The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing. (Is.51:3)
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (I Pet.2:19)
As we move into Genesis 2, we find the narrative pausing, and taking us back to look more closely at the creation of mankind in the image of God, as male and female. This is so significant a moment that we cannot simply pass over it. We are taken back to reflect more deeply on the creation of Adam and Eve, and their place in creation, and more specifically, in Eden. Many of us have given Eden little thought. Perhaps we wonder on occasion whether it was a real, or a literal, place? Maybe we’ve read an article or two that suggests its geography, or claims to have rediscovered its location? We probably think of it as an amazing garden, perhaps with elements of a farm… and then move on.
While it is in fact a garden, actually the whole phenomena of Eden is something far more dramatic. Eden was the point of overlap between the heavens and the earth, an interface in which the seen and the unseen coalesce. Here, humanity and the God who they represent to the rest of creation could enjoy fellowship and conversation in each other’s presence. The seemingly casual mention of the LORD walking in the garden by His Spirit (Gen.3:8, often unhelpfully translated as if Moses had in mind a cool evening breeze!) is in fact a colossal theological affirmation. Eden is the dwelling place of God. Leviticus 26:11-12 underlines the connection: ‘I will put my dwelling-place [lit: Tabernacle] among you … I will walk among you and be your God’. The Tabernacle / Temple that is such a feature of the life of the Old Testament Church is the enduring reality of Eden after the fall. Or to put it another way, Eden was the primal Tabernacle / Temple (there are a host of other connections between the Tabernacle and Creation – perhaps another time J) .
The lines of thought that converge here are almost too many to mention, but include the fact that both Eden and the Temple are spoken of as ‘the mountain of God’; both are eastward facing; both are God’s dwelling-place; both have a river of life and healing flowing out of them; both have a tree of life, and precious stones; both are marked by the presence of Cherubim who belatedly function to prevent fallen humanity entering ‘heaven’… and on it goes. The upshot of it all is that while we tend to think of Adam primarily as gardener / farmer, it is likely more helpful to think of him as priest. This is part of the reason why Christ, as our Priest is spoken of as a second Adam, and as the Son of Man (Adam) as in Daniel 7:13-14 where He is given dominion, glory and a kingdom that stretches to the ends of the earth (Ps.2:8).
When the LORD God put Adam in the Garden of Eden ‘to work it and take care of it’ (2:15), it isn’t necessarily horticulture He had in mind. His work isn’t limited to the agricultural working of the ground (2:5), and keeping the flowers looking nice; but includes guarding Eden from pollution and corruption, and keeping His commands so that the wrath of God would not be on creation (see Num.18:4-6, although the NIV obscures the verbal resonance). This is what makes his dereliction of duty in Genesis 3 so devastating. He has failed in primary responsibility to obey the LORD and to keep the sanctuary from defilement.
But Adam’s priestly responsibility wasn’t limited to Eden, or the Garden planted there. It was to include the whole earth, making the entirety of it a sanctuary in which the LORD could walk by His Spirit. As those in the image of God, humanity was to continue God’s iconic work, subduing the chaos, giving it form and order (by speech, Gen.2:19-20, echoing 1:5, 8, 10), and filling it. We never made it out of the garden. Adam could not subdue, but was in fact subdued by another.
Of course, God’s vision for creation is not frustrated by our failure! Even a cursory reading of the last two chapter of the Bible can’t help but note that much of the New Creation is presented to us in Eden / Temple language: the re-presentation of the river, the tree of life, the recurrence of the gold and precious stones, the Holy of holies, the lifting of the curse, and of course the dwelling of God with His people who serve Him. At the end of the Bible we see the commission of Genesis 1-2 finally fulfilled through the second Adam, our glorious Priest and King, and the image of the invisible God. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Do you think Adam and Eve were actual people?
…and that Eden was an actual place?
Does it matter whether we think of these as actual historical events and narratives, or not?
Read Genesis 2:4-25
You may have heard the idea that Gen.1, and Gen.2 represent two different (and perhaps contradictory) accounts of creation, from two different sources, that have been put together by an editor. What do you think about this?
Why does the LORD God put Adam in a garden, rather than simply somewhere in the earth?
What is the significance of both the man and animals being created from the ground (v.7 & 19)?
Why does LORD God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden at all? Why not either put it somewhere remote and inaccessible, or not have it at all?
In what sense will Adam die if he eats from that tree (v.17)?
Why do you think Adam is created in the way that he is, and why is Eve created in the way that she is? Why not create her directly from the dust of the ground as well?
How does the sequence of events in 2:18-24 lay the foundation for our vision of marriage?
What is the connection between being naked and feeling no shame (v.25)?
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, so obtaining eternal redemption ... [T]he blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, [will] cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
…taken from Hebrews 9:11-14
For Further Reflection:
In Romans 15:16, Paul describes His evangelistic work as a priestly duty (see also his use of sacrificial language to describe those who become Christians, e.g. Phl.4:18). That would seem to tie it into humanity’s creation mandate in Eden, and to the life of the Tabernacle / Temple. Why was this? The life of the Tabernacle was the demonstration and declaration of the Gospel throughout generations of the ancient Church under the Mosaic Covenant. Here we learn what the sacrifice of Christ will achieve, we understand the His ministry as our Priest and High Priest, we experience what it meant to be clean so that we could approach God, we are able to visualise how the God who is Father Son and Holy Spirit catches the Church up into their life together. This is why the LORD is so angry with His people when it falls into disrepair (Hag.1:1-6, Mal.3:6-12 etc.), silencing the Gospel.
It was the priest’s job to ensure the drama of the Gospel was performed faithfully and consistently before the nations of the world, to explain it and teach it and proclaim that Gospel… and it was their job to facilitate your response to the Gospel and to lead you as you trusted in the coming Messiah. After the fall, this was how the Genesis mandate would be fulfilled, and the second Adam subdue the earth, and fill it with His children.
And all this, Paul now does for the Gentiles. And in so doing, He is caught up into the priestly work of Christ – as are we all in the task of making disciples. We are, after all, a priesthood, and priestly work is what we were created for.