We live in a day in which people are embarrassed to promote virtue. During an orientation session for my one year of law school, my class mates and I listened to a thirty second ethics lecture. The professor mentioned the standards we had to adhere to. “You know, don’t cheat, don’t plagiarize, return all school materials when you are done with them.” The professor seemed quite embarrassed to be bringing up the subject. I don’t think he made eye contact with us. When someone can articulate virtue and selflessness movingly, unabashedly, we are not embarrassed, but uplifted. That is why people are still talking about the Super Bowl ad that featured the late Paul Harvey. The ad was for a truck. It featured Harvey’s speech “So God Made a Farmer.” In it, Harvey paid tribute to the value of farming and the virtue of American farmers in particular. “And on the eighth day” Harvey said, “God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker—so God made a farmer…God said, ‘I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk the cows, work all day in the field, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board’—so God made a farmer.” Farmers are patient, sitting up all night with a newborn colt, watching it die, drying their eyes, and then saying, “Maybe next year.” Farmers can shoe a horse “with a hunk of car tire.” They finish 40-hour weeks by Tuesday noon, then suffering from “tractor back,” put in another 72 hours. The farmer is a family man. He bales “a family together with the soft, strong bonds of sharing.” During an event in which men sustained possibly permanent injury for the entertainment of others, and which offered non-family friendly half-time fare, the ad for a truck stood out.
Some criticize Harvey’s words as propaganda, idol worship of the American way of life. I can’t join in that chorus. Harvey’s speech was made to the Future Farmers of America. In that context, it was entirely appropriate to inspire farmers by affirming the worth of their calling. In extolling their virtues, Harvey was also inspiring non-farmers to the same virtues exhibited by American farmers. There is a danger, though, in the way Harvey used scripture to illustrate the virtue of farmers. Harvey took the scripture in Genesis out of context to celebrate mankind rather than mankind’s creator. God did indeed create man to care for his creation. But that care involves something beyond the noble calling of the farmer.
Genesis 2:15 informs us that “…the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” In a video, Ed Dobson states that it is from the word “tend” that the word “worship” originates. Dobson’s statement intrigued me, so I investigated whether he was correct. The Hebrew word for worship, sahah, means “to worship, prostrate oneself, bow down.” (Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words) The word denotes an act of an inferior bowing down to a superior or ruler. The word tend (dress in the KJV), according to Strong’s Concordance, is the Hebrew word “abad.” The primary root of abad is ‘to work.” The implied meaning is “to serve, till, enslave.” (Strong’s Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary, 5647) “To keep” is another meaning. And so is “worshipper.” How can a Hebrew word which means work, or to keep, be related to worship?
Implicit in abad’s meaning is to protect. Abad is used in Gen. 3:24. When God drove out Adam and Eve from the garden, God stationed Cherubim and a flaming sword east of the garden “to guard the way to the tree of life.” (See also Josh 10:18, 1Sam. 7:1, 2Sam. 15:16, 16:21, 20:3) We see the same usage of abad in God’s instructions concerning the protection of property: “If a man delivers to his neighbor money or articles to keep, and it is stolen out of the man’s house, if the thief is found, he shall pay double.” We see this again three verses following. We see the word being used again in Ex. 23:20 concerning God’s protection of Israel as he leads them into the Promised Land: “Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and bring you into the place which I have prepared.” (See also Ps. 91:11, Gen 28: 15, 20, Ps. 17:8)
The most common usage of the word abad is represented by this verse from Exodus: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws?’” (Ex. 16:23) Commands featuring the word abad exhorting Israel to keep God’s commandments are found in Gen 17: 9,10, 18: 19, Dt. 4:2, 5:12, 29, 6: 2, 17, Josh. 22:5, 23:6, 1K. 2:3, 3:14, 8: 58, 61, 11:38, 1Ch. 22:12, 29:19, Ps. 19:11, 119: 4, 5, 57, 60, 106). The word is also used in Dt. 17:8, which refers to God keeping His covenant.
When abad is used in those verses concerning keeping God’s commands, does this indicate a mechanistic response on the part of Israel? Certainly not. In the Old Testament, God condemned Israel when its observance of the law was nothing more than just going through the motions: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hos. 6:6) God condemned Israel for participating in the Temple worship with a heart that was far from Him. (Is 29:9) Josh 22:5, which was cited in the previous paragraph, reads, “But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul.” The keeping of God’s commandments wasn’t to be a mechanical exercise in which performance guaranteed a good standing before God. No. The keeping of God’s commandments was to be the result of loving God with all one’s heart and soul. It was to be a response to God’s love and protection which is spoken of in Ex. 23:20 (cited above) and elsewhere. The word abad in these verses referred to the kind of response to God Josiah, King of Judah, displayed when the Book of the Law was recovered: “Then the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord and keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people took a stand for the covenant.” (2K. 23:3, see also 2Ch. 34:31) The keeping of God’s commandments, whether by the priests in the temple or ordinary Israelites, was to be an act of worship to God. It was to be done with all their heart and soul.
When God told Adam to tend (abad) His garden, tending the garden went beyond the practice of agriculture. Adam’s care of the garden was to be an act of love toward the God whom he fellowshipped with and who gave him life and blessings beyond imagination. Adam’s care of the garden was to be an act of worship. God created the earth and shared with Adam His own care of His creation. Even after Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, Adam and his family through Seth passed down to later generations the worship of God, “…Then men began to call on the name of the Lord.” (Gen. 4:26) When Noah came out of the ark after the flood, his first act was to sacrifice one seventh of the clean animals and clean birds which had been on the ark, one-seventh of Noah’s food supply. This act of worship so moved God that He made a covenant not to destroy the earth again by flood and removed a portion of the curse pronounced upon Adam. (Gen. 8 and 9) Today, we are the beneficiaries of Noah’s act of worship. When we worship God today in spirit and in truth, we are tending God’s world. As a royal priesthood (1Pet. 2:9), we intercede for His Church and for a broken, dying world. As priests, we tend to God’s world as an act of worship. It is an office we dare not refuse. Paul tells us why the wrath of God is upon mankind: “…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful…” (Rom 1:21) In other words, mankind refused to be worshippers of God.
So, God did not merely make a farmer to tend His garden. God made a worshipper.
(Scripture verses from the NKJV)