God’s Garden, Genesis 2:8-17

These verses give considerable attention to the description of the garden. We may be tempted to view this garden as simply the setting for the story of Adam and Eve (i.e., the setting for the Adamic probation). Yet, all these details about the garden, its creator, stipulations, descriptions, etc. suggest something more may be involved.


2:8 — And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.

The first thing we learn about the “garden” is that God planted it (“the LORD God planted a garden”). Why? It may be because nothing had sprung up and “there was no man to work the ground” (v. 5). We learn that God placed Adam in the garden “to work it and keep it” (v. 15).

Secondly, He planted it in “Eden” (which also means ‘luxury’ or ‘delight’).[1] The garden was a smaller plot in Eden — it was a place. Both the name and v. 9 clearly indicate that Eden was indeed a delightful place. God planted it and it was like a paradise (LXX, paradeison, τῷ παραδείσῳ). Later on in Genesis 13:10, we read how the Jordan Valley “was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord…”

Thirdly, man was “put” in Eden. God planted a garden in Eden and Adam and Eve were placed in that place. As so many commentators have noted, this means that their “surroundings” were ideal — it was the best place on earth. Furthermore, this also sets the pattern for humanity. He is placed in a place; he is not his own or on his own “to find himself.” Man was deliberately placed into a specific place for God’s purpose.

But is this reference to the garden more than just a horticultural reference to a fertile plot of land? Does it depict something more? Kline believes it does: “As the garden of God (cf. Is. 51:3; Ezk. 28:13; 31:9), the garden was a holy place and man’s position there involved priestly vocation.”[2] Kline does not seem to be alone. Gordon Wenham offers a few observations. From the name Eden he says, “This lush fecundity [fruitfulness, fertility] was a sign of God’s presence in and blessing on Eden.” He also notes that the phrase “in the east” connotes something important. “For in the east the sun rises, and light is a favorite biblical metaphor for divine revelation (Isa 2:2–4; Ps 36:10).” From this he concludes: “So it seems likely that this description of “the garden in Eden in the east” is symbolic of a place where God dwells. Indeed, there are many other features of the garden that suggest it is seen as an archetypal sanctuary, prefiguring the later tabernacle and temples.”[3]

What makes all this plausible actually comes later from Gen. 3:9 and 3:23. In 3:9 we read, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day [or “in the breeze [לְרוּחַ] of the day”]…” This suggests that God walked in the garden and where the Lord is, it is Holy (that He walked in the garden is not presented to us as if it were odd or unusual). In 3:23, man is also banned from the garden of Eden. Life comes from God (“the tree of life”) and man was separated from God (as indicated by being exiled from the garden). The garden was more than just a place of fruits and vegetables.

The garden also typified the promised land. That is, the garden imagery was used as a land of rest, the promised land to Abraham, etc.

Isaiah 51:3: “The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD.”

Eze 36:35: “This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden.”

Joel 2:3: “Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste.”

Zechariah 14:8: “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem.”

Revelation 22:1–2: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.”[4]


2:9 — And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

This verse describes what God caused to grow in the garden (see 1:11-13). First of all, these wonderful trees sprung up by God’s command (“God made to spring up”). These trees looked beautiful and perfectly fitted to be food: the phrase “emphasizes the abundance of God’s provision.”[5] “Here God plants and causes to grow ‘every [kind of] tree’ that is delightful and pleasurable to the eye and to the tongue, and they exist in the garden.”[6]

Secondly, two additional special trees were placed in the garden. The “tree of life” was found “in the midst of the garden” which means it was in the “very heart, or middle, of the garden.”[7] We should not view this as some magical tree (like Ponce de León’s mythical fountain of youth).[8] Its benefit to and purpose for Adam and Eve will become clear in the following verses. At this point, we are told that it was one of the two special trees in the middle of the garden.

Thirdly, the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” might have been in the middle as well (cf. 3:3), though we cannot be certain. Since the tree of life would give life once they ate of it, the tree of knowledge of good and evil would lead to the ability to discern good and evil (in some manner). One thing that is not stated about these trees is that they were “good for food” — that is, they were not available for consumption like the other trees. Kindner’s observation about the nature of these trees is the most sensible.

It does not make the trees magical (for the Old Testament has no room for blind forces, only for the acts of God), but rather sacramental, in the broad sense of the word, in that they are the physical means of a spiritual transaction. The fruit, not in its own right, but as appointed to a function and carrying a word from God, confronts man with God’s will, particular and explicit, and gives man a decisive Yes or No to say with his whole being.[9]


2:10-14 — A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

Since there was no rain, we learn how the garden was cared for. From Eden, a river flowed out to water the garden. From the garden, it divided into four rivers. We know of Tigris (cf. Dan. 10:4) and the Euphrates; the first two rivers cannot be located with certainty.

Note that the amount of description given to each of the four rivers is in inverse proportion to the certainty of the identification of each of the rivers.”[10] From those details, we learn that the rivers from Eden seemed to have richly blessed the other lands. Kline said, “Eden’s fertility and its surrounding treasures fulfilled the promise of its name (v. 8) and manifested the favour of God.[11]

These details compel us to view Eden as a real place. Furthermore, some vast changes (e.g. the flood) took place in the land from the time of Adam to Moses since half of those rivers are unknown to us.


2:15 — The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

This verse revisits v. 8 adding the important detail of Adam’s commission. Among the things man was called to do was to “subdue” the earth (1:28). Perhaps working on and keeping the garden was an expression of that? Nonetheless, as Hamilton points out, “There is no magic in Eden. Gardens cannot look after themselves; they are not self-perpetuating.”[12] God placed Adam there as a servant to work! Again, he is not there without a purpose — his purpose was to labor.

Work is God given and essential to man’s nature and calling. Man is a servant worker for the Lord; his goal is not to avoid work but to obey God by working. “The point is made clear here that physical labor is not a consequence of sin. Work enters the picture before sin does, and if man had never sinned he still would be working. Eden certainly is not a paradise in which man passes his time in idyllic and uninterrupted bliss with absolutely no demands on his daily schedule.”[13]

The word for “work it” (לְעָבְדָהּ) is used commonly for cultivating soil (cf. 3:23; 4:2, 12, etc.) as well as depicting the duties of the Levites (Num. 3:7-8; 4:23-24, 26). The word for “keep it” (לְשָׁמְרָהּ) is often used observing religious duties (Lev. 17:9; Lev. 18:5). Both words are used in Num. 3:7-8; 8:26; 18:5-6 when describing the services of the priests. Many commentators believe this hints at the similarities between the priestly duties of the Levites in the tabernacle and Adam’s duties in the garden.

Sailhamer also notes that since God put Adam in the garden, it meant he was to have fellowship with God (3:8). Since God was in the garden (if this point has been established), then placing him in the garden meant working for God in the garden as well as fellowshipping with Him were not mutually exclusive. In fact, working expressed obedience to God and in working, he had fellowship with Him since his work was in the place God dwelt or frequented.

“Human beings are not autonomous, but live under a divine law. There are boundaries, much as there are for the people Israel, whom God puts in their garden, Canaan. As long as one lives in ways that honor God, one remains in the garden/Canaan. But defiance of the boundaries set by God means expulsion from the garden/Canaan.”[14]


2:16-17 — And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Man in his innocent created state had God’s command, “the LORD God commanded man…” God’s law functioned to regulate Adam. Not only was he placed in the garden to work, he was also given specific prohibitions. The form of this prohibition is similar to form used in the Ten Commandments.[15]

Before the prohibition, God graciously offered every tree in the garden from which they were to eat. Everything except this tree was permitted.

Kline says that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as the focus of this trial or test, “stood in Adam’s path to the tree of life, the sacramental seal of the proffered consummation of blessing.”[16] This is probably true. We are never told if they ever ate of the tree of life; presumably they did not (cf. 3:22).

The inference of God’s commands in 2:16–17 is that only God knows what is good (tob) for humanity and only God knows what is not good (ra) for them. To enjoy the “good,” humankind must trust God and obey him. If they disobey, they will be left to decide for themselves what is good (tob) and what is not good (ra). While to our modern age such a prospect may seem desirable, to the author of Genesis it is the worst fate that could have befallen humankind, for only God knows what is good (tob) for humanity.[17]



  1. Man is placed on earth with a purpose — to serve and know God.


  1. Work is not a curse. We have been created to work for God.


  1. Man failed in the perfect garden. Jesus is the true gardener who obeyed in the garden of Gethsemane to deliver disobedient gardeners.

      Adam was to “garden” the whole earth, for the glory of the heavenly Father. But he failed. Created to make the dust fruitful, he himself became part of the dust. The garden of Eden became the wilderness of this world. But do you also remember how John’s Gospel records what happened on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection? He was “the beginning [of the new creation], the firstborn from the dead.” But Mary Magdalene did not recognize him; instead she spoke to him “supposing him to be the gardener.” Well, who else would he be, at that time in the morning?

The gardener? Yes, indeed. He is the Gardener. He is the second Man, the last Adam, who is now beginning to restore the garden.

Later that day Jesus showed his disciples where the nails and the spear had drawn blood from his hands and side. The Serpent had indeed crushed his heel. But he had crushed the Serpent’s head! Now he was planning to turn the wilderness back into a garden. Soon he would send his disciples into the world with the good news of his victory. All authority on earth—lost by Adam— was now regained. The world must now be reclaimed for Jesus the conqueror!

In the closing scenes of the book of Revelation, John saw the new earth coming down from heaven. What did it look like? A garden in which the tree of life stands![18]

[1] Cf. John Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1–16, Old Testament for Everyone (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2010), 34. Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (WBC 1; Accordance/Thomas Nelson electronic ed. Waco: Word Books, 1987), 61: “Whenever Eden is mentioned in Scripture it is pictured as a fertile area, a well-watered oasis with large trees growing (cf. Isa 51:3; Ezek 31:9, 16, 18; 36:35, etc.), a very attractive prospect in the arid East.”

[2] Meredith Kline, “Genesis,” in The New Bible Dictionary: Revised, ed. D. Guthrie and J. A. Motyer (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 83. Also Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), 48: “Man’s homesite was hallowed ground. The garden of Eden was not only the original land flowing with milk and honey, it was the original holy land. Paradise was a sanctuary, a temple-garden. Agreeably, Ezekiel calls it ‘the garden of God’ (28:13; 31:8f.) and Isaiah, “the garden of the Lord” (51:3).”

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 61.

[4] These were taken from John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in Genesis-Leviticus (vol. 1 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 76.

[5] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 62.

[6] John D. Currid, A Study Commentary on Genesis: Genesis 1:1–25:18, vol. 1, EP Study Commentary (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, n.d.), 101.

[7] Currid, A Study Commentary on Genesis, 101.

[8] OK, maybe Ponce de León never really searched for this fount. The closest thing to it is the Five Hour energy drink!

[9] Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC 1; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 67.

[10] Sailhamer, “Genesis,” 77.

[11] Kline, “Genesis,” 84.

[12] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17 (NICOT; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 171.

[13] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, 171.

[14] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 29.

[15] Cf. Wenham, Genesis, 67.

[16] Kline, “Genesis,” 84.

[17] Sailhamer, “Genesis,” 80.

[18] Alistair Begg and Sinclair B. Ferguson, Name above All Names (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 34-35. This is cited also in the website noted above.

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