Studies in Hebrews Part 12: The Two Gardens and the Tabernacle

Throughout thus series we have seen the author of Hebrews make reference to various accounts recorded in the Old Testament.  We have seen him make reference to the Hebrew slaves and to their unfaithfulness in Numbers 13.  We have seen him make reference to the Mosaic tabernacle, to the Aaronic priesthood, to Abraham, to Melchizedek and even to the creation event and the seventh day of rest.  “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, the author has reminded us, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

This is why I have endeavored throughout this series to take us back to each of these accounts, to understand them within their context, and then to see how the Spirit makes application of them under the New Covenant.  Today, as we approach the heart of this epistle, I want us to take another look at Genesis one last time.  To do this though, I want us to take a look at the creation narrative through the lens of another Old Testament book to see if we can spot something under a new light that might help us to grasp something about Christ’s priesthood or the New Covenant a little better

And so with this in mind, turn with me if you will to Ezekiel 28.

Ezekiel 28:11-19
Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me:
Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him,
Thus says the Lord God:
“You were the signet of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
and crafted in gold were your settings
and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
they were prepared.
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created,
till unrighteousness was found in you.
In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
from the midst of the stones of fire.

I think it safe to say that most people who read this passage believe this passage is speaking specifically concerning Satan.  After all, the prophet does mention a guardian cherub who was in the garden of Eden and in whom unrighteousness was found.  This must be Satan, right?

Not so fast. There are some big problems with reading Satan into this passage.  First and most particularly notice how Ezekiel describes the appearance of this cherub.

“You were in Eden, the garden of God, and every precious stone was your covering.”

“Your settings and engravings were all crafted in gold.”

Notice also we are told that God Himself placed this guardian cherub, and that He placed this cherub “on the holy mountain of God.”

These phrases, “every precious stone was your covering”, “your settings and engraving were all crafted in gold”, “God placed you on the holy mountain of God”, they should leap out at us if we know our Old Testament.  The reason they should leap out at us is because they parallel the Aaronic priesthood, as well as the construction of the Mosaic tabernacle.

In Exodus 39, beginning with verse 6, God gives the Israelites His instructions for how they are to fashion the breast plates which Aaron and his sons were to wear whenever they administered to Him as priests in His tabernacle.

Exodus 39:6-13
They made the onyx stones, enclosed in settings of gold filigree, and engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel. And he set them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod to be stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel, as the Lord had commanded Moses. He made the breast piece, in skilled work, in the style of the ephod, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. It was square. They made the breast piece doubled, a span its length and a span its breadth when doubled. And they set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle was the first row; and the second row, an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; and the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They were enclosed in settings of gold filigree. There were twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. They were like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes.

Compare this passage to the passage we read in Ezekiel 28.   In Ezekiel 28 God describes the appearance of His guardian cherub in the garden as “You were in Eden, the garden of God, and every precious stone was your covering; sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle.  And all your settings were in gold.”

In Exodus 39, we find God instructing Israel to clothe His priests similarly, in precious stones set in gold.

If precious stones set in gold constitute the vestments of a priest, then what we have in Ezekiel 28 is someone who is also clothed in the vestments of a priest.  This immediately rules out Satan, for Satan was never a priest.

But hold on.  What of this holy mountain of God? I placed you, says God.  And where I placed you was on the holy mountain of God.

We have talked before about this holy mountain, but let me mention it here again.  The holy mountain was a phrase God used concerning the location of His temple.

In Zechariah 8:3, we read:
Thus says the Lord: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts, the holy mountain.

Psalm 48:1-3 reads:
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.
Within her citadels God
has made Himself known as a fortress.

Isaiah 2:2-3
It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
     and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob

In Isaiah 56:7, we are told that –
these I will bring to My holy mountain,
and make them joyful in My house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on My altar;
for My house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”

One of the texts which Scott preached from just not long ago was Psalm 2.  In Psalm 2 verse 6 we read:
“As for Me, I have set My King on Zion, My holy hill.”
In the Old Testament, under the Mosaic covenant, Zion was identified with Jerusalem, and in particular with God’s temple.  This is why we find Zion sometimes referred to as Mount Zion.  It was the name God used for a very particular hill in Jerusalem called, Mount Moriah.

Mount Moriah is very important in the Old Testament.  It was the mount upon which Abraham had been instructed to sacrifice his son, Isaac.   It was also the mount upon which David had built an altar to the Lord to stop the plague which had broken out against the people as punishment for David’s sin of numbering the people.  Near the foot of this mount in Christ’s day sat what would be called the Garden of Gethsemane.

Most importantly though, Mount Moriah was where Solomon had been instructed to build the Lord’s temple. It was the location of the Jewish Temple.  This is why in Jesus’ day it was sometimes called Temple Mount.   God’s holy mountain.

You were in Eden, said Ezekiel, the garden of God, and every precious stone was your covering. You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God. You were also blameless in your ways from the day you were created till unrighteousness was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God.

I placed you, says the prophet.  And since he does mention Eden in particular, do we have any mention in the creation narrative of God placing someone in a garden?   We do indeed.  Genesis 2:8.

In Genesis 2:8 we read, “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He put the man who He had formed.”
We note also that this man, Adam, was blameless from the day of his creation until he disobeyed.  And then after he disobeyed, God cast him out of the garden just like Ezekiel here says.  I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God.

Now wait a minute.   Is Ezekiel actually telling us that Adam was a priest and that the garden of Eden was God’s temple?

Well consider this.   In Numbers 3:5-10, we are told that one of the roles of Levi and the priests was to guard the temple and their own priesthood.

Numbers 3 says: And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.”

They shall guard the tabernacle, says Numbers.  And they were also to guard their priesthoods.

In Genesis 2:15 we are told that the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to “dress it” and to “keep it.”

The word keep here is not the best translation. The word keep here would be better translated as protect.   The man was to cultivate the garden and to protect it.  In fact, it is the same word used in Numbers 3 to indicate guard. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to dress it and to guard it.

But hold on.  Adam was no cherub, and Ezekiel says cherub, so how could he be talking about Adam?

That is true. Adam was no cherub.  But he was close to being one.

Psalm 8:3-5 tells us:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings (angels)
and crowned him with glory and honor.

Now while I realize the words “a little lower” do not mean “exactly the same”, they still do at least mean “almost like”.  A little lower means not that far from.

Consider another prophecy Ezekiel gives later in his book.

In Ezekiel 41:17-19, we find this:

Ezekiel 41:17-19
And on all the walls all around, inside and outside, was a measured pattern. It was carved of cherubim and palm trees, a palm tree between cherub and cherub. Every cherub had two faces: a human face toward the palm tree on the one side, and the face of a young lion toward the palm tree on the other side. They were carved on the whole temple all around

In this passage Ezekiel is describes the interior of a spiritual temple.  We know it is a spiritual temple, because the description he gives of the temple is one that could not physically exist.  What Ezekiel is doing here is using imagery to describe this spiritual temple that he sees.  He tells us that on the walls of temple all around are etched images of cherubs and palm trees, and that every cherub had two faces: a human face and the face of a lion.

Now, what does this mean?  A cherub with two faces, one of a human and the other of a lion?   Hello.  The lion of the tribe of Judah.  A person possessed of two natures; one human and one Divine?  And His image covers every square inch of the walls.  And with Him is a palm tree, for He is the tree of life.

But Christ is no cherub.  No, He isn’t.  And Ezekiel is not telling He is either.   What Ezekiel is instead doing is drawing a parallel.   We have talked about parallels before.  A parallel is when two opposite or similar ideas are contrasted or compared with each other in order to make a point.  We saw how the law which Pharaoh imposed upon the Hebrews paralleled the law which God later imposed upon them.  What Ezekiel is doing here in his vision of the spiritual temple is drawing a parallel between a human and the heavenly; that is, the Divine.  And what he shows us is that this person to whom the temple is dedicated is someone who is both of man and also of God.

Ezekiel uses the same type of imagery to parallel Adam and the priesthood.  He was a priest in the garden, and he had been created a little lower than the angels.  His ways were blameless until righteousness was found in him and then God drove him out of the garden.  Do you see that?

Satan was no priest. And apart from this passage here in Ezekiel there is not a single other mention anywhere in Scripture that describes him as being a cherub. It is from this passage alone that people insist Satan was a cherub.  But this passage is not talking about Satan.  It is instead talking about Adam.

Let’s assume, for a moment that this is correct and that Adam was at the very least a type of priest. What were his duties as a priest?

As I mentioned earlier, the priest was to keep or guard the temple as well as his own priesthood.   So too Adam was to guard the garden.  He was to offer the fruit of his labors to God in tribute to God.  Just as Aaron and his sons were instructed to protect and guard the temple, so too Adam was to protect the garden. He was to do this in submissive obedience to God.

This means that he was to keep that which is unholy out of the garden.  He was to keep the garden holy and he was to guard the holiness of his own priesthood by remaining obedient.

In addition to this, he was to carry his burden to the four corners of the earth. That is, he was to bring the earth under the holy domain of His Lord’s garden.  We are told he was to “subdue the earth”.

What we have here is one, big, giant parallel between Adam and the Aaronic priesthood, between the garden of Eden and the temple in Jerusalem.  Ezekiel is saying to us, you see Adam over there?  Well, he was like Aaron over here.  His job was to protect the garden and to keep anything evil from entering it.  But he failed just like Aaron failed.  He didn’t build a golden calf like Aaron did, but he might as well have, because he set himself up as equal to God by believing the serpent’s lie and disobeying the command.

But the parallel does not end there, because Ezekiel is also saying to us, you see that garden over there in Eden?  Well, it is like this temple over here on top of Mount Moriah.  It was the place where God’s presence dwelt and where the priests were to allow no evil to enter, and were to allow no evil to harm any of the worshippers who entered.

This parallel is not something Ezekiel alone draws.  Rather, other parts of Scripture do it too.

Consider, for example, the creation narrative and how it parallels the tabernacle narrative in Exodus.

In the creation narrative we find God establishing a pattern in the narrative.  He first speaks the divine command, and then we read that His command was fulfilled.  God said, “Let there be light.”  The Divine command.  And then following this command we read, “and there was light”.  The command is fulfilled.

The tabernacle narrative follows this same pattern.  Exodus chapters 25-31 presents us with the Divine commands.  God gives Moses His instructions for how he is to build the tabernacle and its furnishings.   Exodus chapters 35-40 then gives us the account of this construction.

In Genesis 2:1, for example, we read, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.”

Exodus 39:32 parallels this pattern. “Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished, and the people of Israel did according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses; so they did.”

Genesis 2:3 reads, “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy (that is, blessed it), because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

Exodus 39:43 parallels this. “And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the Lord had commanded, so had they done it. Then Moses blessed them.”

This pattern is again repeated in Exodus 40.  There, in verses 1-15 we find God instructing Moses on how the tabernacle was to be erected.  Verses 16-33 then give us the account.

Consider also the tabernacle itself and the objects which were to be placed in it.  Not only do the construction of these objects parallel the creation narrative, but they carry also carry in themselves a garden motif.

The lamp, for instance, that was to be stationed in the Holy Place, just outside the veil which kept the ark of the covenant concealed in darkness. This lamp was to be tended by Aaron and his sons from evening till morning so that throughout the night its light never went out (Exodus 27:20).

This means the light emanating from this lamp was to keep the Holy Place bathed in perpetual light throughout the night.  However, this same light was to be kept separate from the darkness of the Most Holy Place by a curtain veil.

In the creation narrative, we find God creating a firmament (the curtain veil) to separate the light (of the Holy Place) from the darkness (of the Most Holy Place). Creating a lesser light (the lamp) to rule the night and the stars.

Exodus 25:31-40 tells us about this lamp.  The passage tells us that it was to be made of pure gold, including, and I quote, “its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lamp stand out of one side of it and three branches of the lamp stand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lamp stand. And on the lamp stand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lamp stand.

The lamp stand models the description of an almond tree. It has branches on both sides with almond blossoms blooming near their tips.

But it isn’t just the lamp either, nor was it only in the Mosaic tabernacle.

1 Kings 6:18  tells us that the cedar within Solomon’s temple was carved in the form of gourds (squash) and open flowers. All was cedar; no stone was seen.

1 Kings 6:29 reads, Around all the walls of the house he carved engraved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms.

1 Kings 6:31-33 says,
For the entrance to the inner sanctuary he made doors of olivewood; the lintel and the doorposts were five-sided. He covered the two doors of olivewood with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. He overlaid them with gold and spread gold on the cherubim and on the palm trees. So also he made for the entrance to the nave doorposts of olivewood, in the form of a square, and two doors of cypress wood. The two leaves of the one door were folding, and the two leaves of the other door were folding. On them he carved cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, and he overlaid them with gold evenly applied on the carved work.

Flowers. Trees. Gourds. It’s a garden!

Now, in none of this am I suggesting the creation narrative isn’t to be taken literally, or that the narrative isn’t really about creation.  No, it was about creation. But remember what a parallel is.  A parallel is a language tool used to compare or contrast two different or similar subjects or ideas so as to better understand both.

What God has given us in the creation narrative is not only a creation narrative, but also a parallel leading us from the garden in Eden, to the Jewish temple, and then ultimately to the picture of a final garden in Revelation.   God starts with a garden, then concludes with a garden, and in between He establishes a tabernacle and a temple that are filled with echoes and allusions to both gardens.

I say both gardens, because the old covenant’s sacrifices and ordinances did not only remind the people of their sins.  Rather, they also foreshadowed Christ and His cross.

And so we have these Hebrews in the Old Testament enduring the obligation of daily sacrifices which continually remind them of their sin, while at the same time these sacrifices also continually remind the Old Testament elect of God’s promise to them – of the Seed of the woman who shall crush the serpent’s head.

Very well, Dave, this is all fine and dandy, but what has any of this to do with our study in the epistle to the Hebrews?
Here’s the thing.  These Hebrew readers, they were drawing back in doubt.  They were not so certain anymore that the gospel they had once believed could be trusted.

Now, think about this.  The only Jew in all of Israel who was permitted to enter into God’s presence in the innermost room of the Temple and the tabernacle was the high priest.  And this only once a year, and only in order to sprinkle the blood of the yearly sacrifice that could never atone for his and the peoples’ sins.

No other Jew had any hope of ever entering into God’s presence during their lifetime, because the only Jew who was allowed to do so was the high priest himself.  And the only Jews who could be a high priest were those from the tribe of Levi who could trace their lineage all the way back to Aaron.  So if you were from the tribe of Dan or Benjamin or Judah, sorry, but you were out.

This is what these Hebrews were casting their eyes back towards.  This separation between God’s presence and themselves.  Why?

Recall how Adam had responded to God after he disobeyed.  The Bible says he hid, “the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”

Recall how the Hebrews reacted after God’s presence appeared at the top of Mount Sinai.  The Bible tells us in Exodus 20 that, “the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”

Revelation 6 tells us that the wicked, “called to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.”

What the covenant at Sinai did was establish a system that served to maintain this separation between God’s presence and the sinner.  A veil kept the worshipper from entering into God’s presence.   In this sense it served to remind the Hebrews of what had happened in the garden.

In the garden Adam had had access to God’s presence.  But after he had disobeyed, God drove him out of the garden before He placed cherubim in the east of the garden to prevent Adam from reentering it.  In this sense those cherubim and their flaming sword were like a veil.  And in fact, the temple veil separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place had images of cherubim woven into it.

As long as this veil hung in the Temple, separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, the sinner was kept separate from God’s presence.  And this is what the temple did.  It reminded the people of this.  It reminded them the way was barred and the dead could not enter.

Now, the unrighteous, they actually like this, because it continues to give them the illusion that God is over there or up there, down the street and asleep in the church at the corner of Fifth and Main.   They go to visit Him on Sundays in order to check up on how they are doing behavior wise.  And when they are finished, they leave Him behind at the church while they go have steaks at the local steak shack.

Remember what the serpent had said.  You can be as God.  You can do your own thing, become your own law.  You can decide for yourself what is good and evil, and you can use that knowledge to establish yourself as righteous.  God will keep over there to Himself in His half of the universe, and you can keep to yourself over here in your part of the universe.  On Sundays you can stop by to visit Him, see how He’s doing, but come Monday you are back to your side of the universe.

The unrighteous sinner’s sinful nature seizes on this separation between God’s presence and the sinner and then uses it to feed the sinner the illusion that he is sovereign.  This sinful nature also seizes on this separation in order to feed the unrighteous sinner the belief that he can do something to remove this separation.   Like stopping by to visit God at the church on Sunday morning.

This is what the Hebrew author is reminding his readers of.  If they really want to return to the Old Covenant, then they are going to be returning to a system that is going to forever shut them out of God’s presence.  The way will be barred for them.  The dead cannot enter.  They will be trapped in a system that will enslave them to sin and death.

The Spirit tells His people in 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  Very well, if those who have been imputed righteous are a chosen royal priesthood, a holy nation, then they too have the job of protecting their priesthood.   And how are they to do this?   By remaining vigilant about their resolution to remain settled and fixed in Christ’s rest.

Hebrews 4:9-11  So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.  Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

John 15:4  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.


About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church
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One Response to Studies in Hebrews Part 12: The Two Gardens and the Tabernacle

  1. markmcculley says:

    atthew 3: 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. 9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones! 10 Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees! Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

    Was God going to let Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge if they matured and didn’t sin?

    There are folks who think God was going to let them eat from the tree of life if they matured and didn’t sin. But God never denied them the tree of life until after they sinned.

    Lincoln—The time for entry into rest is “today,” not after death or at the parousia. On this new day the rest has become a reality for those who believe but remains a promise that some may fail to achieve through disobedience, so that all are exhorted to strive to enter it.1

    Irons– Although Lincoln’s position is basically correct, his remarks are motivated by another discussion – whether the fourth commandment remains in force for new covenant believers. As a result, he does not bring out the positive paraenetic implications of his results. I not wish to imply that Hebrews 4 is irrelevant to the debate over Sabbath observance in the new covenant age. But the precise purpose of this paper is to defend and expand Lincoln’s exegesis

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