When studying the tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament, it is hard to miss the allusions to the Garden of Eden. Many commentators and scholars have noted all the different references and callbacks to the Garden and to mankind’s relationship with God in that Garden.
One argument for this association is because the Garden can be viewed as the first temple on earth. Eden served functionally as a proto-temple, as well as a pattern for all future temples and the tabernacle in the Bible.
Eden as a Functional Temple
Temples also served as locations of partitioned holiness, with inner and outer courts, gardens, and holy places that required special permission and purification ceremonies to enter. In the Wilderness Tabernacle, there was the courtyard, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place. Specific regulations limited who was allowed in each area. In Eden, we can see a similar threefold division: the world, Eden, and the Garden of Eden. The Garden, comparable to the tabernacle’s Most Holy Place, was where God’s presence dwelled. It was also where the man and woman were placed to serve (Genesis 2:8, 15). After the fall, mankind is banned from the Garden (Genesis 3:23).
Finally, a temple in the Ancient Near East was where a deity would place his image-bearer, typically an idol of stone, wood, or metal. In the Genesis account, we see that God’s image-bearer is not a statue of stone or wood, but a man and woman made from dust. They are created in God’s image and placed in the Garden.
Temple Items in the Garden
Mankind is in the Garden to “work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15); similar wording is used to describe the job of the priests in the tabernacle (“keep guard” Numbers 3:7–8).
Later, after the fall guardian cherubim are placed at the entrance to keep mankind away from the Garden and from the Tree of Life. In the tabernacle, there is a dividing curtain between the two rooms. On that curtain there are several cherubim, serving as a warning and protector for the Most Holy Place.
Inside the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle is a lamp stand (Exodus 25:31–40). This lamp stand, made of gold and consisting of branches and blossoms, is likely referring to the Tree of Life, which mankind had access to in the Garden.
Further Callbacks to Eden
The narrative describing the construction of the tabernacle is in seven segments (Exodus 25:1; 30:11, 17, 34; 31:1, 12). The sixth segment—Exodus 31:1—describes the Spirit of God fills men to create and craft the objects for the tabernacle. And the seventh segment—Exodus 31:12—reminds the nation of keeping the sabbath. These two segments both correspond nicely with the sixth and seventh days of Creation in Genesis 1.
The tabernacle used gold and onyx stones as decorating material for the tent, the objects inside, and even the priest’s outfits. These materials were known to come from the pre-flood region of Havilah, likely were Eden was located (Genesis 2:12)
God instructed Moses on how to build the tabernacle in the wilderness, so it could serve the purpose of a meeting place between mankind and God. Within these plans are many allusions and callbacks to the first temple in the Garden of Eden. When viewing the tabernacle, priests and worshippers are to be reminded of that hallowed meeting place, and how the sins of the fall ruined it. But they are also reminded of the mercy of God, who, in the construction of the tabernacle, is now allowing mankind a new access point to God.
- The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God by GK Beale
- The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton