Chapter 6: The Garden and the Howling Wilderness

David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion
Topics: , ,


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Chapter Text

What then, was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Saviour Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could re-create man made after the Image.

In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image.
–St. Athanasius, On The Incarnation [13]



When God created Adam, He placed him into a land, and gave him dominion over it. Land is basic to dominion; therefore, salvation involves a restoration to land and property. In announcing His covenant to Abram, the very first sentence God spoke was a promise of land (Gen. 12:1), and He completely fulfilled that promise when He saved Israel (Josh. 21:43-45). This is why Biblical law is filled with references to property, law, and economics; and this is why the Reformation laid such stress on this world, as well as the next. Man is not saved by being delivered out of his environment. Salvation does not rescue us from the material world, but from sin, and from the effects of the Curse. The Biblical ideal is for every man to own property – a place where he can have dominion and rule under God.

The blessings of the Western world have come because of Christianity and the resultant freedom which men have had in the use and development of property and the fulfillment of their callings under God’s dominion mandate. Capitalism-the free market – is a product of Biblical law, in which a high priority is placed upon private property, and which condemns theft of all kinds (including theft by the State).

To unbelieving economists, professors, and government officials, it is a mystery why capitalism cannot be exported. Considering the obvious, proven superiority of the free market in raising the standard of living for all classes of people, why don’t pagan nations implement capitalism into their social structures? The reason is this: Freedom cannot be exported to a nation that has no marketplace for the Gospel. The blessings of the Garden cannot be obtained apart from Jesus Christ. The Golden Rule – which sums up the law and the prophets (Matt. 7:12) – is the inescapable ethical foundation for the free market; and this ethic is impossible apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to keep the righteous requirements of God’s law (Rom. 8:4).

All heathen cultures have been statist and tyrannical, for a people who reject God will surrender themselves and their property to a dictator (1 Sam. 8:7-20). Ungodly men want the blessings of the Garden, but they attempt to possess them by unlawful means, as Ahab did with Naboth’s vineyard (1 Ki. 21:1-16), and the result is, as always, destruction (1 Ki. 21:17-24). The genuine, free possession of land is the result of salvation: God brought His people into a land, and divided it among them for an inheritance (Num. 26:52-56); and, as He had done in Eden, He regulated the land (Lev. 25:4) and the trees (Lev. 19:23-25; Deut. 20:19-20).

As we have seen, when God banished Adam and Eve from their land, the world began to become a wilderness (Gen. 3:17-19). From this point the Bible begins to develop a Land-vs.-Wilderness theme, in which the redeemed, obedient people of God are seen inheriting a land that is secure and bountiful, while the disobedient are cursed by being driven out into a wilderness. When Cain was judged by God, he complained: “Today You are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from Your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:14). And he was correct, as Scripture records: “So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence, and lived in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden” (Gen. 4:16). Nod means Wandering: Cain became the first nomad, a wanderer with no home and no destination.

Similarly, when the whole world became wicked, God said: “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land” (Gen. 6:7), and He did so, by the Flood-leaving only Noah and his household alive in the ark (which God brought to rest, incidentally, on a mountain; Gen. 8:4). The ungodly were driven out of the land, and the people of the covenant repopulated it.

Again, the ungodly tried to build their own “Garden,” the tower of Babel. They were seeking to make themselves a name – to define themselves in terms of their own rebellious standards – and to prevent themselves from being scattered from the land (Gen. 11:4). But man cannot build the Garden on his own terms. God is the Definer, and He is the only One who can give us security. The very attempt of the people of Babel to prevent their destruction actually brought it about. God confused their languages – so much for “naming” anything! – and scattered them from their land (Gen. 11:8-9).

In marked contrast, the very next chapter records God’s covenant with Abram, in which He promises to bring Abram into a land, and to make his name great (Gen. 12:1-2). As a further guarantee and reminder of His covenant, God even changed Abram’s name to Abraham, in terms of his predestined calling. God is our Definer: He alone gives us our name, and “calls into being that which does not exist” (Rom. 4:17). Thus, as we are baptized into God’s Name (Matt. 28:19), we are redefined as God’s living people, free in Christ from our death in Adam (Rom. 5:12-6:23). Circumcision performed the same function in the Old Testament, which is why children officially received their name when they were circumcised (cf. Luke 2:21). In salvation, God brings us back into Eden and gives us a new name (Rev. 2:17; cf. Isa. 65:13-25).

When God’s people became disobedient as they were about to enter the Promised Land, God punished them by making them wander in the Wilderness, until the entire generation of the disobedient was wiped out (Num. 14:26-35). Then God turned and saved His people out of “the howling waste of a wilderness” (Deut. 32:10), and brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey (another subtle reminder of Eden, by the way: milk is a more nourishing form of water, and honey comes from trees). God’s obedient people have never been nomads – instead, they are marked by stability, and have dominion. True, the Bible does call us pilgrims (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 2:11), but that is just the point: we are pilgrims, not hobos. A pilgrim has a home, a destination. In redemption God saves us from our wanderings, and gathers us into a land (Ps. 107:1-9). A scattered, homeless people cannot have dominion. When the Puritans left England, they did not wander over the earth; God brought them into a land and made them rulers, and though the foundation they built has greatly eroded, it is still very much with us after 300 years. (What will people 300 years from now say of the accomplishments of today’s shallow, retreatist evangelicalism?)

People become nomads only through disobedience (Deut. 28:65). As the Curse functions in history, as civilization apostatizes, nomadism becomes widespread, and the wilderness increases. And, as the Curse spreads, the water dries up. Since the Fall, the ground is no longer watered primarily by springs. God sends us water by rain instead (rain is much easier to turn off and on at a moment’s notice than springs and rivers are). The withholding of water – turning the land into a parched wilderness – is very closely related to the Curse (Deut. 29:22-28). The Curse is also described in terms of the disobedient people being uprooted from the land (Deut. 29:28), in contrast to God’s planting of His people in the land (Ex. 15:17). God destroys the roots of a land and people by cutting off the water supply: drought is regarded in Scripture as a major (and effective) means of national punishment. When God shuts off the water, He turns the land into the very opposite of Eden.

The history of Sodom and Gomorrah is a sort of capsulized history of the world in this regard. Once described as being like the Garden of Eden in its beauty and abundance (Gen. 13:10), it became through God’s judgment “a burning waste of salt and sulfur – nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it” (Deut. 29:23). Sodom and Gomorrah were in the area now known as the Dead Sea – and it is called Dead for a very good reason: nothing can live in it. Chemical deposits (salt, potash, magnesium, and others) make up 25 percent of the water as a result of God’s judgment upon the land. Except for where water flows into it (and a few isolated springs in the area), the land is completely arid. It is now the furthest thing imaginable from Eden, and it serves as a picture of the world after the Curse: Eden has become Wilderness.

But that is not all we are told about this area. In Ezekiel’s vision of the restored Temple (also on a mountain; Ezek. 40:2), he sees the Water of Life flowing eastward from the threshold toward the Dead Sea and healing its waters, resulting in “a great multitude of fish” and luxuriant growth (Ezek. 47:8-12). We must not look upon the world with eyes that see only the Curse; we must look with the eyes of faith, enlightened by God’s Word to see the world as the arena of His triumph. History does not end with the Wilderness. World history will be, on a massive scale, that of Sodom: first a Garden, lovely and fruitful; then corrupted into a Wilderness of Death through sin; finally, restored by God’s grace to its former Edenic abundance. “The wilderness and the solitary place will be glad; and the desert will rejoice, and blossom as the rose” (Isa. 35:1).

The poor and needy search for water, but there is none;
Their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the LORD will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
And springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
And the parched ground into springs.

I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia,
The myrtle and the olive.
I will set pines in the wasteland,
The fir and the cypress together,

So that people may see and know,
May consider and understand,
That the hand of the LORD has done this,
That the Holy One of Israel has created it.
–Isa. 41:17-20

This, then, is the direction of history, in what may be called “the First Rapture” – God gradually uprooting unbelievers and unbelieving cultures from the land, and bringing His people into a full inheritance of the earth.

I am not denying, of course, the Biblical teaching that God’s people will someday meet the Lord in the air, at His return (1 Thess.4:17); but the modern doctrine of the “Rapture” is too often a doctrine of flight from the world, in which Christians are taught to long for escape from the world and its problems, rather than for what God’s Word promises us: Dominion. How common it is to hear Christians say, when confronted with a problem: “I sure hope the Rapture comes soon!” – rather than: “Let’s get to work on the solution right now!” Even worse is the response that is also too common: “Who cares? We don’t have to do anything about it, because the Rapture is coming soon anyway!” And worst of all is the attitude held by some that all work to make this a better world is absolutely wrong, because “improving the situation will only delay the Second Coming!” A good deal of modern Rapturism should be recognized for what it really is: a dangerous error that is teaching God’s people to expect defeat instead of victory.

Indeed, a very common evangelical worldview is that “the earth is the devil’s, and the fullness thereof” – that the world belongs to Satan, and that Christians can expect only defeat until the Lord returns. And that is exactly the lie that Satan wants Christians to believe. If God’s people think the devil is winning, it makes his job just that much easier. What would he do if Christians stopped retreating and started advancing against him? James 4:7 tells us what he would do: he would flee from us! So why isn’t the devil fleeing from us in this age? Why are Christians at the mercy of Satan and his servants? Why aren’t Christians conquering kingdoms with the Gospel, as they did in times past? Because Christians are not resisting the devil! Worse yet, they’re being told by their pastors and leaders not to resist, but to retreat instead! Christian leaders have turned James 4:7 inside out, and are really giving aid and comfort to the enemy – because they are, in effect, saying to the devil: “Resist the Church, and we will flee from you!” And Satan is taking them at their word. So then, when Christians see themselves losing on every front, they take it as “proof” that God has not promised to give dominion to His people. But the only thing it proves is that James 4:7 is true, after all, including its “flip side” – that is, if you don’t resist the devil, he won’t flee from you.

What we must remember is that God doesn’t “rapture” Christians out of the world in order to escape conflict – He “raptures” non-Christians! The Lord Jesus prayed, in fact, that we would not be “raptured”: “My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). And this is the constant message of Scripture. God’s people will inherit all things, and the ungodly will be disinherited and driven out of the land. “For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be uprooted from it” (Prov. 2:21-22). “The righteous will never be uprooted, but the wicked will not remain in the land” (Prov. 10:30). God described the land of Canaan as having been “defiled” by the abominable sins of its heathen population, saying that the land itself “vomited out its inhabitants”; and He warned His people not to imitate those heathen abominations, “so that the land may not vomit you out also” (Lev. 18:24-28; 20:22). Using the same Edenic language, the Lord warns the church of Laodicea against sin, and threatens: “I will vomit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16). In His parable of the wheat (the godly) and the tares (the ungodly) – and note the Edenic imagery even in His choice of illustrations – Christ declares that He will gather first the tares for destruction; the wheat is “raptured” later (Matt. 13:30).

“The wealth of the sinner is stored up for the just” (Prov. 13:22). That is the basic pattern of history as God saves His people and gives them dominion. This is what God did with Israel: in saving them, He brought them into already-settled lands, and they inherited cities that had already been built (Ps. 105:43-45). God does bless the heathen, in a sense – just so they can work out their own damnation, in the meantime building up an inheritance for the godly (cf. Gen. 15:16; Ex. 4:21; Josh. 11:19-20). Then God smashes them and gives the fruit of their labor to His people. This is why we need not fret over evildoers, for we shall inherit the earth (Ps. 37). The Hebrew word for salvation is yasha, meaning to bring into a large, wide, open space-and in salvation God does just that: He gives us the world, and turns it into the Garden of Eden.