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And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. (Genesis 2:15 KJV)
וַיִּקַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָֽאָדָם וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן־עֵדֶן לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ׃

The usual emphasis of Genesis 2:15 is read both actions as referring to the garden: "dress it (the garden) and "keep it" (the garden). However, the first action is לְעָבְדָ֖הּ עָבַד-`abad which is used to describe Levitical work and is sometimes translated as worshippers.

Is it possible to read the first instruction as "worship?"

That is, the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to worship (the LORD God) and to keep (the garden). The literal text is לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ so it would mean "to worship and keep it." Since the second term is sometimes rendered as guard the man could be charged with guarding the garden from becoming a place of false worship.

Is this too creative? Or is it possible to also read Genesis 2:15 as instruction to engage in worship and to guard the garden from becoming a place of, or being used for improper worship?

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  • 1
    This is an important question that apparently has not been asked yet on this site. The MT form of לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ is feminine, "to work [her] and to keep [her]", but גַן־עֵדֶן is masculine. Kasuto claims that the accented הּ is a mistake, which would make the form infinitive, "to work and to keep", and then the question is "to do what work, and to keep what", which opens the door for the OP's interpretation, which in fact is how the Midrash Rabah interprets. See mikranet.cet.ac.il/mikradidact/pages/printitem.asp?item=20272
    – user17080
    Jul 13, 2017 at 6:36
  • Are you saying that Adam was to worship the garden?
    – user35953
    Aug 22, 2020 at 12:04

4 Answers 4

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Service/Worship

The word עבד (to serve) is only bound up with the concept of worship because it essentially means "faithfully see ones duties with regard to"1 — and to imply one has duties toward a person who has no directly traceable impact on their life is to consider that person intrinsically worthy of such fulfilment of duty: and thus to imply some kind of deity. That's why service only means worship with respect to God, but not when with reference to masters and their servants (a slave/servant עבד serves יעבד their master, but this is not worship).

The word is thus associated with the ardour of hard work, and duty. And what brings this to mind but barren ground in need of ploughing, watering, or seeding — the lifeless earth awaiting life-bringing passion and deliberately spent labour.2 Hard work yielding produce — and not otherwise than through said hard work.

"To work and to keep it"

Therefore, to work it (לעבדה) here cannot refer to serving "him," God, but must refer to the land or earth (ארץ), which is feminine, and should be the implied referent of the feminine "serve and keep."

Genesis 3:19 By the sweat of your brow shall you have to eat — till you return to the ground from which you were taken: for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.

Having something to eat only by the sweat of your brow = "working and keeping" the ground (ארץ) to produce food.

The ground 'intrinsically is owed' a kind of 'service' by its nature — it only produces food when hard work is put in, just as one only receives blessings from God when one gives Him His due.

If one wanted to say Adam was set in Eden to worship and keep God, one would use the masculine postfix ו. Whereas it uses the feminine ה referring to the last implied or explicit feminine noun referent: here, the ground [in Eden].


Footnotes

1. Cf. Numbers 8:26 2. Cf. Deuteronomy 21:4

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The word abad does not mean worship. 'Worshippers' is used 5 times in translation for servants of Baal. The key here is they worked for Baal, they served him. In English, 'worshiped' is an acceptable alternative for casual conversation, but not sufficiently established in the word itself in which to base a technical interpretation.

'Dress' and 'keep' refer to the garden. It is completely implausible that Adam was supposed to worship the garden.

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Was worship an activity expected of Adam?

Genesis 2:15 NASB

15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and tend it.

Genesis 2:15 NET

15 The Lord God took the man and placed[a] him in the orchard in[b] Eden to care for it and to maintain it.[c]

Webster’s dictionary lists as its first definition: “Exacting exclusive devotion"

Adam and Eve were two perfect sinless humans, created in God's image and likeness. God gave them dominion over his creation, and were instructed to cultivate and tend it, they did not worship it. How did they worship their creator? Adam and Eve were able to worship or serve their Creator by faithfully obeying and doing his will, by doing this they showed their love for him-- which involves our wholehearted, complete allegiance.

Jesus likewise was also a perfect human being and set a fine example of obedience and submission to his Father, he said:

John 8:28-29 NASB

28 So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that [a]I am, and I do nothing [b]on My own, but I say these things as the Father instructed Me. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me; He [c]has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”

For one thing, Jesus was fully devoted to his Father, and that is the essence of what it means to worship God. Jesus demonstrated a personal attachment to his Father by being obedient to Him, doing His will, even when it involved great personal hardship.

Conclusion:

"Yes", Adam and Eve were expected to worship their Creator and not the creation, they did so for a while and both were pure, happy, no pain, no sorrow, no fear, no aging, and death.

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  • My question was poorly written. I never meant to worship the garden, but to worship (the LORD God) in the garden. Dec 1, 2020 at 20:13
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The Hebrew verb עָבַד refers to work of any kind whether working the ground or working for God or working as a slave for others. See the BDB meaning in the appendix below. Hence, most versions render Gen 2:15 something like:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

In the OT the first time the verb "worship" is used is Gen 18:2 as part of the story of Abraham. This is not to say Adam did not worship God in the Garden - it is just not explicit.

APPENDIX BDB entry for עָבַד (abad)

1 labour, work, do work: absolute Exodus 20:9 = Exodus 34:21 = Deuteronomy 5:13 (4th word); Exodus 5:18 (E) Ecclesiastes 5:11; with accusative of thing, till the ground Genesis 2:5; Genesis 3:23; Genesis 4:2,12 (J), 2 Samuel 9:10; Isaiah 30:24; Jeremiah 27:11; Zechariah 13:5; Proverbs 12:11; Proverbs 28:19 object omitted Deuteronomy 15:19; Ezekiel 48:19; vineyard Deuteronomy 28:39; garden Genesis 2:16 (J); עֹבְרֵי פִשְׁתִּים Isaiah 19:9 workers in flax; עֹבְדֵ(יׅ הָעִיר Ezekiel 48:18,19 labourers of the city; עֲבֹדָתוֺ ׳ע Isaiah 28:21 work his work (only here of God, "" עשׂה מַעֲשֵׂהוּ); עבדה על ׳ע Ezekiel 29:18 serve a military service against.

2 work for another, serve him by labour: absolute Exodus 21:2 (E); with accusative pers Genesis 29:15; Genesis 31:6; Exodus 21:6 (E) Deuteronomy 15:12,18; Malachi 3:17; Jeremiah 34:14, king his people 1 Kings 12:7; subject animals Jeremiah 27:6; Job 39:9; with accusative of person and thing Genesis 30:26 (twice in verse); Genesis 30:29 (J); with לְ person 2 Samuel 16:19; עִם Genesis 29:25,30 (E) Leviticus 25:40 (P); עִמָּדִי Genesis 29:27 (E); לִפְנֵי 2 Samuel 16:19 (twice in verse); with בְּ of price Genesis 29:18,20,25; Genesis 31:41 (E) Hosea 12:13; Ezekiel 29:20; with בְּ personwork by means of another, use him as slave, Exodus 1:14; Leviticus 25:39,46 (P) Jeremiah 22:13; Jeremiah 25:14; Jeremiah 27:7; Jeremiah 30:8; Jeremiah 34:9,10.

3 serve as subjects: usually with accusative, their own chiefs or kings Judges 9:28 (twice in verse); Judges 9:38; 1 Samuel 11:1; 1 Kings 5:1 +; other kings, by tribute Psalm 18:44 = 2 Samuel 22:44; Jeremiah 27:7; Jeremiah 28:14; 2 Kings 25:24 +, other nations 2 Samuel 10:19; Jeremiah 40:9; Zechariah 2:13 +, kings other kings 2 Kings 18:7 +, with לְ, 1 Samuel 4:9 (twice in verse); מַס עֹבֵד Genesis 49:15 (J) Joshua 16:10; 1 Kings 9:21 (see מַס); with בְּ person, work with, i.e. use as subjects, impose tribute upon, Jeremiah 25:14; Jeremiah 27:7; Jeremiah 30:8; Ezekiel 34:27.

4 serve God:

a. with accusative ׳י, Exodus 3:12; Exodus 4:23; Exodus 7:16; Exodus 7:26 (JE), Psalm 22:31; Job 21:15; Malachi 3:14 +; with accusative of person and thing Exodus 10:26 (E); accusative of person omitted, Jeremiah 2:20 (read אֶעֱבוֺד Kt), עבד זבח ומנחה Isaiah 19:21 serve with peace-offering and grain-offering; עבד עֲבֹדָה Exodus 13:5 (of מַצֹּת).

b. other gods, with accusative ׳א Deuteronomy 7:16; Deuteronomy 12:2,30 ; אלהים אחרים Deuteronomy 7:4; Deuteronomy 8:19; Deuteronomy 11:16; Deuteronomy 13:7; Deuteronomy 13:14; Deuteronomy 17:3; Deuteronomy 28:14,36,64; Deuteronomy 29:25; Deuteronomy 30:17; Deuteronomy 31:20; Joshua 23:16; Joshua 24:2,16; Judges 2:10; Judges 10:13; 1 Samuel 8:8; 1 Samuel 26:19; 1 Kings 9:6,9; 2 Kings 17:35; 2Chronicles 7:19,22; Jeremiah 11:10; Jeremiah 13:10; Jeremiah 16:11,13; Jeremiah 22:9; Jeremiah 25:6; Jeremiah 35:15 (all D and Jeremiah); אֱלֹהֵי הַגּוֺיִם Deuteronomy 29:17; זָרִים Jeremiah 5:19; כל צבא השׁמים Deuteronomy 4:19; 2 Kings 21:3; 2Chronicles 33:3; Jeremiah 8:2; הבעל(יםׅ Judges 2:11; Judges 3:7; Judges 10:6; Judges 10:10; 1 Samuel 12:10; 1 Kings 16:31; 1 Kings 22:54; 2 Kings 10:18 (twice in verse); 2 Kings 10:19 (twice in verse); 2 Kings 10:21,22,23 (twice in verse); 2 Kings 17:16; אלהי נֵכָר Joshua 24:20; Jeremiah 5:19; (הַ)גִּלּוּלִים 2 Kings 17:12; 2 Kings 21:21 (twice in verse); Ezekiel 20:39; האשׁרים2Chronicles 24:18; עצבים Psalm 106:36; פסיל(יםׅ2Chronicles 33:22; 2 Kings 17:41; פסל 2Ki 97:7; with לְ, לבעל Judges 2:13; לאלהים אחרים Jeremiah 44:3.

5 serve ׳י with Levilical service (all P; compare RSSem i. 69): with accusative עבד עֲבֹדָה (see עֲבֹדָה) Numbers 3:7,8; Numbers 4:23,30,47; Numbers 7:5; Numbers 8:11,19,22,26; Numbers 16:9; Numbers 18:6,21,23; Joshua 22:27; accusative omitted Numbers 4:24,26,37,41; Numbers 8:15 (but ⅏ ᵐ5 עבדה), Numbers 8:25; Numbers 18:7.

Niph`al Perfect3masculine singular נֶעְבָּ֑ד Ecclesiastes 5:8; 2masculine plural נֶעֱבַדְתֶּם Ezekiel 36:9; Imperfect3masculine singular יֵעָבֵד Deuteronomy 21:4; 3feminine singular תֵּעָבֵד Ezekiel 36:34; —

1 be tilled, of land Deuteronomy 21:4; Ezekiel 36:9,34.

2 Ecclesiastes 5:8 מֶלֶךְ לְשָׂדֶה נֶעְבָּ֑ד dubious: a king for (devoted to) the cultivated field (Hi); a king that maketh himself servant to the field (devoted to agriculture), Desee Commentaries, especially De.

Pual Perfect3masculine singular עֻבַּד Deuteronomy 21:3; Isaiah 14:3; passive of

Qal, with בְּ impersonal Deuteronomy 21:3 of a calf with which it has not been worked; hard service with which it was worked with captives Isaiah 14:3.

Hiph`il Perfect3masculine singular הֶעֱבִיד Ezekiel 29:18; 2masculine singular suffix הֶעֱבַדְתַּ֫נִי Isaiah 43:24, הֶעֱבַדְתִּיךָ Isaiah 43:23, וְהַעֲבַדְתִּיךָ Jeremiah 17:4; Imperfect3masculine singular וַיַּעֲבֵד2Chronicles 34:33; 3 masculine plural יַעֲבִדוּ Exodus 1:13;

Infinitive construct הַעֲבִיד2Chron 2:17; Participle plural מַעֲבִדִים Exodus 6:15; —

1 compel to labour as slaves Exodus 1:13; Exodus 6:5 (P) 2 Chron 2:17, + Genesis 47:21 (reading הֶעֱבִיד לַעֲבָדִים), 2 Samuel 12:31 (reading וְהֶעֱבִיד + בְּ at; on both these see עבר

Hiph`il near the end); cause to serve, of army's service against, with accusative + (על)אל Ezekiel 29:18; cause to labour, weary, with בְּ of means Isaiah 43:23,24 (perhaps play on meanings 2, 3).

2 make to serve as subjects, with 2 accusative Jeremiah 17:4, + Jeremiah 15:14 (read וְהַעֲבַרְתִּיךָ see עבר

Hiph`il near the end).

3 cause to serve God 2 Chronicles 34:33.

Hophal Imperfect2masculine singular suffix תָּֽעָבְדֵם Exodus 20:5 = Deuteronomy 5:9; Exodus 23:24; 1plural suffix נָָֽעָבְדֵם Deuteronomy 13:3 (Köi. 259 Sta§ 549 g Thes; < NesMarg. 12 f. Qal anomalously pointed (compare WAG. ed. 2, i, 62 n. FlKl. Schr. i. 98); Ges§ 60 R. 1 Dr Qal falsely pointed as Hophal); — be led or enticed to serve other gods Exodus 20:5 = Deuteronomy 5:9; Exodus 23:24; Deuteronomy 13:8.

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