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Cultivate and Keep (Genesis 2: 15)

By Les Henson

Photo by Heather Gill on Unsplash

‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.’

In considering Genesis 2:15, I will first look at the broader context in which it is located, and then briefly examine the key verbs in this verse.

Context: Creation and Role of Humankind

The parallel version of creation in Genesis 2 returns to the sixth day of creation in verse 15. It describes in greater detail the creation of man, crafted from the earth. God then placed man in the garden and gives him the task of caring for the plants and the trees of the garden. Yet God issues a prohibition to the man telling him that he must not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil lest he dies. Man is assigned to name the animals, an undertaking that exhibits his God-appointed authority. Then God appreciates that it is not good for man to remain alone and so God makes him a companion, helper and wife for him from man's own rib, This, woman, Eve, becomes Adam's companion, helper and wife. Thus, God establishes his pattern for the design of human marriage and relationships. The two in purity and innocence are naked yet unashamed before sin rears its ugly head.

Key Verbs (Genesis 2:15):

Life itself was breathed into God’s creation, not only in its unmistakable splendour, beauty and enchantment but also in its promise and potential. God’s good creation was dynamic, vibrant and filled with embryonic promise and potentiality. But how was this promise and potentiality to be worked out in reality? “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). The key Hebrew verbs in this passage are: cultivate and keep or abad and shamar, respectively. Abad may be translated as work, nurture, sustain, and husband; while shamar means to safeguard, preserve, care for, and protect. Both are active verbs, which communicate God’s intention for human beings to foster, develop and revere the world in a manner that meets both human needs and bring honour and glorify God.

In this creative labour, we, as human beings, are to emulate God’s own procreative achievement and so display within our very nature the reality of being made in his own image and likeness. These two words, abad and shamar, point to the need for us to live in such a way that we care for God's good creation. We are to live and act, in such a manner, that we work towards: the nurture and sustainability; the protection and safeguard; and the care and wellbeing of the created order and all its resources.

The following is a Prayer of by Liz Crumlish, Renewal and Pioneer Coordinator, Church of Scotland. It is entitled: Co-workers in Creation

We had one job:

To care for creation.

The beautiful earth

and sea and sky

and all the creatures.

One job:

But we were distracted

by greed and hunger

by power and wealth.

We moved on

from caring for the earth

to exploiting its resources.

We moved on

from marvelling at nature

to plundering its power.

We accepted your gifts

and squandered them

to suit our complex lifestyles.

Lord, as we slowly awaken

to the havoc we have created

by our carelessness

with the beauty you gave us

may we use our power

our wealth and our strength

to do all that we can

to change our ways

and nurture the earth

as you intended.

Returning to you

O God of the universe

Creator of all

Lover of all

Sustainer of all.

[This prayer appeared in Daily Worship, Sanctuary First on 1st July, 2020. The web address is:]


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