Genesis 1 and 2 record the origins of life and the universe. Together these chapters contain fifty-six verses and five of these speak directly to the origin of human work. Work is a mandate from God and it is good.
The connection between God and work was established at the beginning of time in the Garden of Eden. The following five verses from Genesis 1 and 2 reveal the seminal elements of our daily labor, and they are part of mankind’s most basic job description.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” (Gen 1:26)
Notice that this verse refers to “man” as “them”, i.e. it is plural rather than singular. The word “man” used here means mankind in general and is inclusive of male and female.
We are designed to be God’s image bearers while we rule over His created order. God ordained us to take an active role in the use and development of His created things, and we do this through our work while remaining obedient to Him.
“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’” (Gen 1:28)
God has blessed us and given us dominion to fill the earth and subdue it. To subdue the earth is to make use of it for our own benefit and the benefit of others. We do this in ways that bring glory to Him.
“And no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up … and there was no man to work the ground.” (Genesis 2:5)
God created man after He created the earth. He placed us in His creation to work the ground, i.e. to harness and cultivate it.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Gen 2:15)
God calls us to serve Him with our labor. The Garden of Eden was never a place of idleness. We take care of His creation through our work.
“So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.” (Gen 2:20)
By naming the animals, Adam was the world’s first knowledge worker. Naming the animals was intellectual work rather than physical.
At this point in human history in the Garden there was no sin. Man was in harmony with God, self, and others. Mankind was obedient to God and only did what was good. Sin subsequently entered the Garden and stained God’s creation. Sin has frustrated our work. Sin is the problem and not God’s mandate to work.
God still owns it all and we use and take care of His things on His behalf through our work. All honorable work is a high calling from God.