Garden Sanctuary

The garden of God in the land of Eden was the prototype sanctuary, setting the design parameters for the tabernacle, the temple, and the heavenly city. This situates much of the detail of the garden and what happened within its borders in a liturgically charged and bounded context.

There are those who (wrongly) speak of two accounts of creation in Genesis, meaning to suggest that there are two alternative and contradictory narratives of creation that were cobbled together from two separate sources. However, no less an authority than Christ himself regarded the “two accounts” as a coherent narrative, quoting from both of them simultaneously to make a theological point (Matt. 19:4-6). Still, what gives the claim of two accounts some intuitive credibility is the plain fact that there is a genuine difference in the ‘flavor’ and the ‘feel’ between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. And I would suggest that the difference that is experienced is a ceremonial distinction. The “first” account of creation in Genesis 1 is that of the world at large in the course of six days; it’s focused on the establishment of common space, common time, and common life. The “second” account of creation in Genesis 2 is that of the garden with emphasis on the seventh day; it’s focused on the establishment of sacred space, sacred time, and sacred life. Genesis 2 and 3 have a distinctively liturgical character.

Adam ministered as the priest in the garden; he was charged by God with serving and guarding God’s sanctuary, employing the same Hebrew language commonly used to describe the activity of the Levitical priests in the tabernacle and temple. And when the man and the woman were exiled from the garden, the entrance was guarded by four-winged cherubim, the same creatures that adorn and guard the sanctuary in the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon.

The garden was situated with an East-to-West orientation, and its entrance was on the eastern border. This was the same layout as the tabernacle and the temple. Precious metals and gemstones are called out in Genesis 2, seemingly as ornamentation for the sanctuary. The tabernacle and temple were likewise ornamented. A river ran through the garden of God, exiting at the East. This means westward motion in the garden was an uphill journey. This matched the ascension motif of the tabernacle and the temple, which were symbolically laid out lengthwise as a mountainside. Movement westward is symbolic ascension up the mountain of the Lord into the presence of God.

These parameters come full circle in Revelation as the city of God comes down from heaven. It has cubic dimensions, calling to mind the layout of the most holy place in the tabernacle and temple. And in this heavenly city is a river with the tree (or forest) of life growing on both its banks, yielding twelve types of fruit and sprouting leaves used for the healing of the nations. It is a garden sanctuary adorned in gleaming gold and various gemstones. Only the priestly community of God may enter it, those who have been purified by the second and last Adam as the great high priest who offered up his own blood as the Lamb of God.

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