A Garden of Earthly Delights

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 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.”  Genesis 2:8-17 ESV

Once again, Moses provides some much-needed context to set up the next phase of the creation account. He relates that God planted a garden in a region known as Eden. The Hebrew word of “garden” is גַּן (gan), which was typically used to refer to an orchard. In this eastern section of Eden, God had prepared a grove filled with trees that were “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9 ESV). From the wording of the text, it appears that God did not create fully grown trees, but chose instead to have them grow from seeds.

…out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree… – Genesis 2:9 ESV

In Hebrew, the term, “spring up,” means “to sprout, spring forth, to grow.” It should not be overlooked that God caused these trees to spring up from the “ground”(ăḏāmâ).  God used the same ground from which He had formed Adam (‘āḏām) to produce the food that would feed and sustain him. And Moses points out two particular trees that existed in the garden God had created: The tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. These two trees will become key factors in the unfolding story.

It was in this idyllic spot that God placed man. This location was intended to be much more than a home for the first couple. In a sense, it was to be a place of worship, a precursor to both the tabernacle and temple that God would later ordain as holy sites in which His presence might dwell and His people could worship Him. In this setting, Adam and Eve would enjoy unbroken fellowship with God. Chapter three reveals that God regularly made His presence known to the first couple.

…the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the orchard at the breezy time of the day… – Genesis 3:8 NLT

And in that same chapter, it becomes clear that Adam and Eve were accustomed to communicating with God. This garden-temple was meant to be a place of intimate communion between man and his God. And its beautiful surroundings point to the glory and holiness of its designer and creator. There was a river that flowed into the garden, providing pure drinking water for Adam and nourishment for the trees. Moses describes the prevalence of gold, bdellium, and onyx stone – natural resources that would later become coveted for their rarity and subsequent value. These same precious metals and priceless stones would become key decorative elements in the tabernacle and temple that God would ordain.

“Tell the people of Israel to bring me their sacred offerings. Accept the contributions from all whose hearts are moved to offer them. Here is a list of sacred offerings you may accept from them:

gold, silver, and bronze;
blue, purple, and scarlet thread;
fine linen and goat hair for cloth;
tanned ram skins and fine goatskin leather;
acacia wood;
olive oil for the lamps;
spices for the anointing oil and the fragrant incense;
onyx stones, and other gemstones to be set in the ephod and the priest’s chestpiece.

“Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them.” – Exodus 25:1-8 NLT

While we can’t know for certain the exact location of the garden, Moses’ description of the four rivers provides a general idea of where this region may have been. Two of the rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates are located in what would become the land of Babylon. What is interesting to note is that these two rivers flow from the north to the south and encompass two regions that would later be associated with Abraham: Ur and Haran.

Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. – Genesis 11:31 ESV

God would call Abram and command him to travel to a land that would become an inheritance to his ancestors.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. – Genesis 12:1-5 ESV

And God would later describe two rivers that would form the boundaries of the land that He would give to Abram’s descendants.

On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…” – Genesis 15:18 ESV

The land that God promised to give Abram’s offspring, the nation of Israel, would stretch from the Nile in the west to the Euphrates in the east. So, the garden in which God placed Adam must have been somewhere within this vast region. And this insight was meant to provide Moses’ readers with a reminder that, from the very beginning, God had intended this land to be the home of His children and the place where He dwelled among them. But this recounting of the creation story was also meant to remind every Israelite who would read it of their own rebellion and subsequent rejection from the land.

Moses makes it clear that God placed man in this very spot and gave him a job to do.

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it. – Genesis 2:15 NLT

This verse helps to explain one of the responsibilities that had come with the command that God had given to Adam and Eve:

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28 ESV

Adam had been placed in the garden by God and ordered to manage and maintain it. But the garden would also provide for all of Adam’s needs. It was a place of complete sufficiency that was intended to sustain mankind for generations to come. It was in the garden that Adam and Eve were to be fruitful and multiply. But, ultimately, God expected them to leave the garden and fill the earth with more of their kind. They were to procreate and populate the entire earth and, in so doing, spread the image of God all throughout His creation.

But upon placing Adam in the garden, God gave him yet one more command that came with a sobering warning.

Then the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.” – Genesis 1:16

Adam was free to eat from every tree of the garden except one. That means he had free access to the tree of life, and it would appear that this one tree was to be the means by which God sustained and prolonged Adam’s life. As long as he had access to the tree of life, he would live. But there was another tree that would produce the opposite effect. If Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. Here, for the first time, we see the disparate distinction between life and death, blessings and curses. As long as Adam obeyed the will of God, he would live. But if He chose to disobey, his actions would result in a deadly curse from God.

And as will soon become apparent, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil offered a tantalizing fruit that could give man the ability to self-govern. It would appeal to his desire for autonomy and self-rule. The knowledge of good and evil refers to man’s inherent desire to decide for himself, to self-determine what is right and wrong. In essence, to be his own god and create his own sense of what is just and acceptable behavior. Adam had everything he needed to live in unbroken fellowship with God, but that relationship required that he constantly submit his will to that of God. As long as he did, he would thrive and enjoy the undiminished blessings of God. But, we know how the story ends, because Moses provides all the sordid details.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

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