Work from the Beginning: Genesis 2

By David Williamson, part three of a series.

There are several nudges or suggestions in the early chapters of Genesis that work is done in the context of teams. No grand, rugged individualism, independence or autonomy here!

The need for teamwork is most directly stated in Genesis 2:5: “There was no one to till the ground.” In this second account of creation, there was “no plant of the field in the earth,” “no herb of the field had yet sprung up,” for “the Lord had not caused it to rain….and there was no one to till the ground.” This leads God to form a chunk of humus (the ground) into a human, adam (from adamah). Until there is another being, the work of creation cannot continue or be fulfilled. God needs – or wants – someone to cooperate with, to work alongside, to bring to completion what God intends for God’s great idea (“word”).

In Genesis 2:15, the Lord God puts the man/Adam/human in the garden to till and keep it. God creates ex nihilo, provides the raw materials to the garden. Adam continues the work by tilling and keeping the garden. Adam contributes these necessary tasks so the garden can produce the fruit of the soil, the good product God intended. God and the garden alone are not enough for what God’s great idea involved.

In Genesis 2:18, God chooses to create a teammate, a work partner. I think that what follows in Genesis 2 is rather humorous. Intending to provide a work partner, God creates each of the animals and each of the birds, bringing them to the human who names them. Notice that God gave the human the authority to name the animals, a first expression of “dominion”: from aardvark to zebra, the whole range. Although some have been known as “beasts of burden” or “man’s best friend,” none of them is truly a teammate, a sufficient partner in the work God has given Adam to do.

So God takes one of Adam’s ribs (Genesis 2:21) and fashions it into a woman – man to woman. Adam responds with a jubilant cry of “Aha!” Now the twosome joins with God and becomes a threesome, to work together to bring to fruition the grand idea (logos) of God.

They are a work team before a procreation team. Sexual identity and activity is implied in Genesis 1:28’s “be fruitful and multiply.” They are a couple, woman and man, one flesh, “naked and not ashamed.” But their first responsibility or task is to work together to till and subdue, exercising joint dominion.

Throughout history, the most basic work team has been the family, from farms (tilling and subduing the soil) to family businesses. The family team works together to exercise the shared responsibility of producing and providing what is needed for sustenance. This fulfills the creation mandate: be fruitful, fill the earth, subdue and have dominion over all the rest of the created order.

From here it is easy to go back to the earlier verses and see the work team implied there. In the creation mandate to exercise dominion, authority is given to the human creature. This involves working with God, cooperating with and under God’s ultimate authority to exercise God’s purposes over the rest of creation: animals, birds, sea creatures and indeed every living creature – and the environments that facilitate their productivity. It is a working, cooperative, faithful work relationship that enables the realization of “be fruitful and subdue and have dominion” over every living thing: A divine partnership, a cooperative working relationship, needed to sustain life, human and other, and to fulfill the mandate.

Eventually, God will reveal himself as a three-person team, so to speak: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus, the Son, chooses to “be with him” as Jesus carries out his work of Incarnation and Redemption. Conforming to the same pattern, the early church goes out into the wider community as teams: Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Silas, Barnabas and John Mark, etc.

It is after the creation the human (couple) team that God can say, this is “very good,” and take a day of rest. In Exodus 20 this is used as the rationale for humans “remembering the Sabbath” and keeping it “holy.” Humans too remember and hallow the Sabbath, following God’s lead to rest the human team, male and female together in a day of sacred rest.

Perhaps this suggests, or even requires, the human team to discern together how this can best be done. In the past, Sunday “blue laws” were established to strongly limit work on Sunday (the Christian “Sabbath”). Society collectively called people to honor the day of “rest,” to say “it is very good” – not to mention, “enough is enough” and learn to trust the creator God with the resources (communal as well as familial) to sustain life on six days of shared (team) work.

Familial or even workplace teams will, would need to work together to find the way this can be done. In the farming context, taking a day for rest reconnected the high value of family relationship time, and indicated an implied trust in God to take care of the earth on the seventh day. Both are profound ways of connecting into the basic relationship with God the ultimate provider, and the ultimate companion.

Beyond the family, this understanding of work invites us to see and consider how our work, our team’s work, is connected to the work of others. We are community, connected to each other for each other’s potential benefit. In, many ways we are a collection of interconnected work teams, in community, fulfilling God’s purpose. Each team contributes to the well-being or thriving of the whole. Just as individuals are not in the end self-sufficient, so too, work teams are connected to other work teams.

Teamwork is the style of work God intends. We are made for relationships, work relationships – mutual help. To be fully human, we need to be in relation to others who correspond to ourselves. Work is relational, with God and with others; for God and with God.

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