So the Lord God banished (mankind) from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. Genesis 3:23
Genesis 2:4-22 describes how, in the Garden of Eden, life sprang up from the ground. Man was made from it, animals were made from it, plants grew up from it. Water sprung up out of it to water the plants. It was the stuff of life, breathed into being by the Creator. The Lord took man and put him in the Garden to “cultivate it and take care of it,” but it was God who made the life spring forth.
Once man was banished, however, he was outside the life-giving Garden and was sentenced to work a cursed ground, one that produced thorns and thistles, one that required “painful toil” and “sweat of the brow.” As if that weren’t bad enough, God told Adam that he would wrestle with this ground until the day he died, at which point he would return to it.
He was fated to spend his life digging in his own grave.
This is not what God had intended. He had intended for the man to “cultivate it and take care of it,” not wrestle with it and die in it.
We still live under the physical curse of weeds and graves. No question there — it’s hard to make things grow. A farmer’s lot is a tough one. By extension, it’s also hard to make a living for those of us who are not farmers. Life is just difficult much of the time. We’re still wrestling, and we still die. But since that is not what God intended, He has provided a remedy. Certainly, in order to produce the food we need to live, we may still have to dig in the dirt from which we come and to which we will return, but there is more to us than the physical, short-term life in which we live at the moment. We are, in the words of John Mayer, “bigger than our bodies.” We are eternal beings. And so far more important, although less immediately obvious when one’s vision is obscured by the weeds and rocks of life, is the spiritual, eternal part of us. Since He created us, God never lost sight of that fact, and it is in that arena that He provided the remedy when Christ died for us.
“For freedom Christ has set us free….” Gal 5:1a
The original plan in the Garden was for mankind to cultivate the land (abad in the original Hebrew), and keep it (shamar). Abad is the same word that is used later for the concept of serving, in the sense of serving a king, serving God or serving as a Levite in the Temple. Mankind was to serve the land. Once sin entered the picture and corrupted the purpose, he became a slave of the land — an entirely different thing. Shamar has a sense of guarding, protecting and preserving. It can also mean to be on one’s guard, to take heed or take care. Unfortunately, Adam did not shamar. He was not taking care, nor was he protecting the Garden. The serpent walked right in and messed with Eve’s mind without Adam even noticing, and then when he did see what was going on, he carelessly went right along with it. The result of this was the grave-digging, the slavery, and the separation from God.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Going back to Galatians 5:1, we can see this concept echoed in the remainder of the verse “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore and do not submit to a yoke of slavery.”
Because Christ has set us free, we can return to that original purpose, to cultivate life, not in the dirt, but springing up in the spiritual and eternal soil of our hearts. We can choose to make ourselves servants of the living God rather than being forced into a yoke of slavery to sin. We choose it by accepting his remedy – Christ’s death on the cross in our place. We live in freedom by never losing sight of the important and eternal no matter how many weeds and dirt clods infest the path before us. We lay down our life of slavery and live instead for His kingdom, the hidden kingdom that exists in the hearts of those who know and love Him.
But just as before the fall, Adam’s mission was to cultivate and guard the Garden, we must also guard our hearts and minds and stand firm against the lies of the Enemy.
We either live as servants of the Most High, serving His Kingdom by cultivating life in our hearts and with each other, or we live as slaves to sin, trying to coax whatever short-lived pleasure we can out of lives beset with the troubles of a fallen world.
We either protect the life that He has planted in our hearts by refusing to identify with and live under a mantle of sin, or we grasp at everything we can for ourselves, hoarding any good thing we come across, protecting what we deem as “ours,” and miss the freedom of sharing our lives, our resources and our time with others. Even worse, we miss the multiplication of life and love that results when hearts are open and connected. We miss the springing up that was the original plan. We are left with the dirt, the weeds and the grave.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore and do not submit to a yoke of slavery. Gal 5:1