Tag Archives: Garden as Tabernacle

Genesis 2:4-25 – Part 4 – Sacred Space, Sacred Service

Thus far in Genesis 2:

  • We saw the big picture view (the toledot).
  • We dealt with the practical meaning of vss. 5-6.
  • We explored the significance of contrasting dust-man with image bearers.


Today we need to deal with verses 8-17.

  • Put Man
  • The Garden – Sacred Space
  • The Trees
  • The Task – Sacred Service




Genesis 2:8–17 (ESV) — 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”



What is the garden?

Why tell us twice God put man in the garden (vss. 8 & 15)?

Are the rivers/water significant?

What does it mean to “work it and keep” the garden?

If God provided the food, how does working and keeping make sense (Day 6 and vss. 9 & 16)?

What are the trees?

Doesn’t knowledge of evil imply the presence of evil in God’s “very good” creation?

Why set up a limitation to Adam’s freedom – prohibition to eat from the tree of knowledge?

Why put the tree there to begin with?



Put Man:

It seems clear that man was not native to the garden.

  • Though he was made in God’s image…
  • And though he was made from the dust…
  • None of this connects him to the garden.


So why put man in the garden?

  • There are at least a couple of reasons.
  • (1) “Man was put into the garden ‘in God’s presence’ where he could have fellowship with God (3:8)” – John Sailhamer.
  • (2) “By this he shows that Adam was formed outside the garden, in order to show that that place is not owed in itself out of nature, but out of grace” – Nicholas of Lyra (from Seth Postell).


This act also foreshadows Israel’s relationship to the Promise Land.

“God graciously brings Adam to this special garden from another place, much the same way he graciously brings Israel of out Egypt in order to place them in the Promised Land” – Seth Postell.



The Garden – Sacred Space:

Genesis 2:8 (ESV) — 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.

  • This is not the garden we have in our backyard.
  • The IVPBBCOT tells us that, “The word translated ‘garden’ does not typically refer to vegetable plots but to orchards or parks containing trees”.
  • Wenham says, “Perhaps we should picture a park surrounded by a hedge”.


Mathews says it carries the idea of having “abundant waters, fertile herbage, and beautiful stones”.

  • John Walton agrees, “They were planted with fruit trees and shade trees and generally contained watercourses, pools, and paths. Their arboretums contained many exotic trees and plants and sometimes included animals”.

“Whenever Eden is mentioned in Scripture it is pictured as a fertile area, a well-watered oasis with large trees growing (cf. Isa 51:3; Ezek 31:9, 16, 18; 36:35, etc.), a very attractive prospect in the arid East” – Wenham


And with respect to the “beautiful stones” Mathews mentioned.

  • Our text says, “And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there” – vs. 12.


Sailhamer notes the stones significance.

  • “The purpose of such descriptions is to show the glory of God’s presence through the physical beauty” – John Sailhamer.
  • They do this because they served this same function in the tabernacle.

“The gold and precious stones, much like the materials of the later tabernacle and temple, set it off as a place worthy of divine glory” – Sailhamer.


The prophet Ezekiel puts it like this:

  • Ezekiel 28:13 (ESV) — 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared.


BTW – All our scholars agree that the garden was an historical place – though its location remains a mystery.


Sacred Space:

Gordon Wenham makes another observation about that garden that leads us to an important feature.

  • “The garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of Mesopotamian farmland, but as an archetypal sanctuary, that is a place where God dwells and where man should worship him” – Gordon Wenham.
  • In other words, the garden is a sacred space.


Sailhamer puts it like this:

“The narrative of the garden of Eden also appears deliberately to foreshadow the description of the tabernacle. The garden, like the tabernacle, was the place where man could enjoy the fellowship and presence of God” – John Sailhamer.

  • He goes on to say the garden was an “early tabernacle within the promised land”.


And in a reference back to the significance of God putting man into the garden…

“God’s ‘placing’ man in the garden strongly resembles the later establishment of the priesthood for the tabernacle and temple” – John Sailhamer.


Sacred Space and Water:

Genesis 2:10 (ESV) — 10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.


So what is up with all the water?

  • The descriptions of four rivers take up a great deal of space.
  • In fact, OT scholar Tsumura argues that eden “refers specifically to an abundance of water supply” – Walton.


The abundant water theme supports the idea of the garden as a tabernacle – a dwelling place of God.

  • Psalm 46:4 (ESV) — 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
  • Revelation 22:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
  • Ezekiel 47:1–12 (ESV) — 1 Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side. 3 Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. 4 Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. 5 Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. 6 And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. 8 And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. 9 And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. 10 Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”


Eden’s Sacred Space and the OT:

Throughout the OT the sacred space of the garden and Eden itself were used to symbolically represent God’s judgment or eschatology.

  • Mathews puts it like this, “The prophets adopted Eden’s fertility as a sign of eschatological salvation or, by its reversal, divine judgment (Isa 51:3; Ezek 36:35; Joel 2:3)” Mathews.


A few examples:

  • Isaiah 51:3 (ESV) — 3 For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
  • Ezekiel 36:35 (ESV) — 35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’
  • Joel 2:3 (ESV) — 3 Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them.



The Trees:

Genesis 2:9 (ESV) — 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.


(1) Tree of Life:

The tree of life seems to be the simplest to understand.

  • Mathews, in fact, even says it “is second in significance to the tree of knowledge”.


Adam was not immortal – he was made of dust.

  • However, as long as he was in the garden he had access to the tree of life.
  • Eating the fruit of this tree would sustain his life.

“Ultimately the tree’s power to convey life was due to its Planter, who alone grants or refuses to give of its fruit. The presence of the tree indicates that the garden enjoys life, and the eating of the fruit will result in continued life—a gift that only God can confer (3:22; cp. Rev 2:7)” – Mathews.


This means that the breath of God did not convey immortality upon man.

  • Kenneth Mathews says, “There is a difference between man’s creation, in which he receives life by the divine inbreathing (2:7), and the perpetuation of that life gained by appropriating the tree of life (cf. 3:22). Immortality is the trait of deity alone (1 Tim 6:16)” – Mathews.


So when man was exiled from the garden, he would inevitably return to the dust.

  • Man would die.
  • This fact, as we saw last week, points to the need for Christ and resurrection.


(2) Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:

Interestingly, “No such tree appears in other ancient Near Eastern texts and traditions” – Michael Heiser.

  • This tree is unique to Genesis.


What does the tree not represent?

  • Apparently it doesn’t literally mean knowledge of good and evil, as we understand them.
  • One reason why is because, as we observed earlier, this would imply that a “depravation of good” existed in God’s very good creation.
  • We will deal with the “serpent” issue in Genesis 3.


So what might the tree represent?

  • Like “the heavens and the earth” from Genesis 1:1, “good and evil” seems to represent a merism.
  • The AYBD cites 2 Samuel 14:17 as another example in the OT that demonstrates this use.


So to what does the merism “good and evil” refer?

“‘Good and evil’ is a merism for all moral knowledge: the capacity to create a system of ethics and make moral judgments. The knowledge of good and evil represents wisdom and discernment to decide and effect ‘good’ (i.e., what advances life) and ‘evil’ (i.e., what hinders it) – Bruce Waltke.

  • “Only God in heaven, who transcends time and space, has the prerogative to know truly what is good and bad for life. Thus, the tree represents knowledge and power appropriate only to God (Gen. 3:5, 22). Human beings, by contrast, must depend upon a revelation from the only one who truly knows good and evil (Prov. 30:1–6), but humanity’s temptation is to seize this prerogative independently from God (see 3:7)” – Waltke.


John Piper says, “It represented independence from God”.

“In the creation story, to have ‘the knowledge of good and evil’ means to claim the independent right to decide for oneself what is good and evil (true and false, ugly and beautiful)” – John Piper.


So what does this merism mean for man in Genesis 2?

  • Piper says in the context of Genesis 2 it meant Adam/Eve would be declaring…
  • “I henceforth decide for myself what is true and right and beautiful.”


Gordon Wenham puts it as follows:

  • The implication for Genesis 2 is that man would be declaring they have “moral autonomy, deciding what is right without reference to God’s revealed will” – Wenham.


Victor Hamilton says this:

  • The implication for Genesis 2 is that man would have “the power to decide for himself what is in his best interests and what is not” – Victor Hamilton.
  • Something that “God has not delegated to the earthling”.

He also says this view “also has the benefit of according well with 3:22, ‘the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.’ Man has indeed become a god whenever he makes his own self the center, the springboard, and the only frame of reference for moral guidelines. When man attempts to act autonomously he is indeed attempting to be godlike. It is quite apparent why man may have access to all the trees in the garden except this one” – Victor Hamilton.

  • Wenham agrees with this.


In other words, in Genesis 2…

  • It referred to the power to make choices outside of God’s wisdom.
    • Not literally what was good or evil.
    • But what was wise in all spheres of life.


The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was an opportunity for man to further exalt his status with respect to the rest of creation.

  • In short, it represented acting in the wisdom of the creature instead of the wisdom of the creator.
  • the tree was to be desired to make one wise” – Genesis 3:6.


If the above statement is correct, a significant implication is made.

  • What is at issue here is not primarily the freewill of man but the wisdom of God.
  • Herman Bavinck seems to sense this when speaking about Genesis 2 & 3.

“Genesis is concerned with the question of whether man will develop in dependence on God” – Herman Bavinck (from Robert Vannoy).

  • In other words, will man walk in the wisdom of God the Creator or the wisdom of man the creature.


At this point, it will help us here to have a basic understanding of wisdom.

Generally speaking, wisdom is the “know how for minimizing the risks to our interests” – Kevin Moore.

  • Two ingredients – “know how” and “interests”.
  • The problem – having the “know how” does not mean we will automatically act in our “interests”.
  • Or, even more likely, that we won’t misunderstand or corrupt our “interests”.


Who is in the position to know what is in our best interests, has the know how to pursue them, and has the power to effect them?

  • Clearly, the answer to this question is God the Creator.


But aren’t we to seek the wisdom of God?

  • Yes, but Kenneth Mathews points out this caveat.

“Proverbs indicates, however, that it must be achieved through the ‘fear of the Lord’ and not through grasping it independently. Moreover, there is knowledge that God possesses that man should not seek apart from revelation (Job 15:7–9; 28:12–28; 40:1–5; Prov 30:1–4); to obtain this knowledge is to act with moral autonomy” – Mathews.


Given all this, foolishness plays out as follows:

“Foolishness occurs when (A) we are aware of some threat to our most relevant interests. (B) We know how to minimize the risks to this interest. And (C) we choose in the face of such an awareness and such know how not to minimize such risks”.

  • We will see this play out in Genesis 3.
  • We will also deal much more with the tree of knowledge of good and evil at that time.


Why might God put this tree in the garden in the first place?

  • Only Mathews attempts to answer this question.
  • He gives a nod to freewill.
  • “Freedom has no meaning without prohibition; the boundary for Adam is but one tree” – Mathews.


There are reasons that the freewill justification doesn’t satisfy.

  • It seems to me that freedom finds it’s meaning in God and His decree that creation was “very good”.
  • In other words, like objective morality, objective freedom finds it’s meaning and grounding in God.


To suggest that freedom is only meaningful if it can be corrupted seems false.

  • It speaks poorly of the quality of God as its source and foundation.
  • One obvious reason is simply because there is no indication that the new heavens and earth (and us) will be capable of corruption – there will be no sin.
  • Are we going to mourn our supposed lack of freedom in our resurrection life?


I think the question is not why God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden (either literally or symbolically).

  • In fact, it seems possible (some scholars argue), that as Adam and Eve matured they would have arrived at this knowledge anyway – in the “right” way (through their growth and maturity in God).
  • The real question is why the creature (the image bearer of a “very good” creation) would presume to reject the wisdom of the Creator for creaturely wisdom.


I am convinced more and more that the meaning and beauty of moral freedom is to be found in God, not in its potential for corruption.


Again, more on all this when we get to Genesis 3.

  • Now back to more speculation of why the tree was present.


Mathews also cites D. Bonhoeffer to venture a guess at yet another reason.

  • The two trees were in the center of the garden.

“Symbolically the middle of Adam’s world was not himself but life, the very presence of God; the tree of knowledge as a prohibition signifies that man’s limitation as a creature is in the ‘middle of his existence, not on the edge’ – Mathews.

  • Man is a creature.


I think a very likely meaning behind the tree is that it points forward to the law.

  • For blessing to remain, the law must be obeyed.
  • Wenham puts it this way…
  • “In the garden, the revealed law of God amounted to the warning ‘Do not eat this tree’ on pain of death. In later Israel, many more laws were known, and those who flouted them incurred the divine curse and risked death. Since the law was God-given, it could not be altered or added to by man (Deut 4:2); thus human moral autonomy was ruled out (Josh 4:7). In preferring human wisdom to divine law, Adam and Eve found death, not life” – Wenham.


The law connection is also found in the following:

  • Genesis 2:16–17 (ESV) — 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
  • Deuteronomy 30:15–18 (ESV) — 15See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.



Sacred Service:

Genesis 2:15 (ESV) — 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it [cultivate] and keep it.


If God provided food, why would man have to work it and keep it?

  • This doesn’t seem to make any sense.
  • And given that working the land is part of God’s curse after the Fall, it really doesn’t make any sense.
  • What is the solution?


It appears that “work it and keep it” are seen by a great many as a very poor translation.

  • The key to understanding the meaning of the Hebrew is this…
  • A Sacred Space requires Sacred Service.


John Walton puts it this way.

  • “It is likely that the tasks given to Adam are of a priestly nature—that is, caring for sacred space.”


The Hebrew phrase, then, conveys the idea of “human service to God rather that descriptions of agricultural tasks” – Walton.

  • Specifically “work” or “cultivate” are often used for “worship”.
  • And “keep” describes the “faithful carrying out of God’s instructions” – Mathews.


Bruce Waltke agrees and says these words describe the activity of priests.

Specifically, “The latter term entails guarding the garden against Satan’s encroachment (see 3:1–5). As priest and guardians of the garden, Adam and Eve should have driven out the serpent; instead it drives them out” – Waltke.


Sailhamer points out that the priestly translation jives with “several early manuscripts”.

  • In them, the phrase means “to worship and obey”.
  • “Man’s life in the garden was to be characterized by worship and obedience. He was to be a priest…” – John Sailhamer.


Sailhamer sums up man’s priestly duty this way:

“To enjoy the good [sacred space], mankind must trust God and obey Him [sacred service]. If mankind disobeys, he will have to decide for himself what is good and what is not good” – John Sailhamer.

  • Something he is ill equipped to do.




In one-way or another, all the observation questions have been addressed.

  • The garden, as with everything else in Genesis 1 & 2, contains an enormous amount of significance.
  • And little, if any of it, has to do with the age of the earth and science.