Sunday, September 19, 2010

From Wilderness to Promised Land: The Experience of Adam, Israel, and Jesus

Most Christians are familiar with the idea that Adam was expelled from the garden of Eden to live effectively in the wilderness, but the idea that Adam commenced his life outside the garden is not so well known. Adam was not created inside the garden! This observation highlights some important biblical theological truths.

Firstly, to prove that Adam was indeed created outside of the garden. Thankfully, this is not too difficult to prove. The creation of Adam occurs in Gen 2:7, and the planting of the garden and Adam’s placement therein occurs in the next verse, i.e., in Gen 2:8. The NIV translation of ויטע and he planted into the English past perfect he had planted suggests that the garden was planted by God prior to the creation of Adam. But this is unlikely from the point of view of the original Hebrew. The most natural reading of the Hebrew is that the preterite verbs in Gen 2:7–8 (וייצר and he formed ... ויפח and he breathed ... ויהי and he became ... ויטע and he planted ... וישם and he placed) should be understood in the typical Hebrew manner as being temporally sequential.

In other words, Adam was not only created outside the garden of Eden, but he was created even before the garden had come into existence. This means that Adam was not only conscious of his “wilderness” origin—Genesis 2:5; 3:23 allow us to use the term wilderness of the land where Adam was created—but we can also assume that Adam would also have witnessed God planting the garden. He was, after all, conscious at the time. Imagine it from Adam’s perspective: after seeing God planting and getting everything ready, all of a sudden he is led by God into the garden that has been prepared almost as if it were specially for him. Imagine being led through a tree-lined entrance into the heart of a magnificent garden oasis. Adam knew the difference between the wilderness and the garden! He knew what it was to be the recipient of God’s (non-redemptive) grace from the very beginning.

Furthermore, noticing that Adam was created outside of the garden helps us to see that the important from wilderness to promised land theme of the Bible was something that was in operation from the very beginning. Just as Adam was led from the wilderness into the “promised land” of the garden of Eden, only to be expelled; Israel too would repeat this sequence. From the wilderness, John the Baptist proclaimed the arrival of the true Adam and the true Israel in the person of Jesus. Like with Adam and Israel, Jesus’ ministry began in the wilderness. There he was baptized, and there he was tempted; but unlike forgetful Israel, Jesus remembered the lessons of the wilderness (Matt 4:1–10): that “man [does] not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (a quotation of Deut 8:3 read in the light of Deut 8:2); that “you shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut 6:16 read in the light of Deut 6:10–12); and that “you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Deut 6:13 also read in the light of Deut 6:10–12). Knowing the lessons of the wilderness, Jesus would not repeat the mistake of his forefathers, and the cycle of wilderness to promised land to wilderness was broken. Through his death, resurrection, and ascension, permanent human habitation of the promised land has been achieved.

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