These are the records of the heavens and the earth, concerning their creation at the time that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. No shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not made it rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground. But water would come out of the ground and water the entire surface of the land. Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.
The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man He had formed. The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river went out from Eden to water the garden. From there it divided and became the source of four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon, which flows through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. Gold from that land is pure; bdellium and onyx are also there. The name of the second river is Gihon, which flows through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris, which runs east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
Let’s look at what the text says about the landscape, so far. The account distinguishes a place in Eden from the surrounding landscape. Notice: “No shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not made it rain on the land.”
Does this mean simply that there’s no general vegetation? No,
“. . . even greater specificity is attainable. The phrase, s ́îah.-has ́s ́a-deh, [shrub of the field] refers to the wild vegetation that grows spontaneously after the onset of the rainy season, and e-s ́ eb-has ́s ́a-deh [plant of the field] refers to cultivated grains.
At the end of the dry season and after five months of drought the hills of Israel are as dry as dust, and the vegetation is brown. The farmer’s field is as hard as iron, so plowing and planting are impossible. Then come the rains, resulting in the hills of the steppe being clothed with verdure (Job 38:25-27). The rains also soften the soil and allow the farmer to plow and plant (see Ps 65:9-10). It is in this
geographical context that we must understand s ́îah. -has ́s ́a-deh and e-s ́eb-has ́s ́a-deh.”
—Mark Futato, “Because it Had Rained” pg. 2
This is the consistent use of these phrases in the Old Testament. The confirmation of this use in verse 5, is the second half of verse 5. Mark Futato succintly puts it:
“There was no vegetation that springs up spontaneously as a result of the rains, because there was no rain. And there was no cultivated grain, because there was no cultivator.” —Ibid., pg. 4
God also sends rain. The presence of the river flowing from Eden confirms the presence of rain.
Very quickly, notice the polemical edge: God is the one who does and does not send rain, not Baal, the storm-god of Canaan where the Israelites where heading and would be tempted to worship.
No spontaneous vegetation because it had not rained, no cultivated plants because there’s no cultivator; so God made rain clouds rise to water the whole surface of the ground, and made man the cultivator. Two problems, two solutions. That’s the logical structure of the text.
It’s so simple. Yet, I used to think there was no rain before the flood.
Notice what this must mean about the creation of Adam: this barren landscape is where God made man, “from the dust of the earth.” God then places the man somewhere else. If the landscape is lacking in cultivated plants, how would man survive?
There’s a location that stands out, which is distinct from the rest of the landscape.
“The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east . . . The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
There’s the distinction: a garden. I used to think, for some reason, that the whole planet was a garden. But, how could this garden actually be identified, if the whole planet was a garden (on top of the segment we already examined). “There’s a garden in the east” would be nonsense if the whole planet, east and west, north and south, was all garden-like. In contrast to the surrounding area, where “No shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted”, God here, in Eden, “caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food.” Quite the oasis. Why the extravagant provision? It’s hospitable, in contrast to the rest of the area. Human beings can live there.
Naturally, it follows “…and there He placed the man He had formed.” Man’s got to eat. But the garden is not merely functional. It’s not “just” a garden, and man’s purpose there is not “just” a gardener.
The Garden is a Temple.
The temple is the special place of meeting with God. It’s the place of God’s special presence. The Bible teaches that God is omnipresent, meaning not God is not localized anywhere. He is not physically bound to a certain space. All of creation is in his presence. Yet, what the Bible also clearly demonstrates is that God makes himself uniquely, specially manifest. And the locations where God does that have certain characteristics in common, throughout Scripture. The temple is the place where God meets man.
The Garden served as the first temple, where God fellowships with man. Let’s look at the identifying marks of temples in Scripture so we can see that the Garden in Eden was just that.
Located in the East
Ezekiel gives significance to the “East” in connection with God’s special presence:
The glory of the Lord rose up from within the city and stood on the mountain east of the city.
He led me to the gate, the one that faces east, and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice sounded like the roar of mighty waters, and the earth shone with His glory. The vision I saw was like the one I had seen when He came to destroy the city, and like the ones I had seen by the Chebar Canal. I fell facedown. The glory of the Lord entered the temple by way of the gate that faced east.
The man then brought me back toward the sanctuary’s outer gate that faced east, and it was closed. The Lord said to me: “This gate will remain closed. It will not be opened, and no one will enter through it, because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it. Therefore it will remain closed.
The East holds special significance.
The Garden is elevated. There’s no explicit reference in the text. However, we catch this when we read that a river flowed out of Eden, and water only runs downhill. We also get more from Ezekiel, again, who refers to it as “the holy mountain of God.” In his lament for the king of Tyre, Ezekiel said:
You were in Eden, the garden of God. . . .
You were on the holy mountain of God . . .
So I expelled you in disgrace
from the mountain of God
—Ezekiel 28:13-14, 16
Think of other places of God’s special presence and meeting with people. Mount Sinai, or Horeb. Mount Zion. John himself gets taken to a mountain top to the see the New Jerusalem. Scripture clearly makes connections between God’s presence, temples, and temple’s on top of mountains.
River of Eden
Scripture also demonstrates a connection with a river and the temple.
There is a river—
its streams delight the city of God
Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple and there was water flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the temple faced east. The water was coming down from under the south side of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. . . .
“This water flows out to the eastern region and goes down to the Arabah. When it enters the sea, the sea of foul water, the water of the sea becomes fresh. Every kind of living creature that swarms will live wherever the river flows, and there will be a huge number of fish because this water goes there. Since the water will become fresh, there will be life everywhere the river goes. . . .
All kinds of trees providing food will grow along both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. Each month they will bear fresh fruit because the water comes from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be used for food and their leaves for medicine.”
—Ezekiel 47:1, 8-9, 12
The prophet Joel also connect water with the temple: “a spring will issue from the Lord’s house.” (3:18)
Parellel is Zechariah 14:8, “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem.”
The most obvious of this imagery is in Revelation 22:1-3
Then he showed me the river of living water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the broad street of the city. The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him.
There’s connections between the Law of God, which is always present in the Temple, and the Tree of Knowledge. Touch it, you die (as with the Ark of the Covenant that contained the commandments). The tree could well serve as a visible representation of God’s Law. This is likely, given that the two trees where seals of God’s covenant with Adam, containing both blessing and curse (for disobedience).
There is also a connection between the lamp stand and the Tree of Life. The lamp stand, or menorah, that God commanded be made for the Tabernacle looked like a tree.
“You are to make a lampstand out of pure, hammered gold. It is to be made of one piece: its base and shaft, its ornamental cups, and its calyxes and petals. Six branches are to extend from its sides, three branches of the lampstand from one side and three branches of the lampstand from the other side. There are to be three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with a calyx and petals, on the first branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with a calyx and petals, on the next branch. It is to be this way for the six branches that extend from the lampstand. There are to be four cups shaped like almond blossoms on the lampstand shaft along with its calyxes and petals. For the six branches that extend from the lampstand, a calyx must be under the first pair of branches from it, a calyx under the second pair of branches from it, and a calyx under the third pair of branches from it. Their calyxes and branches are to be of one piece. All of it is to be a single hammered piece of pure gold.
“Make seven lamps on it. Its lamps are to be set up so they illuminate the area in front of it. Its snuffers and firepans must be of pure gold. The lampstand with all these utensils is to be made from 75 pounds of pure gold.
There you have a gold tree, complete with branches, buds, and almond flowers. The lamp stand was near the holy of holies in the tabernacle and temple. Jewish literature says the tree of life was near God’s throne in Eden. The final place we see the Tree of Life is near God’s throne:
The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations.
—Revelation 22:2, 14
There were obviously other trees in the Garden of Eden:
The cedars in God’s garden could not rival it;
the pine trees couldn’t compare with its branches,
nor could the plane trees match its boughs.
No tree in the garden of God
could compare with it in beauty.
I made it beautiful with its many limbs,
and all the trees of Eden,
which were in God’s garden, envied it.
Recall how the temple was decorated? Carvings of flowers, pomegranates, and palm trees.
The cedar paneling inside the temple was carved with ornamental gourds and flower blossoms. . . .
He carved all the surrounding temple walls with carved engravings—cherubim, palm trees and flower blossoms—in both the inner and outer sanctuaries. . . .
The two doors were made of olive wood. He carved cherubim, palm trees, and flower blossoms on them and overlaid them with gold, hammering gold over the cherubim and palm trees.
—1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32
Cherubim guard temples throughout the Bible.
In Solomon’s temple:
In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim 15 feet high out of olive wood. . . . Then he put the cherubim inside the inner temple. Since their wings were spread out, the first one’s wing touched one wall while the second cherub’s wing touched the other wall, and in the middle of the temple their wings were touching wing to wing. He also overlaid the cherubim with gold.
—1 Kings 6:23-28
Remember also that two gold cherubim sit on top of the ark of the covenant. They are also woven in the 10 curtains of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:1) and carved in the walls of the temple. Cherubim are in the temples, and are described as being in the garden and surrounding the throne of God (in Ezekiel and Revelation). Of course, after the Fall the cherubim move to the east entrance of the Garden to guard it. It is interesting to note that cherubim woven on the veil also “guard” the holy of holies (Exodus 26:31). Could the Garden have been a holy of holies? It was indeed the place of direct access to God’s presence, the fall resulting in banishment from that place. Thereafter, only the high priest could come before God, and only once a year (after atonement had been made for himself), and access to the Father only being restored in Christ, who tore that veil.
God walked in the Garden, just as he later walked in the tabernacle and moved among his people.
God’s detailed creation account, spanned out for us in Genesis 1, hints that the Garden is a temple
A fascinating similarity is between the 7 day creation account and the 7 speech instruction for constructing the tabernacle in Exodus 25-27:19. Both the account of God creating the world and the construction of the tabernacle end with the Sabbath; God institutes the Sabbath rest in Exodus 31:12-17, and God rests after the construction of his special dwelling place in Exodus 40:35 just as he rested after creating his special dwelling in the Garden. Rabbinic interpreters also see the similarities here, so this is not a novel interpretation (Fesko, Last Things First pg. 68-69).
Take note that all of this is a cumulative, exegetical argument for the Garden of Eden being the first temple. The Garden of Eden was not merely a garden for cultivation.
As I mentioned, understanding the Garden of Eden as a temple or sanctuary is not a novel or new concept.
And he knew that the garden of Eden was the holy of holies and the dwelling of the Lord. And Mount Sinai was in the midst of the desert and Mount Zion was in the midst of the navel of the earth. The three of these were created as holy places, one facing the other.
—Jubilees 8.19-20 (c. 75-50 BC)
The reason we spent so much time building the case for the Garden as a Temple is because it is the context for Adam. That is where God placed the man. If the Garden was more than just a garden, that adds a whole other dimension to the dominion mandate and the Fall. It necessarily affects how we view Adam, how we view God’s mandate to Adam, and everything that happens in these early chapters of Genesis. Because it shapes who Adam is and what he was supposed to do, it necessarily will affect how we see the last Adam, and what he was supposed to do. The Garden as Temple will also affect our eschatology. Perhaps some might now question the belief that the restoration of all things means bringing everyone back to an agricultural, farming society for all eternity!
Eschatologically, the image we are given of the New Jerusalem is a city, a garden-city. We recall a related historical detail about the ancient city of Babylon. One of the wonders of the ancient world was the hanging gardens at the center of the city, where the temple was. Scripture typifies Babylon as the city of man against God. G. K. Beale relates that to Revelation, where we see an antithesis to Babylon, the city-temple-garden, illuminated by God, descending from heaven; (which is also a cube, just like the holy of holies).
All this evidence together shows us that the Garden of Eden was the first temple.
“Garden Temple” by G. K. Beale