The Edenic Covenant, which is sometimes referred to as the Covenant of Works was established between God and man in the Garden of Eden. It is the first of the eight biblical covenants and is based on the dispensation of innocence. Man was created perfectly; Adam and Eve were originally sinless, and until they were tempted by the serpent, they had neither been tempted nor sinned.
Although the word “covenant” is not used either in these verses or with reference to the Adamic Covenant which follows, God’s commandments and requirements clearly relate to a covenant that God sovereignly established and in addition, Hosea 6:7 confirms that is the case. With reference to Israel and Judah, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.” Some translations read “like men”(KJV, NKJV et al), though often have a footnote saying, “like Adam” since the name Adam amongst other things means “man”.
The Conditions of the Edenic Covenant
The five conditions of the Edenic Covenant are as follows although some interpreters list four main ones, whilst other have further subdivided these points to seven.
Man was commanded to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28).
Man was commanded to rule the whole earth including the fish, birds and living things that move on the earth (Genesis 1:28).
A vegetarian diet at this point was commanded (Genesis 1:29) though this was until the Noahic covenant (Genesis 9:3-4).
Man was commanded to tend and keep the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15).
Man was commanded not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good evil though was permitted to freely eat from every other tree in the garden. The penalty for eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would be death (Genesis 2:16-17).
The Implications of the Edenic Covenant
Tur HaAroch notes that if mankind did not multiply, it would be impossible to fulfil the task of ruling the earth.[i] This also reminds us that marriage is a good institution given by God (Genesis 2:18-24) and that children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5).
We have a responsibility to rule over the earth and care for the animal kingdom and not to abuse it. Sometimes we notice that people who mistreat animals are unkind to humans and of course the reverse is also the case. It is no accident that William Wilberforce who banished slavery in the UK (although this still occurs illegally in the British Isles), also founded the RSPCA. In addition, he was the first Vice President for the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People (CMJ).
The command to tend and keep the Garden of Eden has far reaching implications for us today. We have a responsibility to care for creation whilst ruling over it. Nonetheless this does not give us a license to pollute it! [ii]The work would have been exceedingly pleasant, satisfying and for the glory of God. But taken as a whole we can see how the Edenic Covenant is relevant to other areas of our lives. Thomas Ice helpfully wrote the following.
“The Edenic Covenant, in conjunction with the Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:26-28), provides the basis for areas of individual human responsibility, social, political and economic duties, as well as accountability before God for all humanity down through subsequent history. This covenant provides the judicial basis for God’s rule over mankind. It provides, for example, the legal jurisdiction for God’s judgment through the Flood (Gen. 6—8). After the fall into sin, other covenants will augment this foundational relationship.”[iii]
He continues and illustrates how our work relates to our duty unto God…
However, the Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:26-28) was not just for Adam. It provides the basis for areas of individual human responsibility, social, political and economic duties, as well as accountability before God for all humanity down through subsequent history. It is through this covenant that God defines man’s role for cultural activity in history. It is mankind’s job description in shorthand.[iv]
This covenant between the Triune God and newly created man, governed man’s life in the dispensation of innocence in Eden and presented a test of obedience with death as the result of disobedience.[v] One of the basic truths of life is that obedience brings blessing whereas disobedience brings judgement.[vi]
Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptation and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the result was spiritual death. This included broken fellowship with God, eventual physical death, and also eternal death.[vii]
Somehow the relationship between God and humankind needed to be restored. Physical death and eternal death which would involve judgement, hell and everlasting separation from God meant that a Saviour was needed. What immediately follows is the Adamic Covenant and God’s promise of a Redeemer who would crush the serpent. Like the Edenic Covenant, the implications of the Adamic Covenant are far reaching and have implications for everyone.
[i] Tur HaAroch on Genesis 1:28 Sefaria.org https://www.sefaria.org/Tur_HaAroch%2C_Genesis.1.26?lang=en
[iv] Ibid, p17
[v] Merill Unger Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (AMG Publishers, 2002; Chattanooga), p8
[vi] Warren. W. Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (David C. Cook, 2007; Colorado Springs), p21
[vii] Unger, p13