Here are a few popular views of the Garden of Eden:
1. Eden itself is the garden (aka the garden isn’t ‘in’ Eden, but the garden ‘is’ Eden)
2. The garden is in the middle of a flat wasteland
3. The garden is just like any regular garden, except that it is a souped-up godly version of a beautiful garden (aka SUPER-beautiful garden).
Here is a picture to fuel more popular conception:
Notice how God (the Son) is speaking to Adam and Eve? And that 3rd heaven is in sight? There are SOME theological truths in Louis Cranach (the same man who painted Luther’s portrait)’s rendition of the garden, but let’s find some Scriptural support to disprove the popular conceptions of Eden which to me is not Christo-centric enough.
I think by saying the three are ‘popular’ conceptions it is a big give-away that they are not what I believe. Firstly, Eden is a place mentioned throughout the Bible, especially Isaiah 37:12 and 2 Kings 19:12 which speaks of the “people of Eden, who were in Telassar” which the fathers of the Assyrians destroyed, whereas the garden is IN this place. Yet, at the same time, Eden is given an image of blessing – Isaiah 51:3 speaks of the waste places and wilderness as changed to being like Eden and then “her desert being like the garden of the LORD”. Then there is the mentioning of the trees of Eden in Ezekiel 31 as the ‘choice and best of Lebanon’, but Ezekiel 31:9 speaks specifically of the trees of Eden which were in the “garden of God”. Later, we see in Genesis 4:16 that Cain is banished to the east of “Eden”, rather than east of the garden. Prior to this, in Genesis 2:8, we have already seen that God has planted a garden “in” Eden.
From what is mentioned, it seems that Eden is a place, when compared with other geographical locations, symbolically ‘better’ than the other places mentioned throughout the OT scripture. Why would God plant the garden IN Eden? Why was Cain banished to the EAST of Eden, after Adam and Eve were banished to the EAST of the Garden? Yet, the “garden of God” or the “garden of the LORD” is a recurring alternative to the garden in/of Eden, as already mentioned in Isaiah and Ezekiel, as well as Genesis 13:10; and alluded to several times in Song of Solomon chapters 4-6, 8 (though not specifically the garden “of God”, we understand the allegorical imagery of Solomon narrating as Christ, as the Shulammite woman is the church).
Why use the particular phrase “garden of God”? I think it is more important to consider that there is no other garden strictly termed the ‘garden of God’ (though of course everything on earth is strictly His, this garden retains his exclusive possession). This expression is found again in the MOUNTAIN “of God” – Exodus 3:1; 3:12; 4:27; 15:17; 18:5; 19:3; 24:13 – then in the Psalms, especially 68:15-18 which speaks of Christ’s ascension and the gift of the Spirit given to all men, both Jew and Gentile at the Pentecost:
” 15O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan;
O many-peaked[b] mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God(AC) desired for his abode,
yes, where the LORD will dwell forever?
17(AD) The chariots of God are twice ten thousand,
thousands upon thousands;
the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary.
18(AE) You ascended on high,
(AF) leading a host of captives in your train
and(AG) receiving gifts among men,
even among(AH) the rebellious,(AI) that the LORD God may dwell there.”
This phrase “mountain of God”, like the “garden of God” doesn’t only speak specifically of the garden in Eden, the Mt. Sinai or the mounts of Bashan – though of course, God has specifically used these locations to speak strong theological truth, the passage here speaks of both literal and historical references to geographical places; yet the passages also tell us not to miss the even more important spiritual truth that God is preaching by using those places and their names. To be specific to the context, Eden, meaning pleasure in the Hebrew עדן, is both a place of Sabbath for man (as I mentioned in my post on work theology for Genesis 2) rather than a place of work; and it is (as already established) a place where God can communicate freely with men.
And why could Adam and the woman speak so freely to God prior to the curse in Chapter 3? Was the mediator only at work in Chapter 3 when he was walking in the garden, or prior to that? Some light may be shed from Barth in his chapter on “Heaven and Earth” in his ‘Dogmatics in Outline’:
“Man is the creature of the boundary between heaven and earth; he is on earth and under heaven. He is the being that conceives his environment, who can see, hear, understand and dominate it: ‘Thou hast put all things under his (Jesus’) feet’. He is the essence of a free being in this earthly world. And the same creature stands beneath heaven… Man knows about his earthly fellow creature, because he is so unknowing in face of the heavenly world. At this inner boundary of creation stands man, as though even as a creature he had to represent this above and below, and thus, as a creature, to signify his place in a relationship which penetrates into the heights and the depths in quite a different way from that of heaven and earth…
…But we would not have said the last decisive word about creation, if we did not add that the covenant between God and man is the meaning and the glory, the ground and the goal of heaven and earth and so of the whole creation. With this we seem, but only seem, to reach out beyond the realm of knowledge and of the first article of the Confession. For by covenant we mean Jesus Christ. But it is not the case that the covenant between God and man is so to speak a second fact, something additional, but the covenant is as old as creation itself. When the existence of creation begins, God’s dealing with man also begins. For all that exists points towards man, in so far as it makes God’s purpose visible, moving towards His revealed and effective action in the covenant with Jesus Christ. The covenant is not only quite as old as creation; it is older than it. Before the world was, before heaven and earth were, the resolve or decree of God exists in view of this event in which God willed to hold communion with man, as it became inconceivably true and real in Jesus Christ. And when we ask about the meaning of existence and creation, about their ground and goal, we have to think of this covenant between God and man.”
So we mustn’t think the work of the mediator only occurred post-fall/post-curse – the work of the mediator, through whom God would commune with men, has been a covenant established before creation, before heaven and earth.
Is there more Scriptural support for this that explains this covenant between man, who stands in between heaven and earth, who finds his image of God in Christ (where everything is placed under Christ’s feet), the Christ who is the true mediator between fallen men and the Father? The covenant between heaven and earth, the covenant between the invisible and the visible, the covenant between God and man? I think this ties in smoothly with the garden of Eden being also the garden of God, and we find this truth established in the book of Exodus where Mt. Sinai is synonymously the mountain of God.
So while I try not to tread too much on the grounds of exegetically understanding the Scripture concerning the tabernacle, here is a brief foretaste: we already know that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all lived in tents in hope of the heavenly home (Hebrews 11:8-16). The animal’s blood in the OT couldn’t actually atone for sin (and this Moses knew). Scripture consistently provides this ‘spiritual’ tangent to all the physical things. I’ve expressed that thoroughly in my handling of Barth’s interpretation of heaven and earth, as well as the obvious spiritual patterns behind the blood sacrifices, the spiritual pattern of leprosy (generically representing the overwhelming coverage of ‘sin’ in our life), the spiritual pattern of Jesus’ miraculous healings in the synoptic gospel to cure not merely physical, but spiritual blindness/sickness.
When we are sensitive to these spiritual patterns and implications, we are then ready to see the spiritual truths afforded by Adam (as Christ), by Woman (as church), by the relation of Heaven and Earth (as the covenant between God and Man), and the covenant between God and Man fulfilled in Christ alone. Why I want to focus in particular on the mountain of God, the only other time when a physical location is referred to as ‘of God’, is because it is the second time (after Adam) a man is shown the spiritual realities of heaven – through the pattern of the tabernacle.
The Tabernacle Instructions on the Mountain of God
This pattern is described TWICE (Exodus 25-31 and Exodus 35-40), which implies how utterly important it is. The instruction “Make this according to the pattern shown you on the mountain (of God)” is repeated continuously in these chapters. As this is a brief overview, I will jump straight to the relevant bits for this post.
In chapter 26:1-30, we notice that the tabernacle furniture has in the prior chapter become the focus of God’s intention (BEFORE the layout of the tabernacle was even considered!!! This theological depth we will consider when we return to Exodus 20+ in however many weeks/months time).
What is most important to note now is that the tabernacle is described in the first section, in Exodus 26, as a single undivided room. If this is a pattern that reveals heavenly realities, as according to the pattern shown on the mountain of God – then what can it show? Paul Blackham simply states that the tabernacle structure representing heaven and earth in his Exodus Book-by-book study. Later, we see that a curtain is hung to divide this single room into two rooms, but Exodus 26 starts with this undivided room. The intention here is quite clear and explains why the garden of Eden is ALSO called the garden of God — because we know that this veil, which separates our communion with God, was not there in the first place! The garden of Eden was a place of true harmony between heaven and earth!
Therefore, just as Moses was on the mountain of God (Mt. Sinai), receiving these instructions as he peered into 3rd heaven where God resides, the Father in return was telling Moses of the garden OF GOD. Thus, God is saying that creation was originally heaven and earth in harmony… according to Blackham, “one room, one ‘space’ without division”. What is this pattern/plan shown on the mountain? This seems to be another Selah moment for the Christians at the bottom of the mountain.
Then we have an ‘inner room’ sealed off by a dividing curtain, and put simply, this inner room is the cube which is symbolised by the heavenly city in Revelation 21:15-16. This is the Most Holy Place, representing heaven, divided from the Holy Place (the second, outer room). Now this curtain (NOTE this) had cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman. We know what the veil represents — it is a protection FOR man, so man does not dare to reach God and die.
Cherubim on a veiled protection for man so man does not dare enter a territory that is where God resides? Where have we heard that before? Genesis 3:24-
“24He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the(A) cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”
Wow. And who is the only person who can go through to the Holy of Holies? The High Priest, Christ, through whom (quoting Barth) the covenant of God’s grace to men was fulfilled. The covenant which was older than creation!!! And after the curtain was installed, then the altar of burnt offering was given and the book of Leviticus begins to explain the truth of the offerings. I don’t think it is coincidence that God decided to speak to Moses in this particular PLAN and PATTERN, especially in terms of priority of directing his way of building the tabernacle. Each step was thought out precisely. Each step had the spiritual pattern so common throughout Scripture.
To conclude on this post – the relationship of God and Adam had been established by the covenant fulfilled by Christ BEFORE Adam and creation even existed. This is the great plan that God had pre-creation, the plan that man be in communion with God through the fulfillment and mediation of Christ, whether pre or post fall. This is implied through the language garden “of God”, and we find that where Moses received instructions on the mountain “of God” where he met the Father (as if the mountain itself peaked into 3rd heaven!), so also the language used to describe the garden of Eden as garden “of God” should not be under-estimated. By taking that further, we’ve looked at the physical and spiritual truths of the basic layout of the tabernacle, and that it preaches the truth of God’s intention for the room to always have been undivided – for the room to be whole — and this plan is ultimately fulfilled in Christ’s second coming when the veil between heaven and earth is destroyed. So, for point (3) of the popular conceptions, the garden of God is not merely a souped-up garden – it is a garden that initially UNITED heaven and earth, but man was banished from this unity and guarded by the cherubim and their veil of flaming swords. Is it therefore for point (2) a garden on a flat plane? I can’t find enough Scriptural support to say that it was, but it seems certain that it is more a garden in a mysterious location, and I believe it is because it is the literal place where heaven joined with earth not merely allegorically but in actuality (compared with Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai). It is probably impossible for us to enter Mount Sinai and find God residing there, or the mount of Bashan, or even if we find the literal Eden, the uniting of heaven and earth will not be there. Perhaps those will indeed be the physical locations where Eden/Bashan/Sinai stood – but we are then missing the spiritual significance entirely. The true Eden, which even the garden of Eden was only a shadow of, is the city of Zion, where all Christians gather, where there is no division between heaven and earth; and that we can finally enjoy uncompromised and unwavering fellowship with our God in new creation.