By Chaplain Mike
The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.
Genesis 2:8 (NASB)
In the first part of Genesis 2:4-25, we saw:
- The pre-fall condition of the land
- The creation of Adam
Beginning at verse 8, the author describes:
- The garden God planted in Eden (2:8-14)
- Adam’s role and responsibility in the garden (2:15-17)
- God’s provision of a partner for Adam (2:18-22)
- Poetic speech: Adam’s response (2:23)
- Epilogue: The gift of marriage (2:24-25)
Our focus in this post will be upon the Garden, the priestly calling of Adam, the two prominent trees and what they represent, and God’s threatened penalty for eating from the forbidden tree.
The King’s Garden (2:8-14)
The word “garden” refers to a “park” or a “botanical garden” of the kind that was common in royal temple or palace complexes in the ancient world. Solomon was renowned for his horticultural interests, and records show that the kings of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia had magnificent garden complexes. The most famous, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, was one of the world’s seven wonders. “Eden” means “abundance.” In this lush, verdant location, God created a royal arboretum, fit for the King, furnished by his own hand.
Two trees stood out among all the attractive and bountiful trees in the garden: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. More about these later.
The author mentions four rivers branching out and irrigating Eden. Two are known to us: the Tigris and Euphrates, which puts us in the Fertile Crescent of the Ancient Near East. Two are unknown: the Pishon and the Gihon. A clue in the description of the Gihon leads us west to the region of Egypt and Ethiopia. Thus, we are speaking of a region that stretches from Egypt to Mesopotamia.
A case can be made, therefore, that the Garden in Eden is an early name for the Promised Land. Later descriptions, such as Genesis 15:18â€”“On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates,’” reinforce this.
If Eden is the Promised Land, this supports John Sailhamer’s interpretation of Genesis 1, that the “six days of creation” do not describe the creation of planet earth, but the preparation of the Promised Land, the land of blessing, the land where God put his first covenant partners, to be his temple in the world. The “eretz” of ch. 1 is the “Eden” of chapter two, in which God planted his garden.
Adam’s Role and Responsibility in the Garden
Genesis 2:15 is an important verse that reflects back on the “image of God” in chapter one. The text says, literally, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden for serving and for keeping.” Most English versions think that these verbs point back to the Garden, “for working and keeping IT.” However, this is problematic grammatically, for “it” is feminine and the word “garden” is masculine. Sailhamer therefore translates, “to worship and obey”.
If so, this means that Adam is portrayed here as a priest, not a gardener. This is further supported by the verb “to put.” It could be literally rendered, “to cause to rest” or “to dedicate,” and it is used to speak of the consecration of priests in the Torah. God set Adam apart (like a priest) by situating him in his own royal temple-garden and calling him to worship and keep God’s Word.
It is God’s Word that we next hear. Adam may eat freely of any tree (including the Tree of Life), but he is commanded not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the context of creation, we can get some idea of what these trees represented.
Genesis 1 depicts God as the One who blesses humankind by providing what is “good” (tÃ´b). At first, the land was tÅhÃ» wÄbÅhÃ» (1:2â€”a formless wasteland). But God turns tÅhÃ» to tÃ´b. When Genesis 1 says repeatedly, “And God saw that it was good,” we may understand the verb “to see” in the sense of “to provide”. Day after day, God “saw to it” that what he did would be good for his world and creatures.
God alone knows what is “good” and what is “evil” for his creatures. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil represents the opportunity for humankind to seek this wisdom autonomously, apart from God and his revealed Word. As we will see in chapter 3, eating the fruit from this tree represents humanity’s attempt to seek wisdom for themselves, apart from God. What God, in effect, is telling Adam isâ€”“Trust in the Lord with a whole heart; do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
God warns Adam that if he eats from the forbidden tree, on that very day he will die. Would this threatened consequence have meant anything to Adam?
- Those who hold certain creationist positions hold that there was no death in the world before the Fall, and that when sin was introduced into the world, not only humans but also animals began to die, that the processes of corruption and decay throughout nature had their onset.
- Those who think the earth is old, including people who accept the model of biological evolution, say there was most certainly death before the fall. For example, Jim Snoke in his book, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, says: “…the language of the curse of Genesis 3:14-24 does not indicate a complete change of the physical world, but rather an exile into a pre-existing outer darkness”â€”the world that surrounded the garden, a world where animals died, where the sea and darkness and sea monsters represented danger and threat, where, if there were other people besides Adam and Eve in the world, they died too. Snoke argues that the presence of such darkness and death would have been a visible illustration to Adam of God’s warning.
One thing is clear: Adam and Eve were mortal when God created them. They were on probation and would not have eternal life unless they ate from the Tree of Life (Gen 3:22). They must have been susceptible to physical death from the start. Moreover, if God meant they would suffer immediate “physical death” when they ate the forbidden fruit, it did not come to pass. They heard God’s word of consequence and were exiled from the Garden, but the record says that Adam did not die physically for nearly a millennium!
We may conclude that God’s threat to Adam concerned spiritual death. On the day the couple ate from the banned tree, their relationships with God, one another, and creation was forever altered. They were cast from the Garden. They entered the world and joined the darkness.
An Example of “The Good”
We won’t take time to discuss the latter part of this chapter, except to say that God’s provision of Eve for Adam represents an example of the “good” that God sees to for his creatures. A partner, crafted to “help” Adam by perfectly complementing him in every way, God brings the woman to man through a mysterious process that helps the man understand that this is his true counterpart.
The image of God, male and female (1:27), is explicated through this story. One becomes two and then the two become one. Eastern church theology speaks of “perichoresis”â€”the mutual embrace, interpenetration, and intimate oneness of the members of the Godhead. God’s greatest creation gift, marriage, pictures this oneness.