Tilling God’s Garden
According to the Bible, man was created to till the Garden, of Eden that is. It’s part of a recurring thread that runs through the Bible. I’m talking about slavery, servitude or whatever term one may choose to refer to it.
In Exodus, Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God. In addition, he also receives a multitude of other laws and instructions that was referred to as the Book of the Covenant (see Exodus 24:7). One of the more interesting things in the Book of the Covenant is the discussion of slavery. The text goes like this:
“If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing…And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do (Exodus 21:2,7).”
The Israelites had so sooner been freed from slavery in Egypt than they enslaved others, including their own kind (Hebrews). A man could even sell his daughter into slavery. So, slavery is actually permitted by God himself; it’s even a part of the Tenth Commandment. Is there a biblical precedent for this?
Well, yes, as a matter of fact there is. In Genesis 9:24-27, it says, “And he (Noah) said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. And God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.” Apparently, the only righteous person that God could find believed in the concept of slavery, in this case condemning many of his own descendants into servitude.
However, the origins of slavery actually go back further, all the way back to the Garden of Eden. It was in the Garden that man was created to till the garden. Yes, to till the ground, to dress it and to keep it, just like it says in Genesis 2:5,18.
Contrary to popular belief, then, man was not created for the express purpose of worshiping God, or to be fruitful and multiply for that matter. With respect to procreation, Eve was an afterthought (see Genesis 2:18-24 and 1 Corinthians 11:9) and Adam and Eve did not have children until after they left the Garden. Besides, prior to eating from the Tree of Knowledge, man was unaware of his sexuality. This is what was meant by the passage in Genesis 2:25 which states that Adam and Eve were naked and they were not ashamed.
God could have condemned slavery at any point in man’s evolution, not unlike his condemnation of taking a human life (in the Ten Commandments) or his admonition not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge (in Genesis 2). Of course, free will being what it is, man was going to make less than perfect choices. That was to be expected. In fact, an omniscient God would have known that it would happen (even before he created man he would have known). However, God never took a stand. He never said that it was wrong. There wasn’t even any punishment for it. What’s wrong with this picture?
There are only a couple of possibilities to explain all of this. Stop me if you have heard this from me before. Either God isn’t very godly (in fact, he wasn’t even omniscient), or the god of Genesis is not God. Your choice. Myself, I would simply say that the god of Genesis was the very source of the cultural mores that said that slavery was acceptable. After all, he created man to till the garden, didn’t he?
“Much that the Bible says about him (God) is rarely preached from the pulpit because, examined too closely, it becomes a scandal.”
– Jack Miles, God: A Biography