Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cosmos, Garden, & Tabernacle: A Three Story House for Yahweh

In his book, A House For My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament, Peter Leithart discusses the connection between the Creation & Garden symbolism of Genesis 1-3 and the Tabernacle/Temple symbolism as outlined in God's Law. Dr. Leithart writes:

The Bible's story begins by telling us about the world where the story takes place. In the Bible, the world is the real world that we live in, the world that God created. But the Bible describes the world in a particular way. In some places, the Bible describes it as a house. Talking to Job from the whirlwind, Yahweh asks:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you know understanding,
Who set its measurements, since you know?
Or who stretched the line on it?
On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?  (Job 38:4-7)

Earth, and especially mountains, are set on "foundations" (Deuteronomy 32:22; 2 Samuel 22:8, 16; Psalm 104:5) just like the foundations that hold up a house. Blue sky is stretched out above like a "tent curtain" (Isaiah 40:22). Pillars support the earth (Job 9:6) and heaven (Job 26:11). When God first appears in the Bible, He is building a house. 
...It takes God six days to build His house, six days that are just like our days with the sun coming up in the morning and going down in the evening. After that, God rests on the seventh day, a day known as the Sabbath day. 
...And so, at the end of the six days of creation, God has finished a "three story" house. Above is the "tent curtain" of blue sky, then the dry land, and finally the waters "below" the earth. 
The Bible mentions this three-story house many times. In the second commandment, God forbids us to bow down to an image of anything in "heaven above, or on the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth" (Exodus 20:4). That means we must not bow down to images of anything. "Heaven, earth, and sea" means "the whole universe."1
...Once God has made His three-story house, He puts Adam and Eve in it and gives them a job to do.2 ...When Adam is first created, he is put in the garden of Eden. The Garden is one of several different areas that God makes in the world. Remember that God initially makes a "three-story" world. In Genesis 2, we learn that the middle floor, earth, is divided into three "rooms." The Garden is only one of them. Genesis 2:8 tells us that the Lord God plants a garden "toward the east, in Eden," which means that the Garden is on the east side of the land of Eden. Eden is larger than the Garden, and outside Eden there were other lands, which are named in Genesis 2:11-13. If Adam had taken time on the first day to make a map, he would have drawn a map with several areas: the Garden, the land of Eden, and the larger world. 
It is interesting to notice how these three "rooms" of earth match up with the three "stories" of the universe. To see fully how this works, another portion of the creation has to be considered, namely, the "firmament." Made on the second day of creation (Genesis 1:6), the firmament is not just the flat surface of the sky but the whole region that we call "outer space." We know this because the sun, moon, and stars are "in" the firmament (Genesis 1:14-19). It is also called "heaven" (Genesis 1:8). This means that God created a world with two "heavens": The heavens where God dwells and the visible heavens of outer space. When we add this to our picture of the three-story house, we see that the "attic" is divided into two sections.3
The house that Israel builds at Mount Sinai is a tent called the tabernacle. ...Within the tent are two rooms. The first is the Holy Place, and the second is the Most Holy Place or "Holy of Holies." The courtyard makes a third area. The tabernacle has three zones, and each of these zones is governed by a different set of rules. Any Israelite layman may enter the courtyard, but only priests may enter the Holy Place. Only the High Priest may enter the Most Holy Place, and he may do it only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:1).4

With these observations in mind, the arrangement of the tabernacle can be understood this way5

Cosmic boundaries        Earthly boundaries         Tabernacle boundaries
Highest Heaven               Garden of Eden               Most Holy Place (2nd tent, High Priest only)
Firmament "heaven"        Land of Eden                   Holy Place (1st tent, Priests only)

Land                             Land surrounding Eden      Courtyard (Covenant people)

World & Sea                  Nations across the sea       Outside the Courtyard (Gentiles)

Dr. Leithart also makes this following observation concerning the Tabernacle and the Garden of Eden:
A number of things in the tabernacle remind us of the garden of Eden. Like the Garden, it has a doorway on the east side (Genesis 3:24). The cherubim embroidered into the tabernacle curtains and built above the ark remind us of the Garden (Exodus 26:31-37). When a priest enters the Holy Place, he looks at the veil that has cherubim on it and is reminded over and over of the cherubim with the flaming sword in Genesis 3. Like the garden and land of Eden, the tabernacle is mostly off-limits. From the time of Adam to the time of Jesus, no one is allowed to go back into the Garden, past the cherubim, to enjoy God's presence. As Paul put it, the Old Covenant ministry is a ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3:7; see Hebrews 9:8-10). The tabernacle is a way of keeping the people of God at a distance.6 

1.  Peter J. Leithart, A House For My Name:  A Survey of the Old Testament [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000] pp. 43-45
2.  p. 50
3.  p. 51
4.  p. 82
5.  The formatting presented here is my own, and is not identical with the formatting of Leithart in his book (p. 85), but the the arrangement is similar.
6.  Ibid. p. 85.

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