In our modern American society, we have heard the phrase "to serve and protect" many times. It is supposed to be the motto of the police departments across the country. Indeed, many of them even have these words adorning the side of police squad cars. But did you know that this motto is actually not an American invention, and neither is it modern at all?
The phrase, "to serve and protect" would mean a lot more to us as a people if we were all students of the Scriptures, and if we all could read and write Hebrew fluently. Sadly, we are not a society of Believers, and even within the Believing community the ability to read and understand the Scriptures in their given context, culture, and language is scarce. I am glad, however, to see more and more individuals becoming interested in studying the Scriptures in their original languages.
So back to our study, then. What's the big deal with "to serve and protect"? Well technically, it is the duty of mankind. It was the first job description ever given in the Scriptures, and it was given to Adam before the Fall. Let's examine this.
Genesis 2:15, "15Then YHWH Elohim took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it."(NASB)
Now I did say this was about "to serve and protect" right? Well, it is. But we need to do a little defining first. In the phrase, "to cultivate it and keep it" we find two key words. These words are עבד (avad) and שמר (shamar). The first word, avad, is defined in this sentence as "cultivate." (or, in other translations, "dress" or "till.") This is a translation that shows obvious influence of translator opinion. This word is actually a generic word that literally means, "to serve." The translation of "to cultivate" or "to dress/till" comes from the translators inserting their view that this refers to the cultivation or tilling of the ground.
Now this is a fair assumption, since the context clearly shows that man was to plant and grow a garden, right? Well…no, actually, it doesn't. YHWH Himself planted the garden. If this word, avad, were translated correctly, it would be rendered as, "to serve" not "to cultivate." It is also the word used in places like Gen. 29:18, where Jacob offers to "serve" Laban; and Exo. 7:16, where YHWH says that the people are to "serve Me." Was Jacob going to "cultivate" or "till" Laban? No. Were the children of Israel going to "cultivate" or "till" YHWH? No. The correct definition here is "to serve." Man was created, placed in the garden, and commanded to "serve and keep" the garden. But now let's look at the word "keep."
As mentioned above, this word is shamar. You may recognize it from the word Shomeron, which is the actual Hebrew name for the city of Samaria. Shomeron means "place of shamar." It is also related to the word shomer, which is used in the phrase "shomer daltot Yisrael" meaning "guardian of the doors of Israel." This is usually written on the mezuzot seen on doors of Jews and most Messianics. It is what the letter shin (ש) stands for that is always written on a mezuzah. Sometimes they have the word Shaddai (שדי) written on them, which is not only a word (meaning "Almighty" such as "El Shaddai"), but also an acronym: SDY – Shomer Daltot Yisrael.
So shamar, which is the root word for all of this, means "to keep" but is more accurately rendered as "to guard." Just because I keep something does not mean I guard it. This word has a cultural image associated with it, and that is a hedge of thorns. In our modern mindset, we tend to think of a "hedge of thorns" as a bad thing, almost like it is dangerous. But in the Ancient Near East, it was seen as a good thing. The same way that the modern mind views "law" and "wilderness" in a negative way, though these are actually blessed and wonderful things!
So, the image of a hedge of thorns. This is how Strong's defines the word Shamar (#8104, if you want to check it for yourself): " A primitive root; properly, to hedge about (as with thorns), i.e. Guard; generally, to protect, attend to, etc."
We find the word shamar appears quite often in Scripture, especially in reference to the Torah.
Deut. 5:9-10 – "9You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, YHWH your Elohim, am a jealous El, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."
Deut. 16:1, "1Observe the month of the aviv and celebrate the Passover to YHWH your Elohim, for in the month of Aviv YHWH your Elohim brought you out of Egypt by night."
Both the underlined words "keep" as well as "observe" are the same Hebrew word: shamar. What do they have in common? A guarding and protecting. Guard His commands, so as not to A) break them, and B) allow them to be twisted. Guard the month of the aviv, so that we don't lose it. It is a very important month, as it is the month that contains all but one of the Spring Moedim.
So overall, we see that the LITERAL translation of avad is "to serve" and the LITERAL translation is shamar is "to guard/protect."
Now do you see what I'm getting at? The job of Adam, given at creation, was not to simply "cultivate and keep" the earth, but to "serve and guard" the earth. Or, back to our original point, to "serve and protect."
I pray that this very brief study has blessed you.
Be Berean. Shalom.