Working for God and Resting in Him (Gen. 2:2-17)
Happy Labor Day! Tomorrow is Labor Day, which, according the U.S. Department of Labor is a day (since 1882) “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers…a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” We set aside a day that celebrates the worker, but we sure don’t like work!
What do you think of when you think of the word “work”? One author says, “I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” Some of us are without a job today thinking, “I wish I had a job!” But others of you are thinking, “I wish I could retire from work!” When you think of work, words like stress, tired, weekend, 9-5, vacation, etc. all come to mind. I have never heard of anyone saying, “It’s Sunday. I can’t wait to go to work tomorrow!” No, most of the time we are complaining of work. Some of us don’t like the work. Others of us don’t like the co-workers. Others don’t like either. We dislike the coworker who has coffee breath. We are tired of the copier that keeps breaking. Our supervisor is annoying. The people we take care of never get off our back. The emails never end. We are bored with it. Frustration fills our day at times. So work is often seen as something to do to make a living and take care of your family, or to climb up the corporate ladder. You hear of people saying, “Work hard now and you can live however you want because you have money.” Yes, “work is bad,” our culture says, “but do it anyway and one day you can retire and go on endless trips and be truly happy.”
It’s interesting to read some of the other popular creation stories, or should I say, myths, and see what they say about work. For example, in the Greek creation story dated much later than Genesis, Zeus, has a daughter named Pandora. He gives Pandora a box (original versions say it was a jar) with a big, heavy lock on it. He gives the key to Pandora’s husband. One day, while her husband was sleeping, Pandora steals the key and opens the box. Then out flew every kind of disease and sickness, disease, despair, malice, greed, old age, death, hatred, violence, cruelty, war and you know what else? Big dogs (just kidding). Actually what comes out is hard work. Pandora slammed the lid closed, but it was too late. All the bad things were already out of the box. They flew away, out into the world all because of the first woman, Pandora. So when you read that story, you get the feeling that the Greeks thought work was a bad thing, right along with disease, death and violence.
In the Babylonian creation narrative called the Enuma Elish (which Moses seems to be familiar with) Tiamat, mother of the gods, has lots of young gods inside her expansive body, who cause lots of trouble. They even, eventually, kill her husband. Tiamat takes revenge. None of the gods are able to stand against her, except Marduk, the god of Babylon. So Marduk rips Tiamat’s corpse into two halves: out of the top half he forms the sky, out of the bottom half, the earth (very different from Gen. 1 and 2). In this narrative, the world is a violent place. Things are created out of violence. That’s just the way the world is—violent and cruel. Then Marduk says to all the other gods: “I’ve created a world for you to live in!” Unhappy, they say, “O, what a burden. Do you realize how much work it will take to keep this place up?” Marduk says, “No problem. I’ve got a plan. I’ll just slay one more god, take his blood and make humans, and they’ll be our slaves. We’ll take it easy; humans can do all the work.” Humans are simply slaves to do the dirty work of the gods. Work is drudgery. Work is slavery (some of you are nodding I see). But what did God intend when He created work?
When Moses, in these first two chapters, shows us of a God who is good and gracious, full of beauty, wisdom and order, he is going directly in the face of popular understandings of his day about how the world was created and why it was created. Actually, it also sounds like it is different from how we see work today as well, as we will see! In Gen. 2, Moses is going to provide us with a brand new way of thinking to the idea of work. He will show us that work is part of being created in the image of God and it is dignified. Of course, the toil of work is a result of the curse. And remember his audience. He is writing to Jews, who were former slaves, who only knew of work as slavery as they broke their backs in Egypt. But today we are going to look back at how God intended work for man (as well as rest) and how it is redeemed in Jesus Christ. How can I have a new beginning in my work? Here’s the first thing we see here in Genesis 2:
I. God is a manual laborer (Gen. 2:4-14)
We will go back to Gen. 2:2-3 at the end, but notice Gen. 2:4. Genesis actually has 11 of these kinds of introductions. So each time you see it, think, “Here is a fuller development of the story of… Here, this is a fuller development of what happened in Genesis 1. Genesis 1 is a big picture and in Genesis 2, the author is zooming to show us something more of what God is like.
Notice how God is depicted here in Genesis 2. Is He a lazy God sitting on His throne and who made humans as slaves? Actually quite the opposite. In Gen. 2:2, it says God “finished his work.” Then in Gen 2:3 “…and God rested from his work.” Again in Gen. 2:7: “The LORD God formed the man of dust.” And in Gen. 2:8: “The LORD God planted a garden…” God is a worker! He is depicted here as a manual laborer, a sculptor, an artist, a groundskeeper and a gardener. Notice also that for the first time in Genesis, Moses uses Yahweh, the personal covenant name. It’s almost as if Moses is so excited to show us how personal, intimate and involved God is with us! Our God is a God who gets His hands dirty for us. He is a God with dirt under His fingernails. The focus of interest now is no longer “the cosmic perspective of the One who made the stars. It is the intimacy of fellowship with the One who calls Man by his name.”
God is a groundskeeper who has created a world for man to inhabit, reflect His image and fill this world with His glory. Notice in Gen. 2:5-6 God is depicted as having provided everything in beauty and bounty (even with His own automatic sprinkler system), but still is anticipating man to work for food. Why didn’t God simply bring the food to man as man lied on his hammock relaxing and drinking lemonade? Because God is a manual laborer and He wants man to reflect His image and be a worker too. One commentator adds, “If plant life is to grow in this garden, it will be due to a joint operation. God will do his part and man will expedite his responsibilities. Rain is not sufficient. Tillage is not sufficient. God is not a tiller of the soil and man is not a sender of rain.” God doesn’t need us! But would love for us to be part of His team!
And how does God create man in Gen. 2:7? He takes raw material—the dust, fashions it like a potter and makes a man. Look at the word “formed.” Pastor and Commentator Kent Hughes observes, “The term ‘formed’ indicates that the act of creation was by careful design…Here it conveys divine intentionality. God is the potter, so to speak, who perfectly works out his designs. Man is no afterthought, but rather the intentional product of the infinite mind that designed the atom and the cosmos. Infinite intention was focused on the creation of man.”
Notice the word “breathed.” Commentator Derek Kidner insightfully says, “Breathed is warmly personal, with the face-to-face intimacy of a kiss and the significance that this was an act of giving as well as making; and self-giving at that.” There is a bodily nearness of the Creator of His creature. Right away, we see that the God who made the Universe is a self-giving, intimate, loving, manual-laboring God. When God breathes, things come to life. Remember the valley of dry bones made into an army by the breath of God? (Eze. 37). There is also a sense of authority here. He created me, so He must own me (He owns all that He creates) and I cannot self-sufficient. I am made for God.
Notice in Gen. 2:8, we see God is a planter again. By the way, when we think of “garden,” we might think of a small rectangular piece/plot of land where we can grow rows of vegetables and/or flowers. This is not what the author is thinking. Instead, think of Busch Gardens or the Botanical Gardens or maybe even the Morton Arboretum. This word “garden” refers to a “park-like setting featuring [fruit] trees…and shade trees…[with] pools, exotic plants and …animals.” Moreover, from Moses’ perspective, the garden was in the East. This means that it was “most probably in the area of Mesopotamia in modern Iraq. Eden, then, would be a geographical area in which the garden was placed. Eden itself was not the garden.”
Notice in Gen. 3:8 that God walks in this garden. Later, God would be present with the people of God in a tent, called the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:1-31:18). Author John Sailhammer says, “The Garden, like the Tabernacle, was the place where human beings could enjoy the fellowship and presence of God.” So in a sense, the Garden is a temple-garden, where God and man would enjoy a relationship in harmony with all creation, where man would trust God’s Word and walk with God. But man lost it due to his sin, but one day we will be back in Paradise! (Rev. 21-22).
In the remaining verses we see God providing water that nourishes, refreshes and gives life to Eden as well as being the source of all life outside of Eden. God is the source of life everywhere. Notice the abundance of God’s provision in Gen. 2:9: “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” “Life in the garden,” as Bruce Waltke notes, “is represented as a banqueting table.” God creates something for beauty and utility. Why both? Perhaps because what is useful makes our bodies to flourish, but what is beautiful makes our souls to flourish? By the way, we don’t really know where the rivers of Pishon and Havilah are, though the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers still exist (in Iraq, though they begin in Turkey). Notice the gold and other precious gems there. Everything needed for civilization to flourish and for mankind to be image reflectors of God and glory fillers of the world is there. One day we will be in the heavenly city made with precious gems (Rev. 21:18ff)!
God is still a manual laborer. We know later that God is so committed to mankind that He would not simply make man, but also become man to save us from our sins in Christ. He got more than His hands dirty to remake us. He became dirty with our sin, so He can reform us into His image. Paul says, “The first Adam became a living being, but the last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). But Jesus breathed His last (Luke 23:46), so He can breathe new life into us! In Christ, God breathes life into us again and makes us alive. But as we are facing Him, He is transforming us, for we are His workmanship (Eph. 2:10).
The great painter Michelangelo once came across a block of marble. He looked at the square block and said he saw an angel inside of there waiting to get out. He began the chiseling process. In the same way, God is at work on us. We are His workmanship. Right now you may feel like a block of marble, but as long as you stay in His hands, He sees not an angel out of you, but Christ Himself! Not just to make you a statue, but a living and life giving person. Who needs God to breathe life into them again? O breathe on us breath of God! Get back on the potter’s wheel. Let Him mold you, sculpt you and fashion you into His image! Secondly:
II. Work is a reflection of God’s image (Gen. 2:8, 15)
Notice back in Gen. 2:8 the word “put” and then again in Gen. 2:15. God’s placement of the man in the garden tell us God knows where it is best to serve Him, where we can reflect His image the best and be used by Him. Being in God’s presence and serving in God’s provision is where we find our identity. So when Adam and Eve are kicked out and leave the presence of God is when they lose their identity and feel instead as “castaways in a strange land.” This is why when Cain leaves the presence of God, we are told he is in the land of Nod, which means “wandering” (Gen. 4:16). We are constantly wandering when we leave the presence of God to find our identity.
So because God knows what is best for us and puts us in places to be His image reflectors and glory fillers, we must come to this conclusion: ALL WORK IS GOOD AND DIGNIFIED. Waltke adds, “Work is a gift from God, not a punishment for sin.” The idea of working for a living is not part of the Fall, but the way you have to work and all the toil and sweat of it to put food on the table is. Notice in Gen. 2:15. What did God want Adam to do in the garden? Lounge around and have Eve feed him grapes? Notice, “to work it and keep it.” Allan Ross says, “These two verbs are used throughout the Pentateuch for spiritual service. “Keep” (šāmar) is used for keeping the commandments and taking heed to obey God’s Word; “serve,” (ʿabad) describes the worship and service of the Lord, the highest privilege a person can have. Whatever activity the man was to engage in in the garden (and there is no reason to doubt that physical activity was involved), it was described in terms of spiritual service of the Lord.”
Wait, what? Gardening is spiritual service to the Lord? Absolutely. The simplest work has dignity. Ordinary life is good. It doesn’t matter if you are a housewife, janitor, investment banker, architect, teacher or businessperson. All work is dignified. Work is something God does! God tells us to work because He is a worker and He delights in work and ALL WORK. And we are created in His image, so we too must work. It’s in our DNA. Work is not simply making a living, but creating a life.
How does God work? Look back at Gen. 1:2. The Spirit of God hovers over raw material, in a sense “messes with it,” takes what is formless and empty and makes beauty out of it as well what is useful and practical…the world! God formed it and filled it. Where there was disorder, God brings order. How does God make man? He takes the raw material of dust, messes with it and makes a beautiful and useful creature. He forms Him and fills Him with His image! And then what does God tell man to do? Be just like Him! Take the raw material provided by God for the Garden and make something beautiful and useful out of it. Adam, now you be a gardener! Be just like God! This is why often those retired people and people who became rich and do not work are often so bored out of their minds and in bondage to feelings of uselessness (yes, you wish you had that temptation to test out). I am not against retirement or becoming rich, but living life as one long vacation without a sense of mission and purpose will drive you crazy, because you are not created for that.
Therefore, Tim Keller says, “Work is rearranging the raw material of a particular domain for the flourishing of everyone” and that “Gardening is the paradigm for all work.” He gives several examples. For instance, music is taking the raw material of sound, which is part of our physical world and reforming it so that when we hear it we find meaning for our lives. Architecture or engineering takes the stone in the ground and form it into bridges and buildings so there can be human culture and society. A novelist or playwright and takes the raw material of our human experiences and forming it into narratives to make sense of our lives.
If you're an entrepreneur, if you're a businessman, what are you doing? You're taking the raw material of ideas and concepts of human resources, and you're creating a business or a product that wasn't there before; a flourishing enterprise. Or maybe you’re an artist, and you take raw materials, and you make something gloriously new, maybe with paint or maybe in the kitchen with simple baking ingredients. Or maybe you take over an organization that’s falling apart, that’s sinking, and you stabilize it, you make it productive again. You make order out of disorder. You save jobs and rescue careers, leading to a flourishing life. Or maybe you’re a teacher or stay- at-home mom, and you are so good at bringing out the very best in your kids, giving them a vision, helping them to realize their potential. Or you’re a medical professional, working with disordered bodies, making them orderly, lifting up sinking bodies, and putting them back together so they can flourish. Or perhaps you’re a therapist or counselor and you are working with disorderly lives, bringing order to them, helping their lives to flourish. Or a lawyer who brings order in people’s lives as others may have abused or exploited them, leading to disorder. Or maybe you just love cleaning up your yard, and weeding and fertilizing and making your garden a work of beauty. Even cleaning up a home, what are you doing? Bringing order out of disorder so you and others can live there and flourish. Just like God, you are a life giver! Is this how we work? You see, God is more concerned with how you see work and how you work than what work we are doing. All work is honored by God! Sure, you want to find work that best suits your gifting, degree and calling, but God is far more interested in the quality of your attitude and work than what you actually do.
What would happen if we saw our work as worship to the Lord? So when Paul writes in Colossians (applying it to our jobs), “Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” (Col. 3:22-23) it is a not a new concept. He is simply saying, “Be like God back in Genesis 2 and in Christ, redeem what He originally made you to do: work!”
Think about as you serve here. Some of you take sound and create a worship set. Wow. God at work! Others of you take a Sunday School curriculum and create a lesson so the people you minister to can find Christ’s flourishing power. Others take your life experiences as Christ has formed and filled you to help others find Christ in their chaos through discipleship. I was just thinking even of crafting a sermon with God’s Word, with the preacher’s personality and heart, others insights, and delivering it so people’s soul can flourish in Christ! What a privilege to be like God! I know what you are thinking, “That doesn’t sound realistic, but idealistic!” But the Bible is realistic. Work can be redeemed. What would happen if you went to work thinking, “Lord, you put me in this domain to be your hands and your creative energy. You gave me life to breathe life today into somebody, to help someone’s life flourish and to make order out of disorder. Breathe life into me so I can be a life giver”? Would there be a difference? Lastly:
III. God promises His rest in the midst of work (Gen. 2:2-3; 16-17)
Look back at Gen. 2:1-3. God rests from His work. Obviously it was not because He was tired, but because He was pleased and satisfied with how the world was created. This is where the Jews got the idea of a Sabbath, which is a Hebrew word that means “to cease working, to rest.” Notice God sets this day apart, blesses it and thus makes it a blessing. God is a God of order and rhythm. He’s also establishing a pattern for His people. We need to work, but we also need to rest and reflect. If you really want to work well, you need rest.
So the Sabbath day, Saturday, was established for Israel as a day of rest (Ex. 16:23; 20:8-11). They were to reflect on God, His faithfulness, His promises and His attributes. They were to trust that God would take care of them. They also would remember how God delivered them out of Egypt (Deut. 5:12-15). Later, this idea of “rest,” was associated with getting into the Promised Land (Josh. 22:4) as the time of wandering and disobedience finally ended.
Later by Jesus’ day, the Pharisees added rules about the Sabbath. They made it into religious bondage. The few prohibitions found in Moses (Ex. 16:29; 35:2–3; Num. 15:32–36) were expanded into numerous regulations. Jesus rebuked them by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Sabbath was supposed to serve us and make us better workers, not put us in bondage.
Should we observe the Sabbath today? Paul tells us in Colossians, “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of…a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). What he’s saying is that the OT Sabbath on Saturday was actually preparing us for true spiritual rest found in Christ in redemption. As a result, it is no longer applicable for us today, as Christ has come. The early church actually would meet for worship corporately on a Sunday because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10).
Now some Christians have said that Sunday was a “Christian Sabbath.” I think that is confusing the two days. Sunday in the New Testament is not called the Sabbath, but “the Lord’s Day.” Though the Sabbath day is no longer applicable, I think the principle is good, that we should set apart one day, not legalistically, but to be intentional and purposeful to reflect on the Lord, to reconnect with believers and spend the day not working. Sunday would be a good day for that. Remember that this was God’s idea, so it’s not that “I have to go to church,” but that “I get to go to church,” because God knows what’s good for me and I can only be a good worker if I am a good “rester” physically. Work holism is not God’s plan and neither is laziness. Both are extremes to be avoided.
But I want to go a little deeper. Perhaps you are here and you’re like, “Pastor Robin, I’m so unhappy with work. I am burdened. I am anxious. I am frustrated. My heart is a mess because of work. How can I have a new beginning?” Well, the author of Hebrews puts all the “rest” and Sabbaths together to make another point in Heb. 4:1-11. He says there is still a rest for the people of God. You can have a real Sabbath rest. Before we talk about that, we need to first ask: why do you work?
Keller uses the examples of Rocky the boxer, entertainer Madonna and runner Harold Abrams in Chariots of Fire. Rocky, the boxer has a girlfriend named Adrian. He tells her that when he boxes he wants to go the distance, so that then he’ll know he’s not a bum. Madonna says in a Vogue magazine article in 1994, “My drive in life comes from the fear of being mediocre. That’s always pushing me. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being, but then I feel that I am still mediocre and uninteresting unless I do something else. Because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove that I’m somebody. My struggle in never ended and I guess it never will.” In the movie Chariots of Fire one of the main characters explains why he works so hard at running the hundred-yard dash for the Olympics. He says that when each race begins, “I have ten lonely seconds to justify my existence.”
Why are these people working? They are working for an identity, a meaning for their life and a sense of worth. See, we lost all of that in the Garden so now without God, we worship work to try to get it again. The Garden had two trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God gave Adam the freedom to enjoy all of His goodness in creation.
Out of the entire created order, only mankind had the potential of crossing moral boundaries. Freedom can only be maximized if you know where the boundaries are. A fish is not meant to cross the boundaries of the water, but inside the water, it can maximize its freedom. Outside the water, it is not freedom, but death. So God establishes a boundary for Adam, which was one tree (Gen. 2:17). God gives him the choice of trusting His Word or not. And out of God’s goodness, He also warns him of the consequences: “you will surely die.”
We know later Adam and Eve wanted power that only God had, the ability to know everything, thus to live life independent of Him and to master their own existence. Since God alone knows everything comprehensively and absolutely, only He can be depended on for what is good and bad for life. Human beings must depend on God’s revelation of knowledge, but when we try to seize it apart from God (Gen. 3:6), we fell into sin. We lost the rest in God and the ground is cursed (Gen. 3:17-19). Adam the gardener became Adam the toiler. The very place he was to find joy and satisfaction, he will instead find pain, blisters, backaches, sweat and frustration. The ground will now be his enemy rather than his servant.
Only God knows what boundaries and what domains/jobs are good for us to put us in. When we want to jump that boundary and decide we have wisdom better than God does is when we fall into trouble. Then we work for other reasons than reflecting His image. We are driven by a work underneath the work. We don’t think about blessing others with God’s creative energy. We want to find an identity with work instead of in God. We want work to tell us we are worthy and significant. We want to work so we feel like we have meaning and that we are not a failure. We want to work to impress others. This is true for your everyday jobs and your work at church.
How does God give us this true rest? Trevin Wax says, “On the sixth day of creation, God had made man in His image. Behold the man: Adam, the first human, the man whose sinful choice cast all of humanity into the powerful grip of sin and death. Now, on the sixth day, Friday, Pilate stands next to Jesus and declares, “Behold the Man!” Jesus, the “second Adam,” the true human being, the one whose sinless life will undo the curse of sin and death. Behold the Man who will pay for our sins! Behold the Man who is our Messiah and Lord! Behold the Man who is our Savior and God!
Piercing through the dark storm clouds and echoing through the valleys surrounding the hill of Golgotha, Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished!” announcing that His work was complete. On the sixth day, God had completed his work of creation. Now Jesus finished His work, as the spotless Lamb who died as our sacrifice. “It is finished” – the victory cry from the cross. The sacrifice had been accomplished. And God saw that it was good.”
The first time God cried out, "It is finished!" and He rested because creation was finished. The second time, Jesus Christ, on the cross, cried out, "It is finished!" so that we could get His rest. Jesus did all the work. We have His rest (Matt. 11:28). This is the gospel. We no longer have to strive, strain, work hard to find meaning, identity and significance in our work. We can have true rest. Scientists tell us that it is not that you need certain hours to rest/sleep to thrive, it is also a certain kind of sleep you need. You need Rapid Eye Movement sleep, also known as R.E.M. sleep. Christ offers you an R.E.M. of the soul, where if you believe the WORK that HE has done, you can enter into His rest, which can enable you to do the work before you.
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From the sermon, “The Garden of God,” preached Dec. 7, 2008, downloaded from http://sermons.redeemer.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&product_ID=18874&ParentCat=6&CFID=438399&CFTOKEN=84397802 accessed 28 August 2011.
From the sermon by Tim Keller, “Made for Stewardship,” preached October 22, 2000, downloaded from http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/sermonlist/265 accessed 29 August 2011.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1998). Be Basic. An Old Testament Study. (33–34). Colorado Springs, Colo.: Chariot Victor Pub.
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Keller, T. Ibid.
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