Adam is created as God’s first-born son. He’s also conceived as a priest. In previous posts, we saw how the world was fashioned as a Temple and the Garden of Eden was depicted as the sanctuary of the Temple – the holy place where God dwells. If you have a temple, you need a priest to guard it and keep it and to offer sacrifices. And that’s the task that God gives to Adam. It’s a “priestly” task. But you need to know a little Hebrew to understand it.
Adam is placed in the Garden “to cultivate and care for it” (see Genesis 2:15). Something important gets lost in the translation of those words. In the original Hebrew text, the words used are ‘abodah and shamar. And they are words associated with priestly service. In fact, the only other places in the Bible where you find those two words used together are in the Book of Numbers, where they are translated as “service,” and “charge,” and used to describe the duties of the Levites, the appointed priests of Israel (see Numbers 3:7-8; 8:26; 18:5-6).
The Levites were in charge of protecting the sanctuary and the altar. And Adam was given the duty of protecting, of caring for, the Garden. All this will become very important in understanding Adam’s disobedience and fall from grace. For now, however, let’s just note that Adam is described in Genesis as a first-born priest. We also note that he’s given the command to “be fertile and multiply” (see Genesis 1:28). Adam is to be the first-born son of God and the father of a people. Since, he’s also a priest, it follows that his people are intended to be a priestly people.
What we find, then, in Genesis’ account of the creation of mankind is God’s original intent for the human race – it is to be a family of God and a priestly people.
You will hear these echoes throughout the Old and New Testaments: Israel will be called God’s first-born son and a priestly people. When Jesus comes, He will be called the Son of God and the “new Adam” and the “first-born of many brethren” and the High Priest. The Church will be referred to as a priestly people – and a royal people.