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White Horse Inn: Conversational Theology

Exiled from God’s Temple Garden


Shane Rosenthal

Release date:

May 18, 2021



After God spoke the universe into existence as recorded in the early chapters of Genesis, he went on to create man from the dust of the earth and placed him in the Garden of Eden. This was actually no ordinary garden, but was a special place in which mankind was first called to live in peace and harmony with his creator. In fact, as a number of scholars have pointed out, there are numerous similarities between the description of the Garden of Eden, and the language that is used to describe Israel’s Tabernacle and later Temple. 

The first of these similarities has to do with Adam’s priestly vocation. For example, in Gen 2:15 we’re specifically told that Adam was called to work and keep the garden, and it just so happens that we frequently find these same two verbs together as a description of the responsibilities of the Levitical priests who were called to serve and guard the Tent of Meeting, where God met with the people of Israel. What this indicates is that we should not think of the Garden of Eden here in Genesis primarily as a place merely for growing vegetables, but rather as God’s “Temple Garden,” the place of his holy dwelling. Adam was stationed there as a kind of priest-king, who was called to not only to serve and guard this Temple Garden, but also to expand the boundaries of God’s holy dwelling place by multiplying and filling the earth with royal image bearers who would love and serve the Lord faithfully.

This view of Adam’s vocation is not a new perspective, but is one that we find clearly presented in an ancient Christian document known as The Cave of Treasures, written sometime before 630 AD. According to this text, “Because Adam was priest, king and prophet, God brought him into paradise in order to minister in Eden like a priest of the holy Church as testifies the blessed Moses concerning him: ‘That he may tend it,’ that is, for God through priestly ministry in glory, ‘and keep it,’ that is, the commandment which had been entrusted to him…” (Bauckham, 543).

Yet, as all of us are painfully aware, something went horribly wrong. Though Adam was called to guard the sacred Temple Garden, he ended up allowing God’s arch-enemy to twist and distort God’s holy word, and as a result, both he and his wife were completely deceived. Having bought the lie, they committed high treason against the sovereign king of all creation. 

According to Gen 3:8, after tasting of the forbidden fruit, our first parents became aware of their nakedness and “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD among the trees of the garden.” There’s actually quite a number of things going on in this one verse. First of all it says Adam and Eve hid from God. After the fall, this is now our natural tendency. We no longer seek God, but because of the guilt and shame of original sin, all of us have a built in desire to flee from his holy presence and prefer to serve “idols” of our own making. According to John 3:19-20, thought “light came in to the world, people loved darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

When we’re told that Adam and Eve “hid from God’s presence,” that could also be translated to say that they “hid from his face,” which in some ways is an attractive option in light of what God later revealed to Moses in Ex 33 when he declared that “no one can see my face and live.” You see, before the fall, man walked and talked with his creator “face to face,” and now, because of our sinful nature, we instinctively know that we must turn our gaze away from the face of this God “who dwells in unapproachable light” (1Tim 6:16). 

Another thing we should think about is the location of Adam and Eve’s hiding place. When they heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden, we’re told that “the man and his wife hid themselves…among the trees of the garden.”  They instinctively knew that as sinners, they needed to put something between themselves and God’s holy presence, and in Gen 3:8 they chose the trees that were in the midst of the garden, the leaves of which they also used to cover the shame of their nakedness. 

When God eventually finds Adam and Eve, he first questions them about their actions and then pronounces the curses of the covenant. But he also does something totally unexpected. Before he expelled them from his Temple Garden, the Lord slaughtered an animal, and made garments of skin to cover their nakedness (Gen 3:21). In Gen. 3:23-24 we’re told that “the LORD God…drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”

It’s interesting that the word “guard” is used at this point in the Genesis narrative. Essentially, because Adam failed in his calling, God removed him from his high office, and placed the heavenly cherubim there at the entrance of the Temple Garden in order to guard its sacred entrance. Though Adam and Eve no longer have access to the Garden of Eden, in the next few chapters we still find them serving Yahweh. In fact, in time their sons Cain and Abel will not only work the ground, but will also serve God with priest-like duties, as they present various offerings to the Lord, outside the entrance of Temple Garden to the east. 

On one particular occasion, Cain brought some fruits and vegetables to the Lord as a kind of thank offering, while Abel offered a young lamb with its fat portions as a sin offering. You know the story; Cain’s offering was rejected and Abel’s was accepted. So in a jealous rage, Cain then murdered his brother, and in Gen 4:12, God cursed Cain saying that as a result of his crime, he shall now “be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” And in verse 16 we’re told that “Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod,east of Eden.”

Now fast forward to the time of Moses. As God’s free and adopted children, the people of Israel were called to worship and serve Yahweh exclusively, since he was the one true God of heaven and earth. After the Exodus, Moses was told to build a tabernacle so that the people could worship God acceptably. This tabernacle was to have three main sections. First, there was an outer courtyard with a single entrance which faced east. Set inside this large courtyard was the tent of meeting, which also had a single entrance that faced east. In front of the entrance to this tent of meeting was the altar of sacrifice in which the people were to bring their victims to the priests for the cleansing and remission of sin.

The people of Israel were only allowed to enter this first section of the tabernacle which faced the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. Only certain priests were allowed to enter the Tent of Meeting, which itself was divided into two sections. The first part was called the Holy place which only the priests were allowed to enter, and the second part was called The Most Holy place, or the Holy of Holies, and into this section no one but the high priest was allowed to enter, and even he was barred from entering except on one particular day each year, and not without blood (Heb. 9:7).

It’s important to realize that what we find here in Exodus concerning the three courts of the Tabernacle, namely the outer courtyard, the Holy place and the most holy place, all point us back to things we encountered in the first three chapters of the book of Genesis. In fact, in a Jewish text written approximately a hundred and fifty years before the time of Christ, we read that “the garden of Eden was the holy of holies and the dwelling of the Lord” (Jub 3:19). In other words, it was a common Jewish way of thinking to see the tabernacle (as well as what would later become the Temple) as a kind of new Eden, where man was invited once again to walk with his creator. 

In his original state, man had no problem relating to God, but once our first parents sinned against their creator, they were sent away and exiled from his presence. In the first place, they veiled themselves from the face of God by hiding among the trees, and covering their nakedness with fig leaves. Next they were exiled from the garden, which the cherubim were then called to guard, and later in the narrative we find Cain sent away further east, outside of Eden completely after he had murdered his brother Abel. 

But if you think about it, what we have here are the same three zones of the tabernacle that Moses was instructed to build. The Holy of Holies corresponds to the midst of the garden where Adam and Eve beheld God’s face. After they sinned, our first parents hid behind trees in order to veil God’s glory which had now become a terror to them. So too, in the tent of meeting, a veil was put up in order to separate the holy place from the most holy place.

Just as God clothed our first parents with animal skins, so too the tent of the sanctuary was to be covered with goatskins (Ex 26:14). We also read that priests who enter the tent of meeting “must cover their nakedness, lest they die” (Ex 28:41-43). Representations of the Cherubim were woven into the fabric that lined the inside of the of this tent (Ex 26:31-33), recalling to mind the heavenly beings that once guarded the entrance to the Garden of Eden, yet now, here in this account of the tabernacle, the Levites are given the responsibility to “keep guard” as they serve at the tent of meeting (Num 18:1-7). These were the same two verbs that we looked at earlier from Gen 2:15 which highlighted Adam’s vocation as a kind of priest who was called to work and keep God’s Temple Garden.Here at the tabernacle, the Levites were re-issued this original commission, to serve Yahweh faithfully, and to guard his holy sanctuary.

Once Adam and Eve fell from their original state of righteousness, they were expelled to the east of the Temple Garden, where they lived for some time, and where their sons would eventually grow up and perform various priestly duties. As we read, Abel worshiped God in a way that was appropriate for a fallen sinner, by offering up the firstborn of his flock with its fat portions. Again, we have a remarkable similarity here to what we find in the description of the tabernacle. If the tent of meeting is essentially analogous to the Garden of Eden, the outer courtyard is analogous to the outskirts of Eden. Just as the entrance to the garden was guarded by the Cherubim, the entrance to the Sanctuary is guarded by the Levites. And it’s in this area, in both accounts, that we find the altar of sacrifice. In Ex 29:42 God revealed to Moses that the altar of sacrifice is to be situated at the entrance to the tent of meeting, which is before the Lord, that is in front of the place where God promised to meet and speak with his people in the holiest part of the Tent of meeting.

On that fateful day in which Cain slew his brother Abel, he was driven further east, in fact, east of Eden itself. Similarly, there was only one entrance to the courtyard of the tabernacle, which also happened to be on the eastern side. Like the cherubim of Gen. 3:24, the Levites were called to guard this entrance so that if a person came in the wrong way or at the wrong time, they were specifically told instructed to put them to death (Num 1:51). 

What’s interesting is that in Lev 16 we’re told that in order for Aaron, or any future high priest for that matter, to enter beyond the veil to the holy of holies, two male goats must be presented at the entrance of the sanctuary in the courtyard of the tabernacle. One was to be slaughtered, and the other was to be exiled to the wilderness. This second goat we refer to as the scapegoat. In fact, it was actually both the sacrifice of one, and the exile of the other that provided atonement (Lev. 16:10, 20-22), and made a secure path for the high priest to enter beyond the veil, where he could once again meet with Yahweh.

And yet, think about how similar all this is to the story we read in Genesis chapter 4. As they resided in the outskirts of Eden, east of the entrance to the Garden of Eden, Cain looked with jealousy upon his brother and slew him. Yet mysteriously, he was not given a death sentence for his capital crime.” Commentators have often struggled to come up with an adequate explanation for God’s protection of Cain, but I think the best explanation has to do with the way in which his story fits with later episodes in redemptive history. You see, God appears to be telling Moses in Leviticus 16, that the way back to God’s holy dwelling is still barred. No one but the high priest may enter, and in order to secure his entrance, specific rituals must be performed, rituals that point back to the scene of our original exile, to the time in which one of two brothers was slaughtered, and the other was exiled. This I believe is the significance of the ritual that was revealed to Moses concerning the two goats, one of which was to be sacrificed, and the other sent  away into the wilderness. This ritual not only pointed the people of Israel back to the scene of the original mutiny, as recorded in the early chapters of Genesis, but I believe that it also points forward, to the ultimate resolution and restoration of all things that we find in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

As mentioned earlier, Moses was given specific instructions concerning two male goats which were to be brought before the Tent of Meeting, one of which was to be sacrificed, and the other which was to be taken outside the camp, and let go in the wilderness. This not only has parallels to the tragic tale of Cain and Abel, but the instructions that Moses received also remarkably point us forward to Christ. 

According to the Nestle-Aland Greek NT (and reflected in a few English translations such as the NRSV and the latest edition of the NIV) Pilate actually presented two men by the name of “Jesus” to the chief priests and rulers of Israel who had gathered to hear his verdict on that fateful morning. According Bruce Metzger, numerous ancient manuscripts indicate that Barabbas was also known as Jesus, and many later manuscripts which omit this additional name have notes in the margins explaining the omission. Here’s the way Mt 27:17 reads when this textual variant is added:  “Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”

According to Matthew’s narrative, what happens next is that the Jewish leaders request the release of Jesus Barabbas, (who we’re told in Mk 15:7 had committed murder during an insurrection) while Jesus Christ was delivered over to be crucified. Think about how close all this is to the story of Cain and Abel in which the one who offered up true worship was killed while the murderer was set free and sent away. Think also how it parallels the account we read in Lev. 16 concerning the two male goats which were to be brought before the priests; one of which was to be slaughtered, while the other was to be set free in the wilderness (Lev 16:7-10). In short, the words of Moses seem to be pointing us back to the events surrounding the fall in the early chapters of Genesis, as well as forward to the time of our ultimate liberation from the curse of fall, to the redemption that we find in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So like Abel, Jesus suffered at the hand of his brothers, but unlike Abel, his blood speaks a better word, crying out, not for vengeance, but for mercy (Heb. 12:24) just like the blood of the sacrificial victim that was sprinkled on the mercy seat in the holy holies. The blood of these victims was only a temporary placeholder, a signpost if you will, that pointed forward to the ultimate Lamb of God who would come once for all in the fullness of time in order to shed his blood and to give his life as a ransom for many. 

Hebrews 13:11-13 tells us that “The bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” In other words, Jesus was exiled outside of the gate of Jerusalem — outside of God’s camp, which itself was symbolic of his holy dwelling in Second Temple Judaism. Because of our sin, all of us deserve to be evicted from God’s presence. Yet here the author to the Hebrews reveals that Jesus bore this curse for us. He was exiled, so that we could be welcomed into his presence. Though he committed no sin, he was treated as one who deserved to be taken outside the camp to the place of execution. But he was despised, rejected, and sent away, so that we could be loved, treasured and reconciled.

This is the good news that lies at the heart of the Christian gospel. Ultimately, the good news is centered on the work of the second Adam who came in the fullness of time to undue our curse by living and dying in our place. And so, if we are in Christ, we will never be ashamed, forsaken, or separated from God’s everlasting presence, since he has already suffered these things for us. In him we are completely reconciled, clothed in fine apparel, and adopted into his family. According to Rev. 22:3, his saints will worship at the throne of God and the lamb: “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”