Two Journeys Ministry
In-Depth Biblical Content by Pastor Andy Davis
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Serve and Protect: A Timeless Call to Husbands and Fathers

What does it mean for a husband and father to serve and protect his family?

by Andy Davis on January 31, 2023

The call of husbands and fathersThe Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to serve it and protect it.  - Genesis 2:15


This is a very significant purpose statement early in the Bible, for it gives part of God’s intentions for the human race toward creation. I have also found it a very significant description of God’s purpose for husbands and fathers toward their wives and children. Let me explain.

First, let me say a word about the Hebrew behind this translation. None of the major translations choose these two verbs “serve” and “protect”. Most go with something like “work” or “cultivate” for the first Hebrew verb and “keep” or “watch over” for the second. But the first Hebrew verb is abad, which has as its most common translation “to serve” and the second is shamar which has as its most common “to guard” or “protect”. That’s what the lexicons tell us, as does a word search in the Hebrew Bible. And surprisingly, these common translations fit well with the context here.

The concept of the man “serving” the Garden of Eden is a beautiful one, for it combines the man’s intelligent, diligent, skillful labor under the direction of the Lord God with God’s original intention for every plant in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 1:11, God created seed-bearing plants and trees—the seeds represent God’s plan for the fully-grown plant in every case. While some of the plants and trees were designed by God to grow to full maturity without any human cultivation at all, yet Genesis 2:5 speaks of some specific plants that had not grown yet because there was no man to “work” (abad… “serve”) the ground. Some plants thus require human labor to reach their God-designed purpose. God would teach the man how to farm, so that each of those plants could attain that final purpose. The word “serve” is ideal for this labor, for we can picture the man on his hands and knees planting seedlings or watering a tender green sprout when it is at its weakest and neediest stage. The word “serve” does not imply inferiority, for Christ also came not to be served but to serve. (Mt. 20:28) And like Adam in the Garden of Eden, Christ’s service was for the perfection of those dependent on him… his Bride, the Church.

Therefore, a husband is to “serve” his family by using his God-given strength and God-directed intelligence to enable his wife and children to reach their fullness in Christ. For his wife, he is to wash her with water through the Word to present her to Christ as a radiant bride, free from all blemishes. (Eph. 5:26-28) For his children, he is to serve them by nurturing them and training them up toward full maturity in Christ. Thus, the original call to Adam toward the Garden of Eden becomes a timeless call to husbands and fathers.

"Thus, the original call to Adam toward the Garden of Eden becomes a timeless call to husbands and fathers."

In the same way, the word “protect” stands across all generations. It implies a certain measure of danger, for the word is used of God’s protection of his people from all forms of harm (twice in Psalm 121:7— “The Lord will keep you from all harm; he will watch over your life.”) So also, Adam was put in the Garden to guard it from encroaching danger. After the fall into sin, God put a cherub with a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24; the same Hebrew word!) The encroaching danger would come soon in the form of the serpent, the devil, who would seek to deceive Adam’s wife and lead her into sin. Sadly, Adam failed in his duty to protect the Garden of Eden and his family from evil. How much more is this duty incumbent on husbands and fathers, since evil is far more aggressive and prevalent now than at that time.

Serve and protect. The timeless call of God on all godly husbands and fathers should shape the way we lead our families toward heavenly glory.

Tags: marriage and parenting