Paradise…Lost? Discovering the Location of the Garden of Eden

Paradise. Perfection. Have you ever spent much time thinking about the Garden of Eden? It was meant to be this pinnacle of perfection that God had deemed “good”; the epitome of His vision for Earth and His people. The Bible spends about two chapters talking about this ultimate paradise…before it is quickly spoiled by sin and we go on to spend the entire rest of the Bible, focused on the fallout and the quest for restoration. Adam and Eve are cast out and it seems as though time just moves forward and the Garden of Eden remains this tragic, bittersweet memory of something that was lost forever. Many are familiar with Biblical teaching that one day there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth at the end of days…but that seems like quite the gap between. Why so much time? and where even was this Garden of Eden? Can it be found today?

One of the things that we have to understand is that God is the ultimate story teller, the ultimate planner. Every single thing that He does has great meaning and import and is done with precision at an exact moment, for an exact purpose. He is like the neurosurgeon of time….erhm don’t quote me on that one. Therefore, His selection of the location of the Garden of Eden was not random…and it is also not lost.

One of the reasons some believe that the location of the garden of Eden is lost to us today is because of the Flood of Noah discussed in Genesis. The Garden of Eden as it was known would have been ruined by the flood waters; the vegetation and much of the geography would have been swept away or greatly changed. Some of the only geographic clues left to us are the locations of the four rivers talked about in the Garden of Eden (Pishon, Gihon, Euphrates & Tigris), today believed to be somewhere within the Fertile Crescent in Mesapotamia. If that is the case, it would appear that after Adam and Eve left the Garden, it dropped out of importance or was no longer useful for the majority of the events in the Bible. However, I believe the Garden is always on God’s mind and He always keeps a connecting thread between his people and his land.

The Song

One of the interesting connecting threads between the Garden of Eden and it’s true location lies in the imagery given to us about the Garden. In it were two trees: The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil. There was also one river, from which the four other rivers sprang. The Garden in Eden was also known to be on a special hill, “the holy mount of the Lord” as described by Ezekiel. Most importantly, before Adam and Even sinned, they could commune directly with God. However, when Adam and Eve sinned and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they saw their sin and were ashamed to be near God. A covering had to be made for them to cover their nakedness. God sacrificed an animal and used it to make clothes to cover them & their sin. Then they were sent out from the Garden to the East and two Cherubim were left to guard the Garden and the Tree of Life with a flaming sword. Remember those key images because you will see them crop up later.

Now it gets more exciting…the rest of the Bible is a reverse of those actions in the Garden of Eden! After things went wrong in the Garden, God continually pursued His people, seeking to reestablish that perfection that existed in the beginning. And He makes this clear by using the rich, poignant symbolism from the Garden itself.

The Echoes

So, the restoration process begins as God calls Abraham to a [random??] land he was promised and on a special hill in that land, God tests Abraham’s faith by asking him to consider sacrificing his only son, Isaac. God stays his hand and provides an alternate sacrifice for Isaac; a male lamb. God promised Abraham that because of his faith, he would make his descendants into a great nation in this land. Hill. Sacrifice. Lamb.

Years go by and Abraham’s descendants end up in Egypt as slaves. When they are finally freed, they are told they will be brought back to the land of their father Abraham, the Promised land. On the way, they are given rules to follow to help set them apart as a special people under God and given instruction on how to make the Tabernacle: a place for God to meet with his people. Now notice, the Tabernacle was to always face East. Inside, among other elements, there was a Menorah (lamp), with seven branches in the shape of a tree, with flowers and petals, and a curtain separating the Holiest place with the Ark of the Covenant (God’s presence) from the rest: a place no one but a priest could go under very special circumstances. This curtain was embroidered with two Cherubim. In order to enter and communicate with God directly, one had to head West, provide a sacrifice, purify themselves with water, walk past a tree-shaped lamp, and past two Cherubim. God is recreating a mini Garden of Eden for his people: a way of reestablishing that relationship that they had in the beginning!

Sacred topography of Eden and the temple. Illustration by Michael P. Lyon. Courtesy Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.  

God’s people kept this Tabernacle until they could create a more permanent version of it (the Temple) on a special hill in the land of their father Abraham, the place where Isaac was spared. This is the land of Israel, specifically the city of Jerusalem. Do you see the connecting thread pulling God’s people back to a specific place? Water. Tree. East. Sacrifice. Two Cherubim.

The Bridge

Then one day, God sent his very own “male lamb”, his only son, as a sacrifice once and for all. When this lamb died on a special hill in Jerusalem, the curtain with the two Cherubim was torn in two. There no longer was anything separating us from God’s presence and the relationship could be restored. Jesus became the permanent, perfect sacrifice that did not have to be repeated to enter Eden. But this wasn’t just symbolic imagery, the Biblical texts are showing us that this also took place in the same location as before! The Garden of Eden had received it’s final sacrifice. Lamb. Sacrifice. Relationship.

But it doesn’t end there. While we can now have that direct communication that we had with God in the beginning in the Garden (no priests needed!), if you’ve looked around recently, I think you can agree we don’t seem to be in any kind of Garden today, to say the least… We have received the path to spiritual restoration of the Garden of Eden (Phase 1), but we are still waiting with great patience for the physical restoration (Phase 2), trees, rivers and all, to be fully complete. What excites me is that I believe we are watching the pieces of this final part starting to come together today! Are you watching?

The location of the Garden of Eden is still very much a part of the picture in the world today. It’s no wonder that people have fought over it since the beginning of time, both spiritually and physically. The Garden of Eden, as Israel, still remains the center of conflict (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) and will do so until the end when God will create a New Jerusalem….a New Eden. In the future, a new Jerusalem comes to Earth and in it is the Tree of Life once again, along with the Water of Life in a river flowing through the middle of the city. Eden has been finally restored, both spiritually and physically! Water. Tree. Life Eternal. Promised Land.

The Chorus

So what is God trying to show us? The Garden of Eden, the Tabernacle, the 1st & 2nd Temple, Jesus, and the New Jerusalem in Revelation are all reflections and echoes of the same thing! They also all take place in or are focused on the same location: Jerusalem, Israel. Jerusalem is the focus of the past, present and future. Israel IS Eden! The story of all of time is about getting back to that ultimate picture of perfection–God and his people in a garden in perfect harmony. But this time it’s something that was fought for and won!

We are still in the middle of this story, it’s not over yet! In fact, the physical (ethnic) descendants of Abraham are being brought back to the Eden (Israel) once more…imperfect, fallen, and rejecting Him, but they are being brought back for a purpose….and they are trying to reestablish the relationship in the Garden again via a Third Temple! What does this mean? A lot of interesting things are happening on this front today and I can’t wait to tell you more in my coming posts! Stay tuned!

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As an optional devotional moment, please listen to this beautiful song by The Gray Havens and reflect on the wonderful imagery God has given us in His Word to show us His plan for His people. Eden is truly the connecting thread of the entire Bible. “This my soul you were born into.” Amen!

2 thoughts on “Paradise…Lost? Discovering the Location of the Garden of Eden”

  1. This article is a wonderful way to connect the Old and New Testament together and to remind people that The Lord uses these pictures and images to show us that the Bible is not just a myth but an actual story that actually happened. The more we study and see the connections on these issues is the degree to which we realize that we are being told something real and truthful and not just a tall tale or story that many suppose the Bible to be. I encourage you to study this article and pass it on to others to see those same connections for yourself. That is the best way to build our faith and to experience the fact that the Bible is true.

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