Mountains of Scripture (1): Mount Eden

A sermon by Rod Benson

Image: Erastus Salisbury Field, “The Garden of Eden,” oil on canvas, c.1860. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This is the first of a series of addresses on mountains mentioned in the Bible.

You won’t find Mount Eden on Google Earth, in an atlas, or even in the Book of Genesis.

The prophet Ezekiel does have the king of Tyre dwelling “in Eden, the garden of God” and being expelled “from the mountain of God” (Ezk 28:13-14). And the pseudepigraphal Book of Jubilees casts Eden as a cosmic mountain able to withstand the primeval floodwaters because of the purity and faithfulness of Enoch (Jub 4:23-26). Similarly, the Jewish prophet Joel refers to the “holy mountain” of God, and to a land “like the garden of Eden” (Joel 2:1-3).

Throughout Scripture, mountains are places where people meet with God, speak to God, and hear God speak. I can imagine Eden, and its pristine garden, created by God for the delight and blessing of our first parents, filled with wonderful flora and fauna. 

I imagine the garden occupying the high country, since Genesis 3:10 describes a river flowing out of Eden to water the garden, and from there, dividing to become the source of four great rivers, including the Tigris and Euphrates.

Eden is a place of divine provision, perpetual abundance, and unparalleled beauty. Paradise, says C. S. Lewis, is “a region in the mind that does exist and should be visited often.” It is a place of wonder, harmony, and tranquillity.

At the centre of Eden’s garden are two great trees: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve may eat the fruit of every tree in the garden, including the Tree of Life, but they must not eat from the Tree of Knowledge. 

Yet that is what they do, breaking God’s law and suffering the consequences: banishment from Paradise and exclusion from the deep fellowship with God they have come to both cherish and take for granted.

There are striking parallels between Genesis 3 and Ezekiel 28:

  • Both Adam and the king of Tyre dwell in a place described as Eden
  • Both are created by God and are morally responsible to God
  • Both are blameless until they inexplicably turn and sin against God
  • Both suffer severe punishment and deprivation for their wrongdoing.[1]

Ezekiel evokes images of Eden to show the height from which the king of Tyre has fallen – from the majestic peaks and plateaus of Eden to the lowlands, from Paradise on Earth to Ordinary Street and down, down to destruction – as a result of his violence, disobedience, and pride. 

In Genesis chapter 3, Adam follows a similar moral trajectory in the literal garden of Eden. 

As Adam fell, so we all fall. Each of us has disobeyed God, failed in one way or another to live blameless lives, and neglected our responsibility to walk in fellowship with God. We have all gone our own way. 

Like Adam and Eve, we are excluded from the Garden of Eden, the mountain of God, the holy high country for which we are made and for which we yearn. Eden has a gate. We are locked out. The sign says, “NO ADMITTANCE,” and we no longer have access to the Tree of Life.

But Ezekiel 33:11 reminds us that God is merciful and gracious. God takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked person should turn from his way and live.” Far though we now are from Eden’s high country, God offers us Paradise regained.

This is the message of Easter. On the cross, when Jesus said to the penitent thief on the third cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), he wasn’t casting his mind back to Eden, or down to the grave, but up to heaven.

In Scripture, people never go down to heaven or up to hell. Heaven is always above and beyond. Heaven is the home of God. The righteous thief is being promised eternal life in heaven with God. And no promise is more trustworthy than the promise of Jesus. And the thief is righteous because he is, at the very last moment, trusting Jesus for life beyond death. 

This is the gospel: the death and resurrection of Jesus, for us and on our behalf, opens heaven to humankind and brings heaven to earth. The good news of Jesus Christ does not offer a return to the high country of Eden but something vastly more significant. 

In Revelation 21:1-4, John sees “the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,” and hears a loud voice from God’s throne, declaring, “Look, God’s dwelling is [now] with humanity, and he will live with them…” This is the Christian hope. 

The tragedy is that, just like Adam and the king of Tyre, we spurn God’s grace and go our own way. Last Thursday, my brother-in-law arrived at his Brisbane office for work as usual, and before midday, he was dead from a heart attack. When I heard the news, I checked his Facebook profile, and this is what his bio says: “No one is coming to save you…. Your life is 100% your responsibility.”

No! A merciful and gracious God has done everything necessary to save you, redeem you, restore you, and make you whole. It’s not up to us to save ourselves, but up to God through his Son, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

The door is open. The path is clear. Jesus beckons. Paradise awaits. Now is the time to accept God’s salvation. There is no guarantee that any of us will make it to lunch. 

I invite you to pray with me.

Lord Jesus, I acknowledge that no human mind could invent the gospel. Acting in eternal grace, you are both messenger and message, a gospel lived out on earth through infinite compassion, submitting to insult, injury and death that I might be redeemed, ransomed, reconciled to God.

I bless you, Heavenly Father, for planning the way of salvation. Eternal thanks to you, O Lamb of God, for opening the way. Everlasting praise to you, Holy Spirit, for applying this way to my heart.  Glorious Trinity, impress the gospel on my soul, until its virtue diffuses every faculty. 

Lord Jesus, I thank you for the patience that has borne with me so long, and for the grace that makes me willing to be yours. Unite me to yourself with inseparable bonds, that nothing may ever draw me back from you, my Lord and Saviour. Amen.[2]

Sermon 785 copyright © 2023 Rod Benson. Preached at Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia, on Tuesday 11 April 2022. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020).

Dr Rod Benson is Acting Library Manager and Research Support Officer at Moore Theological College, Sydney. He enjoys writing, preaching, cooking, and reading fiction, theology and philosophy.

[1] Robert W. Jenson, Ezekiel (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2009), 221.

[2] Arthur Bennett (ed.), The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 35, adapted.

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