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Though Biblical commentaries often derive the name “Eden” from the Sumerian edinu (i.e., “a plain”), an alternative meaning, based on an Aramaic-Akkadian bilingual description, is “luxuriance” or “abundance”—more specifically referring to an abundance of life-enriching water. The idea of luxuriance brings to mind the prominent place-name “Bountiful” in the Book of Mormon—in fact, one proposed region for the Old World Bountiful was reputed to have been a place of such great plenty that its inhabitants were denounced by Islamic Hud traditions for their “attempt to create an earthly replica of Paradise.”
Given the picture of the naturally growing, life-sustaining yields of the Garden of Eden, coupled with the absence of any troublesome weeds, students of the Bible have made various attempts to understand how Adam and Eve managed to stave off the “curse of idleness” during their sojourn in that happy place. For example, supposing that the daily labors of the first parents must have closely mirrored our own, Matthew Henry imagined that the man and the woman were placed in Eden to improve on God’s arrangements for the beauty and productivity of the fruit trees placed there. He reasoned that: “Nature, even in its primitive state, left room for the improvements of art and industry.” Supposing that the “husbandman’s calling… was needed even in Paradise,” he drew out the lesson from God’s instructions to Adam and Eve to “dress” and “keep” the Garden that “[s]ecular employments will very well consist with a state of innocency and a life of communion with God.”
In contrast to attempts to draw parallels between “secular employments” and the work of the first couple in Paradise, careful study will reveal that the very point of the scriptural injunction in Moses 3:15 is to inform Adam and Eve that no labor of the ordinary kind was required so long as they qualified to remain in that place. In this view, any conception that they were to focus their energies on digging and pruning the trees of Eden is surely mistaken, since the account makes clear that “man’s food was ever ready at hand.”
In this essay, we will argue that a different, and even more strenuous and demanding kind of work was required of Adam and Eve while they lived in the Garden of Eden. Moreover, we will see that the divine injunctions given there to the first couple have not changed in their priority since our first parents fell from Paradise.
Adam and Eve’s “Temple Work” in the Garden
A close analysis of Moses 3:15 in its immediate and wider context reveals that Adam and Eve’s occupation in Paradise was “temple work.” The verse states that Adam and Eve were put in the Garden of Eden “to dress it, and to keep it.”
The Hebrew terms in Genesis for “to dress” (abad) and “to keep” (shamar) respectively connote to “work, serve, till” and “keep, watch (guard), preserve.” Of course, these meanings are not, on the face of it, inconsistent with the practice of husbandry. Recalling, however, the temple-like layout of the Garden of Eden and the fact that these are the very words that are used to describe the tabernacle duties of the Levites the phrase takes on deeper significance. Gordon J. Wenham remarked that “if Eden is seen then as an ideal sanctuary, then perhaps Adam should be described as an archetypal Levite.” John Sailhamer similarly comments:
Man’s life in the garden was to be characterized by worship and obedience; he was a priest, not merely a worker and keeper of the Garden. … Throughout [Moses 3] the author has consistently and consciously developed the idea of man’s “likeness” to God along the same lines as the major themes of the Pentateuch as a whole, namely, the theme of worship and Sabbath rest.
In considering what occupied Adam and Eve’s time during their stay in the Paradise, remember that God had not yet declared an end to the period of sanctification He had purposed for the seventh day of Creation. The first couple was no doubt meant to “imitate the divine pattern” of sacred “rest,” paralleling in a general way humankind’s later weekly Sabbath-keeping.
What should Sabbath-keeping mean to those who desire to imitate the divine pattern? In a real sense, the Sabbath is designed to allow each of God’s children to experience each week a small glimpse of the “rest” He desires to give us in the great millennial day, when we will know what it is like to dwell in His presence forever. He wants us to spend each Sunday learning what it is like to live in His presence, to live the kind of life that He lives, completely focused on doing His work, to His glory. Ultimately, it is not out of order to call everything that has to do with the kind of work that God does “temple work,” because those who enter the celestial kingdom will work and dwell in His heavenly temple forever. In Revelation 21:22, we learn “there was no temple in the Holy City, ‘for its temple is the Lord God.’” Indeed, the layout of the entire city of New Jerusalem is described in terms of temple architecture.
Consequences of the Fall
In Moses 4:23-25, God describes to Adam the consequences of his anticipated transgression:
23 And unto Adam, I, the Lord God, said: Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the fruit of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying—Thou shalt not eat of it, cursed shall be the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.
24 Thorns also, and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field.
25 By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou shalt return unto the ground—for thou shalt surely die—for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou wast, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Note that, in contrast to the personal nature of the judgment pronounced on the serpent, Adam himself is not cursed. Instead, it is the soil, from which the material elements of his own body were drawn, that will now oppose him, disturbing the original harmony between man and nature.
Illustrating the sudden replacement of Eden-like luxuriance and prosperity with desolation and obscurity of the fallen earth are the ruins of the famed city of Ubar, shown here. Also associated with the Islamic Hud traditions described earlier, Ubar was a major trading site and source of water at the crossing of two desert trails whose origins stretch back to nearly the beginning of human history. Then, in the early centuries of the Christian era, after thousands of years of abundance, the city was suddenly swallowed up by the desert sands. It was only through the help of special imaging technology from NASA satellites in the 1980s that the location of this lost city was again pinpointed. (Naturally, I am not asserting that an event like this explains the disappearance of Paradise, but only using the story to help imagine the magnitude of the contrast between Adam and Eve’s situation in the mortal world and their former life in Eden.)
In contemporary commonsense interpretation, the phrase “cursed shall be the ground for thy sake” is often taken to mean that the imposition of the new requirement to work the unproductive soil was in reality done for the personal benefit or advantage of Adam. However, a more accurate rendering in modern English of “for thy sake” is simply “because of thee.” In other words, God is merely saying that the cursing of the ground was an inevitable consequence of Adam’s transgression. He is not saying anything good about it.
An immediate source of sorrow for Adam will come from the troublesome weeds that the earth will bring forth in abundance. The following paraphrase of God’s words connects this consequence to the themes of choice and opposition: “As you have eaten the fruit, thus knowing good and evil, likewise you will have to distinguish good in what you eat (gramineous plants) from evil (thorns).”
Unlike his life before the Fall, Adam was consigned to work the land to obtain his food. The importance of this labor is underscored when the language about tilling of the earth and eating of bread by the sweat of his brow is repeated in Moses 5. “The curse lies not in the work itself, which is decreed for man even in Eden, but in the uncooperative nature of the soil, so that henceforth the wresting of subsistence from it entails unremitting drudgery.” In this regard, temporal death will contribute “something positive here” to man, since it ultimately provides an end to his “toilsome work.”
Despite the prospect of such hardships, the subsequent news of the coming Redeemer will enable Adam to exclaim: “in this life I shall have joy.” In the angel’s announcement to Adam and Eve of the news of the coming Savior, he had also revealed to them something about the nature of the real work that was meant to engage the children if God. Significantly, following that announcement there is no further mention of Adam and Eve’s efforts to cultivate the soil beyond this point, as the focus of the narrative turns exclusively to their efforts to preach the Gospel to their wayward children. Adam and Eve left their fields of grain in order to nourish the souls of humankind: “For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul” (Doctrine and Covenants 4:
The Choice Between Two Kinds of Work
With the ever-available fruit of the Garden no longer in reach, the test now before Adam and Eve was to see if they could resist the temptation to make their labors on the land their exclusive occupation. In contrast to their life in Eden, they were instructed to exercise faith in God’s divine providence for the sunshine and rain needed for the success of their crops, while actively pursuing the higher vocation mandated by their acceptance of Gospel covenants as their primary concern. The story is presented as a stark choice between two ways. “Take no thought of what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink or wherewith ye shall be clothed!” is the wise counsel of their generous Benefactor and Friend. “If you leave my employ, what will become of you?” is the cynical scare-tactic used by their would-be padrone.
Which of these two perspectives is more realistic? Consider that the second character is someone who neither created nor really owns anything in this world, whose only motive is self-interest, and who is a “liar from the beginning.” Contrast that with what you know about the One who is the Maker and Ruler of all things, and then the answer should be easy. Each of these potential masters requests our service in full-time employ—while the former assures us that money is the key to anything we could possibly want in this world, the Latter gives His word that if we seek his kingdom first and foremost, any temporal things that we truly need “shall be added” to us freely as gifts from Him. For the truth is, as Hugh Nibley explains, that all our prosperity ultimately relies on God’s unfailing generosity:
Everything you have is a gift—everything. You have earned nothing. There is no concern for prosperity and survival where the Gospel is concerned. Everything we could possibly need for survival is given us at the outset as a free gift.
“But surely God expects us to work!” Of course He does, but we keep thinking of one kind of work, and He wants us to think of another. …
The gifts do not excuse us from work, they leave us free to do the real work. The instrument is given to you; it is up to you to show what you can do with it. I’ll give you the piano or I’ll give you the violin—the real work is showing what you can do with it. The Lord provides the tools. “I’ll give you the stone and the chisel—now you show that you are a Michelangelo.” It is much harder to be a Michelangelo than to work enough to buy a chisel and some stone.
Here is a parable. A businessman had a young child who showed great promise in music and wanted to learn to play the piano. “Very well,” said the shrewd, realistic, hard-headed businessman father, “as soon as you have manufactured a piano for yourself, going out and mining the metals and getting together all of the other materials, doing all the work necessary to make a piano, then I will consider letting you take piano lessons.”
The child protests: “These are two different kinds of work.”
Playing a piano and making a piano are related, but in your short time on earth you can’t do both. That’s just the way it is. I’m not saying that temporal things are not important—they are indispensable. We must have them at the outset free of charge. Our welfare is a very important matter to God. And God has recognized that and has taken care of it. He picks up the tab and expects us not to concern ourselves with it, certainly not as constantly and exclusively as we do, or even give it priority. He supplies us with bodies free of charge and with their upkeep, also free of charge. …
Like Adam, we are sent to this earth to go to school to learn things by our own experience, to be tried and tested and to seek ever greater light and knowledge. While we are here at school our room and board are all paid up by our kind, indulgent Father. What are we to study? Are we to spend all of our time at school studying how to get more and fancier room and board? That’s a vote of low confidence in our kindly benefactor; that’s a cynical sort of thing to do. But then I ask myself, “Isn’t that part of the experience of life?” Why ask me? Ask the one who is paying the bills for us what he intends us to study. He is most generous and explicit in his instructions, which are the first commandment given to the Church in these last days: “Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.” “Ha! Make you rich after all!” The Father explains that: He who has eternal life is rich. That is the wealth He wants us to have.
“What’s wrong with having both kinds?” Again, don’t ask me. The scriptures are full of answers to that one. You cannot lay up treasures both on earth and in heaven; you cannot live the Gospel and be concerned with the cares of the world. That’s what happened [in the story of] the sower: [some] accepted the gospel but did not give up the cares of this world. You cannot serve God and Mammon, you must hate the one and love the other. The rich man cannot enter heaven except by a very special dispensation. You cannot accept the Lord’s invitation to his banquet without neglecting other business. Remember, the Lord said a man gave a banquet. Everything was all ready, and he wanted his friends all to come and enjoy themselves. Ah! But they had more important things to do. The business of the world was more important. One of them said, “Well, I bought some land and I have to go inspect it”; another said, “I’m looking over a few oxen and they are important”; and another said, “I have a social obligation with this wedding I have to go to.” The Lord was angry with them all. "You will never get to my feast, then. You must either come to my feast or do your business.”
The point of all this is to show that our current situation is really no different than it was when Adam and Eve lived in Eden: though a minimum quota of distraction with temporal work cannot be avoided in this world, we are not to set our hearts on growing the size of our flocks and fields, but rather to “seek … first the kingdom” and trust God for all the rest.
C. S. Lewis once wrote that there are three kinds of people in the world: “The first class is of those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them. … In the second class are those who acknowledge some other claim upon them—the will of God, … or the good of society—and honestly try to pursue their own interests no further than this claim will allow. They try to surrender to the higher claim as much as it demands, like men paying a tax, but hope, like other taxpayers, that what is left over will be enough for them to live on.” They carefully divide their lives into the categories of what they owe to Caesar and what they owe to God, and will vigorously defend, if necessary, the notion that sometimes Caesar just has to come first. The third class is of those who have truly “forsaken all” for Christ. “These people have gotten rid of the tiresome business of adjusting the rival claims of Self and God by the simple expedient of rejecting the claims of Self altogether. … The will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs. All their time, in belonging to Him, belongs also to them, for they are His.”
In the covenant of baptism, we affirm that we do not wish to be people of this first class. By what we do with the rest of our life, we demonstrate to which of the other two classes we want to belong. Are we willing to follow our Savior at all costs? Is there anything that we would not give up if it stood in the way of our serving Him?
Now, there is an additional point we should not misunderstand. To consecrate one’s life to Christ does not usually require that one quit his job and spend his days preaching on street corners. That may be true at some times for some people, but not for most of us, most of the time. It is a matter of the priorities of our hearts: when we find ourselves being frugal with our commitment of money and time to inessentials and generous in our offerings and in our service, when we give the discharge of our call as Christians more weight than the lure of recreation, when we are willingly doing what we can to “whittle down what is due to Caesar” because we truly want to increase what we have left to render to God, then we begin to understand what it really means when the Apostle Paul says that “to live is Christ.”
Why is this so hard for most of us most of the time? Why did the children of Israel “[remove], and [stand] afar off” when it was their privilege to enter into the rest of the Lord, “which rest is the fulness of his glory”? For that matter, why do we reject the chance enter into the Lord’s rest on the Sabbath day? Perhaps one reason is because, as Elder Bruce C. Hafen has observed, in order to be with Him, we need to be like Him, and being like Him is not an easy thing. Ultimately, to be ready for eternal life, we will need to learn to love more than anything else in this life what He loves and to want nothing better in this life than to be able to do the same work that He does with the same dedication that He does it, namely with all our “heart, might, mind, and strength.”
Our Heavenly Father is engaged in doing His work 24 by 7, for all eternity, with no “time off for good behavior.” He is always there to answer our needs, and He never withdraws to the highest heaven because He has become weary of our wickedness and weaknesses. God’s consecration of self is whole and complete, as is the consecration of His Son.
Of course, God knows it is too strenuous for us to engage in that kind of full-time service seven days a week. He pleads for us to spend just one day a week fully consecrated in worship, learning, and service, so we can be better prepared for an eternity of Sabbaths in the hereafter. For one day a week He asks us to completely “turn away … from doing [our] pleasure” and “speaking [our] own words.” Instead, He asks us focus our energies completely on something else, namely, to do “none other thing” than to engage in the kind of work we hope someday to do forever.
Sadly, we find it daunting to maintain the required singleness of mind and purpose completely for even twenty-four hours each week. Even more tragic is the sad secret hidden in our heart of hearts that the reason we fail in our Sabbath-keeping efforts is that we really don’t have much of a desire to succeed. There are a million other things we would rather do with “our day off” than spend it in worship, learning, and service. The generous opportunity offered to us each Sabbath day to engage in the work of eternity for twenty-four hours straight seems far less interesting to us than the trivial pursuits that occupy our attention every other day of the week. Keeping the Sabbath—and for that matter, keeping our sacred “vows … on all days and at all times” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:11)—is central to proving to God that we love the things that He loves more than all else in this world.
In Moses 4:31, we read:
So I drove out the man, and I placed at the east of the Garden of Eden, cherubim and a flaming sword, which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life.
Note that the Hebrew term for “to keep” (shamar = keep, watch, guard, preserve) is identical to the earlier term describing one of the two duties given to Adam when he was originally placed in the Garden. Adam’s former function “to keep the Garden”—which, of course, equates to the task of keeping “the way to the tree of life”—will henceforth be assumed by the cherubim. However, since no one is now appointed to fulfill the duty to “dress” the Garden (abad = work, serve within it as the archetypical Levite), it must remain unoccupied and unworked until man, prepared with “intelligence and knowledge” gained through “diligence and obedience,” is ready to enter its sacred precincts. Meanwhile, our field of labor is this world—and there is no lack of “temple work” for us to do.
This essay is adapted from Jeffrey M. Bradshaw. Temple Themes in the Book of Moses. 2014 update ed. Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Publishing, 2014. English: https://archive.org/details/150904TempleThemesInTheBookOfMoses2014UpdatedEditionSReading ; Spanish: http://www.templethemes.net/books/171219-SPA-TempleThemesInTheBookOfMoses.pdf, pp. 173–183.
Notes on Figures
Figure 1. Photograph DSC01133, 15 April 2010, © Jeffrey M. Bradshaw.
Figure 2. Photograph DSC00637, 31 May 2006, © Jeffrey M. Bradshaw.
Figure 3. Public Domain, http://www.artnet.com/artists/albert-servaes/moissonneurs-iI0W_Ykd2Y3YyYqJX6WGUw2 (August 23, 2021).
Figure 4. Photograph IMG_0101, 27 February 2010, © Jeffrey M. Bradshaw.
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Though idleness is not a virtue, neither is much of the world’s work, especially when fueled by greed, inequity, careerism, dishonesty, or when it fosters neglect of the higher purposes of life.
In the book of Hebrews, readers are urged to enter into the “Lord’s rest” (Hebrews 4:3, 10). Explains Catherine Thomas: “They had tarried too long in the foothills of spiritual experience. Having ‘tasted of the heavenly gift,… the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come’ (Hebrews 6:4-6), they could no longer delay resuming the climb lest they lose the promise.… The promise that Paul refers to repeatedly is that same promise explained in Doctrine and Covenants 88:68-69: ‘Therefore, sanctify yourselves… and the days will come that you shall see [God]; for he will unveil his face unto you’” (M. C. Thomas, Hebrews, pp. 479-480).
In Hebrew, the word Sabbath means “rest.” The purpose of the Sabbath dates back to the Creation of the world, when after six days of labor the Lord rested from the work of creation (see Genesis 2:2–3). When He later revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses, God commanded that we “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8; see also Deuteronomy 5:12; Mosiah 13:16; 18:23). Later, the Sabbath was observed as a reminder of the deliverance of Israel from their bondage in Egypt (See Deuteronomy 5:14–15). Perhaps most important, the Sabbath was given as a perpetual covenant, a constant reminder that the Lord may sanctify His people (see Exodus 31:13, 16).
Elder Bruce C. Hafen and Marie K. Hafen further explain this concept with reference to Alma 13 (B. C. Hafen et al., Contrite Spirit, p. 74):
Alma made it clear that entering into the Lord’s rest is not a privilege reserved only for the elect few. In his day, “there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.” Alma also linked “the rest of the Lord” to ordinances while speaking of the higher priesthood: “These ordinances were given … that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, … it being his order.” Then he implored all of us to become sufficiently “humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering” (there are those same higher level words again) that we too might “enter into his rest” (Alma 13:12, 16, 28-29, emphasis added).
“Having food and raiment,” says Paul to Timothy, “let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:8). We must have sufficient for our needs in life’s journey, but to go after more is forbidden, though you have your God-given free agency to do so. “Our real wants are very limited,” says Brigham; “When you have what you wish to eat and sufficient clothing to make you comfortable you have all that you need; I have all that I need” (JD, JD, 13:302). How many people need to eat two lunches a day? We all eat too much, wear too much, and work too much. Brigham says if we all “work less, wear less, eat less, …we shall be a great deal wiser, healthier, and wealthier people than by taking the course we now do” (ibid., 12:122). (H. W. Nibley, Work, p. 235)
I’m wondering if you or any of the staff have a background in agricultural–physically taxing, sweaty, seemingly endless, but deeply satisfying! Such is interaction with “soil.” I do much of my best and most satisfying thinking when I’m at the end of a shovel, rake, hoe, pick, or other “soil” implement. It’s an intrinsically “rewarding” experience, deeply satisfying, just preserving and beautifying God’s fields. And getting back at Satan.
Curse or blessing … ? Somebody has to/gets to experience the effects of Adam’s choice to follow Eve’s choice.
I really enjoyed this one, and at my age it’s well timed. How much effort do you keep putting into work as you realize there is no lasting value in it and when there are so few laborers out doing the more important work.
Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention to where exactly, but early in the essay there is an ‘if’ that should be ‘of’ and towards the end a ‘to’ is missing. Maybe proceeding ‘cover’? A great essay like his ought to have the typos expunged…
I enjoyed it also, but I must add that much of the work we do provides vital assistance to our fellowmen, such as producing food, providing medical assistance and medicines, mining, petroleum production, manufacturing, providing transportation of goods and people, police and military work, etc., etc. I am 83 and have served the Lord in his Church and Temple for over 50 years, but I feel that I have also served my fellowmen in my temporal labors since I was 10. I am still working to help produce food for a hungry world and hope to die with my boots on.
For all the reasons you mention, the essay highlights that temporal work is generally good. But all temporal work is limited in value by benefitting our fellow man, at most, for the rest of their mortal lives – maybe a few decades. When we help them along their spiritual path we might have an impact on their happiness that lasts trillions of years. It’s hard to think that Martha could be corrected for preparing a meal for the Savior. What could be better than that? Listening to him… at least that’s what I’m taking away from the essay.
True, but the Savior made it clear as to who enters His Kingdom when he said: “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me… Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 24:34-40)
How we provide for the mortal needs of our fellow men is critical to our Eternal Salvation.
That’s a great point!