|Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 8, Number 6, February 5 to February 11, 2006|
When God created mankind, he did so in the context of the entire creation, with mankind being the pinnacle of God's creation. We see this in a number of ways, especially through the fact that human beings were created as "God's images," that is, as the statues or icons of God that visually represented him in the world (Gen. 1:27). False religions employed carved or molten images as visual representations of their gods, and treated these images with the respect they believed to be due to their gods. God created people to serve a similar function, namely, as memorials to their maker. Although mankind was not to be treated as God himself, they did receive dignity as a result of being God's image bearer, and they were to be received and treated as God's representatives on earth.
Mankind was also shown to be the pinnacle of God's creation through their appointment to rule over the creation (Gen. 1:28; 2:19; Ps. 8:6). In this regard, human beings served as God's vassal kings. God himself was the suzerain, the sovereign great king to whom all other kings bowed. Human beings were the vassal or servant kings, subservient to the suzerain but sovereign over his appointed realm. They were appointed to rule over the creation for the benefit of the creation, for the benefit of themselves, and for the benefit of God. As God's administrators of the earth, they were expected to rule well and righteously, bringing blesses to the earth by fulfilling their duties (e.g., Gen. 2:15), and consequently bringing honor to God. When they did these things, they would also be blessed themselves, through the increase they created as well as through God's favor.
God also indicated that mankind was the pinnacle of creation by appointing man as his priests and ministers. This is apparent through the direct fellowship God shared with mankind in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:8), and through the vocabulary used in Genesis 2 to describe the Garden and mankind's role therein. Specifically, Genesis 2:15 states that God put mankind in the Garden "to work it and take care of it." When paired in this way, the verbs "work" and "take care" are technical language referring to the type of work that the Levites did in the tabernacle (cf. Num. 3:7,8; 8:26; 18:7).
So, mankind was created to be both kings and priests who served God as his representatives on earth. These facts indicate that one of God's primary purposes for the creation was that it serve as his earthly kingdom. The Garden of Eden was the place of his court, the place of his enthronement (ancient kings typically maintained gardens; cf. Neh. 3:15; Est. 1:5-6; 7:7-8; Eccl. 1:1 w/ 2:5; Jer. 39:4; 52:7). Human beings were his priests and servant kings, ministering to him and administering his kingdom on his behalf. This is still God's plan for creation (Ps. 47).
In the original order of creation, man's relationship with God was covenantal. This can be inferred in a number of ways. First, the standard means by which a suzerain king related to a vassal king was through a national treaty, also called a covenant. These were arrangements whereby the suzerain imposed a relationship on the vassal, as well as the terms of that relationship. He offered blessings for following the terms of the relationship, and threatened curses against breaking the terms of the relationship. Since man was God's vassal king, and God was the suzerain, Moses' and his original audience would have assumed that God would relate to mankind through a covenant.
Second, there are a number of standard features of a covenant, and these can be found in the creation account. Now, it is important to note that there are two basic definitions of a covenant. One is that a covenant is the agreement between two parties, such as a treaty or contract. The other is that a covenant is the relationship between these parties that is forged by that agreement. In point of fact, the Bible uses the word "covenant" in both ways. While there is no covenant document or ceremony or sacrifice in the creation account (common elements of a covenant agreement), there is plenty of evidence that a covenant relationship existed between God and mankind.
Different scholars list the elements of covenants in different ways, but there are at least five basic elements of covenantal relationships that are typically reflected in ancient covenant documents, each of which is present in the creation account:
1. Benevolence of the Suzerain. Prior to forming the covenant, the suzerain demonstrated good will in the form of blessings to the vassal. In the case of mankind, he created mankind and placed him in the Garden.
2. Imposition on the Vassal. Covenant relationships were unilaterally imposed by the suzerain upon the vassal. With regard to mankind, God assigned humanity a role that could not be refused (Gen. 2:15). He also imposed stipulations, consequences and perpetuity (see below).
3. Stipulations. Covenant stipulations consisted of laws that vassal kings had to follow. Ancient suzerains often required vassals to provide tribute, men to serve in armies, women for harems and as wives for those in the suzerain's kingdom, etc. (just as suzerains and vassals commonly required these things from their subject peoples; cf. 1 Sam. 8:11-17). In the Garden of Eden, the stipulations included working and taking care of the Garden (Gen. 2:15) and not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17).
4. Consequences. Covenants also imposed consequences, both positive consequences (i.e., blessings) for obedience to the stipulations, and negative consequences (i.e., curses) for disobedience to the stipulations. The most obvious consequence mentioned in the creation narrative is the curse on eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17).
5. Perpetuity / Succession. Covenants also provided for their continuation in the future. Often, this provision took the form of mentioning who would inherit the covenant obligations, both suzerain and vassal, in future generations. Such rules of succession were based on the understanding that the covenant was perpetual. Appropriately, the consequences of God's original covenant with mankind extended to future generations of humanity (e.g., all mankind, not just Adam and Eve, was thrown out of the Garden of Eden; Gen. 3:24; see also Rom. 5:12-19).
Third, other portions of Scripture refer back to the original creation with the understanding that it was covenantal. For instance, Hosea 6:7 reads: "Like Adam, they have broken the covenant — they were unfaithful to me there." Some commentators take the word "Adam" as a reference to humanity in general, or to a city by that name (cf. Josh. 3:16). But the most natural reference seems to be to the first man.
Genesis itself also alludes to a covenant with Adam. When the covenant with Noah is introduced, the vocabulary refers to confirming (Hebrew: qum; Gen. 6:18; 9:11ff.) an existing covenant rather than creating (Hebrew: karath) a new covenant. Thus, a preceding covenant is assumed when God speaks to Noah about confirming his covenant. Nothing in Genesis is called a "covenant" prior to the account of Noah, but it is reasonable to conclude that Moses understood the initial arrangement between God and humanity to be the antecedent to the covenant with Noah.
Finally, it is clear that there was a covenant under Christ (Matt. 26:28 // Mark 14:24 // Luke 22:20; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 7:22; 8:6). The New Testament draws a parallel between Adam and Christ, and associates the two in terms of standard covenant elements (Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 15:22,45-49). Since these elements explicitly refer to a covenant in the case of Christ, it is reasonable to conclude that they also refer to a covenant in the case of Adam. Whereas Christ served as the covenant administrator in his day, Adam was the covenant administrator at creation, which is why we refer to the Adamic administration of the covenant.
At some point near the beginning of humanity's history, mankind rebelled against God's covenant stipulations, eating the fruit of the forbidden tree (Gen. 3:6). As a result, God executed the terms of the covenant, and laid upon mankind a covenant curse. Mankind was thrown out of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:22-24), losing the blessing of living in God's court. Humanity also became subject to physical illness and death (Gen. 3:19; Rom. 5:15), and was placed under God's judicial condemnation (Rom. 5:16,18).
Prior to the Fall, mankind lived in a harmonious, blessed relationship with God. The animals were subject to humanity's rule (Gen. 1:28; 2:19), and the ground produced food without effort (cf. Deut. 11:10-12). After the Fall, mankind stood condemned to a hard life, and looked forward only to hell at death. Moreover, since Adam was the covenant administrator, and since in that role he stood as ruler over the earth, the entire creation was subjected to the curse on Adam (Rom. 8:19-21). For instance, animals began to rebel against mankind (Gen. 3:15; Lev. 26:22), and the ground became difficult to work (Gen. 3:17-19).
The Fall changed the circumstances of the covenant between God and mankind, but it did not change the covenant itself. The covenant remained in force, which is why Adam could be subjected to its curses. Those outside of the covenant would not be required to submit to its curses. This, of course, is intuitive when we consider the ancient national context of treaties. Clearly, when a vassal nation broke a treaty, the suzerain nation did not simply let them go. Rather, when they were able, the suzerains prosecuted the covenant, in part as an attempt to bring the vassals back into compliance. They often used military force to accomplish this. Breaking a covenant made one liable to its curses, just as breaking the law makes one liable to the courts of justice. Violations of covenants and laws do not exempt anyone from obedience to those covenants and laws.
Because the covenant continued, mankind stood perpetually condemned, subject to the covenant curses. This condition would continue until they could return to a blessed covenantal status. The problem was that in God's economy, they could not do this on their own.
Because God the Father is benevolent, merciful and faithful, he did not destroy irrevocably mankind when Adam and Eve fell into sin. Rather, he administered and prosecuted his covenant in a gracious manner, in light of the pre-creation covenant he had made with the Son. He punished mankind, but he did not destroy them. Moreover, he provided a means for their redemption through the Son.
The first proclamation of this redemption can be found in Genesis 3:15, which theologians commonly call the protoevangelion or "first gospel." Essentially, it simply required that Adam and Eve trust in God for their redemption, and look forward to that redemption in a human redeemer that would (rather obviously) be their descendant.
Now, the introduction of the gospel did not do away with the covenant. On the contrary, the covenant still bound mankind, and still subjected all human beings to its curses by virtue of Adam's sin. The addition of the gospel to the covenant, however, added a new dimension. Specifically, additional stipulations now provided the means by which those who had fallen under the covenant curses could escape those curses and receive blessings. Then as now, God continued to bring earthly consequences for adherence to or rebellion against the stipulations. But for those who were restored in faith, these consequences became loving means of sanctification rather than wrathful means of condemnation.
So, the content of faith required under the Adamic administration of the covenant was minimal. Belief in God was required, as was loving, faithful commitment to him. But the specifics of how redemption was to be accomplished were not yet revealed in any detail.
How does this period of redemptive history affect the modern church? Well, for one thing, the purpose of creation is still the same. God is still building his kingdom, and it is still his plan to spread it over the whole earth under the administration of his human royal priestly vassals (e.g., Matt. 6:10,33; 24:14; 1 Cor. 4:8). This is being realized through Jesus, the vassal king to whom Christians bow, and under whom we will serve in our own capacity as rulers over the earth (2 Tim. 2:12). It is important for us to recognize that God's goal is still to turn the world into his earthly kingdom because it is partly our job to build that kingdom.
It is also important for us to recognize the ongoing effects of the Fall. This world is not what it should be, and we are not who we should be. Sin is a horrible corruption of the perfect world God created. We need to see it for the enemy it is, and to resist it so that we can avoid its present and further consequences.
And of course, it is important for us to understand the nature of God's redemption: that it is covenantal, that it is merciful, and that it is provided through a human redeemer. We need to understand that being redeemed does not mean that we are free from obeying God's covenant. On the contrary, being saved obligates us to obey his covenant, which includes honoring him, ministering to him, properly ruling creation, and doing all that he commands.