Genesis (Study 10)—The Garden of God's Pleasure (Gen 2:8–17)
In our last discussion, we mentioned the possibility (actually, the probability based on textual clues) that the original created human—the adam of the Hebrew—was not necessarily male but rather a combined whole—a fully representative human embodying both male and female. As was God’s pattern through the whole of creative and formative activity in Genesis 1, he took the whole and separated it into distinctive parts. However, further textual clarification starts in Genesis 2:18, so we will put that off for now to continue our discussion on the third creation relationship—God with his image-bearers (2:4–17).
After God created the adam in verse 7, the text begins to discuss the Garden of Eden, the home God created for his newly formed image bearer. The word eden means pleasure, strongly implying that this Garden was a place in which both God and his image bearer would find pleasure in relationship. Recall that love relationship is the whole point. It was the purpose for God creating in the first place, and therefore, it became the reality of life after the image bearer had been created.
The relationship may be described in covenant terms. Recall that for relationship to exist, since God, in his Persons, always and only operates according to his essence, any relationship God has with his created beings must be one planted in the same structure of dependence on his one essence of truth, goodness, and beauty.
As a quick aside—you may think I am unthinkingly repeating myself, giving information yet again already developed in prior discussions. And, of course, I am. But it is not without purpose. The repetition is part of the emphasis by which we are to understand that everything—everything—in our theology entwines together intricately and effectively well. People have easily left their starting points to extrapolate on ideas that have no all-encompassing cohesive and consistent bearing. Were we to do that, our conclusions would have no basis and would deserve no consideration. We must maintain a cohesive whole resting firmly and consistently on the foundation established. Our foundation in Kinship Theology is the creative purpose of everlasting love relationship. It differs from other theologies not only because its superstructure is different, but more importantly because its foundation is often different. When two theologies differ in conclusions while having the same foundation, something in the reasoning link between foundation and conclusion went wrong in one (or possibly both) of the theologies. However, when two theologies differ in foundation, the reasoning processes from those foundations may be solid, but they may lead to differing conclusions. It is then that comparison of conclusions within the theology must be examined to determine biblical cohesiveness. In other words, my repetition is important to demonstrate both that the reasoning buildup from our foundation is consistent and that conclusions reached hold hands with each other based on their cohesive upbringing from the same foundation, and not in antagonistic bewilderment.
So, then, any relationship involving God must be on terms corresponding to how God operates, and he operates always and only based on his TGB essence. If God acts in relationship with his image bearers only on the basis of his essence, it is required that the image bearers act with God only on the basis of God’s essence. And that interaction then with terms for the interaction is called a covenant.
O. Palmer Robertson, in his book Christ and the Covenants, has many good important points about covenants. However, his initial definition, I think, misses the mark. He says a covenant is “a bond of blood sovereignly administered.” The problem is that we find covenants in the Bible that are not characterized by blood. Genesis 26 includes the covenant between Isaac and the Philistine Abimilech that is instituted with a meal with no mention of blood. We’ve talked about Trinitarian covenants that are, of course, without blood. And the Covenant with Adam is one without blood. Further, covenants are not always sovereignly administered. Again, the covenant in Genesis 26 has no mention of God’s sovereign administration. Now, if you argue that God’s sovereignty is over all the affairs of humans and therefore does hold sovereign administration over covenants, I would, of course, agree with you. But understanding that, we have no need to put it in our definition of covenants any more than we would put it in our definition of, say, farming. Do we not define farming as the practice of agriculture? Or is that wrong because we need to define farming as the practice of agriculture sovereignly administered? If everything is sovereignly administered, you don’t need to include it in the definition of everything.
That leaves us with the definition of covenant as merely a bond. A bond (or agreement) implies terms or obligations for that agreement. Further, understanding that a bond agreement involves at least two parties regarding interaction between them, we can modify the definition to be a bond of relationship.
So, then, when God formed the adam, he established a covenant of life. All life depends on God, not only for its creation, but also for its continuation. Therefore, life is defined as relationship with God. Putting our definitions together, then, tells us that a covenant of life is a bond of relationship with God.
As a bond agreement, this covenant of life had terms or obligations. Both parties had obligations. Remember that for God to have relationship, it must be based on his essence of TGB. Therefore, since TGB is sourced in God, his obligation in the relationship was to provide his truth, goodness, and beauty to his image bearers so that relationship on that basis could be had. In providing that TGB, God gave both knowledge of it and care through it. The image bearers’ obligation was to receive God’s TGB. That meant that they would trust God for it and live based on it. And the text in Genesis 2 provides those obligations for us. God’s obligations are stated in verses 8 through 14. Of course, the text is not a contract, so the obligations do not read like a contract. The obligations are presented to us in symbolic, metaphorical fashion. And that is the whole point of the Garden imagery. The Garden showcased God’s care. In other words, it symbolized God’s righteousness (his faithfulness to his obligations of the Covenant of Life). See how the text describes the trees of the Garden: they provided Beauty (“pleasing in appearance”), they afforded Goodness (“good for food”), and they offered Truth (in the “Tree of Life” and “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”).
Notice also in verses 10 through 14, we have described the rivers of the Garden. The rivers symbolized growth from care—and the Bible is full of river imagery doing just that:
Isaiah 58:10–11 “And if you offer yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the affilicted one, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday. The Lord will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring whose waters never run dry.”
Psalm 1:2 The one who delights in the Lord “is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
Jeremiah 17:7–8 “The man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence indeed is the Lord, is blessed. He will be like a tree planted by water. . . .”
Even the names of the rivers speak of God’s TGB-intended care for image-bearing activity:
Pishon—increase of full flowing
Gihon—bursting forth or gushing
Hiddekel (Tigris)—swift or darting (shooting out as an arrow in flight)
Put them all together, and you have the care of God’s full supply of TGB gushing forth and extending to others as it bears the fruit of his love.
In all this Garden imagery, we see God’s obligation of provision of his essence (truth, goodness, and beauty) in both knowledge of it and care flowing through it.
Not only does God have obligation in his Covenant of Life, but his human image bearers have obligation as well. That obligation is to receive God’s TGB, embracing both the knowledge of it and the care given by God so that it continues to flow through us. That obligation is shown to us in Genesis 2 in one verse—15.
Verse 15 begins stating that Yahweh Elohim took the adam and placed the human in the garden of Eden. Notice first the compound predicate. That the text doesn’t simply say God placed the human somewhere draws attention to God’s specific desire to place the human in the garden. After all, God had just created the entire earth and pronounced it all very good. But God places emphasis on the fact that he took the human from just anywhere on this very good earth to put him especially in this Garden. The significance of that should not be missed; it bolsters the symbolic idea of God intentionally providing his TGB to the human for his Covenant of Life purpose.
The particular word put (or placed as in NET) means a little more in the Hebrew than just that. It has the idea of left. The difference is subtle, but there is nevertheless a difference. I can put my Bible on the table. But if you ask me where my Bible is, I can answer, “I left it on the table.” So the words are fairly synonymous, but the left indicates a little more; it implies that I have walked away. However, what is happening in our scene with the human is not God’s abandonment. (Obviously not after the discussion of God’s covenant obligation to care for the adam.)
This Hebrew word is used in several other places:
Genesis 8:4 “The ark came to rest . . . on the mountains of Ararat.” The word of placement here carries the idea of being done with a previous purpose.
Pr 14:33 “Wisdom resides in the heart of the discerning.” The word here means to rest or dwell.
2 Ch 1:14 “Solomon accumulated 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, which he stationed in the chariot cities. . . .” Here, the word is used to show going away, not in abandonment, but rather leaving them there for some purpose.
Taken together, we can understand God, having finished with the adam’s formation, to have placed, or left, the human in the Garden for him to do something on his own—to carry out the purpose for which God left him there.
What is that purpose? We have already discussed the purpose: to receive the truth, goodness, and beauty of God, meaning to trust God for it and to live based on it. To live based on it has much to do with the image-bearing purpose of ruling. We have talked about how humans were to have dominion over all physical creation to develop it as a showcase glorifying God.
It is, in fact, that purpose—that human obligation of the Covenant of Life—that is meant by the rest of verse 15. The adam was to work the Garden and watch over it. The word work is not merely to state that we get satisfaction in physical labor (although that’s true). Remember, this is still the time before the fall. Only after the fall is the land cursed and therefore leading to a sweat-of-our-brow kind of labor. So, the working is not giving our all physically and finding meaning from that. Rather, I think, working (Hebrew connotation of serving) has to do with that obligation of ruling physical creation to make it reflect God’s TGB. And that activity is more than physical effort. It employs the mind and heart as well. The watching over is similar. It is the guarding, protecting, ensuring that comes with keeping covenant (as it is used countless times, such as in Ge 17:10). And it requires a knowledgeable growth in relationship with God that may then flood over into our activity.
Verses 16 and 17 speak of eating from the Garden. We will understand these verses much better if we remember that the Garden is used as a metaphor of the Covenant of Life. Eating from the Garden means receiving what is necessary for life. Since life is relationship with God, what is necessary for life is what is necessary for relationship with God. Therefore, the adam’s eating from the Garden is, the receiving of God’s TGB.
But God also told them not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. To wonder why God would put that temptation of evil in the Garden is to miss the point. This tree was not merely some test of obedience (as those with a siloed authority view of relationship may promote). Note first that its name is the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. The first idea that should stir us in that name is that a surface-level understanding that God wants to limit the knowledge for his image bearers doesn’t make sense. Because of that seeming contradiction, some preachers have decided that the tree presented not mere knowledge but knowledge gained through experience. For example, in answering the question concerning the purpose of the tree, the GotQuestions.org website begins its explanation with this offering:
“It is vital to know the context of God’s statement. God had already told Adam not to eat from this tree. Adam was already aware that doing so was wrong, and he knew the consequences, yet he chose to join Eve in eating the fruit. When they ate, they were not simply aware of evil; they experienced evil, to the extent that they became evil—sinners by nature.”
However, this idea about experiencing evil also doesn’t make complete sense. Note again the tree’s name: Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If we say it is only the eating of the tree that gave experiential knowledge of evil, we’d also have to conclude that only in eating from the tree could the human gain an experiential knowledge of good. And that is obviously not the case.
Yes, God wanted his image bearers to have knowledge of good and evil so as to pursue good and avoid evil. But that knowledge had to be gained through the progressive revelation of God in growing relationship. His covenant obligation was to provide them with that knowledge. They could not simply look to their own essence (the tree in its beauty and goodness and knowledge) and determine TGB for themselves. They had to recognize God as source and trust him for it. That was their covenant obligation. By eating from the tree, they would demonstrate, rather than trust in God, a trust in themselves.