Youth at First - August 2014
Over the course of two Wednesdays back in June, I had the privilege to share a little bit of what I learned this past semester of seminary. Unfortunately, because of time I didn’t get the chance to share everything, so I figured this column is as great a place as any to supplement those presentations.
The saga of the Garden of Eden is one of the most commonly referenced stories in the entire bible, because it demonstrates the original perfection that was creation. In the garden everything was good, there was no suffering or want for anything, and man was in perfect harmony with God. A simple reading of Genesis 2:4-3:24 sees Eden as a garden paradise from which mankind was banished, but a closer inspection provides a different vision of the exact nature of Eden. Many textual clues reveal that the Garden of Eden was not simply a beautiful, luscious garden, it was an archetypal representation of Israel’s future sanctuaries and ultimately of the New Jerusalem described in Revelation. Eden was the place where God dwelt among man and where man in return worshiped God.
A number of Hebrew vocabulary connections between Genesis 2-3 and other parts of the Old Testament provide the related context that supports the idea of the Garden as a model sanctuary. Below are some of these connections (in no particular order):
- The verb used to describe God “walking in the garden” in Gn 3:8 is later used in Lev 26:12, Deut 23:14, and 2 Sam 7:6-7 to describe God’s presence among his people. All three cases have to do with purity and blessings, but the 2 Samuel reference specifically refers to God’s presence in the Tabernacle, the first of Israel’s sanctuaries.
- Gn 3:24 has God placing cherubim at the east of the garden. Both the Tabernacle and later the Temple itself had but one entrance, which faced the East. Additionally, cherubim were guardians of the Holy Place (1 Kgs 6:23-29, Ex 26:31), and two more cherubim rested atop the Ark of the Covenant itself (Ex 25:18-22).
- The tree of life in the middle of the garden parallels the fullness life provided by God in the temple. Ps 43:3-4 has the psalmist lamenting being unable to go the “the altar of God.” Additionally, trees were a common feature of places of worship (Gn 21:33), and even the description of the menorah in the tabernacle makes it out to be a stylized tree of life (ex 25:31-35).
- The only other places where the verbs for Adam’s duty to “work and keep” the garden are used together are in Num 3:7-8, 8:26, and 18:5-6. Each of these passages refers to the Levites’ duties in serving and working in the Tabernacle.
- The garments of skin used to clothe Adam and Eve (Gn 3:21) must have required an animal sacrifice to produce, and additionally the idea of clothing calls to mind Moses clothing the priests in Ex 28:41, 29:8, 40:14.
- Gn 2:10 describes a river that “flowed out of Eden to water the garden,” which calls to mind the “river whose streams make glad the city of God” (Ps 46:4) and the river flowing from the temple (towards the east!) which makes the Dead Sea fresh and brings life to all living things (Ez 47).
- The “good gold” of Havilah (Gn 2:11-12) is like the pure gold used to cover all of the most important items within the tabernacle and the temple. Additionally, the “bdellium and onyx stone” (ESV) are the same stones used as a comparison for manna (Num 11:7)—which was stored in the ark—and used as decoration for the tabernacle and the high priest’s garments (Ex 25:7, 28:9, 28:20; 1 Chr 29:2)
- The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, described in Gn 3:6 as “good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desired to make one wise,” parallels the description of the law itself in Ps 19:7-8: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.”
Together through all these we see that the Garden of Eden was not just a paradise made for man; it was a sacred place, made great by the dwelling of God himself and the peaceful relationship between God and man. This greatness is reflected in the Tabernacle and later Temple, where God dwelt on earth amongst his people. And this greatness will come again with the new Jerusalem, described in Rev 21:3--“the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
John goes on to say “I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God give it light, and its lamp (menorah?, tree of life?) is the Lamb” (21:22-23). And in 22:1 he describes the “river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
Eden was the original dwelling place of God with man, when creation was perfect, with no strife or discord. The idea of God among his people was carried forth through the Tabernacle and Temple, was sealed with the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ sacrificial death, and will one day come again with the new heaven and earth and the new Jerusalem: the new dwelling place of God with his people. “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev 22:20)
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