Life In The Garden

Genesis 2:8-17 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.”

INTRODUCTION

To this point the scope of Genesis has been the whole created universe, with a particular focus on earth. In this passage the focus narrows even more to a particular garden. There are three main things I want to draw your attention to in this text. First, I want to help you see the nature of the garden and life in it (vs.8-9). Second, I want to help you see a bit of what’s around the garden (vs.10-14). And third, I want to help you see the divine commission and command for man in the garden (vs.15-17). All of this together, I believe, will help us understand our place on this earth and even in the new heavens and earth. Let’s pray that we’d gain all there is from this passage concerning this life and the next.

THE GARDEN IN EDEN

As we saw last week, Genesis 2:4-7 expands on the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1:24-31). In particular, it focuses in on the creation of the man, Adam. Our passage for this morning picks up where that passage left off. Thus, having made man in His image and having filled the earth with everything man needed, we’re left wondering where God would place man. On all the earth, where would man live? The answer comes quickly in our text. Adam (and as we will soon see, his wife Eve,) would live in a garden in Eden.

This was no ordinary garden, though. It was a very special garden. Vs.8-9 mention three key features of it.

Planted by God

The first is that it was planted by God. Look at v.8.

8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east … 9 And out of the ground [in the garden] the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food…

We don’t know exactly what it means that “God planted” the garden, but the change in creative language is undoubtedly significant. God had been described as a potter in his creation of man (2:7). Here he is portrayed as a gardener in his preparing a dwelling place for man. Before God created from nothing by his Word. Here he plants and makes grow in an unnamed manner.

The main point for us to see, the key feature here, is that the garden in Eden was the work of God. It was the direct handiwork of God. Everything in it was chosen and shaped by God and it was good.

For Man

The second key feature of this garden, according to this text, is that it was specifically planted and designed for man to live in it. Look again at vs.8-9.

8 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.

Again, this garden was not a divine afterthought. God did not plant the garden simply because he had some extra stuff laying around after making everything else. God planted the garden in Eden, like everything else God does, for a particular purpose. In this case, as we have seen, it was for the purpose of making a place for God to dwell with man and man to dwell with God. We know it was for man since the text explicitly says that God “put the man whom he had formed” in it; and because the things planted there are explicitly said to be “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” Pleasant in whose sight? Good food for whom? To and for man.

Once again, we are confronted with the reality that God made mankind different from every other object of his creation. In fact, every other aspect of creation was for mankind. Although all of this is out of vogue today, God’s word remains true.

Further, still under this heading, consider this: throughout its existence, the Church has been confronted with a number of ungodly philosophies like Gnosticism, Stoicism, asceticism, and monasticism. While each of these systems of thought have significant differences they all have something in common: they all look at the world in a way that minimizes (or even renounces) the goodness of beauty and excess and delight in physical things. Is it easy for you to see how that idea finds its demise in this short passage?

To help you to see it, consider with me briefly the content of the garden. What did God put in it? Did God plant it with nothing more than the bare necessities? Did he fill it with clean lines, utilitarian implements, limited choices, bland food, and muted colors? Was the garden stocked merely with survival basics? These questions are answered in greater detail throughout the rest of this chapter, but even here in these few verses we can see the beginning of the answer.

God filled the garden with everything man needed to be sure. But he also filled it with much more. In addition to essential physical provision, God made the garden’s food good and its form beautiful. What’s more, God didn’t simply put one or two beautiful and good trees in the garden, he planted “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” Just imagine the colors, the smells, the creativity, the abundance. Just imagine the sweetness, beauty, and delight growing in the garden and offered to man.

Grace, we must never pursue those things (sweetness, beauty, and delight) in and of themselves. Likewise, we must not seek them in whatever ways and sources we feel like. But we must also, and even more so, be weary of falling into the sinful trap of believing that they are not essential components of life in the gospel.

Our God is still a God of sweetness, beauty, and delight. Those things can be hard to truly find in this life because of sin, but they are very much a part of God’s design of the world and the life of the Christian. Let us look for these things in God through Christ, then, even today. And let’s be people of God-like, lavish sweetness, beauty, and delight—spreading those things everywhere we go in Christ. Look for ways to do so.

Every Pleasant Tree

What’s more, the text tells us that there were two items within the garden that were particularly good and pleasant to look at. And that leads to the third and final key feature of the Garden in v.9.

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.

Again, God caused every tree that is pleasant and good to spring up in the garden. But the end of the verse names two trees in particular: The tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But what are those trees and why are they significant?

  1. The Tree of Life. We’ve already seen that life came to earth from the word of God (1:11, 20, 24, 26), from the blessing of God (1:22, 28), from the breath of God (2:7), and that (by God’s design) life was sustained by the fruit of the trees created by God. By which, if any, of these ways did the tree of life bring life? In other words, in what sense is this tree a tree of life?

    The immediate context does not tell us much. The larger context tells us, of course, that whatever the answer, God is the ultimate source of life and that the tree is only a dispensary. But is there anything more we can know about this tree? Yes; there are three things in particular that deserve mentioning.

    First, from Genesis 2:16 we know that Adam was allowed to eat from it. (More on that in a bit.)

    Second, we get a few more hints from Genesis 3:22-24 about the nature of this tree. We’ll look more closely at the passage when we get there, but for now I’ll merely mention the facts that (1) the tree of life had fruit, and that by eating the fruit man could live forever, (2) mankind was permitted and even expected to eat from this tree while in the garden, and (3) that having sinned, however, mankind is no longer allowed to eat of this tree so that he won’t live forever in sin.

    The third thing about the tree of life that is worth mentioning, and the one that is most relevant to us today, is that it will be present and offered to man once more in the New Heavens and Earth. It will be a key feature of and a significant blessing in heaven. Revelation 2:7 says, “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” And in Revelation 22:2 we’re told that the leaves of this tree are “for the healing of the nations.” Grace, let this be a reminder that the bible is one grand story. The fact that it begins and ends with this tree helps us to see that.

    Again, while details are few, the simple fact of the matter is that God has chosen to give life without end to the righteous through the fruit of the tree of life. That was God’s plan in the Garden in Eden and it is his plan in the yet-to-come paradise of God.

  2. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. As I mentioned earlier, this text speaks of a second specific tree in the garden: the tree of knowledge of good and evil. All we know about this tree is found in Genesis 1 and 3.

    It’s merely mentioned in 1:10 as being in the garden. In 1:17 we’re told that mankind must not eat its fruit upon penalty of death (more on this in a bit). And in Genesis 3 we find out that Adam and Eve were not even to touch the tree (3:3), that by eating of it they would have their eyes opened and “become like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5), that it was pleasant to look at, good for food, and able to “make one wise” (3:6), that it causes shame and reveals nakedness (3:7), and that the death its fruit produced was far more serious than Adam and Eve could possibly have imagined.

    What does all of that mean? For the most part I’m going to leave that for when we get to chapter 3. Here I want to say two things. First, God is the creator of heaven and earth and all that is in them. All of his creation is “very good”. Nothing that God has made is evil in itself. Therefore, even the tree of knowledge of good and evil is very good. The problem was never with the tree or its fruit.

    With that in mind, the second thing I want to say is actually a question. Even though the tree of knowledge of good and evil was good in and of itself, it was clearly the source of significant temptation with the highest stakes imaginable. Why, then, would God put such thing in the one place where it could produce death? If he needed to make the tree for some reason, why put it in the midst of the one place it could wreak havoc? Why not plant it on Pluto?

    We’ll see more of the answer when we get to chapter 3. Here I simply want to mention this: the entire bible is filled with examples of good things created by God that end up being used by his creation for great evil. In this sense, then, to ask why God would create a tree that would lead to the corruption and death of all mankind is the same as asking why he would create the tree that would be used to crucify his Son. God’s greater purpose in things is often hidden from us in the immediate. What we have to live by, then, are the word and promises of God, and they are all, only for our good. In other words, although our text doesn’t tell us explicitly how, the answer to our question is that God put the tree there because in some way it was best.

There was a garden in Eden. It was planted there by God. It was planted to be a place for God to dwell with man in abundance and beauty. And in the midst of the garden God planted two trees in particular: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both were beautiful and fruitful. For God’s good purposes one gave life by eating of it and the other by avoiding it.

The Four Rivers Around Eden

All of that leads us to the next section, vs.10-14.

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.

We know of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. We do not know of the Pishon or Gihon rivers. Further, exactly where this places the Garden in Eden is unclear. What, then, is the point of this section? Why include it? It seems kind of random, doesn’t it?

It seems to me that there are at least two reasons for this passage. The first is simply to describe the goodness of the land in and around Eden. It was well watered and it was filled with gold and precious stones. God’s creation was indeed very good, very rich, and very fertile.

Second, this passage exists to continue to demythologize the creation account in Genesis. All around the Israelites were competing claims of divinity and competing stories of creation. For instance, in most cases the people of the nations surrounding the Israelites believed in each other’s gods. They believed that their success and failure, their barrenness and fruitfulness came from their gods. When one nation won a war or had many babies or harvested a bumper crop, it wasn’t because (they believed) they had the only god, but because their god was winning the war among the other gods at that particular moment.

With that as a back drop then, how would Moses help the Israelites to see that their God was the one true God and that this account of his creation wasn’t fake like the other gods and their creation claims? One way in which he did so was by including historical, geographical facts such as these.

Grace, the hope of Christianity is that it is truly true. It is historical—these things happened. It is geographically accurate—these places and rivers really did exist. Christianity isn’t a myth and it isn’t a fairy-tale. There really is a God, one God—the one described in Genesis. He really did make the heavens and earth—just as described in these chapters. There really was a first man and woman, Adam and Eve, who really lived in a garden in Eden—as we see in these verses. This man and woman really did disobey God unto death—spiritual and then physical. God really did send his Son, Jesus of Nazareth, to live a perfect life and die a sacrificial death on a hill outside of Jerusalem on behalf of all who would believe on him. In fact, the Apostle Paul claimed that if the resurrection didn’t happen—if it wasn’t a historical fact—that Christians are to be pitied above all people (for placing our hope in a lie).

What are we to make of 2:10-14, then? We are to make of it an accurate account of the land surrounding the actual garden in Eden; a land of richness and bounty from the hand of God and for the good of man.

Man’s Divine Commission and Command

Finally then, after the parenthetical statement concerning the rivers around Eden, Moses returned to the Garden; this time with a commission and a command.

Commission

We find the commission in v.15.

15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Having placed Adam in the garden, God commissioned him to work and keep it. What do each of those terms mean and how do they relate to us today? Their meaning is interesting and their implications are profound. Here, today, I want to address the meaning of these terms. Next Sunday I intend to address their implications. In short, it’s this: “Even before the fall man was expected to work; paradise was not a life of leisured unemployment…work is intrinsic to human life” (Wenham, WBC, 67)…we were made for work. Work is good.

With that, what does it mean to “work” and “keep” the garden? This could also be translated to “till and to guard” or to “serve and protect”. To work/till/serve the garden in the immediate sense meant to tend to in such a way as to maximize its fruitfulness. And in the immediate sense to keep/guard/protect it meant to watch over it in such a way as to hold back anything that would threaten it.

But the most interesting aspect of these words is that the same pair of words would later be used for priestly duties in the tabernacle. I have mentioned several times already that the Garden is no mere garden. It was a foreshadowing of the tabernacle which was a foreshadowing of the temple which was a foreshadowing of Christ. In this passage, even in subtle, simple ways we see that man is both physical and spiritual, that God is always working in greater ways than we imagine, and that Jesus is the subject and aim of every passage of scripture, just as he claimed himself (John 5:46, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.”).

In short, God commissioned man to work and keep the garden He’d made for him in full knowledge that man would fail to do so and that God would one day rescue man by sending His Son.

Command

Lastly, we’ll end with a quick look at the final two verses in which we find a command with a promise.

16 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.”

The command was to eat of every tree in the garden (including, apparently, the tree of life) except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And the promise was that to obey was to live and to disobey was to die on that very day. To this point God had revealed himself as Creator whose design was to be conformed to. Here he reveals himself as King whose commands are to be submitted to.

We’re left wondering if man would obey and whether God would hold true to his promise if he didn’t. We’re left wondering why the tree of knowledge of good and evil was to be withheld from man and what exactly was the nature of the death promised. All of this will become clear in the coming weeks.

CONCLUSION

In summary and in conclusion, “The man, who was created with spiritual capacity and provided with God’s bounty, must therefore live obediently in his service of God, for his life is at stake” (Ross, CB, 125). And so it is for you and me today. We will obey God in every way or we will die. Again, from the beginning God gave good gifts in the form of food and provision and abundance and commissions and commands. But from the beginning mankind failed to steward these things as God required and therein mankind died the promised death. We didn’t obey God in every way and so we are dead in our trespasses and sins. But the good news, once again, Grace Church, is that Jesus Christ died in place of everyone who will receive him in faith. In subtle ways this passage points to Jesus. In less subtle ways the next chapter points to Jesus. And as we make our way to the NT Jesus himself comes in flesh to present himself obedient before God as the second Adam and the sacrifice for our sins. And in the NT we receive the promise that Jesus will come again to bring us back to the garden, to make our work perfectly fruitful, to offer us the fruit of the tree of life, and to keep us in abundant blessing with God forever and ever. Receive him, and all of this with him, today. Amen.