The Garden of Eden hardly needs any introduction.
It was the first place where man lived, the ideal of nature’s beauty, the long lost perfection of earth. Other Scriptures call it “the garden of God”.
We’ll look at this section under 3 headings today: 1) Man’s Home, 2), Man’s Job, and 3) Man’s Rules
Acts 17:25 says, “God determined the times and the places where everyone should live”. In Genesis 2:8 we read “And there God put the man He had formed.” In verse 15 it says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden…” God determined when Adam would live (in the beginning), and where he would live (in the Garden of Eden). The legendary Eden was our first father’s home.
Over the course of time its perfect beauty was imprinted in the imagination of man, always being the ideal of what nature could be. What it was. What it will be again. Ezekiel 36:35 God promises to restore the nation of Israel and says, “They will say, ‘This land that was laid waste has become like the Garden of Eden.” In Ezekiel 31 God speaks allegorically of the ancient nation Assyira as a tree. To bring out how majestic the nation was he compares it to the Garden of Eden, “The trees of the Garden of God could not rival it…not tree int he Garden of God could match its beauty…[it was] the envy of all the trees of Eden, the Garden of God.” (8-9)
What does our text say about this home Adam had?
First, Eden is a place that has within it a special garden. In other words, while Eden has a garden, Eden is larger than the garden. Notice what verse 8 says, “The Lord God had planted a garden in the east – in Eden.” Eden is the location where this garden was planted.
God seems to apply a pattern of inner-sanctuaries. Think of Israel’s tabernacle and temple, where the further in you go the more holy and restricted it becomes. There were various outer courts, then further in was the holy place, then finally the inner-most part of the temple was the most holy place.
You can see this pattern in the Apostles too. There are the 12 called by Christ, then there are 3 apostles Peter, James and John, who seem to be closer to Jesus than the rest. Then out of those 3 it seems John is the closest to Jesus. See the pattern?
Here in Genesis we have a garden. Eden is a special place, and then within Eden is an even more special place: the garden of Eden where man dwells. Later in the OT Prophets Eden is called the Garden of God and that is where Adam was put to dwell. Perhaps then we can surmise that God placed Adam not only in the best part of the whole earth, but, in the place where God chose to “dwell” on the earth. God created man not just to live on the earth, but, to live with Him on the earth. Man’s location then was not just geographical, but, relational.
Second, its flora. Verse 9 says, “And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” Here again we see that what God made is both useful and beautiful. It satisfied the health needs of man, and the aesthetic needs. This wasn’t some utilitarian environment where Adam lived stripped down to the absolute bare essentials for life. He was immersed in beauty. Everywhere he went his eyes saw brilliant colors of flowers and foliage; his nose smelled the sweetest fragrances earth has ever offered; his ears took in the breeze brushing leaves together and the birds singing. His hand felt the soft petals of flowers as he plucked them for Eve while they walked and took it all in.
Third, Adam’s home had two special trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Verse 9 says, “….” These trees were located in the middle of the Garden of Eden. I’m not sure what it suggests, other than they were somehow central to life in the Garden.
One thing interesting to note is that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil disappears from the Bible after chapter 3. But the tree of life reappears in Revelation. So we have the tree of life in the beginning, and in the end. We see it in creation, and then in redemption. We see man kept from it in Genesis, but he’s allowed to take from it in Revelation.
Fourth, rivers. Limnology is the study of inland lakes and rivers. This is really interesting to me not only because I love fishing rivers, but, how much text is given to describe these 4 rivers. More time is spent describing them than the two trees, which seems odd to me. While the text gives lots of attention to these rivers I am not. The only thing I’ll say is this: life prospers where rivers run. Actually, Ezekiel 47:9 says, “Where the river flows everything will live”
- Out of the Garden of Eden, the Garden of God remember, comes a river that goes out and waters all the land beyond it. The uppermost part of a river, the place where it begins is called the headwaters. The headwaters of life come from God. All life comes from God. These rivers, whatever other importance they may be for our understanding, are important pictures of God’s blessing of life flowing out from Him to all creation.
- We see it in the beginning, and at the end too in Revelation. In Revelation 22 there is a river coming out of the throne of God in the middle of the New Jerusalem.
- Jesus pushed the idea even further when He said, “Whoever believes in Me will have streams of living water flow from within him…” By which he referred to the Holy Spirit, meaning that anyone who believes in Jesus would receive the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit would be a constant flow of life inside the believer.
- River and life. River and life. Very famously Psalm 1 says, “The man who loves God’s word is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaft does not wither. Whatever He does prospers.” See it? River and life. River and life.
- In Genesis 2, Adam was honorably placed in Eden, the heart of the earth you could say, that gave life to the rest of the earth. Perhaps this speaks to man’s place as ruler of the earth and his role as cultivator of earth’s life. Which leads to the fifth thing to notice about Adam’s home.
Fifth, man’s job. He had a job to do. Notice verse 15 says God put man in the garden “to work it and take care of it.” So far in the first two chapters Man has been instructed to rule over all the creatures and to work the ground. In 2:5 it says that God delayed the shrubs and plants from springing up because “there was no man to work the ground”. God made the earth to be subdued by man (1:28) and he made man to “work it and take care of it.” (2:5, 15).
Here we find man has a purpose. He has a job to do. He has something to devote himself to. God intended for him to be productive. God’s purpose for man is to be productive and to participate in making life flourish. Man was to reproduce man on the earth (procreation), and, man is supposed to cultivate the ground to make the earth produce, and to take care of the animals for their well-being.
Work is virtuous. That’s why laziness is condemned in the Bible and a strong work ethic is lauded. “He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.” (Pvb 10:5). The lazy has nothing but excuses, Proverbs 26:13 says, “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!” In other words, the lazy man uses irrational fears and outlandish excuses to not work. Proverbs 19:24 says the lazy man buries his hand in the dish but is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth” – meaning he’s too lazy to do the simplest thing for his own basic needs. Second Thessalonians 3 say, “If a man will not work, he will not eat.” Paul had no problem letting a Christian man starve if that man was able to work but was too lazy to.
Work is virtuous. We are told to “do something useful with our hands” (Eph 4:28). We are told not to be idle (2 Thess. 3) and to “to work with our own hands” (1 Thess. 4:11). Very practically Proverbs 24:27 says, “Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.” Colossians 3 commands us “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men.”
From the very beginning God intended in creating man that man would work. He wasn’t lounging around all day on a cushion plucking food from the trees around him. He would have callouses, dirt under his nails, smudges of mud here and there, and smell of earth and animals.
It’s built into us to need something productive and meaningful to do. More than wealth I think most people want to know their lives mattered, and they made an impact in their corner of the world. Can there be anything sweeter in death than knowing that life was “well-spent”? Can there be anything sweeter in death for us believers than knowing that our lives were “well spent” for Christ? To close our eyes that one last time at peace with the life we lived, nothing unresolved, nothing nagging, nothing ashamed of, no “I should have’s” or “If only’s” ….I’m talking about the tranquil confidence in death of knowing that every day of our life was spent for Jesus – even as we are about to go meet Him face to face.
How many men struggle with a sense of purpose in their lives? Many! What am I here for? Why am I alive? What is the meaning of my existence? The answer is found in God. No one will ever find true meaning in their life outside of God’s meaning for their life. The existential philosophy says, “I’m here, now I will determine what my life’s meaning is on my own.” But the Christian says, “God made me in His image, He purposed for me to live, and therefore if I want to know the meaning of my life, the purpose for my existence, then I have to turn to my Creator and find it in Him.”
Now is there anything practical to help answer this question? I think so. I can’t tell you if God is calling you to be a foreign missionary or a church planter in some far away land. But I’ll suggest the following thoughts:
First, discipleship. The Great Commission is Jesus’ purpose for the Church. So how do you, personally, individually participate in the Great Commission? It makes no difference what your vocation is – construction, teacher, business owner, etc. Every believer is to participate in the Great Commission. My point here is this: If the GC is Jesus’ purpose for the Church, then we should be able to expect deep sense of purpose being fulfilled in our hearts when we take part in the Great Commission. What is the GC? Remember it is very specific: discipleship and evangelism. Have you been discipled personally? Have you had someone who is further along in the faith than you come alongside of you to mentor and train you in the word of God? That is sorely missing these days. Stop thinking about your life’s purpose in grandiose notions about impacting the world and think about how you can impact the life of another believe in this Church. There is nothing more rewarding than meeting regularly with someone, deep diving in Scriptures, sharing life, praying together. I’m telling you, you will not struggle with life purpose if you get involved in the Great Commission.
Second, Pray. Pray intentionally. Start a prayer calendar. Start seeing prayer as one of the greatest activities a Christian can do. Designate a place in your home as a place of prayer. I know some people have built “War Rooms” in their homes. Someone told me something I’ve never ever heard anyone say to me before: “I believe God has called me to be an intercessor”. That is someone who prays. There is a seriousness about prayer this person has that I don’t think I’ve seen before. Listen to me, this church is more powerful with one person like that than 100 millionaires. Pray more. Prayer is very hard work – it is WORK. But prayer will instill a deep sense of purpose in you as well. Make prayer your spiritual vocation. If you want help getting a plan together to pray more intentionally, contact me.
Third, grow where you’re planted right now. What is your life situation right now? You’re there and it most certainly isn’t without God’s knowledge. If you don’t grow where you are now then don’t fall for the lie that you’d grow somewhere else.
How is God using your situation to grow you? Who is around you in your sphere that you ought to be a light to? Is it family? Is it co-workers? A boss? Employees? Other students? Other teammates? Neighbors?
Fourth, focus on character. If you don’t care about godliness then God doesn’t care to use you. You will be “riding the pine” in what God is doing around you.
However, if you want to be useful to God, and you want His purpose for your life to be fulfilled, and you want a clearer idea of what that is, then focus on the man in the mirror. Focus on your own godliness. In the Bible USEFULNESS depends on GODLINESS. Turn to 2 Timothy 2:20-21 and then 2 Timothy 3:16-17. This is why the qualifications that 1 Timothy 3 lays out for Pastors and then Deacons is all character traits. What kind of character does the man have? Godly character will be useful to God. Useful to God means “purpose”. Focus on your character as a disciple of Christ.
Back to our main points. Man’s home was in Eden, it was beautiful, it had 2 rivers, he had a job to do, and finally he had rules. Verse 16-17, say, “….”
God gave Adam rules. He told him what was allowed and what wasn’t. He told him what he could do and what he couldn’t do. God gave Adam moral structure. Every man needs moral structure.
The first thing that usually stands out to people is “Why couldn’t Adam eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Why did God forbid it but put the tree there anyway?” Great question. Let me first say that it has nothing to do with God being stingy. Let us frame this in the generosity and giving nature of God. Notice what God did permit Adam to do: eat from any and all trees in the garden. There were no doubt thousands and thousands of trees and probably more. Adam was free to dine on any of them. There was just one he couldn’t. It’s important to note this because Satan is going to successfully deceive Eve in the next chapter and make her believe that God is holding out on her. He will successfully close her eyes to all that God gave her so she can only focus on the one thing God didn’t give her. (Think about that in your own life).
The question of why God put the tree in the garden in the first place is an important one. We could boil it down to this question: “Why did God make disobedience possible?” If God didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat from the tree why make it possible for them to eat from the tree? I’m not sure quite how to definitively answer that. But in thinking it through, let me offer some thoughts for you. I think that whatever we conclude these are important thoughts to have worked through.
First, God made man a moral being. That means he has an inner sense of right and wrong, and, he has an ability to choose between the two. It also means that he has an obligation to choose right over wrong. Since God gave man, made in his image, the ability of moral choice, man must choose – he must operate his moral strength to choose what is right. If moral choice requires being able to choose between two directions, one right and one wrong, then, there has to be two directions. In this case, Adam can choose to obey God or not obey. Adam can choose to eat from the wrong tree, or not eat.
Theologians talk about something here called “unconfirmed holiness”. Adam was created holy, but, it was “unconfirmed”. Remember that holiness means “set apart”, and in this case Adam was set apart from sin. He never committed any sin and he didn’t have a sin nature inside of him like we do now. That came after his act of sin, as a result of his act of sin. But Adam’s “sinlessness” was unconfirmed, which is another way of saying it had not been “put to the test”.
Second, obedience would be a demonstration by man that God was His authority. God gave man life and made him ruler over the whole earth, but, God was man’s ruler. If Adam obeyed God then he would be actively acknowledging God’s rightful authority over him. In other words, the option to disobey meant the option to obey also. God did not make a man a machine. He made Him man, he was “mannish”, as Schaeffer says. He has the higher intellect and moral ability, spiritual capacity all from teh image of God. And he is to put all that to use in service to God for the glory of God.
Third, putting the tree in the garden and forbidding man to eat from it gave the man moral structure. This moral structure, based on God’s will, is the highest good for man. What this means is that if God made us, and He made us to be moral actors on the stage of life, then the highest quality of righteousness can only come from God. We can’t come up with a better moral framework than what God gives. To think otherwise is to commit idolatry.
Now I would add that there is nothing better for man’s social, psychological and spiritual well-being than to adhere to what God says is right. There is a kind of decay of the man that happens when that man abandon’s God’s word on right and wrong. Moral anarchy, or twisted self-made morals, go against God’s word, and robs the man of the highest good for him. In other words, there is peace, love, freedom, grace, joy and so on available for those who live by God’s word. If you read the Bible but can’t see that you’re not reading the Bible.
Fourth, Love. God put the tree in the garden and forbade man from eating from it because of love. Not God’s love for man, but, man’s love for God. Love is impossible without choice. Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey my commands.” Obedience expresses love. Obedience, choice comes from within the person. The man would be able to demonstrate his love for His Maker by obeying the rule His maker gave him.
CONCLUSION: DEATH & REDEMPTION
You know the story with the rule. Adam ended up breaking the rule, eating from the tree, and death came. Adam didn’t die physically right away, but, spiritually. Instantly there was alienation between him and God, which was visually portrayed in God driving Adam out of the Garden of Eden.
The perfection of the environment demanded a perfection of morality. And when Adam fell, he was no longer allowed to stay in the Garden. That’s the picture of our problem right there. God is perfect, and no one can be in His presence with Him unless they are perfect. Sin is not allowed. That’s why the Bible says all of us, without Christ are separate from God, alienated, distant from Him. But Christ came to us to bring us to God. Christ came to us sinners to die for us sinners. The way to God is through admitting your sin and accepting Christ. Admitting your sin to God and accepting Christ.