Chapter 5: The Garden of the Lord

David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion
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Chapter Text

What – or rather Who was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required? Who, save the Word of God Himself, Who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing? His part it was, and His alone, both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all. For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to re-create all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father.
–St. Athanasius, On The Incarnation [7]



Animals in the Garden

In Eden, before the Fall, there was no death (Rom. 5:12). Animals were not “wild,” and Adam was able to name (i.e., classify) the animals without fear (Gen. 2:19-20). But man’s rebellion resulted in terrible changes throughout the world. The nature of animals was altered, so that they became a threat to the peace and safety of man. The dominion over them that Adam had exercised was lost.

In Christ, however, man’s dominion has been restored (Ps. 8:5-8 with Heb. 2:6-9). Thus, when God saved His people, this effect of the Curse began to be reversed. He led them through a dangerous wilderness, protecting them from the snakes and scorpions (Deut. 8:15), and He promised them that their life in the Promised Land would be Eden-like in its freedom from the ravages of wild animals: “I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble. I shall also eliminate harmful beasts from the land” (Lev. 26:6). In fact, this is why God did not allow Israel to exterminate the Canaanites all at once: the heathen served as a buffer between the covenant people and the wild animals (Ex. 23:29-30; Deut. 7:22).

Accordingly, when the prophets foretold the coming salvation in Christ, they described it in the same terms of Edenic blessing: “I will make a covenant of peace with them and eliminate harmful beasts from the land, so that they may live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods” (Ezek. 34:25). “No lion will be there, nor will any vicious beast go up on it; these will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk there” (Isa. 35:9). In fact, the Bible goes so far as to say that through the Gospel’s permeation of the world the wild nature of the animals will be transformed into its original, Edenic condition:

The wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the kid,
And the calf and the young lion and the fading together;
And a little boy will lead them.
Also the cow and the bear will graze;
Their young will lie down together;
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy in all My Holy Mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
As the waters cover the sea.
–Isa. 11:6-9; cr. Isa. 65:25

On the other hand, God warned, the Curse would reappear if the people turned away from God’s law: “I will let loose among you the beasts of the field, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your cattle and reduce your number so that your roads lie deserted” (Lev. 26:22; cf. Num. 21:6; Deut. 28:26; 2 Kings 2:24; 17:25; Ezek. 5:17; 14:15; 32:4; Rev. 6:8). When a culture departs from God, He surrenders its people to the dominion of wild animals, in order to prevent them from having ungodly dominion over the earth. But in a godly culture this threat against life and property will progressively disappear; and, ultimately, when the knowledge of God shall cover the earth, the animals will be tamed, and harnessed again to the service of God’s Kingdom.

Finally, in this connection we must consider the dinosaurs, for there is a whole theology built around them in the Bible. While the Bible does speak of land dinosaurs (cf. behemoth in Job 40:15-24, which some mistake for a hippopotamus, but which is actually closer to a brontosaurus), our focus here will be on dragons and sea serpents (cf. Job 7:12; 41:1-34-the creature mentioned in the latter reference, a huge, fire-breathing dragon called Leviathan, is supposed by some to be a crocodile!). Essentially, as part of God’s good creation (Gen. 1:21: sea monsters), there is nothing “evil” about these creatures (Gen. 1:31; Ps. 148:7); but, because of man’s rebellion, they are used in Scripture to symbolize rebellious man at the height of his power and glory.

Three kinds of dragons are spoken of in Scripture: Tannin (Dragon; Ps. 91:13), Leviathan (Ps. 104:26), and Rahab (Job 26:12-13; in Hebrew, this is a completely different word from the name of the Canaanite harlot who saved the Hebrew spies in Joshua 2). The Bible relates each of these monsters to the Serpent, who stands for the subtle, deceitful enemy of God’s people (Gen. 3:1-5, 13-15). Thus, to demonstrate the divine victory and dominion over man’s rebellion, God turned Moses’ rod into a “serpent” (Ex. 4:1-4), and Aaron’s rod into a “dragon” (tannin; Ex. 7:8-12). The Dragon/Serpent, therefore, becomes in Scripture a symbol of Satanically inspired, rebellious pagan culture (cf. Jer. 51:34), especially exemplified by Egypt in its war against the covenant people. This is particularly true with regard to the monster Rahab (meaning the proud one), which is often a synonym for Egypt (Ps. 87:4; 89:10; Isa. 30:7). God’s covenant-making deliverance of His people in the Exodus is described in terms of both the original creation and God’s triumph over the Dragon:

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD;
Awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago.
Was it not Thou who cut Rahab in pieces,
Who pierced the Dragon?
Was it not Thou who dried up the sea,
The waters of the great deep;
Who made the depths of the sea a pathway
For the redeemed to cross over?
–Isa. 51:9-10

The Bible also speaks of the Exodus as a salvation from Leviathan:

Thou didst divide the sea by Thy strength;
Thou didst break the heads of the Dragons in the waters.
Thou didst crush the heads of Leviathan;
Thou didst give him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
–Ps. 74:13-14

Thus, in provisional fulfillment of the promise in Eden, the Dragon’s head was crushed when God saved His people from Egypt. Of course, the head-wound became healed, and the Dragon (accompanied by the Dragon-State in his image) kept coming back to plague and persecute the seed of the woman (cf. Rev. 12-13). This happens again and again throughout the Old Testament, which records numerous temporary head-crushings of the Dragon (Jud. 4:21; 5:26-27; 9:50-57; 1 Sam. 5:1-5; 17:49-51; 2 Sam. 18:9; 20:21-22; Ps. 68:21; Hab. 3:13). In terms of the threefold structure of salvation which we saw in an earlier chapter, the definitive conquest of the Dragon took place in the death and resurrection of Christ, when He defeated the powers of darkness, disarmed the demonic forces, cast out the devil, and rendered him powerless (Ps. 110:6; John 12:31-32; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14; Rev. 12:5-10; 20:1-3). The prophets looked forward to this:

In that Day the LORD will punish Leviathan the fleeing Serpent
With His fierce and great and mighty sword,
Even Leviathan the twisted Serpent;
And He will kill the Dragon who lives in the sea.
–Isa. 27:1

Progressively, the implications of Christ’s victory are worked out by His people in time and on earth (John 16:33; 1 John 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5; Rev. 12:11), until the final triumph at the consummation of history, when the Dragon is at last destroyed (Rev. 20:7-10). The special point to be grasped for the present age, however, is that we must expect increasing victories over the Serpent, who has been placed under our feet (Rom. 16:20). As the godly steadily reap the blessings of the restored Eden, Satan’s dominion will shrink and wither away. This is symbolized by the fact that when all other creatures are restored to their Edenic nature, the condition of the serpent will be unchanged. God warned the Dragon that he would bite the dust under the heels of the righteous, and this aspect of the Curse will reach its full effect:

“The wolf and the lamb shall graze together,
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
And dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,”
Says the LORD.
–Isa. 65:25; cf. Gen. 3:14

Trees in the Garden

It goes without saying, of course, that a fundamental aspect of the Garden of Eden is that it was a Garden: every kind of beautiful and fruitbearing tree had been planted there by God (Gen. 2:9). Before the Fall, food was abundant and cheap, and man did not have to spend much time in search of sustenance and refreshment. Instead, his time was spent in scientific, productive, and aesthetic activity (Gen. 2:15, 19-20). Most of his labor involved investigating and beautifying his environment. But when he rebelled, this was changed, and the Curse was inflicted upon his labor and his natural surroundings: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:17-19). God imposed the Curse of scarcity, and the major part of human labor became a search for food.

But in salvation God restores His people to Eden, and food becomes cheaper and easier to obtain. In turn, more time can be spent in other activities: the growth of culture is possible only when food is relatively abundant. God gives His people food in order to give them dominion. The Biblical history of salvation demonstrates this again and again. In places too numerous to list here completely, godly men are mentioned as living near trees (see Gen. 18:4, 8; 30:37; Jud. 3:13; 4:5; 1 Kings 19:5; John 1:48; and, in a modern translation, see Gen. 12:6; 13:18; 14:13; Jud. 4:11). In none of these references is the mention of the trees absolutely essential to the story itself; in a sense, we might think such a detail could have been left out. But God wants us to get the picture in our minds of His people living in the midst of abundance, surrounded by the blessings of the Garden as they are restored in salvation. When Israel is blessed, we find every man sitting under his own vine and fig tree (1 Kings 4:25), and the same is prophesied of all men who live under the blessings of the Christ, when all nations shall flow to the Mountain of the Lord (Mic. 4:1-4; Zech. 3:10).

For this reason the Edenic imagery of trees, planting and fruit is used throughout Scripture to describe God’s work of salvation. In singing about God’s deliverance of His people into the new Eden, Moses said: “Thou wilt bring them and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance” (Ex. 15:17). The godly man is “like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Ps. 1:3; cf. Jer. 17:7-8). The covenant people are “like gardens beside the river, like aloes planted by the LORD, like cedars beside the waters” (Num. 24:6). “Israel will blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (Isa. 27:6).

The lampstand in the Tabernacle was a reminder of Eden: it was actually a stylized tree, decked with artificial bulbs and flowers, all made of pure gold (Ex. 37:17-24). The Temple also was richly furnished with Edenic-restoration symbolism: the cedar walls displayed carvings of gourds, flowers, palm trees and cherubim, overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:15-36; cf. the vision of the restored Temple in Ezek. 41:18-20). The Ark of the Covenant contained not only the Law but also a golden pot of manna and Aaron’s rod which was miraculously covered with buds, blossoms and almonds (Heb. 9:4).

The High Priest was a living symbol of man fully restored to fellowship with God in the Garden. His forehead was covered with a gold plate, on which was engraved the phrase, HOLY TO THE LORD (Ex. 28:36), as a symbol of the removal of the Curse on Adam’s brow. His breastplate was covered with gold and precious stones (Ex. 28:15-30), and the hem of his robe was ringed with pomegranates and golden bells (Ex. 28:33-35). As another symbol of freedom from the Curse, the robe itself was made of linen (Ex. 28:6), for while they were ministering, the priests were forbidden to wear any wool at all: “They shall be clothed with linen garments; and wool shall not be on them while they are ministering…. They shall not gird themselves with anything which makes them sweat” (Ezek. 44:17-18). In Genesis 3:18-19, sweat is an aspect of fallen man’s labor under death and the Curse; the priest, as the Restored Man, was required to wear the light material of linen to show the removal of the Curse in salvation.

Edenic symbolism was also in the feasts of Israel, as they celebrated the bounty of God’s provision and enjoyed the fullness of life and prosperity under the blessings of the covenant. This is particularly true of the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (also called “Ingathering,” in Ex. 23:16). In this feast they were required to leave their homes and live for seven days in little “tabernacles,” or booths, made entirely from “the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook” (Lev. 23:40). Israel usually dwelled in walled cities, as a protection against their enemies; yet, at the very time of prosperity (the end of harvest) – when attack would seem most likely – God ordered them to leave the security of their homes and journey to Jerusalem, to live in unprotected booths made of branches, palm fronds, and fruit! God promised, however, that He would keep the heathen from attacking during the festivals (Ex. 34:23-24), and Israel had to trust in His strength.

The feast was, obviously, a reminder of life in Eden, when walled cities were unnecessary; and it looked forward to the day when the world would be turned into Eden, and the nations would beat their swords into plowshares (Mic. 4:3). For this reason they were also commanded to sacrifice 70 bullocks during the feast (Num. 29:12-38). Why? Because the number of the original nations of the earth was 70 (they are listed in Gen. 10), and the feast celebrated the ingathering of all nations into God’s Kingdom; thus atonement was made for all.

It is important to remember that the Jews did not keep this feast – in fact, they forgot it was even in the Bible – until their return from captivity under Ezra and Nehemiah (Neh. 8:13-18). During this period of renewal and restoration, God enlightened the minds of the prophets to understand the significance of this feast as an acted-out prophecy of the conversion of all nations to the true faith. On the last day of the feast (Hag. 2:1), God spoke through Haggai: ” ‘I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations; and I will fill this House [the Temple] with glory. . . . The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts” (Hag. 2:7-8). About this same time, Zechariah prophesied about the meaning of the feast in terms of the conversion of all nations and the sanctification of every area of life (Zech. 14:16-21). And hundreds of years later, during the celebration of the same feast, Christ Himself declared its meaning: the outpouring of the Spirit upon the restored believer, so that the Church becomes a means of restoration to the entire world On. 7:37-39; cf. Ezek. 47:1-12).

Israel was to be the means of bringing the blessings of the Garden of Eden to the world: Scripture goes out of its way to portray this symbolically when it tells us (twice: Ex. 15:27; Num. 33:9) of Israel camping at Elim, where there were 12 wells of water (the 12 tribes of Israel) and 70 palm trees (the 70 nations of the world). God thus organized Israel as a small-scale model of the world, giving it 70 elders (Ex. 24:1); and Jesus followed this pattern by sending out 70 disciples (Lk. 10:1). God’s people are a nation of priests (Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6), chosen to bring the light of the Gospel into a world darkened by sin and the Curse. Increasingly, the Hope expressed in the Feast of Tabernacles will be realized, as the whole earth becomes a Garden (Isa. 11:9; Dan. 2:35); as the world is filled with blessing and security, and there is no longer any need for walled cities (Lev. 23:3-6; Isa. 65:17-25; Ezek. 34:25-29). The Garden of Eden, the Mountain of the Lord, will be restored in history, before the Second Coming, by the power of the Gospel; and the desert will rejoice, and blossom as the rose (Isa. 35:1).

In contrast, the Bible says that God controls the heathen by withholding food and water. To understand the misery of much of the so-called “Third World,” we need to look first at its ungodly religion and culture. The Edenic blessing of abundance will never be theirs until they repent and believe the Gospel. Christian cultures, on the other hand (especially the countries of the Reformation), are blessed with food that is relatively cheap and abundant. But the Biblical warning is clear: if our nation continues in its apostasy, famine will come, as surely as our rebellious first parents were cast out of Eden. We cannot possess the blessings of the Garden if we live in rebellion against God. The fruitful field will again become a wilderness:

But it will come about, if you will not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you: Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the produce of your ground, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.
–Deut. 28:15-19

Upon the land of my people thorns and briars shall come up….
Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high,
And the wilderness becomes a fertile field,
And the fertile field is considered as a forest.
–Isa. 32:13-15