Temple Talk 002: Genesis 2:8-20
8Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
15The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
19Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
God planted the garden in Eden. The Bible specifically states that he planted it; he didn’t just make it appear. Importantly Eden wasn’t the actual garden, but rather Eden was a large district and the garden was strategically placed within the district and around the local rivers so it would be a rich area of cultivation. In fact, the Hebrew word “Eden” means pleasure or delicacy – and man some delicacies came from this area! The garden was thought to be housed in the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia, which is a historical region making up present-day Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, and Turkey.
With historical and geological knowledge of this region, as well as Biblical scripture, it’s clear that a few main sources of vegetation characterized this region.
Figs – a tear-drop shaped, chewy purple fruit about the size of your thumb, are native to several regions in Asia. Biblically, there is evidence of this fruit in several places. Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to make coverings (Genesis 3:7) – and later in the New Testament, Jesus cursed a fig tree (Mark 11:12-25).
Apples – some scholars think this vegetation may have been closer to a greenish crab apple. Crab apples are native to Central Asia. The main difference between crab apples and regular apples are the size. Crab apples are 2 inches or less in diameter, while apples are 2 inches or more in diameter.
Quince (kwince) - a bright golden yellow pear-looking fruit, native to Western Asia, Armenia, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, northern Iran to Afghanistan. Some scholars believe that quince are actually the “apple” referenced in many parts of biblical text. They do look like a spunky apple relative.
Black mulberry, blackberry – a dark purple, almost black, richly flavored fruit with long, compound clusters. They are native to southwestern Asia and the Iberian Peninsula. Biblically, blackberries show up in Luke 17:6.
Pomegranate – The edible part of pomegranates is red-purple in color, with every small capsule housing a seed. These fruits are native to the region spanning from Iran to northern India. Pomegranates show up in many parts of the Bible.
Doum fruit - sweet orange/red fruit also known as gingerbread fruit. Native to the Arabian Peninsula and parts of Africa. Doum fruit are not mentioned in the Bible but perhaps because of translation issues.
Pistachios – a nut native to Central Asia and the Middle East. These nuts show up in Genesis 43:11, used as a gift of the land.
Sayer or Sair dates – chewy fruit native to Iran and found many times throughout the Bible, like 2 Samuel 6:19 – used in a cake form to feed the Israelites.
Grapes and grapevines – sweet fruits native to parts of Asia and Egypt. Grapes show up all over the Bible in the form of fruit and wine – in more places than we can list!
Almond – native to Iran and spread through the Mediterranean. The sour fruit surrounding the nut was a popular snack dipped in salt. Almond trees show up in Genesis 30:37.
Olive – olives and oil pressed from olives originated in Asia Minor and spread into Iran, Syria, Palestine, and the Mediterranean. Olives and olive oil show up all throughout scripture.
This is just a small list of the vegetation in this region, provided by God. Some of the other produce were:
Um – take me there right now! The fact that God gave this incredibly lush garden to man showed a lot of things:
First, being so rich in vegetation, Eden was a place designed to be the perfect habitation for Adam, and later, Eve. It had every desirable convenience – literally everything that man would ever need, and was outfitted with every tree that looked good to the eye, and every tree that produced fruit that tasted good. For that reason, you get a sense that God not only wanted this food to sustain us by providing nutrients, but he also wanted this food to be a source of enjoyment and pleasure.
Second, the wide array of vegetation provided reflects the fact that God thought about the nutritional needs and palatable desires of man. One might argue that humans can’t live on plants alone, but like we mentioned in the previous episode – we were sustained on vegetation before sin entered the world. Then things changed. Also – there are plenty of vegans that are still kickin’ and healthy!
Third, Adam didn’t have to do anything to prove his worth before he was given the vegetation abundance from God. Tons of trees were already there before Adam even lifted a finger, showing God’s grace. That sounds dangerously familiar. God has given me everything I will ever need to keep kicking – without proving to him my worth. Phew!
However, although we can infer that this vegetation was native to this region, the only two actual trees that are specifically mentioned in this section are the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of life was designed to grant or sustain eternal life, so it was a seal of immortal life. So basically a Peter Pan tree. Its placement in the garden was a daily reminder to man of God and the future – if you ate it. After all, it could have been placed in the corner – but God put it smack-dab in the middle of the garden. Later in the Bible, it is mentioned that the Tree of Life is still available to God’s people in heaven – in Jesus Christ (Revelation 22:2).
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the "temptation" tree – because if you were successfully tempted to eat from this tree, you would get an experiential knowledge of both good and evil – something designed for only God to have.
Moving forward to man finally being placed in the garden, we have to understand that God made man before he planted the garden. Not the other way around. Only after the garden was finished, he placed man there. After all, you don’t start living in a new house while it’s being built.
God intentionally placed Adam in this paradise garden to cultivate and keep the garden – basically his job was to work! Cultivating the garden implies growing food. Keeping the garden implies management so there is order and no chaos. With that in mind, from the very beginning of time, work has been part of man’s life and is important in God’s kingdom. Think about any job you have ever had – you are there to create something, but also to manage it so it doesn’t implode. If you aren’t successful – you fired, man.
I also want to mention that Adam didn’t get a paycheck for this work. Adam worked because God wanted him to – and he did it to advance God’s kingdom. Serving God should be our mission – not getting more money, or a raise, or benefits – although that paycheck is NICE! And in working for God rightly, we are stewarding God’s resources that he graciously gave to us – in the same way that Adam was growing and maintaining the food that God graciously gave him and the people he was supporting.
Through all of this, you might be wondering, if God wanted this perfect world for man, why would he even put a tree in the garden that could tempt and destroy man? That’s a really good question. I mean, I’d probably be tempted to eat from it, too! I love a good apple – if we got some peanut butter. First, we have to realize that all things are God’s and that God is gracious enough to give them to us. So the fruit form of the tree is God’s first – not ours. We aren’t entitled to anything.
Next, the presence of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil presented a choice for Adam. In this way, God gave Adam (and every other human out there) free will. Free will is the ability to act at one's own discretion. However, being gifted with the power of free will also gives us the opportunity – the choice - to rebel against God. With the command to not eat from this tree (and any other command from God), we have the choice to do what we know to be right, or, with our own discretion chose to do what we know to be wrong.
In our society, we can’t stand not being able to do something. Like – if something is that satisfying like eating an entire chocolate cake, or binge-drinking alcohol, or premarital sex – why would he tell us no?! But I think secretly – or not so secretly, you know exactly why – at the end of the day, it would end up bad for us! Just like that, in the case of Adam and Eve, it’s hard for us to understand why God would restrict us from anything so “good” as knowing the difference between good and evil. I mean, why would God not want us to have the power destined only for God? In this case, God wanted Adam and Eve to be innocent to this immensely powerful knowledge.
I think about this like parenting a child. A parent gives a command to a child, and if they aren’t a helicopter parent, they give them the choice to decide if they will be obedient or not. Like when a parent says that the kid isn’t allowed to drive the family car without a parent. The child has the free will to decide whether they are going to obey, or disobey and take the car joy riding. The former shows obedience and love, the latter displays disobedience and sin.
In outlining this command, God provided Adam with only one way to sin. It was the only way that God could check Adam’s fidelity. Think about our lives – you could probably think about 20 ways that you can sin right now - off the top of your head. Adam sort of had it easy, but even so, yall know how that story ends – we’ll talk about that later!
A little further down, Adam intelligently named every animal in his vicinity that he would have dominion over (likely not every single animal out there). He was the all-time zoologist. He must have had some crazy supernaturally-gifted perception and intelligence to know the habits, habitats, uses, and traits of each animal to be able to name them so intricately. Like – could you come up with the name platypus?
After making all the animals in complementary male and female pairs, it was pretty clear to Adam that, unlike these animals, he had no mate. So, it seems that, God in his sneaky and mysterious ways showed Adam that there was a need for a complement – before he gifted Adam with his complement.
Think about it this way. When cell phones started making appearances - you observed from other people with cell phones how helpful they would be in your life. Maybe your friend had one and you saw how quickly they could make a call anywhere, or that they could send texts with a couple clicks. And because you were able to observe that there was a need, you were able to appreciate it that much more.
So Adam had to see the importance and utility of having a partner – before God provided his woman partner – so that Adam truly appreciated it. Otherwise he may take advantage of it and assume “that’s just the way it is”. This may be particularly true in this garden scene because the woman was designed to be a helper suitable for Adam – someone that Adam truly needed.
In being a helper, she was able to help him cultivate and keep the garden.
A couple of nutritional take-homes from this section:
Adam and Eve ate straight from a naturally growing local garden. What local foods are you eating? Find out what local produce grows in your area and eat that! Maybe pomegranates and figs are native to your area, or maybe it’s something crazy delicious like avocado or pears.
After God had already planted the garden, Adam and Eve grew and tended the garden themselves. Are you currently cultivating or keeping your own garden? Start thinking today about what you can grow. If you’re not an experienced green thumb, maybe you start small with an herb garden and branch out.
Eve was Adam’s right-hand woman! Who do you have in your life to help you with your nutrition? Find a partner – a spouse, a friend, family member that will help you with nutrition. Whether that’s growing your garden, or meal prepping together.