The Convenant with Adam

The Text

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the land and master it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that crawls on the ground.” See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the wild animals, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps upon the ground, in which there is the breath of life, I give all the green plants for food.” (Gen 1:28-30). “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Gen. 2:16-17)

The terms of The Covenant

What God will do: give us every fruit and seed-bearing plant as food; give all animals the seed-bearing plants as food. What humans must do: be fruitful, increase in number, rule over everything on earth. Blessings: You are free to eat of any tree in the garden Restrictions: You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. Curses: the day that you eat of it, you will most certainly die. Now, personally, we do not believe literally in Adam and Eve. We do not believe that the earth was created literally in six days. However, this story is part of our tradition, and it still has a message for us. How shall we re-interpret the Covenant of Adam?

  1. We have been given sentience, intelligence and power, greater than any other creature on earth. Nowhere in this covenant does God say that we should abuse the earth. “Subdue the earth” has been taken too literally by some people. Rather, we should be stewards of God’s earth, look after it and care for it.
  2. God gave us every plant that produces seeds for food. Now, in nature, the vast majority of plants produce seeds. Yet some scientists have bred plants that do not have seeds. Does this not make us stop and wonder how far we should go in changing nature? That God has created things to be a certain way, and we make them other than what they truly are?
  3. It is because we are sentient that we are able to tell the difference between good and evil. To other creatures, good and evil are irrelevant; they do what they do because that is what they are. Now that we know the difference, we have a responsibility to act wisely and with caring regard to the people and the world around us.

The Covenant is broken

But Adam and Eve broke this covenant, so God sues for compensation:

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen. 3:16-19).

Wow! That isn’t very nice is it? In this passage, God punishes Adam and Eve for breaking the treaty or agreement he made with them. For the religious moderate, this sounds like God behaving like a vindictive tyrant – incompatible with our experience of a God of mercy, forgiveness and compassion.

How can we re-interpret this to make it relevant to the modern mind?

Sentience is again the key. All creatures experience pain. However, because we as human beings have the capacity to understand the origin and nature of pain, we are all the more keen to it. We can learn by it. We can understand that our actions cause others pain, something that lesser non-sentient creatures don’t understand. We must be sensitive to what we do.


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