In Genesis 2:15-3:24, we have God establishing a covenant of Works with Adam. The imagery of Genesis 1-3 in the ANE pictured a cosmic temple. This motif is to foreshadow the tabernacle. This motif leaves us with Adam as a high priest in God’s cosmic temple representing all of mankind before the LORD of host. As commentators see the language picturing the work a Priest does in the OT. If we keep Romans 5:12-19 and Genesis 3 in mind, then it seems more than likely that Adam is our representative “Priest” before God in the Garden. The fall of Adam has had universal effects on the creation. The fact that mankind receives the curses of the fall and that arises from Adam’s failure as a Priest seem to lead to their connection. This opens up Christ as the one who is successful at keeping the covenant of works and as a priest of a higher order, he actually succeeds.
For priestly duties it describes the faithful carrying out of God’s instructions (e.g., Lev 8: 35) and the caretaking of the tabernacle (e.g., Num 1: 53; 18: 5). Both terms occur together to describe the charge of the Levites for the tabernacle (Num 3: 7– 8; 18: 7), thus again suggesting a relationship between Eden and tabernacle. We have commented that “work” and “guard” in our passage anticipate 3: 23– 24, where the man and woman are expelled from the garden. Here there is a play on the word šāmar in the narrative: because the man fails through sin to “take care” (šāmar) in the garden, he is expelled, and God’s cherubim “guarded” (šāmar) its access (3: 24). Thus the man’s assignment was fulfilled in an unexpected way by angels, and, ironically, Adam himself was prohibited from entry.
Mathews, Kenneth. Genesis 1-11: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary) (Kindle Locations 4801-4810). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2: 15– 17 ➢ Man’s covenant obligations, both royal-cultural and priestly-cultic, are summarized in v. 15. Making the earth serve man (cf. 1: 28) meant man must serve, or cultivate, it (NIV, “work it”). Because the garden was holy, man must guard it (NIV, “take care of it”). The latter verb[ 3] is a common term for the priests’ function of protecting God’s sanctuary from defiling encroachment (cf. 3: 24).
Kline, Meredith G.. Genesis: A New Commentary (Kindle Locations 439-443). Hendrickson Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Man’s life in the garden is to be characterized by worship and obedience; he is a priest,…
Sailhamer, John H.. Genesis (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary) (Kindle Location 3147). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
“to serve, till” is a very common verb and is often used of cultivating the soil (2:5; 3:23; 4:2, 12, etc.). The word is commonly used in a religious sense of serving God (e.g., Deut 4:19), and in priestly texts, especially of the tabernacle duties of the Levites (Num 3:7?8; 4:23?24, 26, etc.).
Gordon John Wenham. Genesis Commentary chapters 1-15
15. work it and take care of it. Work is a gift of God, not a punishment for sin. Even before the Fall humanity has duties to perform. Elsewhere in the Pentateuch this expression describes activity only of priests. The latter term entails guarding the garden against Satan’s encroachment (see 3: 1– 5). As priest and guardians of the garden, Adam and Eve should have driven out the serpent; instead it drives them out.
Waltke, Bruce K.. Genesis: A Commentary (p. 87). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
When people are assigned their function here, priestly terms (ʿbd and šmr) are used. 132 Note the contrast to the royal functions given in 1: 28– 29. In the rest of the ancient Near East, caring for the needs of the gods was also a priestly function. In the Old Testament, the priestly function involved maintaining the status of sacred space and providing for the proper worship and obedience to God’s requirements.
Walton, John H.. Genesis (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary) (Kindle Locations 1770-1774). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
The verbs ʿbd (“ work”) and šmr (“ take care of”) are terms most frequently encountered in discussions of human service to God rather than descriptions of agricultural tasks. The verb ʿbd certainly can refer to farming activity (e.g.,2: 5; 3: 23), but in those contexts the nuance of the verb is conditioned by its direct object (“ the ground”). When the verb does not take a direct object, it often refers to the work connected with one’s vocation (e.g., Ex. 20: 9). This broader sense of the word is often connected to religious service deemed as worship (e.g., Ex. 3: 12) or of priestly functionaries serving in the sanctuary precinct (e.g., Num. 3: 7– 10). In these cases, the object of the verb usually refers to what or whom is being worshiped (e.g., Ex. 4: 23; 23: 33). Here then is a succinct statement of the problem when we try to decide whether ʿbd is referring to agricultural tasks or sacred service. If the object of the verb is the garden (and we cannot be certain that it is), we have a bit of an anomaly. The verb usually takes dirt/ soil/ ground objects when it refers to agricultural work and usually takes personal objects (God, Baal, Egypt) when sacred service or servitude is the point. “Garden” can be in either category, depending on whether it is understood as a place where things grow or a place where God dwells. There is one pertinent exception in each category. Numbers 8: 15 has the Tent of Meeting, a sacred place, as the object of the verb ʿbd to refer to sacred service, while Deuteronomy 28: 39 has vineyards as the object of the verb to refer to cultivation as an agricultural activity. This means that neither direction enjoys strong support in the semantic range, but each can be set forth as a possibility. We will thus have to look to its contextual partner, šmr, to take us one direction or another. The verb šmr is used in the contexts of the Levitical responsibility of guarding sacred space as well as for observing religious commands and responsibilities. This verb is used in agricultural contexts only when crops are being guarded from people or animals who want to destroy or steal. In Eden we presume that there is no one to guard against. When the verb applies to Levitical activity, it may involve control of access to the sacred precinct but is often used more generally to performing duties on the grounds. To conclude, then, (1) since there are a couple of contexts in which šmr is used for Levitical service along with ʿbd (e.g., Num. 3: 8– 9), (2) since the contextual use of šmr here favors sacred service, (3) since ʿbd is as likely to refer to sacred service as to agricultural tasks, and (4) since there are other indications that the garden is being portrayed as sacred space, it is likely that the tasks given to Adam are of a priestly nature— that is, caring for sacred space. 30 In ancient thinking, caring for sacred space was a way of upholding creation.
Walton, John H.; Walton, John H.. Genesis (The NIV Application Commentary) (p. 172-173). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
The verb ‘to serve’ is found throughout the Pentateuch to indicate man’s service to God (e.g., Exod.8:1,20; 9:1,13. ‘To obey’ is also employed of man’s keeping God’s word (17:9; 18:19). And when the two words appear in the Torah they reflect the worship of God.
Currid, John D. Genesis Study Commentary (Evangelical Press Vol. 1) pages 106-107
It seems better to think of Adam’s action as the work of covenant representation, without introducing the idea of merit. That is, as a representative he acts on behalf of those he represents, in this case his posterity. … This physical death of Adam’s descendants-who after all did not sin in the specific way that Adam did-shows that the consequences of Adam’s sin passed on to his posterity, which means that he acted as their representative. This allows Paul to contrast Adam with Christ, who also acted as a representative of his people.
C. John Collins. Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, And Theological Commentary (Kindle Locations 1285-2040). Kindle Edition.
“To work it and keep it” are double entendres. On the one hand, they connote farming techniques. On the other hand, they connote priestly service in the tabernacle. The garden was a natural tabernacle (cf. Num 24:5-6).
Next, we see that Adam was appointed as priest to the garden-temple of Eden. How do we know that Adam was supposed to be a priest? From verse 15. The words translated “work” and “take care of” are everywhere else used (when together) in the sense of “priestly service” and “priestly guarding.” The first word refers to worshipping God. The second word refers to preventing any unholy visitors into the holy place. We can see then that Adam’s duties can be summarized as treating the garden of Eden as a temple. He was supposed to worship God in it, and he was supposed to keep Satan out of it. So, we can see that when Adam failed to keep Satan out of the garden, he was failing in the very thing that God had put him there to do. Then, in eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam wanted to worship himself, rather than worship God. So Adam failed in both things that God had put him there to do. Those two things that God gave into Adam’s hand to do were summarized in the permission to eat from any of the trees in the garden, but not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This command from God is known as the covenant of works. If Adam were to obey God, worshipping God alone, and guarding the garden from the likes of Satan, then he would continue in everlasting life. If Adam were to fail, then he would die. Obedience equals life, disobedience equals death. Adam failed. Notice that when Adam failed, God placed a cherubim at the entrance to the garden to keep everyone out, because Adam had failed to keep Satan out.