You Shall Not Eat


While it is true that certain aspects of our work are cursed, our labor remains a gift from God.

“The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Gen. 2:16–17).

In Genesis, Moses provides us with three important doctrines that govern our relationship to God and to one another. Though various elements of these three teachings are found throughout Genesis 1–3, today’s passage offers us a good opportunity to reflect on all of them in one sitting.

Traditionally, the mandates that were established by God at creation have been called “creation ordinances.” Creation ordinances can be defined as stipulations laid upon man before the fall, which provide the structure for the created order and are to be obeyed as long as this order exists. Genesis 2:15 informs us that Adam was placed in the garden to “work it and keep it,” making labor the second of three creation ordinances. The other two are Sabbath observance (vv. 1–3) and marriage (v. 24). These ordinances will also order the eternal state, although they will be transformed at the consummation when we enter God’s rest, perform the work of worship, and feast at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Heb. 4:9–10; Rev. 19:1–9).

Closely related to the ordinance of labor is the second doctrine taught in Genesis 1–3: the cultural mandate. Our duty to subdue the whole earth for the glory of God (1:28) means we are to work to make all things serve the name of the Lord. Our labor is the chief way we can do this; thus, we must use our talents to advance the kingdom, whether or not we are in full-time ministry.

Finally, we recognize the covenant of works present in these chapters. In this covenant, God entered into an agreement with Adam as the representative of the human race and promised implicitly to bless him if he would obey the Lord by not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:16–17). The curse for disobedience was eternal death, which informs us that the blessing would have been the guarantee of eternal life (see also Rom. 7:10). We all know Adam disobeyed God’s command, and in him all of humanity became enslaved to sin. Though the first Adam brought the curse upon us, his disobedience paved the way for the second Adam, namely, Jesus Christ through whom we are declared righteous (Rom. 5:12–21).

Coram Deo

Many people view labor as punishment — or something to be done only to earn a paycheck. While it is true that certain aspects of our work are cursed, labor nonetheless remains a gift from God. Thus we are to toil enthusiastically for the sake of His glory. Take some time today to consider your attitude towards your job and the use of your talents there. See it as a vocation, or calling, and manifest the Lord’s reign and His joy in your workplace.

Passages for Further Study

  • Gen. 9:1–2; 41; 50:19–20

  • Dan. 2
Matt. 25:14–30

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