The Garden: Part 1

Glencairn Gardens is one of my favorite places in Rock Hill. When Ellen and I lived outside of Rock Hill, we made it a point to walk through Glencairn Gardens on almost every visit. The beautifully landscaped lawns, the blooming flowers and the wide variety of trees make strolling through the grounds a delight. Glencairn started as the backyard garden of David and Hazel Bigger in 1928 and has blossomed into, according to the City of Rock Hill’s website, “an 11-acre paradise.” I have spent many days lounging around the garden with my family enjoying picnics and seeing my kids laugh as they explore and enjoy the surroundings. There is something about being in a beautiful garden that makes one feel like all is right with the world.

            After God created the first garden, all was right with the world. Genesis 1:31, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” God created a Garden paradise. This morning, we are going to look at life in the Garden. If life is so different from life in the Garden, then why should we study it? We study the Garden because it shows us of the way life is supposed to be and the way life will be once more. Moses wrote Genesis for the fearful people of Israel. Israel needed to trust God’s sovereign power over Creation and needed to remember how they are called to reflect the Creator God to the world. Israel was called to be a light to the nations. And they soon would enter Canaan, to be surrounded by a world in chaos that desperately needed order and true community. The Garden gives us a window of what the world should be like and what the world will be again.

            The “Garden” moments of our lives give us comfort because they help to sustain us during times of trial. We will all experience suffering, but there will moments, maybe minutes, hours or days, provide a taste and a hunger for paradise. In studying the Garden of Eden, I pray our eyes will be lifted off of our current trials to perfect paradise that God has prepared for his people and as we look up there we will be sustained down here.

The Garden Community

            Genesis 2:4 begins with the announcement of the generations of the heavens and earth following the toledot formula indicating a new section in the book. Genesis 2 & 3 form one unit showing the life of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Biblical figures, like Jesus and Paul, consistently reference back to Genesis 2 as the foundation for their worldview. The more that I study the Bible, the more I see the importance of the first 3 chapters of Genesis. Genesis 2:4-9,

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 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.

The Lord God is the central figure in Genesis 2. Normally, Lord and God are not used together as God is show Him as the Sovereign Creator while Lord is to show Him as Israel’s covenant establishing and keeping God. Moses wanted to show the fearful and struggling Israel that their covenant keeping God is also the Sovereign Creator.

God is portrayed as a master builder and a skilled craftsman who forms man and beast from the dust of the ground and careful shapes woman out of the man’s rib. After the Lord God forms the man from the dust of the ground, He breathes life into man. And Genesis 2:7, “Man became a living creature.” The Bible provides hope for the physical body. Many Greek thinkers have influenced Christianity as the body is bad and something that needs to be escaped from when we exit this life into the next, but God made human being embodied souls. God breathed life into a body. Old Testament Scholar Derek Kidner says, “Breathed is warmly personal, with the face-to-face intimacy of a kiss and the significance that this was giving as well as making; and self-giving at that.[1]” The breath of God shows the personal relationship that God had with man. God begins and sustains the lives of all His people.

The passage depicts Eden as a luxurious and abundant paradise. God was not stingy with this people, but lavished them with abundant blessings. Genesis 2:8,

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 trees were beautiful to eye and useful to the belly. The passage shows the abundant paradise that the Lord God had planted for man. The Lord was intimately involved in creating the Garden paradise for his people. This is important because as the narrative progresses the serpent is going to cause Adam and Ever to doubt the goodness and fullness of God’s provision. It is important to see God’s abundant provision in the Garden as well as it is in our own life. Nothing is new under the sun and the same temptations that faced Adam and Eve are similar to us today. God has given us so much and yet we so often are tempted to doubt his provision. What has the Lord given you this morning? Breathe, Strength to rise, the ability to communicate, friends and family, heat, light, biscuits, recreation, entertainment, laughter, etc. We shouldn’t only count our blessings and name them one by one during the week of Thanksgiving, but every day realize God’s abundant provision.

            God places two trees in the middle of the garden. The tree life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wisely noted, “symbolically the middle of Adam’s world was not himself but life, the very presence of God;[2]” and his, “limitation as a creature is in the “middle of his existence, not on the edge.[3] We will return to the significant of the trees in a moment, but first see how the narrative continues to highlight the physical beauty of the garden. Genesis 2:10-14,

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

There are two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, that still exist today and two others that we know nothing about. God gave the names to Israel for a reason and they may have known an approximate place of the Garden, but for us, I think it is more important to see the beauty and life created by the rivers rather than the location. God planted a beautiful and abundant Garden.

            The Garden Community that God creates is a perfect one. It is beautiful. It is full of trees, including the tree of life, that provides food in season and rivers that flow through the Garden nourishing everything. And although the passage highlights the physical beauty and sustenance provided in the Garden, its best feature is that it is where God meets with his people. The best thing about life is never God’s gifts, but God Himself. Remember the specific usage of the LORD God in connection is to remind Israel that the same God who created the world is the One who has promised Himself to them. He is not only the Creator, but He is their God.

 The Garden was where God meet with his people. This theme is traced throughout the whole Bible. God met with his people in the Tabernacle in the wilderness. He met with his people in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. He met with his people through his Son who became flesh and dwelt among us, literally, tabneracled with us. And now through the Spirit of God we have the presence of God with us until that day when we will be in the finally in the presence of Lord. He will descend from heaven and He will be our God and we will be his people.

God delights to be with his people, but we do we delight to be in God’s presence? The Garden is to remind us of how things are supposed to be. Do we take the time to dwell in the Lord presence? Do we spend time with Him in prayer? In His Word? With His people? I pray for our church family that we will echo David’s prayer in Psalm 27. When he was suffering and surrounded by his enemies, he did not pray only for the Lord’s protection, but for his presence,

Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:3-4)

The greatest thing about the Garden Community was the perfect Community between God and man. The greatest thing about our future Paradise is the future Presence of God. The pleasure of paradise is the presence of God.

The Garden Commands

            After the passage highlights the physical beauty, Moses then moves to explain more the relationship that God has with man. Genesis 2:15,

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 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 2:15-17)

There are two commands that I would like to focus on here. First, God placed man in the Garden to work and keep it. God established work as part of his good creation. Man was given a job in Genesis 1:28 (known of the cultural mandate), “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “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.” Man was placed in the Garden to exercise dominion or rule over the land.

The word used for work in Genesis 2:15 is common for tilling the soil, for service as well as for worship. Work is worship. We were created to work. God has given us roles to play in society. Whether we work in our homes or in the marketplace, we are placed there to work for the Lord and his glory. Colossians 3:24-25, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Do you view you job as drudgery or as worship? God created you to work. The Proverbs speak strong rebukes against the lazy and the slothful because laziness is against God’s created order. We are called to work, but we are called to work for the Lord. We do not work primarily to build our reputation or to find meaning. We work for the glory and honor of God.

The second command is found in Genesis 2:16. It is the only place in Genesis were the Lord God is used as a subject before a command. The second command is a positive and a negative and must be looked at together. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden.” God begins his command by telling the man to look around at EVERY tree that he had made for him and to surely eat of their abundant food. Again, we like to focus on what we do not have while God wants us to focus on what we do have. We have to look at the negative commands in light of the positive commands. God told the man that he could enjoy the fruit of his labor from every tree in the Garden, but one. The LORD GOD commanded the man saying, “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.”

      The limitation of the one tree was to establish God’s rule over man. It was to remind man of his creaturely existence. As one scholar says, “Out of God’s goodness and mercy he informs the man that the consequence of disobedience is death; what is at stake is whether he will choose to trust God’s words.[4]” The tree of knowledge of good and evil was the place that bestowed divine wisdom. Wisdom is possessed by God alone and his creatures may attain wisdom through the fear of the Lord. The Fear of the Lord is beginning of wisdom. As John Calvin notes,

We now understand what is meant by abstaining from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; namely, that Adam might not, in attempting one thing or another, rely upon his own prudence; but that cleaving to God alone, he might become wise only by his obedience.[5]

Sadly, we know that Adam did not cleave to God alone, but desiring to be wise in his own eyes became disobedient. And as children of Adam, we follow in his steps.

            The Hebrew is full of word plays. Adam and ground are closely related to show their connection. Adam was taken from the ground to work the ground. Adam was given the responsibility to work and literally guard the garden, but because of his disobedience, he was removed from the garden and was guarded from returning. The word found in Genesis 2:15 has the same root of Genesis 3:24 where the cherubim guarded the way to the tree of life. Adam did not guard the garden so he was guarded from it. Adam was placed in the garden to work and guard the land while the second Adam was placed in a different garden to work and guard the entrance into the promised land. God placed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to guard the lives of his people. And while in the Garden, Jesus said to the Father,

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Jesus was placed in the Garden and He finished his work. Where the first Adam failed, the second Adam, succeeded.

 Jesus would go to the cross and guard the souls of man by opening a way back to the garden. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me…for I go to prepare a place for you.” Jesus went to the cross to prepare a place for his people, a paradise for all who would turn from their sins and trust in Him. Jesus finished his work and God raised him from the dead. So now we who trust in Christ have been born again to a living hope the resurrection from Jesus from the dead to an inheritance that is undefiled, unfading and imperishable. We have a Garden paradise awaiting us prepared for us by our Savior, if we turn from our sin to Christ. We are no longer identified by the first Adam, but the Second Adam. We have new identities in Christ.

Israel received Genesis as they were on the way into the Promised Land; a land flowing of milk and honey. Moses desired Israel to look back to encourage them to move forward. The promise of a future paradise is woven through the Bible. We see God trying to comfort his suffering people by reminding them of his abundant provision in the Garden in Genesis. We see God comforting his people through the coming paradise promised in the prophets through the righteous branch of Jesse. Isaiah 11:1,

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit…Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1; 5-9)

The promise of the Righteous One who would re-establish a paradise for his people sustained a suffering Israel in the midst of trial. The same is true for us today.

            We live in a privilege time in history. Jesus Christ has come and conquered the grave. He has gone into our garden to get us back to his garden. John tells us in Revelation,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…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 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. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 21:1-4; 22:1-5)

Beloved, God has prepared a place for us through Jesus Christ. He, who is rich in mercy, even though we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive together with Christ, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in the kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

            Are you suffering today? Are you dealing with pain and trials? God wants to comfort you. He wants to remind you that it won’t always be this way. There is a day coming. A day when all the suffering will end and you will be in the Lord’s presence. Until then, look for those Garden moments as a reminder of God has prepared for us.


[1] Mathews, K. A. (1996). Genesis 1-11:26 (Vol. 1A, p. 196). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Mathews, K. A. (1996). Genesis 1-11:26 (Vol. 1A, p. 202). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] Mathews, K. A. (1996). Genesis 1-11:26 (Vol. 1A, p. 202). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Mathews, K. A. (1996). Genesis 1-11:26 (Vol. 1A, p. 211). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] Mathews, K. A. (1996). Genesis 1-11:26 (Vol. 1A, p. 206). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.