GOD’S PRESENCE IN THE GARDEN TEMPLE OF EDEN

 

flower tree park landscape
Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

God’s creation of the heavens and the earth provides the framework for understanding the entire Biblical narrative. The great themes of the human history begin in Genesis 1-3. The universe was not created just for mankind. It was created for God and mankind to dwell together. Therefore, the Garden of Eden functioned as a tabernacle or temple for God to dwell with Adam and Eve. This creation of the universe as a cosmic temple for God to dwell with mankind demonstrates his love for us and his purpose in creating us.

HOW DO WE KNOW THE GARDEN WAS THE FIRST TEMPLE?

Beale listed 9 major reasons why we can be quite certain the Garden of Eden was the original tabernacle. First, we can know the Garden of Eden was the first “temple” because it is where mankind uniquely experienced God’s presence. “The same Hebrew verbal form (hithpael) used for God’s “walking back and forth” in the Garden (Gen 3:8), also describes God’s presence in the tabernacle (Lev 26:12; Deut 23:14 [15]; 2 Sam 7:6-7; Ezek 28:14).”[1]

Secondly, Adam was placed in the Garden to perform priestly activities (“tend and keep” Gen. 2:15). “The two Hebrew words for “cultivate and keep” (respectively, ʿāḇaḏ and šāmar) are usually translated “serve and guard.” When these two words occur together later in the OT without exception they have this meaning and refer either to Israelites “serving and guarding/ obeying” God’s word (about 10 times) or, more often to priests who “serve” God in the temple and “guard” the temple from unclean things entering it (Num 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 18:5-6; 1 Chron 23:32; Ezek 44:14).”[2]Adam failed to guard the temple and allowed sin to enter God’s holy presence. This is why God withdrew from the Garden Temple.

Third, Beal suggests that perhaps the “tree of life” was the model for the lampstand placed outside the Holy of Holies.[3] Fourth, the temple was adorned so as to present a garden like atmosphere (1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32, 35; 7:18-20).[4] The temple faced east on a mountain (Exod. 15:17). Ezekiel’s temple vision has an easterly faced temple on a mountain (Ezek. 40:6, 2). The Garden of Eden faced east on a mountain (Gen. 3:24, Ezek. 28:14, 16). The Holy of Holies may echo the tree of knowledge. Both lead to wisdom (the ark contained the Law). To touch either would lead to death.

Seventh, a river flowed from Eden (Gen. 2:10). The post-exilic temple had a river flowing from it. The “temples” presented in visions to Ezekiel and John had rivers flowing from them (Ezek. 47:12; Rev. 7:15-17; Zech. 14:8-9).[5] The Garden had a tripartite sacred structure. There is Eden itself, the Garden which is East of Eden (Gen. 2:8), and the river which flows from it. Beale noted the grand themes here:

Therefore, in the same manner, that ancient palaces were adjoined by gardens, “Eden is the source of the waters and [is the palatial] residence of God, and the garden adjoins God’s residence.”11 Similarly, Ezekiel 47:1 says that water would flow out from under the Holy of Holies in the future eschatological temple and would water the earth around. Similarly, in the end-time temple of Revelation 22:1-2 there is portrayed “a river of the water of life … coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb” and flowing into a garden-like grove, which has been modeled on the first paradise in Genesis 2, as has been much of Ezekiel’s portrayal.[6]

The tripartite division helps us to see the way God relates to us. The Father is in his holy place. The Son came to dwell among us. The Holy Spirit nurtures us just as the water from the temple nourished the land around it. The temple motifs in all of Scripture represent the Father, Son, and Spirit. But they also point to the Triune God creating a space for mankind to dwell in their midst. Going beyond the incarnation where God dwelt among us. The Temple motif displays God’s ultimate goal for us to dwell among the Triune God.

Finally, Beale noted that “it should not be unexpected to find that Ezekiel 28:13-14, 16, 18 refer to “Eden, the garden of God … the holy mountain of God,” and also allude to it as containing ‘sanctuaries,’ which elsewhere is a plural way of referring to Israel’s tabernacle (Lev 21:23) and temple (Ezek 7:24; so also Jer 51:51).”[7] The Garden of Eden was the first “temple” for God to dwell among his people. The rest of the Bible points to how God could dwell among his people who have sinned. Holy spaces had to be created until finally the Holy Son of God came down and tabernacled among us (Jn. 1:14). Christians are “in Christ.” They are in the temple. One day God will add to this spiritual union Christians enjoy with Christ. Then there will be Heaven, the new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells. This is the new temple. God’s new Eden paradise. It is the place where Christians can dwell with God.

SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THE EDEN AND THE TABERNACLE/TEMPLE CONSTRUCTION

The creation of the universe and the building of the temple are recorded so similarly that we should be aware God’s creation was meant to be a tabernacle as well. G. K. Beale noted that “both accounts of the creation and building of the tabernacle are structured around a series of seven acts: cf. ‘And God said’ (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 26; cf. vv. 11, 28, 29) and ‘the Lord said’ (Exod. 25:1; 30:11, 17, 22, 34; 31:1, 12) (Sailhamer 1992: 298–299)[8]

God did not enter his temple “rest” (the Sabbath) until after the work of creation was completed and the chaos had been subdued. Likewise, David began the plans for the temple only after God had given him “rest” on every side (2 Sam. 7:1-7). Solomon began building the temple only after God had given him “rest” on every side (1 Kings 5:4-5). Exodus 15:17 confirms this by saying that God would bring Israel to ‘the place, O Lord, which Thou hast made for Thy dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established. The Lord shall reign forever and ever.’ God’s dwelling in Israel’s temple was conceived as the rest of a divine king who had no worries about opposition. God’s sitting in the temple is an expression of his sovereign rest or reign. This is underscored by the repeated phrase ‘who is enthroned above the cherubim’ (2 Sam. 6:2; 2 Kgs. 19:15; 1 Chr. 13:6; Pss. 80:1; 99:1), which includes reference to God’s actual presence in the temple as a reflection of his reign in the heavenly realm. Psalm 99:1 even more clearly asserts, ‘The Lord reigns … He is enthroned above the cherubim.’ Just as God ‘ascended and sat in the heights of the universe [to reign]’, after he completed the creation (The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan 1), so he would ascend to the temple and reign from there, after he subdued all Israel’s enemies (Levenson 1988: 108). In like manner, the repeated image of God ‘sitting on a throne’ is another picture of the sovereign who is resting (the phrase occurs approximately 35 times in the Old Testament, usually with respect to Israel’s human kings; cf., e.g., Ps. 47:8: ‘God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne’).[9]

Furthermore, the dedication of the temple came after 7 years of building (1 Kings 6:38). It was dedicated on the 7th month (1 Kings 8). Solomon’s speech was structured around 7 petitions (1 Kings 8:31-55). “Hence, the building of the temple appears to have been modeled on the seven-day creation of the world, which also is in line with the building of temples in seven days elsewhere in the Ancient Near East[10] “Just as God rested on the seventh day from his work of creation, so when the creation of the tabernacle and, especially, the temple are finished, God takes up a ‘resting place’ therein.”[11]

There are incredible similarities between the completion of creation and the completion of the temple. At the completion of creation, God saw that everything was good and at the completion of the tabernacle, Moses saw that everything was good (Gen. 1:31; Ex. 39:43). Genesis 2:1 records that on the seventh day, “the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.” Exodus 39:32 records that “the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished, and the people of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses, so they did.” Just as the “host” carried out God’s purpose, the “people of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded them.” The seventh day was “blessed” and “made holy” because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Gen. 2:3). The tabernacle was completed and Moses “finished the word” (Ex. 40:33) and blessed the people (Ex. 39:43).

So, when we compare creation and the later record of the tabernacle’s completion we are right to conclude that the tabernacle and later the temple are a little universe of holiness in which people might be with their God.[12]

TEMPLE PRIESTS RESPONSIBILITIES

Adam was given responsibilities in his temple. In Genesis 1:28 God told them “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule…” As they were “filling the earth” they were expanding the temple. Walton wrote:

if people were going to fill the earth [according to Genesis 1], we must conclude that they were not intended to stay in the garden in a static situation. Yet moving out of the garden would appear a hardship since the land outside the garden was not as hospitable as that inside the garden (otherwise the garden would not be distinguishable). Perhaps, then, we should surmise that people were gradually supposed to extend the garden as they went about subduing and ruling. Extending the garden would extend the food supply as well as extend sacred space (since that is what the garden represented).[13]

Unfortunately, Adam sinned. He was expelled from the temple. The purpose of the Edenic temple could not be fulfilled through him. He and those who followed him were excluded from God’s special presence. Christ is the “last Adam” or “second Adam” who is able to perfectly function as the priest and representative of humanity.

Christians are the royal priests serving under Christ (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Heb. 2:17; 3:1, 4:14-15). Since Christians are priests, just like Adam was a priest, they enjoy God’s presence in a special way (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; Acts 5:32). Christians also have the same responsibility of guarding and furthering the sacred space of the “temple.” This is commanded in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). Thus, Christians enjoy and expound God’s presence.

[1] G. K. Beale. “Adam as a Priest” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. 22.2 (2018): 10.

[2] Ibid., 10.

[3] Ibid., 10.

[4] Ibid. 10.

[5] Ibid., 11.

              [6] Ibid., 12.

              [7] Ibid.,13.

            [8] G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, ed. D. A. Carson, vol. 17, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL; England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004), 61.

            [9] G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, ed. D. A. Carson, vol. 17, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL; England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004), 63.

            [10]Levenson 1988: 78–79.

            [11] G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, ed. D. A. Carson, vol. 17, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL; England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004), 61.

            [12] “In the light of observing similar and additional parallels between the ‘creation of the world’ and ‘the construction of the sanctuary’, J. Blenkinsopp concludes that ‘the place of worship is a scaled-down cosmos’ (1992: 217–218). G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 61.

              [13] J. H. Walton, Genesis, (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 186.

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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.