by Mike Phay
I know it’s coming. I’ve read it before. But maybe the story will be different this time.
But alas, it’s not. It never is.
Genesis 3 always follows Genesis 1 and 2. It’s like watching a train wreck over and over again, and I’m a passive observer with the unfortunate privilege of being an eye-witness to chaos and destruction. Powerless to stop it but forced to watch.
If I had written Genesis 3, things would have gone differently. Adam would’ve done his job, protected his bride, resisted temptation, vanquished the serpent, and left a heroic legacy for the rest of mankind.
But I don’t get to rewrite the story because the story itself tells us its Author is perfect. He doesn’t make mistakes.
Sometimes, I need the story to correct me. That’s what Psalm 127 does. It doesn’t let me long for what could’ve been, but rather live wholly—and trustingly—in what is.
A GARDEN PSALM
One of fifteen Psalms of Ascent—a set of songs regularly sung by Hebrew pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem—Psalm 127 reminds pilgrims that in every aspect of our created reality, God can and should be trusted.
And that really is the point of the garden story in Genesis—that God can and should be trusted.
But we have a hard time trusting him, don’t we?
When viewed alongside Genesis, we discover that the 127th psalm is a garden psalm. It reminds us of the origin story that set the assigned rhythms and responsibilities of human life. It’s a psalm about how life was intended to be lived, how we’ve fallen away, and how we can once again be brought back into God’s intended design.
Psalm 127 is a hope-filled corrective in a fallen world, a glimpse into how a garden life is once again possible because of the reality of redemption. Ours is a fallen world, yes, but living as we were intended is also possible, even in the midst of brokenness.
To help him (and us) live as intended, God gave Adam a three-fold job description in the garden, which is echoed in Psalm 127: work, protection, and multiplication.
THE DIGNITY OF LABOR
God made it clear that humanity’s role on the earth included the responsibility of work:
“Fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” (Gen. 1:28, emphasis added).
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it . . .” (Gen. 2:15, emphasis added).
Work, labor, was not originally a toilsome thing, but as a result of the Fall, God cursed mankind’s labor with toil, making it a vanity, a chasing after the wind. It’s no wonder, then, that the psalmist says,
“Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain . . .
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.” —Psalm 127:1a, 2
Rather than working from our identity, we fallen humans tend to try to work for our identity.
This misplaced identity comes when the creator God—the original and primary Worker—is disconnected from our work. We work in our own strength and for our own purposes, so our work ends up defining who we are. Those who “rise up early and go late to rest” are enslaved to their own need for validation through accomplishment or success.
Humans were made to work for God. Divorced from this reality, we allow our work to define us rather than allowing God to define both us and our work. Work becomes toil when it’s disconnected from the God who “works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
Since God should be our defining reality, work—a good thing in itself—has a natural limit. Labor should not be all-encompassing. It shouldn’t consume us. Work’s natural end is God-protected rest: “for he gives to his beloved sleep.” This is the natural rhythm that God himself observed on the seventh day when he rested from all his labors (Gen. 2:1-3). Without this rhythm, we cannot live as God intended.
THE ROLE OF VIGILANCE
Adam’s second responsibility in the garden was protection: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15, emphasis added). The Hebrew word translated as “keep” carries the idea of protection: Adam was to guard the garden. But from what? Hadn’t all of God’s creation been good?
From this language, it’s clear there’s an imminent threat, an Enemy at the gate. Adam’s job was to protect the garden from this insidious intruder.
Sadly, Adam wasn’t up for the task. He let his guard down and the intruder entered the garden, successfully tempted Eve, and Adam found himself falling into disobedience alongside her.
Psalm 127 echoes this protective responsibility with the image of the watchman:
“Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.” —Psalm 127:1b
We Americans are a people obsessed with security and safety. Unlike the ancient Israelites who lived with constant threats from nature, disease, and foreign armies, our days are passed in relative ease.
We’re shocked when our sense of peace is invaded by natural disasters, terrorism, or senseless acts of violence. We observe tragedy on the news, then quickly coddle ourselves back into a sense of safety. We pad our bank accounts, increase our insurance coverage, and buy safer cars. But without God’s protection, it’s all for naught.
Implied in the verse above is that the watchman is trusting in his own vigilance to bring safety. He is not trusting in God’s protection. This was Adam’s weakness as well: forgetting to trust in his guardian, the God who had created him. Adam failed to turn to God for help in his protective role, trusting instead in his own vigilance and power.
What would have happened if Adam (or Eve) had turned to God and cried out for help in that moment? We’ll never know.
There is only One who can truly protect us. We have one Shepherd who knows the number of hairs on our head. In our moments of greatest fear and anxiety, we must look to him. When we do, we live into the lives we were made for.
THE TASK OF MULTIPLICATION
The final task assigned to our first parents was multiplication: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth . . .’” (Gen. 1:28).
Psalm 127 echoes these blessings:
“Behold, children are a heritage
from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies
in the gate.” —Psalm 127:3-5
Children naturally reflect the ones who bore them. This was God’s intention in calling humanity to multiply, that those made in his image were to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” with his reflected glory (see Num. 14:21; Hab. 2:14). It’s an undeserved reward for men and women to join God in this glorious task.
When we partner with God in the work of multiplication, we’re pictured as warriors, armed with the arrows of proliferation. The enemy confronts each of us at the gates with the lie uttered since the garden: “You can’t trust God. He doesn’t love you. You aren’t blessed. He can’t use you.”
And yet in our work of multiplication—whether it be bearing and raising children or making spiritual children through disciples (see Matt. 28:18-20)—God uses us despite ourselves.
And like all human tasks, unless the Lord does his work, we remain fruitless, unequipped for the battle at hand and defeated by the lie. But equipped with our God-given arrows—the fruit of grace in our lives—we meet the enemy at the gates, ready and triumphant, just as we were intended.
YOU HAD ONE JOB
Adam had one job: to trust God. His sin was thinking he could work, protect, and multiply without God. Psalm 127 reminds us of our own similar tendency and calls us instead to a life of trust.
This kind of life is possible because there is one who did the job Adam couldn’t: Jesus. He boarded the train wreck of this world, bore its destructive consequences, and is putting it all back together.
We can’t rewrite the story, but Jesus has written it for us and redeemed the ending.
So instead of looking back at the garden and lamenting the Fall, we must look forward to Christ. We can trust what he has accomplished, rest in his finished work, and join him in the work he has for us.
Let’s meet our enemy at the gate with a ready answer: Our trust is in Christ, the Lord.
(This post originally appeared at Gospel-Centered Discipleship)