4 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. 5 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, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—7 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. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 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.”
My wife and I love Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beautiful story, The Secret Garden. The Wikipedia article on the book offers a nice summary of the story.
…Mary Lennox is a sickly and unloved 10-year-old girl, born in India to wealthy British parents who never wanted her and make an effort to ignore the girl. She is cared for by servants, who allow her to become a spoiled, aggressive, and selfish child.
After a cholera epidemic kills her parents and the servants, Mary is discovered alive but alone in the empty house…[S]he is sent to Yorkshire, in England, to live with Archibald Craven, a wealthy uncle whom she has never met, at his isolated house, Misselthwaite Manor.
At first, Mary is as rude and sour as ever. She dislikes her new home, the people living in it, and most of all, the bleak moor on which it sits. However, a good-natured maid named Martha Sowerby tells Mary about the late Mrs. Craven, who would spend hours in a private walled garden growing roses. Mrs. Craven died after an accident in the garden, and the devastated Mr. Craven locked the garden and buried the key. Mary becomes interested in finding the secret garden herself, and her ill manners begin to soften as a result…
As Mary explores the gardens, her robin draws her attention to an area of disturbed soil. Here Mary finds the key to the locked garden and eventually the door to the garden itself. She asks Martha for garden tools, which Martha sends with Dickon, her 12-year-old brother. Mary and Dickon take a liking to each other, as Dickon has a kind way with animals and a good nature. Eager to absorb his gardening knowledge, Mary tells him about the secret garden.
One night, Mary hears the cries once more and decides to follow them through the house. She is startled when she finds a boy her age named Colin, who lives in a hidden bedroom. She soon discovers that they are cousins, Colin being the son of Mr. and Mrs. Craven, and that he suffers from an unspecified spinal problem which precludes him from walking and causes him to spend most of his time in bed. Mary visits him every day that week, distracting him from his troubles with stories of the moor, Dickon and his animals, and the secret garden. Mary finally confides that she has access to the secret garden, and Colin asks to see it. Colin is put into his wheelchair and brought outside into the secret garden. It is the first time he has been outdoors for years.
…Colin and Mary soon spend almost every day in the garden, sometimes with Dickon as company. The children and Ben conspire to keep Colin’s recovering health a secret from the other staff, so as to surprise his father, who is travelling abroad. As Colin’s health improves, his father sees a coinciding increase in spirits, culminating in a dream where his late wife calls to him from inside the garden. When he receives a letter from Mrs. Sowerby, he takes the opportunity finally to return home. He walks the outer garden wall in his wife’s memory, but hears voices inside, finds the door unlocked, and is shocked to see the garden in full bloom, and his son healthy, having just won a race against the other two children. The servants watch, stunned, as Mr. Craven and Colin walk back to the manor together.
It is a profoundly biblical notion: a garden in which a death occurred is reduced to a wilderness. In time, the garden is restored and begins to be a place of life instead of a place of death. The weak are healed, the bitter are given joy, and the despondent are given hope. I could not help but think of The Secret Gardenin reading our text. We live between the two gardens: the first Eden that has been lost because of our sinfulness and the death it brings and the new Heaven and new Earth in which God will have His garden once again.
In The Secret Gardenthe garden is restored through the tenacity of Mary Lennox and her friends. But, of course, in reality, God’s garden is being and will be restored through the person and the work of Jesus Christ. It is important to understand the significance of the garden of Eden and what it tells us about who we were created to be and who we can become again in Christ Jesus the Lord.
We were made to live in joyful relationship with the God who created us and the world.
One of the most important implications of Eden concerns what it says about God and our relationship with Him. In short, Eden was a place of delight made by God in which humanity was to live in joyful and loving relationship with Him.
4 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. 5 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, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—7 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.
When we read this text carefully the first thing that will jump out at us is the name of God. You will note that prior to Genesis 2:4 the word “God” is used but that after Genesis 2:4 we find the title “Lord God.” Why is this and what does it mean? R. Kent Hughes offers a helpful explanation:
Up this point in the story, Moses has used only one designation for God, the name Elohim. And he has used it with studied care some thirty-five times (five times seven, the number of perfection). Elohim is the appropriate word for the majestic portrayal of God as Creator of the universe, signifying omnipotent deity. The thirty-five repeated use of this name is metered praise for the perfect creation of the perfect Creator.
But now at 2:4…the name of God switches to Yahweh-Elohim, “the Lord God” as our translations have it. Yahweh-Elohim is the dominant name from here to the end of chapter 4, which concludes this section of the creation account. The reason for this is that Yahweh is the personal covenant name of God who relates to and redeems his people…Significantly, the only place in chapters 2-4 that it is not used is 3:2-5, when the serpent and Eve consciously avoid the personal name of God as she is lured toward sin…
Beautifully, Yahweh-Elohim combines the Creator and Covenant-Redeemer aspects of God into one magnificent name.
What strikes me as most significant about this is the fact that Genesis 2 highlights the relational character of God. He is the God who makes and keeps covenant with His people. The presence of “YHWH” in Genesis 2 reminds us that God is not distant, that God is not unconcerned about humanity. Rather, in the Genesis 2 creation account, we see that God is almighty and all powerful, yet He loves us and desires a relationship with us.
In verse 7 we see God breathing life into man. This corresponds to Genesis 1:26-27’s imagery of man and woman as created “in the image of God.” It is a picture of the qualitative distinctiveness of humanity. God has breathed life into us! We bear His image. We have value. And we were created to stand in relationship with Him.
But there is a note of joy here as well. In verse 8, we see the creation of the Garden of Eden. The garden is a place of indescribably joy and delight. Consider the beauty of this description of Eden:
8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 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.
The description and terminology are beautiful: pleasant, good, gold, bdellium, onyx stone. It was a garden of trees and many rivers and unspeakable beauty! Yes, the garden was beautiful! Even the word “Eden” carries connotations of delight. Kenneth Mathews observes that, “Hebrew ‘eden (‘Eden’) probably is derived from West Semitic and means ‘a place of abundant waters.’…Its Hebrew meaning as a common noun is ‘delight’; whether or not there is an etymological linkage, the sound play of ‘Eden’ suggests even by its name that the garden was luxuriant.”Victor Hamilton says that the word eden is linked to ‘adan (“to delight oneself”), ‘edna (“pleasure”), and ‘adina (“pleasure seeker”).
Consider, then, this: based on Moses’ use of the covenant name of God and the description of the creation of Eden, we can conclude that we were made to live in joyful relationship with the God who created us and the world. You were made for this:joyful relationship with God!
We were made to participate in joyful stewardship and sub-creation within the world that God has made.
You were made to live in joyful, loving relationship with God, it is true, but you were also made for more. You were also made to participate in joyful stewardship and sub-creation within the world that God has made.We can see this in the task that God gave to Adam.
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
It is often wrongly asserted that work itself is a result of the fall of humanity into sin. This is wrong. Drudgery and toil, not stewardship and work, are results of the fall. No, work is a joy! Finding your purpose is a joy! Getting to participate in God’s good creation is a joy! You know this if you think about it. Ask yourself: is there anything more fulfilling than working on a task and accomplishing it? Is there anything more joyful that working hard and seeing something beautiful result from your labors? No, working and keeping Eden is a joy!
The very word “Adam” highlights the connection between humanity and the earth. E.A. Speiser writes that, “In ‘adam ‘man’ and ‘edama ‘soil, ground’ there is an obvious play on words…The closest approach in English to the juxtaposition of the Hebrew nouns before us might be ‘earthling: earth.’”
We were made from the earth and for the earth! This is one of the reasons I so appreciate Ash Wednesday services in liturgical churches. On Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, the congregation goes forward to receive the mark of ashes on its forehead and to hear the words, “From dust you have come and to dust you will return.” We are of the earth but made alive by the grace and gift of God! We were made to tend to Eden!
This is where I think that J.R.R. Tolkien’s concept of “sub-creation” can be a big help. While the term for Tolkien had a literary thrust in that it referred to the creation of imaginary worlds by authors, it also refers acts of creation by created being beneath the ultimate authority of the one Creator who alone can create ex nihilo, from nothing. I am going to use Tolkien’s notion of “sub-creation” to refer to all God-glorifying work done by His creations. Whether you are a painter or a plumber, to labor in God’s creation for God’s glory is to take up the task of sub-creation. We cannot create from nothing, we cannot create in the sense and with the authority that God does, but we can create out of the something that God alone made out of nothing. Whether it be painting “Starry Night” or creating a widget to fix a leak in a faucet, we can see our labors as acts of sub-creation for God’s glory!
Adam was put into the garden to keep it and till it and steward it. And though the world has fallen and our work has been muddled and made more toilsome, if we look at our work rightly and give it to God we can take joy in the work of sub-creation and of stewardship.
We were made for relationship with God! We were made for joy! And we were made for joyful work in Eden!
We were made to live in trusting obedience to the God who loves us.
And we were made for a relationship of obedience. We can see this in God’s prohibition of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
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.”
Why would God do this? Why is there a prohibitionin Eden? Why not simply allow Adam and Eve to live in anarchic blissful ignorance? After all, blissful ignorance is a kind of bliss, no? Perhaps, but it is not so blissful as the bliss of knowing obedience. There is a prohibition in Eden because God intended for His creation’s relationship with Him to be one of trust. Adam and Eve were to trust that God knows what God is doing within His created reality and, indeed, within all reality. True love carries with it the possibility of betrayal. True love is a volitional giving of oneself. It is a decision. The prohibition against the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is in fact a call to love. It is a call to a decision for God, to trust in God’s knowledge and good will.
You were made for these!
You were made for this!
The beautiful thing about Jesus is that He calls us back to this, back to joy, relationship, stewardship, love, and obedience. We can see this in the way He called His first followers in Matthew 4.
18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
These first disciples were called to a task in the context of a relationship that was offered purely out of God’s grace and love. The call of Jesus is the call back to Eden and all that made it Eden, back to a relationship of joy and obedience resulting in satisfying and God-honoring labor in His creation. It is a call to the Edenic exaltation of the God who creates. It is a call to restoration, to new creation, to Eden replanted. It is a call to trust, to love, to follow. It is a call to saying no to that which is forbidden and yes to Jesus.
I am always struck by the fact that on the way to the cross Jesus stopped in a garden. We read in Matthew 26:
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
Here is what strikes me most: on the way to the cross Jesus goes to a garden, demonstrates His relationship with the Father through prayer, and commits Himself to obedience before the tree of pain, the cross. As a result of this, we have been offered joy!
In Eden, the garden of delight, man goes to the tree and disobeys and brings death.
In Gethsemane, the garden of pain, the Son of Man commits to go to the tree of death, obey, and bring life.
Jesus goes to a garden to win back for us the garden!
Jesus tells the Father in a garden that He will indeed embrace the cross. Because of this, and through this cross, the gate of Eden is opened wide for us to come home. Why? Because He loves us. Because we were made for this. And because Christ alone is able to replant the garden in the wilderness of the world.
R. Kent Hughes, Genesis. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), p.49-50.
Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1:11-26. The New American Commentary. Old Testament, vol. 1A (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, Publishers, 1996), p.201.
Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1990), p.161.
E.A. Speiser, Genesis. The Anchor Bible. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), p.16.