"Tend" and "keep" — We might say "embellish" and "guard" or "add to" and "keep from deterioration." Anybody who has taken care of a piece of material equipment of some kind—a garden, a house, an automobile, clothing, it matters not—knows that one can embellish it, dress it, and that it takes work. It also takes work to maintain it, to guard it from falling into a state of disrepair.
God's real purpose here has something to do with the material things of life, but He is considering something much greater than that, something spiritual. He is indicating that spiritual things in our lives are also going to have to be embellished, added to, dressed, and they will have to be kept from deteriorating and guarded. There is work involved in those activities. Proper management, or dominion, over the things that God has put within the scope of our authority take work. So, both of these words indicate work.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Greatest Challenges
In verse 15, God clarifies why he gave man powers. At first glance, it only appears to cover what is physical and material, but with God's spiritual revelation and other scriptures, it carries far greater implication.
In the King James Version, the word meaning "tend" or "cultivate" is “dress.” The Hebrew means "to work at." In 1611, when the King James was translated, the word dress meant "to set in order," but gradually, it was applied to applying decorative details, "to embellish."
Today, when we say that we are going to "dress," we include both parts of that definition. We put ourselves in order and embellish how we look.
In modern Bibles, “dress” has been translated "tend" or "cultivate." They have subtle meanings that are slightly different from "dress." Tend means "to pay attention to" or "to serve." For example, “I am going to tend to the dishes.” It means "to apply oneself to the care of" or "to manage the operations of."
Cultivate, which is the best of the three definitions, means "to put through a finishing process," "to foster the growth of," or "to further or encourage." Neither "dress" or "tend" is wrong, but "cultivate" most accurately applies the Hebrew meaning of the original word.
There is the word "keep" as well. We are to "dress and keep." Keep means to "guard," "preserve," "be faithful to," and "maintain."
God has given man powers to carry out the responsibility that has been given into his hands: to have dominion. Man must do the following: put what has been placed into his hands through a finishing process, watch over it, guard it, protect it, and preserve its beauty.
This was all given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a beautiful place. God let them and us know that as beautiful as the Garden was, it would not stay that way. It was subject to natural law and was going to degenerate. The Garden needed to be maintained, cultivated, dressed, and kept. That required a great deal of work. Man was not only to preserve, control, and direct it, but also to strive even to ennoble the Garden of Eden through work.
It begins to become clear that God intends mankind to make more of his environment than he has been given. God has given the powers to do that. We are to understand this not only physically, but more importantly, spiritually.
Here in Genesis, God has shown the fact that one works, the reason why one works, and the way one works all have a great deal to do with one's spiritual development. It is important to note the difference between "salvation" and "development." We are saved by grace. But if there is going to be development from where God begins whenever we first receive His Spirit, then it requires something on our part to enable the fullness of development to take place. That involves work.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Right Use of Power
To environmentalists, letting man have dominion over the animals and being told to subdue the earth means that God gives man free rein to do anything he wants to the planet—bend it to his uses and abuses, rape it of all its beauty and diversity—for his own benefit. "Does not the land have any rights?" they cry. "What about the plants and animals, birds and fish? What gives us the right to mine and burn and kill without care for nature?"
Certainly, God did not give man the authority to degrade and destroy His earth. Environmentalists are correct in saying that mankind should consider and address environmental concerns. They are quite wrong, however, to blame God for the earth's ecological problems; He is not responsible for man's destruction of the natural world.
To think that God gave man carte blanche to plunder and destroy the earth is simply ludicrous. He is its Creator! Why would He immediately command Adam to ruin it? Would any woodworker, upon just finishing a beautifully stained piece of furniture, tell his son to break it up for firewood? No! Just as God desires for His creation, the woodworker would put his handiwork to use and also care for it by keeping it waxed and dusted to prolong its life.
This is exactly what God told Adam. Genesis 2 contains a parallel account of creation, adding detail to certain parts of the narrative of the first chapter. Notice God's expanded instruction: "Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend [dress, KJV] and keep it" (verse 15). This greatly modifies the force of "have dominion" and "subdue it" from Genesis 1:26, 28!
Tend (Hebrew 'abad) means "to work or serve," and thus referring to the ground or a garden, it can be defined as "to till or cultivate." It possesses the nuance seen in the KJV's choice in its translation: "dress," implying adornment, embellishment, and improvement.
Keep (Hebrew shamar) means "to exercise great care over." In the context of Genesis 2:15, it expresses God's wish that mankind, in the person of Adam, "take care of," "guard," or "watch over" the garden. A caretaker maintains and protects his charge so that he can return it to its owner in as good or better condition than when he received it.
To Noah, God gives a similar command after the Flood:
So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. (Genesis 9:1-2)
Once again God gives man dominion over all other life on the earth, and with this renewed authority comes the implicit responsibility to tend and keep what was explicitly given to Adam. In this post-Flood world, God gives mankind a second chance to use and preserve the resources He had so abundantly provided. To that end Noah, after 120 years as a preacher and shipwright, took up farming and planted a vineyard (verse 20). We can assume, from what we know of human nature, that this attitude of stewardship did not pass to very many of his descendants.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Bible and the Environment
Very simply and in a straightforward way, God states the purpose for which He created the garden, and begins to reveal foundational parts of the training program for Adam and Eve. Spiritually, this principle extends to His modern children as well.
Adam's job in the Garden was to "tend and keep" or "cultivate and guard." A deeper study of the words show that in combination, tending or cultivating is a form of keeping. Cultivation is the effort a farmer makes to ensure that he will produce as bountiful a crop as possible. He plows the ground, fertilizes it, plants the seed, then he promotes further growth by watering, weeding, and so forth. If the farmer is lazy, if he fails to cultivate his ground, if he does nothing to promote growth, then what occurs? Nature follows its course and the farm begins to degenerate!
This law can be illustrated by somewhat different examples. Suppose you own a new house, complete with a fresh coat of paint on the exterior. If nothing is ever done to maintain the house in good condition, the house will degenerate very quickly. The same applies to an automobile. If you never change the oil, never lubricate it, never inflate the tires to the right pressure, never wash it, degeneracy results. It is part of the law of the universe. If a thing is not maintained, if nothing is done to guard against decay, degeneration will surely occur. If nothing is done to cultivate, nature will take its course, producing degeneration.
In very simple terminology, God's purpose is accomplished because men and women cultivate and guard. They cultivate what is provided to them in terms of both physical and spiritual things. If cultivation occurs, it will guard against degeneration. So another principle begins to emerge: Not only must sound training come from pure doctrine, but we must make an effort to cultivate, producing more fruit and greater growth. If we neglect this great salvation, our spiritual lives are going to degenerate. The truths that we formerly held in high esteem will begin to slip away.
At the very beginning of the book, God warns of a natural tendency in everything toward disintegration.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
The Garden of Eden was the environment that God created for a relationship with Him to take place. Adam and Eve's responsibility was to dress and keep it. They were put there, not to do nothing, not just to pluck fruit off a tree, not even merely to receive eternal life, but to take care of the Garden.
Dress means "to embellish." This may seem a little strange, but Adam and Eve were to take care of it so well that it would become better than it was when God gave it to them. We like to think of the Garden as being a place of absolute and perfect beauty. Instead, since God told them to "dress and keep it," it seems that it was not complete. It had only been started. What He had done was certainly beautiful, but He wanted them to carry on and finish it.
Keep means "to guard" or "to preserve." If they did not work to dress the Garden, God is telling them, it would deteriorate. That is the way of all things physical, they degenerate if they are not maintained and taken care of.
There are spiritual lessons here. We have been invited into a relationship with God. Like any relationship, it must be worked on to make it increasingly tighter and more productive. We are to "dress and to keep" the relationship. We are not in the Garden, certainly, but we are in the relationship. To do this, we must use and grow in the Holy Spirit. The relationship is the key to accomplishing this. If there is no relationship, there is no Holy Spirit working in and with us, no chance that we will ever grow in the Spirit, and no way we can be close to God. The relationship is the key.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 7)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 2:15:
1 Corinthians 6:13-15
2 Corinthians 6:16-18
2 Corinthians :