Monday, August 19, 2013

Genesis 2:8-14 The Garden of Eden

"Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden,
and there he put the man he had formed.
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.
In the middle of the garden were the tree of life
and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river watering the garden flowed from Eden;
from there it was separated into four headwaters.
The name of the first is the Pishon;
it winds through the entire land of Havilah,
where there is gold.
(The gold of that land is good;
aromatic resin and onyx are also there.)

The name of the second river is the Gihon;
it winds through the entire land of Cush.

The name of the third river is the Tigris;
it runs along the east side of Asshur.

And the fourth river is the Euphrates."

Genesis 2:8-14 (NIV)

God planted a garden in the east as a home for the man he had created.  What does "in the east" mean? East of where?  Well, in the Bible, Jerusalem is considered the center of the world.  Check out these verses:

"This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations,
with countries all around her."

Ezekiel 5:5 (NIV)

The NIV Study Bible note on this verse says in part: "God had chosen for his people Israel and for his earthly temple a place at the crossroads of the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe so that Israel and what he does for them might be a strong witness to the nations that he is the one and only God with whom all peoples have to do and from whom alone come life and blessing."

Another verse in the Bible says this:

"I will plunder and loot
and turn my hand against the resettled ruins
and the people gathered from the nations,
rich in livestock and goods,
living at the center of the land."

Ezekiel 38:12 (NIV)

This verse is predicting the thoughts which will be coming from Israel's enemies in the last days as they consider invading Israel's land.  A mighty army will advance against Israel, yet God plans to show himself  as being holy and great in the sight of many nations when He delivers Israel from these forces. (Ezekiel 38:16,20,23 and Ezekiel 39:6-7,21-23,27-28)  From that day forward, Israel would know that He is the LORD their God. (Ezekiel 39:22)  An account of these matters is written in Ezekiel chapters 38-39.

When Jerusalem is spoken of as being at the center of the world, it is not just some ethnocentric statement or nationalistic cheerleading.  Israel has been set by God at the center of the world stage so that they can be a witness to all nations of the power and holiness of God.

God made a garden paradise in Eden.  No doubt there were many beautiful things in this garden, but in  our passage, Genesis 2:8-14, it is the trees which are singled out.  There are trees which provide beauty.  Located at the middle of the garden are particular trees which are mentioned:  the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

First, we will take a look at the tree of life.  Of course, only God can impart life.  However, apparently the fruit from this tree would enable that God-given life to continue indefinitely.  Why do I say this?  Well, later, when Adam and Eve sin by partaking of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis chapter 3), God decides to remove them from the garden, because otherwise, if they also decided to take some of the fruit from the tree of life, they would live forever, while still remaining in their sinful, rebellious state.  We can only begin to imagine what kind of  ever-increasing sin and wickedness would result.

The fact that this tree of life was even in the garden at all indicates that God intended to allow them to eat of its fruit.  He had never forbidden Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of life -- it was only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which they were to avoid. They were meant to live forever with God.  However, by sinning against God, they were now in a state where such everlasting life would only bring increasing sin and misery to them and to the rest of God's creation.

It is not that God was afraid of what they might accomplish with an unlimited lifespan.  After all, He is God and could wipe them out at any time if He ever wanted to do so.  Perhaps God was limiting mankind's lifespan so that a person might be drawn back to Himself.  If mankind had a source of unlimited life, why would they care if God didn't like how they were living?  But if they were subject to death eventually, they would be more inclined to be careful about how they were living, and to consider what might be beyond this life...and to seek God, who can give eternal life.

There are more verses about this tree of life in the Bible:

Genesis 2:9   "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.  In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." (NIV)

Genesis 3:22-24  "And the LORD God said, 'The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.'  So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from
which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life." (NIV)

Revelation 2:7  "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life which is in the paradise of God." (NIV)

Revelation 22:14  "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city..." (NIV)
Revelation 2:19  "And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." (NIV)

I don't think we read any more about the other tree -- the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Most of the verses about knowledge in general which I saw in a concordance were indicating that God has perfect knowledge and is the source of our knowledge about Him and about other matters.  The Bible says that "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." (Proverbs 1:7 NIV)

II Peter 3:18 (NIV) says:  "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ.  To him be glory both now and forever!  Amen."

One other thing which I read somewhere regarding these matters was that in choosing to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were trying to assert their independence from God by taking hold of another source (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) to determine what was good for themselves, instead of relying upon God's continued guidance.  Even before they ate from that tree they already knew the difference between good and evil -- at least enough to know that it was good for them to listen to God's command to avoid eating from that tree and bad for them to insist upon doing so.  Apparently they wanted the ability to know about such things without reference to God.  That is a rather familiar theme, isn't it?  At times we all have thought that we know best, instead of listening to our Creator.

Location, Location, Location:

The passage in Genesis 2:8-14 tells us some things about the location of the Garden of Eden:
  • It was to the east, in Eden.
  • A river which watered the garden flowed from Eden and separated into four headwaters.
These headwaters were:
  • 1)  the Pishon, which wound through the entire land of Havilah, where there was gold, aromatic resin and onyx.
  • 2)  the Gihon, which winds through the entire land of Cush.
  • 3)  the Tigris, which runs along the east side of Asshur (at one time a capital city of Assyria)
  • 4)  the Euphrates.
Of course we would love to figure out just where this Garden of Eden was, but we only know the general area.  No doubt great changes occurred later during the Flood, so the current physical geography is probably quite different from the original.  We are familiar with the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, but the other two rivers are not definitely known, which gives us some idea of the great geographical changes which may have occurred.  This is just as well, for one has to wonder if the cherubim which had been stationed with his flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24) has ever been relieved of his duty!

Fortunately we have access to this tree of life through Jesus' death on the cross in our behalf.  I will be having much more to say on this matter, but for now this verse sums things up nicely:  "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (I Corinthians 5:21 NIV)  Jesus, who had no sin, atoned for our sins by his death on the cross.

Jesus' resurrection indicated that God had accepted this sacrifice.  When we acknowledge and repent of our sins and accept that Jesus is God and has made this atonement on our behalf, it is as though Jesus' righteousness has been deposited in our account.

Of course we have to accept this gracious gift on an individual basis.  When we do, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us and begins His work of sanctification in us.  By the Spirit's power we can overcome sin which used to hold us in bondage.  This work will not be completely finished until we go to heaven, but out of gratefulness to our Savior we will have a new desire to obey and live for Him.  Then one day, as Revelation 22:7 (see above) indicates, we will have the right to eat from the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.

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