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The words are also translated 'tend/cultivate/serve/dress' and 'guard/take care/watch over/preserve'

וַיִּקַּ֛ח יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיַּנִּחֵ֣הוּ בְגַן־עֵ֔דֶן לְעָבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ׃
2:15 And took יְהוָ֥ה God - the man and put him in the garden Eden to tend and to keep it

Later on it is stated that mankind did not live forever because God did not allow them to eat of the tree of life.

Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever " 3:22

What then, does 'work' and 'keep' means? Does this mean that plants wore off, things did rot, etc, before the fall?

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    It seems like even before the fall the garden needed some basic maintenance like watering it and guarding it against rodents and other invasive species, after the fall it became even harder to grow crops as the Lord cursed them: "by the sweat of the brow shall you eat bread."
    – Bach
    Mar 18 at 13:57
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    I would say "guard" or "watch" is a better translation than "keep".
    – Bach
    Mar 18 at 13:58
  • @Bach I don't know why, but I had this idea that pre-fall everything was paradisical and illydic, that God sustained everything and animals were friends and there were no decomposition, nothing decayed, etc.
    – snoopy
    Mar 18 at 15:02
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    Well that's what most people think of paradise, but the bible keeps on dropping hints that the paradise wasn't so paradisiacal. When you an I envision paradise, we both envision it as a place where we can relax with our feet up and angels serving us food and all our needs, but the bible's paradise is kind of disappointing. In fact the bible makes it clear the paradise wasn't supposed to serve mankind, but God. God put them in so they can guard His garden and take care of it. It's quite clear that it wasn't a luxury for man but a duty for him.
    – Bach
    Mar 18 at 17:23
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ʿāḇaḏ may well be translated as ‘tend/cultivate/serve/dress’, but it does not mean this. It means to ‘serve’, and the translations are trying to interpret this. Unfortunately not with the correct accuracy.

And this word is the same as used in verses 5 and 15, the two about ‘man’ and the ‘garden’.

Pre-fall, the ground (plants) and the beasts/creature were to ‘serve’ Adam. They ‘worked’, they were there for man, to sustain him, and to fill the earth.

God planted the garden. Who? Man? Then God put man into the garden to ‘keep’ it. ‘Keep’ - ‘šāmar’, to watch over, to have charge over.

Man tendered - watched over- the garden, but this involved zero toil or sweat. Genesis 2:5 should really be translated ‘there was no man for the earth to serve’!

But post fall, through what Adam did, the ground was now cursed. Now the ground needed toil and sweat, produced ‘thorns’, required ‘work’. Now man was ‘serving’ [working] the earth! Being dominated by its fallen (cursed) state. The plants were now ‘out of man’s dominion’. Plants and degeneration would lead to ‘weeds’ competing with the plants. The ‘tares’ have now been ‘planted’.

Essentially the fall (amongst other things.) went from God being the source for all of man’s needs, to man now having to be his own source - he was now not in the garden, he’d have to, as it were, ‘plant’ his own.

As for whether plants and animals ‘died’ pre-fall, this would be speculative. I personally think they did - because of the ‘cycle’ of replenishment, the plants/animals would be returning nutrients. And, it was the tree of Life that sustained man, and the animals had no ‘tree’ to attain this from. But, speculation, speculation that really doesn’t change things, doesn’t make a difference to what the Bible says elsewhere.... i.e. isn’t important to the overall ‘picture’.

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  • but this involved zero toil or sweat, makes sense
    – snoopy
    Mar 18 at 19:07
  • @Dave, Are you saying that ground is the subject/actor and man is the object for the verb to serve?
    – Tony Chan
    Mar 19 at 12:35
  • "Man tendered - watched over- the garden, but this involved zero toil or sweat." I'm having a hard time with this. How do you watch a garden without any involvement of toil or sweat? You also write: "Pre-fall, the ground (plants) and the beasts/creature were to ‘serve’ Adam. They ‘worked’, they were there for man, to sustain him, and to fill the earth." Where did you get this from? In my bible it says that man needed to work for the garden, not vice versa.
    – Bach
    Mar 19 at 14:00
  • @Bach ‪3 ‬" Where did you get this from?” - The Bible! - Gen 1:26. - and, as well, consider this .... The Garden was created for man. To ‘supply his needs’. Who planted it? Who ‘did the work’? Man was put into a ‘finished work. The ‘sweat and toil’ only arose, was only mentioned after the fall! The reason this view is not acceptable to many is their doctrine (traditional interpretations) which ‘says’ man’s ‘role’ was to work - BUT man was created at the end of day 6, and day 7 was the sabbath!!!
    – Dave
    Mar 19 at 17:34
  • @Tony Chan No. Not from/in v15 - The support from the ‘Hebrew’ comes from elsewhere, and, using more accurate meanings from the words many Bibles traditionally translate into ‘till, cultivate’ etc. And, comparison of Gen 2:15 with Gen 3:18. Genesis 3:18 says ‘the earth will bring forward to you’. ‘It’ (earth-object) will bring to you (subject). The earth was created for man' to serve man. It’s all about man! In the ‘overall view’ - So here is how we ‘see’ that Man is the object.
    – Dave
    Mar 19 at 17:53
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English Standard Version Genesis 2:

5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work [H5647] the ground

Brown-Driver-Briggs

1 labour, work, do work

It requires Adam's labour to grow plants in a field. He will till the ground and sow seeds.

15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work [H5647] it and keep [H8104] it.

Brown-Driver-Briggs

  1. a. keep, have charge of, garden ...
    b. keep, guard, ... keep watch

Even before the fall, Adam needs to keep the field in order with the proper supply of water and pruning the vines.

Does this mean that plants wore off, things did rot, etc, before the fall?

If Adam does not take care of them, I think so. After the fall, the physical conditions are a lot worse.

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