanted to "exist" on his own terms and not operate on the standards of the Creator.

The temptation to Adam was -- Is he going to operate on God's standards and follow His rules, or is he going to reject those standards and make his own rules (like Satan did)? That is creature "good." That is, what the creature THINKS is good.

The tree represents the existence of the two value systems (The Creator's and the creature's).
It is called this because by disobeying God and eating from the tree, they become rebels against God - rejecting His "good" and creating their own "good" which is based on self-centeredness and creature pleasures. Ie, Who cares what God's standards are - I want to satisfy my physical senses (the philosophy of sensuality).

Evil: refers to the various degrees of "harm" against self and others that are now produced by that spiritual rebel. The Hebrew word for evil is "ra," and means basically, that which is harmful or not beneficial.

It does NOT refer to "sin" (which means to miss the mark of God's standards) or even transgression (which means to violate a specific prohibition). Evil (ra) may at times, include sin and transgression, but it really refers to that which is inherently or experientially harmful to others.

Evil is the "result" of the "good" that the creature (angels and man) tries to do on his own - independently from God's Creator-laws which are designed to provide maximum peace and joy for the creature.


Once the volitional creature commits an act of disobedience to his Creator, he at that moment of time experiences that which is truly evil; what is truly harmful to his very being, and becomes a conduit for expressing evil (what is harmful) to others.


The immediate "harm" experienced by Adam and Ishah if they disobey God will be loss of spiritual relationship with God. They will die "spiritually" and begin to die "physically."

This phrase is another intensive construction exactly like we saw at verse 16 (eating you shall eat).

Here, the verb is muth in a qal infinitive followed by a qal imperfect (dying you shall die). The intent is to make a statement of absolute certainty, which is quite common in the Hebrew language, and is properly rendered, "you shall surely die."

It is important to realize that this does not refer to physical death but to spiritual death. This is partly determined by recognizing that when the "death" actually does occur as a result of their disobedience recorded at Gen. 3:6, "in that very day" they do NOT die physically but in fact, fall out of spiritual relationship with God; they die "spiritually."

To render this "dying (spiritually) you shall die (physically) and want to see in the construction both deaths, is not necessary, appropriate nor consistent with the use of this intensive grammatical construction as it is used everywhere else.

See HEBREW Grammatical Study: Gen. 2:17

It is certainly true that spiritual death results immediately when Adam and Ishah sin, but it is quite obvious that they do not die physically at that time. I suggest that the physical death which comes upon the entire human race results from the "physical" curse placed on the creation, which Paul describes as "made subject to emptiness," at Romans 8:20.

More on this at Gen. 3:14-19.

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İRon Wallace, Anyone is free to reproduce this material and distribute it,
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