Thursday, June 6, 2013

Adam as the Priest-King of Eden




In The Temple and the Church's Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God, G. K. Beale describes the Garden of Eden as the place of God's presence and of God's first Priest-King, Adam. He writes:
  Israel's temple was the place where the priest experienced God's unique presence, and Eden was the place where Adam walked and talked with God. The same Hebrew verbal form (stem) mithallek used for God's 'walking back and forth' in the Garden (Gen. 3:8), also describes God's presence in the tabernacle (Lev. 26:12; Deut. 23:14 [15]; 2 Sam. 7:6-7).1  
  Genesis 2:15 says God placed Adam in the Garden 'to cultivate [i.e., work] it and to keep it'. The two Hebrew words for 'cultivate and keep' are usually translated 'serve and guard [or keep]' elsewhere in the Old Testament. It is true that the Hebrew word usually translated 'cultivate' can refer to an agricultural task when used by itself (e.g., 2:5; 3:23). When, however, these two words ...occur together in the Old Testament (within an approximately 15-word range), they refer either to Israelites 'serving' God and 'guarding [keeping]' God's word ...or to priests who 'keep' the 'service' (or 'charge') of the tabernacle (see Num. 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 18:5-6; 1 Chr. 23:32; Ezek. 44:14).2 
  The best translation of Adam's task in Genesis 2:15 is 'to cultivate (work) it and to keep it [the Garden]'. Regardless of the precise translation, however, the preceding observations suggest that the writer of Genesis 2 was portraying Adam against the later portrait of Israel's priests, and that he was the archetypal priest who served in and guarded (or 'took care of') God's first temple. While it is likely that a large part of Adam's task was to 'cultivate' and be a gardener as well as 'guarding' the garden, that all of his activities are to be understood primarily as priestly activity is suggested not only from the exclusive use of the two words in contexts of worship elsewhere but also because the garden was a sanctuary... If this is so, then the manual labour of 'gardening' itself would be priestly activity, since it would be maintaining the upkeep and order of the sanctuary. 
  After telling Adam to 'cultivate' and 'guard/keep' in Genesis 2:15, God gives him a specific 'command' in verse 16. The notion of divine 'commanding' (sara) or giving of 'commandments' (miswot) not untypically follows the word 'guard/keep' (samar) elsewhere, and in 1 kings 9:6, when both 'serving' and 'keeping' occur together, the idea of 'commandments to be kept' is in view. The 1 Kings passage is addressed to Solomon and his sons immediately after he had 'finished building the house of the Lord' (1 Kgs. 9:1): if they do 'not keep My commandments . . . and serve other gods . . . I will cut off Israel from the land . . . and the house [temple] . . . I will cast out of My sight' (1 Kgs. 9:6-7). Is this a mere coincidental connection with Genesis 2:15-16?
  Hence, it follows naturally that after God puts Adam into the Garden for 'cultivating/serving and keeping/guarding' (v. 15) that in the very next verse God would command Adam to keep a commandment: 'and the Lord God commanded the man . . .' The first 'torah' was that 'From any tree of the Garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die' (Gen. 2:16-17). Accordingly, Adam's disobedience, as Israel's, results in his being cut off from the sacred land of the Garden. This is an indication that the task of Adam in Genesis 2:15 included more than mere spadework in the dirt of a garden. It is apparent that priestly obligations in Israel's later temple included the duty of 'guarding' unclean things from entering (cf. Num. 3:6-7, 32, 38; 18:1-7), and this appears to be relevant for Adam, especially in view of the unclean creature lurking on the perimeter of the Garden and who then enters.
  ...Adam's priestly role of 'guarding' (samar) the garden sanctuary may also be reflected in the later role of Israel's priests who were called 'guards' (1 Chron. 9:23) and repeatedly were referred to as temple 'gatekeepers' (repeatedly in 1 and 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah: e.g. 1 Chron. 9:17-27) who 'kept watch [samar] at the gates' (Neh. 11:19, 'so that no one should enter who was in any way unclean' (2 Chron. 23:19). Consequently, the priestly role in both the Garden and later temple was to 'manage' it by maintaining its order and keeping out uncleanness.3 
  There may also be significance that the word used for God 'putting' Adam 'into the garden' in Genesis 2:15 is not the usual Hebrew word for 'put' (sum) but is the word typically translated as 'to rest' (nuah). ...That this verb ...was intentionally chosen is pointed to further by the observation that it is used elsewhere to refer to the installation of sacred furniture (2 Chron. 4:8) and divine images into temples (2 Kgs. 17:29; Zech. 5:5-11) and especially of God's 'resting place' (so the noun form) in his heavenly palace-temple (Ps. 132:7-8, 14; Is. 66:1). Thus, the implication may be that God places Adam into a royal temple to begin to reign as his priestly vice-regent. In fact, Adam should always best be referred to as a 'priest-king', since it is only after the 'fall' that priesthood is separated from kingship, though Israel's eschatological expectation is of a messianic priest-king (e.g., see Zech. 6:12-13).4








1. G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 2004], p. 66
2. Ibid., pp. 66-7
3. Ibid., pp. 68-9
4. Ibid., pp. 69-70



1 comment:

  1. Here's a dumb question: 2 Chr 23:19 mentioned above is about the gatekeepers being stationed "so that no one would enter who was in any way unclean." Is it possible that this is the origin of the "2319!" alarm from Monster's Inc., when it was thought that a human child had entered & thus contaminated the monster world? I have no idea, but it's an easy way to remember this reference verse. :)

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