When therefore the servants of the Chief Priests and the Scribes saw these things, and heard from Jesus, “Whosoever is athirst, let him come to Me and drink” [John 7:37]; they perceived that this was not a mere man like themselves, but that this was He Who gave water to the saints, and that it was He Who was announced by the prophet Isaiah. For He was truly the splendour of the light, and the Word of God. And thus as a river from the fountain He gave drink also of old to Paradise; but now to all men He gives the same gift of the Spirit, and says, “If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink. Whosoever believeth on Me, as saith the Scripture, rivers of living water shall flow out of his belly” [John 7:37-381. This was not for man to say, but for the living God, Who truly vouchsafes life, and gives the Holy Spirit.
–St. Athanasius, Letters [xliv]
THE HOLY MOUNTAIN
The Location of the Garden
Although we commonly use the terms Eden and Garden of Eden synonymously (as the Bible occasionally does also), Genesis 2:8 tells us that the Garden was planted by God on the east side of the area known as Eden – a land which originally lay to the north of Palestine (cf. Ps. 48:2; Isa. 14:13; Ezek. 28:14; and the discussion of the rivers, below). When man lost fellowship with God and was driven out of the Garden, he evidently went out from the east side, since that was where God stationed the cherubim who guarded the Garden from intruders (Gen. 3:24). This raises an interesting question: Why were the cherubim placed only on the east? A likely answer is that the Garden was inaccessible on all other sides (cf. Song of Sol. 4:12), and that entrance had to be made through the eastern “gate” (this would agree with the meaning of the ancient word paradise, meaning an enclosed garden); in Milton’s poem the devil entered the Garden by leaping over the wall (cf. John 10:1):
So cIomb this first grand Thief into God’s fold:
So since into his Church lewd hirelings climb. [4.192-93]
Apparently, the godly tended to stay near the eastern entrance of the Garden for some time – perhaps bringing their sacrifices to the “gate” – for when Cain fled from ”the presence of the LORD” (a technical term in Scripture for the official center of worship), he headed for parts farther east (Gen. 4:16), away from God and godly men.
It is thus significant that the entrance to the Tabernacle was from the east side (Ex. 27:13-16): to enter God’s presence through redemption is a gracious re-admittance to Eden. Ezekiel’s vision of the universal triumph of the Gospel shows the healing River of Life flowing out from the doors of the restored Temple (the Church, Eph. 2:19-22) toward the east (Ezek. 47:1-12); and, as a precursor of the day when the wealth of all the nations will be brought into the household of God (Isa. 60:4-16; Hab. 2:6-9; Ps. 72:10-11; Rev. 21:24-26), the birth of the King of kings was honored by wise men bringing gifts from the east (Matt. 2:1-11).
A major key to the location of the original Garden of Eden is the fact that the four great rivers which watered the earth derived from the one river in Eden (Gen. 2:10-14). The Flood drastically altered the geography of the world, and two of these rivers (the Pishon and the Gihon) no longer exist. The other two rivers are the Tigris (Hiddekel in Hebrew) and the Euphrates, which do not now originate from the same source, as they did then. But the Bible does tell us where these rivers were located: the Pishon flowed through the land of Havilah (Arabia); the Gihon flowed through Cush (Ethiopia); the Tigris flowed through Assyria; and the Euphrates flowed through Syria and Babylon (from whence it now meets up with the Tigris, about 40 miles above the Persian Gulf. The common source for these rivers was, of course, north of Palestine, and probably due north, in the area of Armenia and the Black Sea – which is, interestingly, the place where the human race began again after the Flood (Gen. 8:4). Eden, as the source of water, was thus the source of blessing for the world, providing the basis for life, health and prosperity to all God’s creatures.
For this reason, water becomes an important symbol in Scripture for the blessings of salvation. In the individual believer, salvation is a well of water springing up into eternal life (John 4:14); but, just as the river of Eden was fed by a multitude of springs (Gen. 2:6, NIV), the water of life becomes a river of living water, flowing out from the Church to all the world (John 7:37-39; Ezek. 47:1-12; Zech. 14:8), healing and restoring the whole earth, so that even the desert lands become transformed into a Garden (Isa. 32:13-17; 35:1-2). As the Spirit is poured out, “Jacob will take root, Israel will blossom and sprout, and they will fill the whole world with fruit” (Isa. 27:6).
Finally, a very important aspect of Eden’s location is that it was on a mountain (Eden itself was probably a plateau on the mountaintop). This follows from the fact that the source of water for the world was in Eden: the river simply cascaded down the mountain, parting into four heads as it traveled. Furthermore, when God speaks to the king of Tyre (referring to him as if he were Adam, in terms of Man’s original calling) He says: “You were in Eden, the Garden of God…. You were on the holy mountain of God” (Ezek. 28:13-14).
That Eden was the original “holy mountain” explains the significance of God’s choice of mountains as sites for His redemptive acts and revelations. The substitutionary atonement in place of Abraham’s seed took place on Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:2). It was also on Mount Moriah that David saw the Angel of the Lord standing, sword in hand, ready to destroy Jerusalem, until David built an altar there and made atonement through sacrifice (1 Chron. 21:15-17). And on Mount Moriah Solomon built the Temple (2 Chron. 3:1). God’s gracious revelation of His presence, His covenant, and His law was made on Mount Sinai. Just as Adam and Eve had been barred from the Garden, the people of Israel were forbidden to approach the holy mountain, on pain of death (Ex. 19:12; cf. Gen. 3:24). But Moses (the Mediator of the Old Covenant, Gal. 3:19), the priests, and the 70 elders of the people were allowed to meet God on the Mountain (after making an atoning sacrifice), and there they ate and drank communion before the Lord (Ex. 24:1-11). It was on Mount Carmel
that God brought His straying people back to Himself through sacrifice in the days of Elijah, and from whence the ungodly intruders into His Garden were taken and destroyed (1 Kings 18; interestingly, carmel is a Hebrew term for garden-land, plantation, and orchard). Again, on Mount Sinai (also called Horeb) God revealed His saving presence to Elijah, and re-commissioned him as His messenger to the nations (1 Kings 19).
In His first major sermon, the Mediator of the New Covenant delivered the law again, from a mountain (Matt. 5:1ff.). His official appointment of His apostles was made on a mountain (Mark 3:13-19). On a mountain He was transfigured before His disciples in a blinding revelation of His glory (recalling associations with Sinai, Peter calls this “the holy mountain,” in 2 Pet. 1:16-18). On a mountain He gave His final announcement of judgment upon the faithless covenant people (Matt. 24). After the Last Supper, He ascended a mountain with His disciples, and proceeded from there to a Garden where, as the Last Adam, He prevailed over temptation (Matt. 26:30; cf. Matt. 4:8-11, at the beginning of His ministry). Finally, He commanded His disciples to meet Him on a mountain, where He commissioned them to conquer the nations with the Gospel, and promised to send them the Holy Spirit; and from there He ascended into the cloud (Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 1:1-19; for more on the significance of this cloud, see Chapter 7).
I have by no means exhausted the list that might be given of Biblical references to God’s redemptive activities on mountains; but those which have been cited are sufficient to demonstrate the fact that in redemption God is calling us to return to Eden: we have access to the Holy Mountain of God through the shed blood of Christ. We have come to Mount Zion (Heb. 12:22), and may boldly approach the Holy Place (Heb. 10:19), granted by God’s grace to partake again of the Tree of Life (Rev. 2:7). Christ has built His Church as a City on a Hill, to give light to the world (Matt. 5:14), and has promised that the nations will come to that light (Isa. 60:3). The prophets are full of this mountain-imagery, testifying that the world itself will be transformed into Eden: “In the last days, the mountain of the House of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it” (Isa. 2:2; cf. Isa. 2:2-4; 11:9; 25:6-9; 56:3-8; 65:25; Mic. 4:1-4). Thus the day will come when God’s Kingdom, His Holy Mountain, will “fill the whole earth” (see Dan. 2:34-35, 44-45), as God’s original dominion mandate is fulfilled by the Last Adam.
Minerals in the Garden
The Pishon River, originating in Eden, flowed “around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there” (Gen. 2:11-12). The intent of these verses is clearly to connect in our minds the Garden of Eden with precious stones and minerals; and this point is made in other Biblical references that speak of Eden. The most obvious reference is in God’s statement to fallen Adam (part of which was quoted above):
You were in Eden, the Garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering:
The ruby, the topaz, and the diamond;
The beryl, the onyx, and the jasper;
The lapis lazuli, the turquoise, and the emerald;
And the gold….
In fact, the ground seems to have been fairly littered with sparkling gems of all sorts, according to the next verse: “You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.” The abundance of jewelry is regarded here as a blessing: fellowship with God in Eden meant being surrounded with beauty. Moses tells us that the gold of that land was good (i.e., in its native state, unmixed with other minerals). The fact that gold must now be mined from the earth by costly methods is a result of the Curse, particularly in the judgment of the Flood.
The stone that is called onyx in Scripture may be identical to the stone of that name today, but no one knows for sure; and there is even less certainty regarding the nature of bdellium. But some very interesting things about these stones appear as we study the Biblical history of salvation. When God redeemed His people from Egypt, He ordered the High Priest to wear special garments. On his shoulders, the High Priest was to wear two onyx stones, with the names of the 12 tribes written upon them; and God declares these stones to be “stones of memorial” (Ex. 25:7; 28:9-12). A memorial of what? The only mention of the onyx prior to the Exodus is in Genesis 2:12, with reference to the Garden of Eden! God wanted His people to look at the High Priest – who was in many ways a symbol of man fully restored in God’s image – and thus to remember the blessings of the Garden, when man was in communion with God. The stones were to serve as reminders to the people that in saving them God was restoring them to Eden.
An even more striking example of this is in what we are told about God’s provision of manna. In itself, manna was a reminder of Eden: for even while God’s people were in the wilderness (on their way to the Promised Land of abundance), food was plentiful, good-tasting, and easy to find – as, of course, it had been in the Garden. But, just in case they might miss the point, Moses recorded that manna was the color of bdellium (Num. l1:7) – the only occurrence of that word apart from its original mention in the book of Genesis! And this, by the way, tells us the color of bdellium, since we are told elsewhere (Ex. 16:31) that manna was white. In our Lord’s messages to the Church in the Book of Revelation, Edenic imagery is used again and again to describe the nature of salvation (see Rev. 2-3), and on one occasion He promises: “To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone” (Rev. 2:17).
It is noteworthy that these statements regarding onyx and bdellium were made as Israel was traveling through the land of Havilah! As they journeyed, they could observe the terrible effects of the Curse, which had turned this beautiful and well-watered land into a “waste and howling wilderness” – while they, through grace, were able to enjoy the blessings of the Garden of Eden. This theme of Eden-restoration was also evident in the abundant use of gold for the Tabernacle and Temple furnishings (Ex. 25; 1 Kings 6), and for the garments of the High Priest (Ex. 28). The forfeited privileges of the First Adam are restored to us by the Last Adam, as we once again come into God’s presence through our High Priest.
In their prophecies of the coming Messiah and his blessings, the Old Testament prophets concentrated on this Edenic imagery of jewelry, describing salvation in terms of God’s adorning of His people:
Behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
And your foundations I will lay in sapphires.
Moreover, I will make your battlements of rubies,
And your gates of crystal,
And your entire wall of precious stones.
The wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
To you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land,
Young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
Bearing gold and incense
And proclaiming the praise of the LORD…
Surely the islands look to me;
In the lead are the ships of Tarshish,
Bringing your sons from afar,
With their silver and gold,
To the honor of the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel,
For He has endowed you with splendor….
Your gates will always stand open,
They will never be shut, day or night,
So that men may bring you the wealth of the nations….”
–Isa. 60:5-6, 9, 11
In line with this theme, the Bible describes us (Mal. 3:17) and our work for God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 3:11-15) in terms of jewelry; and, at the end of history, the whole City of God is a dazzling, brilliant display of precious stones (Rev. 21:18-20.
The story of Paradise thus gives us important information about the origin and meaning of precious metals and stones, and therefore of money as well. Right from the beginning, God placed value upon gold and gems, having created them as reflections of His own glory and beauty. The original value of precious metals and stones was therefore aesthetic rather than economic; their economic significance grew out of the fact that they were valued for their beauty. Aesthetics is prior to economics.
Historically, gold came to serve as a medium of exchange precisely because its value was independent of, and prior to, its monetary function. Gold is not intrinsically valuable (only God possesses intrinsic value); instead, it is valuable because man, as God’s image, imputes value to it. Biblically, a medium of exchange is first a commodity, an item which men value as such. Scripture always measures money by weight, by hard currency (Lev. 19:35-37), and condemns all forms of inflation as a debasement of currency (Prov. 11:1; 20:10, 23; Isa. 1:22; Amos 8:5-6; Mic. 6:10-12).
God has placed value upon precious metals and stones, and He has built in us an attraction for them; but He has also made it clear that these things cannot be permanently owned or enjoyed apart from fellowship with Him. The ungodly are allowed to mine for these materials, and to own them for a time, in order that their wealth may ultimately be possessed by the restored people of God:
Though he [the wicked man] piles up silver like dust,
And prepares garments as plentiful as the clay;
He may prepare it,
But the just shall wear it,
And the innocent will divide the silver.
To the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that He may give to one who is good in God’s sight.
He who increases his wealth by usury and extortion, gathers it for him who will be kind to the poor.
Indeed, there is a basic principle that is always at work throughout history: “The wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Prov. 13:22), “for evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait on the LORD will inherit the earth” (Ps. 37:9). A God-fearing nation will be blessed with abundance, while apostate nations will eventually lose their resources, as God inflicts the Curse upon rebellious people and their culture.