The Garden of Eden was not a garden named Eden, but a garden in a place called Eden. Where Eden was no one can say. It is very likely that the original garden was destroyed in the flood. Ezekiel tells us that the trees of Eden were brought down to the nether part of the earth (Ezek. 31:18). In any event, God’s judgement on man’s sin was to bar his presence in the garden by driving him out and placing cheribim with flaming swords to keep or block the entrance into the garden (Gen. 3:24). The implication seems to be that man can no longer experience this place. Our knowledge of it now must be limited to what the scriptures teach us of it.
Most translations tell us Eden was “eastward.” The King James Version translates this as saying God planted His garden “eastward in Eden” (Gen. 2:8). If this is the correct translation, then we must ask, was it that Eden was in the east and the garden was placed there or was it that the garden was placed in the east of Eden? The language is not definitive enough to discern.
There is another possibility. The word translated “eastward” is used in two ways in the scriptures. One way it is used is in reference to location. Fifty times in the Old Testament the word “mikkedem” is translated as some form of the word “east.” However, at least another thirty times it is used with reference to time (old 17, ancient 6, before 3, ancient time 2, aforetime 1, eternal 1, everlasting 1). God is from “mikkedem” or “everlasting” (Hab. 1:12). “The days of old (mikkedem)” (Micah 7:20). The wise man said “The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old (mikkedem)” (Proverbs 8:22). So it is legitimate to translate this word as relating to time not to place.
Could it be that Moses was saying that God had already planted a garden “before,” i.e., when He had made the trees (the third day-Gen. 1:9-13)? Some early translations support this. Wycliffe (1394, Purvey Revision) translates mikkedem as “at the beginning.” Tyndale (1533) translated it “from the beginning.” Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translated mikkedem as “a principio” (“from the beginning”). The 1899 Douay-Rheims versions reads “And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning.”
So whether the garden was planted in the east or it was already planted and prepared before, the word Eden means delight. It was a garden of delights. A Paradise. The physical description of the garden is one of a lush and beautiful and luxurious place. It is referred to as the garden of God (Ezek. 31:9). Every precious stone seemed to be strewn on the ground, stones like gold, bdellium and the onyx stone (Gen. 2:12). Ezekiel says there was also sardius, topaz, diamond, jasper, sapphire and emerald and Ezekiel calls these the stones of fire (Ezek. 28:13). It must have been like seeing flashes of multi-colored fire as the sun glanced off each gem.
A lively river of the purest water this world has ever known ran out from Eden into the garden to water it. Rivers generally start from higher sources like mountain glacial formations. Whether or not they would have existed in a pre-flood environment is not known. But there were also sub-terrainian water chambers, the fountains of the great deep (Gen. 7:11), which could have supplied the source. But Ezekiel mentions that connected with the garden of God was the holy mountain of God. The garden of God was not in some low lying plain, but in a mountain, supplied by an even higher source of living water.
The rivers that are mentioned in Genesis as connected with the garden cannot be used to locate either Eden or the garden. The topography of the earth would have been completely altered by the hydrolic forces of the flood. In any event, there is no place where the rivers mentioned in Genesis all come together to fit the Biblical description. As one commentator noted, “It is impossible, however, to imagine how any of the great rivers that are mentioned in the tabular view can ever have been united in one stream” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown). Scholars have in vain tried to fit the pieces together only to be met with abject failure, not because the Biblical descripion is faulty, but because it is just a description of something that no longer exists. The names of these old, pre-flood rivers being applied to new, post flood rivers by Noah and his descendents after they reinhabited the new world.
Every kind of tree was present in the garden. Every tree that was pleasant in sight and good for food. The beauty and grandeur of these stately and satisfying flora was emphasized again by the prophet Ezekiel when he represented the leaders of the nations as trees. When the Assyrian was held up as an example, when seen as a tree, even all the trees of Eden envied him, showing that the trees of Eden were the standard by which to judge such vegetation (Ezek. 31:9). Perhaps the Redwoods of the California Redwood Forest give us a glimpse of their grandeur. Imagine cedars, fir and chesnut trees of this magnitude making their home in the garden of Eden (Ezek. 31:8).
Of course, there were two other trees of great significance. The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Of every single tree and plant man was allowed by the Lord to partake, save one, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. One tree brought life, the other death. The many lessons of these trees are for another lesson save only this, that to do what God forbids leads only to death and corruption.
It has been said there was no law in the Garden, but this is manifestly false. God put man in the Garden with a purpose. Without man there was no one to till the ground (Gen. 2:5). So God placed man in the Garden to dress it and to keep it (Gen. 2:15). God’s directive to man was to work and keep up this Garden. Furthermore, God also commanded man from taking of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:16). Even in man’s primitive, pristine, pure state, there was law to be obeyed. How much more today in the sin-cursed world.
This wondrous garden of God was man’s orginal home. Man’s every need–physical, social, moral, intellectual, spiritual–was fully met. He was in perfect fellowship with Jehovah and walked with Him in the garden among the stones of fire (Gen. 3:8). There was no shame, nothing to cause man to hide from the Lord and there was nothing to hide. Until… Until man broke faith with the Lord and violated His will. Then the world very literally began to fall apart as the force of God’s condemnation weakens the forces He put in place to sustain the world and one day, when He is ready, it shall melt with fervent heat and dissolve away with a great noise (II Pet. 3:10-12).
The old serpent subtilly entrapped man with his mortal lies. Because of sin, man was driven from his home, placed under a curse, lost his ability to grasp life, lost his innocence, lost his fellowship with God and lost his salvation. The way to Eden was blocked and no sinful mortal could ever find his way back to walking with the Lord among the stones of fire.
But all hope was not lost. We’ll speak of Paradise again.
Eric L. Padgett