By Dr. Anne Davis
We first hear of the Garden of Eden in the creation account.
The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden. And there He placed the man whom He had formed.
Did you hear the three key words – plant, garden, east? We will address the extraordinary depth of meaning shortly, but first let me draw your attention to the last appearance of the Garden of Eden in Scripture.
The day of the Lord is coming; surely it is near…. The land is like the garden of Eden before them but a desolate wilderness behind them. Joel 2:1,3
We refer to the Day of the Lord as the end of time when Joel tells us there will be a “great and mighty people.” However, our curiosity about the Garden of Eden draws us to the stark contrast between the Garden of Eden and the wilderness. At the time of God’s judgment, we want to be in the Garden of Eden not in the wilderness of the world.
God’s people are now in the middle between the past and the future Gardens and God has placed us there for a reason. To understand God’s work, which is leading us to the future Garden, we must first look back and then look forward before we can consider what God is asking us to do now.
Let’s start by considering the Garden of Eden at the time of creation. God was the One who planted the garden. The imagery and symbolism of planting conveys “new life” that has been created by God.
Where did the planting occur? Toward the east where the sun rises to begin a new day, which is perhaps why the east is thought to be the direction of God’s presence. In ancient Israel there were eight gates to the city of Jerusalem. However, the eastern gate was blocked because it was thought that God would arrive from the east to again place His presence in the Temple on the Day of the Lord. If you go to Israel, you will see that the eastern gate is still blocked today.
CONCLUSION: God planted the garden to stimulate new life that would dwell in the place where God resides.
Let us now consider the imagery and symbolism of the garden that follows God’s planting the garden in the east.
Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:9
Do you hear the stark omission of what the trees bear, which is fruit? Earlier in the creation account God had said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them” (Gen 1:11). But now we hear that God caused “trees” to grow. So, the Garden of Eden is metaphorically filled with trees that have two functions. They produce food for us to eat, and they are pleasing to our eyes.
Now, don’t get literal on me. The imagery of trees in the Garden of Eden conveys a powerful message. What we eat is metaphorically what we take into our systems. There is bad food produced by the world and good food that is from God.
Everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Hebrews 5:13-14
Now let’s look at God’s people who are currently in the middle of the two Gardens. We are learning how to discern good and evil by taking in only what is good and avoiding anything worldly that entices us because it is pleasing to the eye.
CONCLUSION: God has placed us in sinful and tempting world, but He has given us both His words of instruction in the Holy Writings and also His son whom we make Lord in our lives so we can do our best to follow and obey him.
Let’s move forward now to the Day of the Lord and revisit Joel’s description in its entirety in Joel 2:2-3.
The day of the Lord is coming; surely it is near. A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.
Why is it dark and gloomy? This is the time of God’s judgment when He will choose a those who are righteous in His eyes. Scripture calls them a “Remnant” whose role is to continue working in God’s plan, under the leadership of the Messiah, to ultimately bring all of God’s people into His righteous presence.
As the dawn is spread over the mountains, so there is a great and mighty people. There has never been anything like it, nor will there be again after it to the years of many generations.
The dawn is the rising sun from the east that brings new life to those whom God has selected as worthy to come into His presence.
A fire consumes before them and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them but a desolate wilderness behind them.
Again, don’t perceive this as literal. It is symbolic. Fire is used as a smelting process to burn away all that is impure, leaving only what is pure and holy. The contrast between the wilderness of the world and the Garden of Eden is poignant. In the Garden of Eden we find the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Those who can discern between the two, and always choose the good, can eat of the Tree of Life to come into God’s presence.
Are you training your senses to discern between good and evil? Don’t answer too quickly but give this question some serious thought and think of some examples in your life.
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Dr. Anne Davis is a professor of Biblical Studies who enjoys working with graduate students to enhance their exegetical skills for exploring the depth of Scripture.