YHWH Elohim took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Genesis 2:15
Adam was not placed in the Garden merely to water plants. The Hebrew word translated as “to dress” in the KJV and “to work” in the ESV is abad. It’s the same word used throughout the Old Testament for the Hebrews serving God or a slave serving his master. "To keep it" follows in the same vein. This is the Hebrew word shamar which means to guard and protect. Adam was to serve the Garden by helping it become the best that it could be, and also to guard it against anything that might try to harm it.
The King James rendering of “to dress it and to keep it” could just as literally be translated “to serve it and to protect it”, interestingly very similar to a phrase found on many police cars in America: “To serve and protect.”
Scripture describes many different kinds of servant relationships, but “serve” in this context doesn’t mean that Adam was a slave to the Garden. In fact, Genesis 1:26 says that God intended to give mankind authority over the whole earth. Adam’s divinely appointed task of caring for the Garden didn’t make him subordinate to the Garden. Rather it was a consequence of his authority over it. All authority is given, in part, to enable the bearer to care for his charge.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls, being accountable for them to God. Allow them to do so with joy and not grief, because that wouldn't be good for you either. Hebrews 13:17 (Paraphrased)
Mankind was never intended to be an absolute ruler over either the Garden or the rest of the earth. We were given authority over creation so that we might serve and protect it. The earth serves us, and we serve it, in turn.
God didn’t ad lib creation. His intentions didn’t change halfway through the week nor even after Adam was created. God programmed a drive to accomplish Adam’s first assignment into the very genetic code of mankind, both men and women. Men are driven to provide for and protect their wives and children. Women are driven to protect and nurture their children. We instinctively want to protect the vulnerable and help the weak become stronger.
In our sin-corrupted state, that drive is often abused, misdirected into tyranny. Some people may abuse the earth, destroying today with no care for tomorrow. Some men may dominate their families through physical intimidation and some women may treat their children as little more than annoying accessories to a lifestyle.
However, we can’t allow such abuses to rob us of the strengths that God intends for us to use. We have an obligation to use the resources that God has given us for his purposes. To neglect that obligation is as much a sin as it is to abuse it.
copyright 2023 Jay Carper, American Torah