East of Eden
Genesis 3:21-24; Psalm 24
Humanity is homesick. We feel restless, estranged, ‘out of place.’ But this is very odd! Where else should we be? Where else have we known? Why should we not feel ‘right at home’ in the world where we live?
Genesis chapter 3 tells us why. Cut off from the LORD, humanity is deported – exiled from our true resting place in God’s presence:
23Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 24So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Genesis 3:23-24)
The human race began on high (Eden was a mountain sanctuary, Ezekiel 28:12-19). But soon we were ‘down and out’. “East of Eden” has been our home away from Home ever since. And we all know that things are not right.
Our first parents would have told their children and grandchildren tales of paradise. The next eight generations would have heard from Adam himself about the life of Eden. And perhaps there’s also a residual memory in our flesh, a primeval nostalgia. Maybe that’s why the older we get, the more we consider our ‘green salad days’ to be behind us. As the saying goes “We’re living in the good old days, just wait and see!”
But whether we yearn for yesterday or hope for tomorrow, we all know that life here and now is profoundly disordered. In biblical terms – we need to make a journey back up the hill. A journey from east to west. But how can we, when those cherubim guard the way with their fiery sword?
Well the tabernacle models the answer. From Exodus 25 onwards we read about the tabernacle, built as a pattern of the gospel reality to come. When the people saw it they would have become very excited. In the west was the sanctuary of God – the Holy of Holies. In a clear reference to our verses today, a thick curtain separated the people from God’s presence and cherubim were woven into the curtain. The tabernacle was preaching to us about our condition, shut out of paradise, east of Eden.
And yet, every year a man would make the journey from east to west, from estrangement and into God’s presence. Every year a man would pass through those deadly cherubim and ascend into the sanctuary. He was the High Priest, and he modelled to the people what Christ would do.
You see Christ came down into our situation to make it His own. He took our predicament on Himself, exhausting the curse of death in His own body. He left our sins dead and buried – as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Then He arose to newness of life and ascended back up the hill into the presence of His Father. There He was not prevented by the angels but proclaimed:
7 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. (Psalm 24:7-10)
Those who are east of Eden have no hope in themselves. We cannot regain paradise in our own strength. The cherubim, the flaming sword, the curtain all stand in the way. But Christ, our Forerunner, has marched up the hill. He has taken our side, east of Eden, and has journeyed west on our behalf. There He sits – at God’s right hand – and He does so for us.
The night before the cross, Jesus made this promise to His followers:
2In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:2-3)
We are homesick exiles, east of Eden. But let us not yearn for a golden past. In Christ let us hope for a bright tomorrow. For where He is, there we will also be!