Adam, the Priest of the Garden-Temple

Genesis 2:8-17
It is certainly true that most people want to get back to the Garden of Eden. Don’t you want to get back there? Think of it: perfect gardening, no weather problems, no weeds, no shame because there was no sin. Work was easy, because the entire creation was in complete harmony. There was no misery, no death, no problems in relationships, and no problems with our relationship with God. Don’t you wish you could get back there? Well, there is a way. That way has been provided for us by Jesus Christ, who was perfectly righteous, and succeeded where Adam failed. There is only one difference between what we can get and the Garden of Eden: we are not going back to the Garden of Eden; we can get to an even better place than Eden. Let’s see how.

First, we see that God planted a garden. It was very common for kings of that time to plant a garden, and richly furnish it with all kinds of luxurious, verdant plants and trees. Usually, it was located right next to the king’s palace, the place where the king lived. That is true of the Garden of Eden. Eden was the location where God took up His residence, as we can see from 3:8. The garden was located in Eden, which means that the garden did not take up all the space of Eden. This we can see in verse 10, where water comes out of Eden in order to water the garden. Eden is the place where God dwelt, and he planted the garden right next to His residence. Notice that the garden is located in the east. That is significant, because for the rest of the Bible, the temple always has its entrance facing the East, and out of the East shall anyone enter the temple.

Then the Lord filled the garden with all manner of delightful plants and trees. The very word Eden means “delight.” Then we see two special trees in the very center of the garden: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Moses is describing the garden like he describes the tabernacle, and like the temple looks later on in Israel’s history. You remember the golden lampstand that stands in the Holy Place? That was fashioned to look like the tree of life.

But the question that immediately comes to our mind is: what do these trees mean? Well, the tree of life is a sacramental tree. It does not confer life in and of itself: rather, it is the outward sign of the inward reality of fellowship with God. When Adam and Eve ate of that tree, they came into communion with God himself. Oh yes, they actually did eat of the tree of life. We do not usually think of the tree of life in that way: we think that Adam and Eve never ate of the tree, and therefore if they ate of it just once, they would receive everlasting life. This cannot be the case. Firstly, the Lord did not forbid them to eat of the tree of life before they fell into sin. Therefore, we cannot imagine that the tree of life would have some magical property within itself that would automatically give Adam and Eve eternal life. From the fact that God said they could eat of any tree of the garden, with only the once exception of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we should therefore understand that they did in fact eat from the tree of life. Think of the tree of life as being very similar to the manna of the wilderness, and also similar to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We come into communion with jesus Christ during the sacrament, just as Adam and Eve did when they ate of the tree of life. It was not appropriate for Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of life after the Fall, because that communion God of which the tree was a sign was no longer there. The communion had been severed because of the Fall. It was not any longer appropriate for Adam and Eve to partake of the tree of life, when they were in fact dead.

So, what does the other tree mean? Specifically, what does the “knowledge of good and evil” mean? Well, I will argue that it means moral autonomy. It means that if Adam and Eve were to eat of that tree, it would mean that they wanted to define for themselves what was good and what was evil. It would mean that they wanted to be God themselves. We cannot think that Adam and Eve were somehow ignorant of what good and evil actually was: God had given them the law, albeit in a very simple form. God said to them, “you shall not eat of this tree.” That meant that eating from it was evil, and refraining from eating of it was good. Adam and Eve already knew what good and evil was. So “knowledge of good and evil” does not mean that they were originally ignorant of good and evil. Rather, it means that the knowledge means something like “the deciding of good and evil.” Knowledge in the Bible often means much more than having facts stored in one’s head. It can mean “love.” But it can also mean “determine.” If you really knew something, you could determine what it was, and what it would do.

Now, we come to what is seemingly a very strange description of these four rivers. Why in the world do we suddenly get a lesson in geography? Well, there is a very good reason why this description is put here: rivers and temples go together. In Ezekiel 47, Ezekiel describes the new temple that he is seeing in his vision of what is to come. He describes a river that comes from under the threshold of the temple toward the east. But he goes around the temple and shows that the water really goes in every direction. Verse 8 is the punchline for the water: When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. Then, in Revelation 22, we find that the river of the water of life flows from the throne of the Lamb, and on each side of the river grows the tree of life. You see, the water that was there at the beginning in the garden is the life-giving water that waters the whole world. Notice back in Genesis, that basically the entire known world gets its water from the water that comes from the garden. What Moses is saying is that the garden of Eden is a temple, and that the water that comes from the garden is life-giving. The number four is symbolic of the four points of the compass, so Eden gives life to the entire world.

Notice something else about the description of these rivers: they flow around lands which are rich in gold and gems. Do not forget that the tabernacle, and later the temple, and the robes that the priests wore had much gold and many gems everywhere. So, this description of the rivers and of the gold and gems found in various lands is not a digression, but is very important to Moses’ description of the garden as a temple.

Next, we see that Adam was appointed as priest to the garden-temple of Eden. How do we know that Adam was supposed to be a priest? From verse 15. The words translated “work” and “take care of” are everywhere else used (when together) in the sense of “priestly service” and “priestly guarding.” The first word refers to worshipping God. The second word refers to preventing any unholy visitors into the holy place. We can see then that Adam’s duties can be summarized as treating the garden of Eden as a temple. He was supposed to worship God in it, and he was supposed to keep Satan out of it. So, we can see that when Adam failed to keep Satan out of the garden, he was failing in the very thing that God had put him there to do. Then, in eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam wanted to worship himself, rather than worship God. So Adam failed in both things that God had put him there to do. Those two things that God gave into Adam’s hand to do were summarized in the permission to eat from any of the trees in the garden, but not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This command from God is known as the covenant of works. If Adam were to obey God, worshipping God alone, and guarding the garden from the likes of Satan, then he would continue in everlasting life. If Adam were to fail, then he would die. Obedience equals life, disobedience equals death. Adam failed. Notice that when Adam failed, God placed a cherubim at the entrance to the garden to keep everyone out, because Adam had failed to keep Satan out.

Christ succeeded where Adam had failed. Notice that Satan tempted Christ in exactly the same way that he tempted Adam. If Adam was to worship God only, then Satan tempted Christ to worship Satan. Christ succeeded. If Adam failed to keep Satan out of the garden, Christ went into the garden (now known as the entire world), and cast Satan out of the garden, and put Satan under lock and key. Have you never thought of Christ’s struggle in the GARDEN of Gethsemane? Was Christ not struggling there with the entire penalty of sin staring Him in the face? He was struggling also with Satan, I think. He wanted some other way to accomplish God’s will than the painful way of the cross. But Christ had to be completely obedient to God, in order for Christ’s sacrifice to work. He was obedient in every respect, even to the point of dying on the cross. When we come to faith, we receive that righteousness of Christ that He earned for us. We could not earn it on our own, but He earned it for us. After Christ’s resurrection, you will remember yet another garden scene in John’s Gospel. Mary is looking for Jesus, because he is no longer in the tomb. He has been resurrected from the dead. See John 20:14-15. Mary thought better than she knew. Jesus was the gardener: Adam as he should have been. Christ has succeeded in serving God and guarding the garden, keeping the intruders out.

Now Christ invites us to come into His garden. He invites us to partake of his body and blood in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. He invites us just as He invited the Samaritan woman in John 4 to drink of the water that He will give us. Read John 4:13-14. That is the life-giving water that flows out from the temple. You remember that Jesus refers to Himself as the temple, and that He entered the heavens, as it says in Hebrews, making available to us the entrance into the Most Holy Place. We have access to the Most Holy Place by being united to Jesus Christ in faith. When that happens, we realize that we are being built up into a living temple, until finally, we are the living temple of the Holy Spirit, who is the water that Jesus promised to the Samaritan woman. He has promised it to us as well. Read John 7:37-39.

One of our biggest problems is that we think we can get back to the garden of Eden in a physical way here on earth. We try to build ourselves a garden of Eden by engaging in pleasure-seeking, whether it is building a big farm empire, building a big bank account, building a perfectly happy home with your wife or any number of other possibilities. Where is your Eden? Is it in yourself? Do you think that you can make rivers of living water flow out of yourself? No doubt you think that you can water the entire world, like the four rivers could. No doubt you think that you can keep Satan out of your life by the very simple tactic of doubting his existence. No doubt you think that there is a perfectly good person for you to love and adore: yourself! No doubt you think all these things: it is called the sinful condition. But notice that Adam did not have this problem at first. We normally think of sin as natural, and thus we justify ourselves by saying, “Well, “I’ve got a sin nature, therefore I do not really have to care about my sin.” Wrong. Sin is unnatural, not natural. You could not find a single trace of sin in the garden of Eden at its first creation.

Instead of thinking these things, we should be thinking about where we are headed: if you believe that Christ has regained paradise for us, and that believing in him will get you to heaven, then you have a better garden to look forward to. It does not even have the possibility of sin in it. Revelation 21:27: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Do you long for that life with all of your being? Or do you lose your focus on what is coming because of the daily grind that is around you? What difference would it make to your life to know that the entrance to the garden is Jesus Christ, and that you have won through to the door, and that you are on the very threshold of heaven itself? What difference would it make to your marriage to know that heaven awaits you? And what if heaven does not await both of you? Would you not want to show your spouse heaven’s beauties and make him or her long for heaven as much as you do? It is hard to divorce someone with whom you share a common vision of what is coming.

We have this pernicious doctrine floating around that something is only practical in the Christian life if it tells me where I am to put my foot down that very day. We have blinkers on such that we can only see where we are at that exact moment in time. Now, the Bible does tell us where to plant our foot the next day. But that is not primarily what the Bible is about. The Bible is about Jesus Christ. I would argue that knowing the end of the journey, and concentrating on Jesus Christ as the Author and Finisher of our faith, is the single most practical thing that we can think about in the Christian life period. If you do not know your destination, then you will wander far afield into the realm of sin and darkness, and the cares of everyday life will consume you, as in Christ’s parable the thorns in the field choke the wheat that was planted. As Paul says, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” He says just a little bit further, “Our citizenship is in heaven, not on earth.” Of course, this does not mean that we should be so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good. But the opposite is also true: we should not be so earthly minded, that we are of no heavenly good. Believe in Jesus Christ, and look to him to get back to Eden. When you do, you will find out that it is even better than you imagined.

Advertisements

1 Comment

  1. November 1, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    Great post. I greatly enjoyed hearing G. K. Beale preach on this subject last year at Riddlbarger’s church.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: