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Life as the Enjoyment of the Covenant Communion Bond: The Garden of God

The Lord does not breathe into man the breath of life for him to exist in the abstract, nor for him to struggle to find purpose through some existential crisis; rather, the life that God imparts to man is to be understood concretely within the covenantal realm of the garden-kingdom where personal fellowship with God was to be experienced.[1] The Lord put the man he formed in the garden he planted, so that man’s life with God—a covenant communion bond exercised in the reciprocal giving of one’s whole self to the other—would be concretized in a holy realm. Immediately following God’s conferral of life upon man, he puts him in his personally cultivated garden-kingdom:

[T]hen the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed (Gen. 2:7-8).

Life cannot be possessed in the abstract, but only in relation to the source of life himself. As Kline writes,

Eternal life properly so called, the life signified by the tree of life, is life as confirmed and ultimately perfected in man’s glory-likeness to God, life in the fellowship of God’s Presence. Access to the tree of life and its fruit is only in the holy place where the Glory-Spirit dwells; to be driven from there is to be placed under judgment of death.[2]

This is the consistent testimony of Scripture.

Life is invigorated within a holy kingdom filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14).

The true path of life leads into a realm maximally charged with the presence of God where there is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11).

Life is found there, where God receives unto himself a people to be his special possession and he gives himself to them as their God (Exod. 6:7; Lev. 26:12).

True life is nothing less than to possess God himself as one’s inheritance (Ps. 73:26; Rom. 8:17).

This concrete conception of life as a covenantal communion bond with God is evident from at least two elements contained in Genesis 1-3: (1) the garden of God and (2) the tree of life. We’ll consider the first in this article.

That the garden-kingdom was a theocentric realm where God placed man in personal relationship with himself is seen in that it was a garden he personally planted and was called the garden of God (Gen. 2:8; Ezek. 28:13; 31:8, 9). The garden, according to Vos, was “not in the first instance an abode for man as such, but specifically a place of reception of man into fellowship with God in God’s own dwelling-place.”[3] The garden was a created holy realm or kingdom that facilitated life, that is, union and communion with God.[4] It was the place where God walked with man in life-giving fellowship (Gen. 3:8).

The same point can also be argued by way of contrast. Death, as the opposite of life, is banishment from the kingdom where God’s presence abides and so to have the communion bond with the source of life severed.

In the Bible, death is the reverse of life—it is not the reverse of existence. To die does not mean to cease to be, but in biblical terms it means ‘cut off from the land of the living,; henceforth unable to act, and to enter another condition.[5]

Collins notes that מות can refer to a kind of “spiritual death,” that is “estrangement from a life-giving relationship with God.”[6] This sense is found in Prov. 12:28, “In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death” (see also Prov. 23:13-14). More pointedly, Vos writes,

It was intimated that death carried with it separation from God, since sin issued both in death and in the exclusion from the garden. If life consisted in communion with God, then, on the principle of opposites, death may have been interpretable as separation from God.[7]

So in carrying out the judgment of death in response to Adam’s disobedience, God drove man out of the garden of God, that is, out of his kingdom and so away from his life-giving presence (Gen. 3:24).[8] For this reason, the later exile of Israel from the promised land, in which the typological kingdom of God was established, was understood as a kind of death from which the nation would need to be resurrected like dry bones to new life (Ezek. 37:1-14).

[1] For an extensive argument for the garden as God’s covenant-kingdom see Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 22-61. See also G. K. Beale, New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, 617-22.

[2] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 94-95.

[3] Vos, Biblical Theology, 27.

[4] See Van Groningen, From Creation to Consummation, 1:71-72: “Eden … was the place of life.”

[5] Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis, 171.

[6] Collins, Genesis 1-4, 117.

[7] Vos, Biblical Theology, 40.

[8] Those who are sentenced to eschatological death in Revelation are found outside the gates of the city (Rev. 22:15), having no right of access to the tree of life (22:14).


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