God Didn’t Create Us to be Farmers: Genesis 2:15

God did not originally create us to be farmers or to pull weeds. But we might be forgiven for taking that view when reading a typical English version of Genesis 2:15.

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden [located in] Eden to work it and to keep it.”

Sure sounds like our original vocation was to farm, to pull weeds, till the soil, plant crops and take care of orchards. Despite the fact that the English versions depict original humans as farmers, such a view is extremely problematic for many reasons. I’ll only highlight three.

First, the translation “to work it and to keep it” violates the rules of Hebrew grammar and syntax. Only by altering some of the words in the original Hebrew text can translators come up with “to work and keep it.” In other words, the original Hebrew text of Genesis 2:15 contradict what we read in English versions and what we have been led to believe about our first vocation. Violating fundamental rules of grammar makes any translation suspect.

The two Hebrew words in Genesis 2:15 under consideration are אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם and וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ. It is important to understand that these two verbs refer to an altogether different vocation, but definitely not orchard keeping or farming. These verbs never refer to farming in Israel’s Scriptures.

Second, such a view also ignores the context of Genesis 1-3. Using language associated with the tabernacle in Exodus, Moses describes the development of a cosmic temple in Genesis 1:2—2:3 and the making of a completed Garden-like Holy of Holies in Genesis 2:4-25 where Adam and Eve are put. Even the word “put” in Genesis 2:15[1] points us away from farming. Farming is hardly the occupation suited for men and women dwelling in a Temple with the LORD God and serving in a Holy of Holies.

Third, working the ground, the occupation of farmers, is part of the punishment that humanity suffered as a result of sin. It was only after the entrance of sin into the creation that God said to Adam in Genesis 3:17-19:

“The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it. For you are dust, and you will return to dust."

Farming is necessary today due to the entrance of sin into the creation. We depend on farmers. They are hard-working people who plow, plant, harvest, and raise livestock so that we can eat. We would starve without farmers. I come from a long line of farmers of both sides of the family. My father, born in a farmhouse, raised on a farm, joined the army to serve his country in WW 2; he could not stay on the farm due to severe hay fever. But his older brother, my late uncle, stayed on the farm and helped feed the nation. They both served their country in different yet necessary ways. Thank God for all farmers.

But their vocation was made necessary after the entrance of sin. The creation suffered because humanity sinned. But it was not that way prior to sin. We were not made originally to be farmers. Our divinely given vocation points in another direction, a vocation better suited to life in a Temple and Holy of Holies.

Join us in upcoming Sundays as we unpack Genesis 2:15 and discover what our God-given vocation was supposed to be and how we can return to it—even if today we raise Holstein cattle, wheat, or McIntosh apples.  



[1] The verb translated as “put” in 2:15 is completely different from the verb also translated as “put” in 2:8, though they appear to be exactly alike in English. The confusion is understandable.