In recent years it has become common for theologians to give focused treatment to the sphere (i.e. the sacred space) in which redemption occurs. The Temple motif–from the Garden of Eden to the Heavenly City (i.e. the New Jerusalem)–is traced out in such noteworthy works as O. Palmer Robertson’s Christ of the Prophets, and Understanding the Land of the Bible; T. Desmond Alexander’s From Paradise to the Promised Land, and From Eden to the New Jerusalem; William J. Dumbrell’s Covenant and Creation; G.K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission, John Fesko’s Last Things First, and Meredith Kline’s Kingdom Prologue.
The restoration of Eden moves from the Garden of Eden to the Land of Israel to the Temple to the incarnate Jesus to His eternal dwelling with His Bride, the Church. The Scriptures move through all of these “dwelling places” from the Garden-Temple (Gen. 2-3) to the Garden-Bride (Rev. 21-22). All of this is built upon the fact that man was made out of “the ground.” A biblical-theological consideration of “the ground” will help us better tie all of this together from creation to the new creation in Christ.
Eden was a special place, a physical location (i.e. a land), in which Adam was place by God at Creation. Man was made from “the ground” outside of the Garden and then, by God’s grace, was placed within this paradisical sacred space. It was the prototypical Promised Land. There is also identification between Eden and the Temple–the place where God is worshiped by man, and where God dwells with man. The presence of lilies, palm trees, and pomegranates carved around the outside of the Temple are meant to bring the minds of the people of God back to Eden.
Throughout the Old Testament era, the Lord was moving everything toward the restoration of the blessing of Eden. This in turn ought to move our attention back to the Garden of Eden to find hints as to the ground/land/world connection. This is the case if we begin at the beginning, with the creation of man.
In Genesis 2:7 we are told that God formed man out of the dust of the ground. The ground (הָאֲדָמָה) was man’s original environment. In fact, there seems to be an intentional play on words in Gen. 1:27 where we are told that the Lord formed הָאָדָם (i.e. the man) out of the הָאֲדָמָה (i.e. the ground). There is a clear connection between the ground, and the man who was formed out of the ground. The name Adam lit. means ‘red.’ Since he was made out of red-like clay of the ground, the name is a play on the word ground (הָאֲדָמָה). The close relationship between man and beast may be argued, in part, from the fact that both are created on the same day (Gen. 1:24; 26-27), as living, moving and breathing beings, and from the same place–the ground. The dissimilarity is to be observed by the fact that man and woman, alone are singularly the image bearers of God. Genesis 1:24 is the first time הָאָרֶץ (i.e. the earth/land) is mentioned. God is said to have created ever living thing that moves from the earth.
There is another reference to the ground found in Genesis 2:5 where we read, “there was no man to work the ground.” The ground is the sphere of blessing and fruitfulness. Eden was the sphere of God’s richest blessing. God intended to create an image bearer who would work the ground and who would turn the world into the Garden-Temple. Because God made man from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7), this sphere of blessing would become the source of fruitfulness. Man was taken out of the ground and was created to work the ground. Adam was made to be fruitful and multiply, and to dress and keep the Garden. Adam was to work the ground and take the Garden out into the world. His task was to turn the world into the Garden-Temple.
We know from Scripture and experience that man forfeited his task by sinning against his Creator. In the pronouncement of judgment on man (Gen. 3:17-19) we discover that the sphere of blessing–the very place where man originated–will now be cursed and turned into a thorny, barren wilderness that man will have to suffer toilsome labor in order to cultivate. The ground was cursed on account of Adam’s sin. Adam was taken from the ground, the ground was the sphere of God’s blessing man, “the environment in which blessings would be uncovered;” but Adam rebelled against His Maker so God cursed the very place out of which He made man.