Paul writes in his second letter to the Thessalonians…
For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 ESV)
I have always attributed the notion to not eating with not working within the context of this passage, relating to idleness. But the more I study, seeking to understand how to walk according to the ways of the Creator, the more I discover this notion is fundamental to the existence of mankind.
Working for Food
Genesis 1:26-30 tells us…
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them.
And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
From the very beginning of creation it was established that the seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing trees were meant to feed mankind.
Chapter 2 details a “Garden of Delight (“Eden”)” planted by the Creator where mankind was placed to live. His occupation was to work/serve (“abad”) and keep/guard (“shamar”) the garden, and the trees planted by God were available for food.
And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers…The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:8-10,15 ESV)
This appears to be the first indicator of the notion of working for food. However, it seems to me that this kind of work may not have been very toilsome, since the Creator established the garden for Adam, and He provided a sufficient water source to naturally water it. All Adam had to do, it seems, was maintain it.
I think “working for food” has a totally different connotation in today’s culture than what is established here in Genesis. When I think of working for food within the world’s paradigm, I think of performing some kind of service in exchange for something to eat, in essence making a living.
However, when I think of working for food within a Biblical paradigm, starting in the book of Genesis, there appears to be a more specific mandate. Let me explain.
Cursed is the Ground
Adam was given instructions pertaining to what he could and could not eat in the Garden prepared for him, and was told he would surely die if he disobeyed the instruction.
We find in the next chapter that he did disobey and as a result, not only was he destined to die, but also the ground was cursed because of him.
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19 ESV)
As a result of this disobedience Adam and Eve were then sent out of the Garden to work/serve (“abad”) the ground from which they were taken.
And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever–” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. (Genesis 3:21-23 ESV)
This is where the occupation of working for one’s food appears to become more laborious. No more ready-made garden with established fruit-bearing trees. They had to start from scratch, likely dealing with a new variety of vegetation, having to seek out sufficient water, and fighting thorns and thistles along the way. Now, they really had to work for their food.
A Keeper of Sheep and A Worker of the Ground
When Adam knew Eve, she conceived and bore two sons: Cain and Abel. Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain a worker of the ground.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. (Genesis 4:1-2 ESV)
Evidently these occupations were right in line with the Creator’s initial intent of subduing the earth and taking dominion over the animals. And they both have a direct effect on working for one’s food.
How many in this day and age can say they have first hand experience either keeping livestock or working the ground…for a living? I know I never had experience doing either one as a hobby, let alone for a living.
Also, what is marketed today as “food” is so far removed from what the Creator intended to be food for mankind. Never mind the notion of eating swine flesh and shellfish, which is expressly forbidden in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, most items available for consumption, is not even natural, let alone all-natural.
It wasn’t until our family began to live off the land when I realized how far from walking according to the Creator’s ways I really was. Today, having lived for about five years with livestock on our property and a few years with varying supplies of food growing in our gardens, I feel I have gleaned insight I never would have acquired had I just read about these things in a book.
My husband has invested most of this time getting his hands dirty with these tasks without me. While I have gained some knowledge and understanding in food preparation, food preservation and waste management in dealing with the end product, I have shied away from working out in the sun all day or investing time and energy in the establishment and care of these resources, that I lack knowledge and understanding in those areas.
Over the course of this coming year, I aim to get more involved in the front end of this process, learning what it takes to be keepers of livestock and workers of the ground for the sake of teaching my children and better appreciating what our Creator has provided for us. All the while improving upon what I’ve learned regarding the produce.
Though I currently struggle in finding the words to explain how beneficial it is for all of us to get back to the earth, I hope I am able to somehow inspire a desire within the Bible-believing community to venture further down this path. Owning an animal or dabbling in a small garden no doubt gives some idea about these things, but until one has had to work the ground for all of his food (his and his animals’), I think he’s only scratched the surface.
Consider what you can do today to move in the general direction of working for your food in a more real sense. Go for a walk, survey your land, pray for direction, and take action. I sincerely believe you will be better off having done so.