The Garden of Eden was a temple.
The Hebrew word for “garden” is gan. - a fenced area with an entry door. The Garden of Eden was a fenced area with a single door on the east side (Genesis 3:24). God’s presence would come only within the garden, which is very similar to the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon. According to Delitzsch, “The garden is the most holy (or the holy of holies), Eden is the holy place, whilst the whole earth around is it porch and court.”
JFB commentators say this about Adam and the Garden of Eden, “it was in fact a temple in which he worshipped God, and was daily employed in offering the sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise.”
Adam was a priest.
(Genesis 2:15 ESV) “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
Man was not created in the Garden of Eden, but rather in the land of Eden. God then “put” the man into the Garden of Eden. The Hebrew word for “put” carries the idea of separating for a purpose. God didn’t simply create a nice home for Adam and Eve. God created a place of worship, and then separated Adam into it for that purpose.
Adam was told concerning the Garden of Eden, “to work it and keep it.” Adam was not created to be a simple farmer and God didn’t give him some busywork to pass the time. The words in Hebrew for “to work it and keep it” are very significant in their use elsewhere in the Bible. These words are used in relation to serving God, and to the Temple.
G K. Beale says, “When these two Hebrew words are used together elsewhere in the OT they exclusively refer to Israelites serving God and keeping His commandments and also priests ‘keeping’ the ‘service/charge’ of the tabernacle.”
The Garden of Eden was not just a beautiful place and it was certainly not a common place. The Garden of Eden was a temple in the earth, and Adam was a priest to God and ministered to Him daily.
Life in the Garden.
While in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did not have to “believe” in the existence of God. Scholars differ on exactly how God’s Presence manifested daily in the Garden of Eden. Some believe the manifestation was His Presence only, and some believe that God manifested Himself in a distinct form as He was “walking in the garden.” In either case, Adam and Eve experienced God, but it was not because they believed in His existence. Adam and Eve were eternally connected with the Presence of God as long as they obeyed. They would only fail of God’s Presence should they disobey.
(Genesis 2:16–17 ESV) “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
The literal Hebrew would be stated, “in dying you will die.” Simply defined, “death” is separation. They were warned that if they disobeyed, they would separate from God, and then later separate from their bodies. As long as they obeyed they had free access to God. Of course we all know they did not obey and were driven out of the Garden of Eden and from God’s Presence.
Outside the Garden.
Once banished from the Garden, Adam and Eve did not have free access to the Presence of God. God’s Presence was only experienced in the Garden of Eden where His Presence would come “in the cool of the day.” Two Cherubim with flaming swords were placed at the east, and only, entrance to the Garden of Eden to keep Adam and Eve from entering and eating from the Tree of Life. I can hardly imagine Adam and Eve standing outside looking at that door knowing what the Presence of God was like and now living in a land that had been cursed.
Adam and Eve’s children were born outside of the Garden of Eden. Therefore, Cain and Able never experienced God in the way that their parents did, neither had they ever seen God. How could they then be assured of His existence? Certainly, Adam and Eve told their children about God and about having lived in a temple in the Garden. So, what Cain and Able knew about God came to them through the word of their parents. It would now be up them as individuals to seek, or not to seek God.
A covering for sin.
Before God banished man from the Garden of Eden, He covered them with coasts of skin. It appears that this took place inside the Garden.
(Genesis 3:21–23 ESV) “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.”
You cannot obtain an animal skin without killing the animal. Within the Garden (the Temple) God sacrificed an animal and then covered the man with its’ skin. I believe this is where God instructed Adam and Eve about the need for a blood sacrifice to cover the sin of mankind. Once instructed, man was put outside of the Garden of Eden and away from the Presence of God.
The Altar at the Gate.
It’s been called the alar of Cain and Able, and it was just outside of the gate to the Garden of Eden and in front of the two Cherubim with flaming swords. Cain and Able built an altar and it was the first altar built by a man. This was as close as man could get to where the Presence of God would manifest.
Adam instructed his sons, Cain and Able, in the ways of blood sacrifice. Certainly, Adam told them how God had sacrificed an animal to cover the sin of man and that only a blood sacrifice would allow access to the Presence of God. The boys both understood this but had never been inside of the Garden to experience God’s Presence.
This altar would become the first place of worship of an unseen God by man. As the writer of Hebrews declared, (Hebrews 11:6 KJV) “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Unlike their parents, Cain and Able had to believe that God is and seek Him by faith. This is why Hebrews eleven starts with Able and does not mention Adam.
An appointment with God.
There was a God appointed day in which Cain and Able were to come before the altar and worship God.
(Genesis 4:3–5 ESV) “In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.”
Scholars agree that “the course of time” was a set, known time for them to come and offer. Language very similar to this is used throughout the Old Testament concerning appointed times of worship.
Each brought their offerings. There are a lot of differing opinions about this event. If we stay with Biblical patterns we can sort it out. Cain’s offering of fruit of the ground is an acceptable offering under the Law of Moses, which came later. The fact that it was fruit of the ground was not the problem. The problem was that Cain knew that for him to be accepted by God he must bring a blood sacrifice, but he didn’t do it.
The wording concerning Abel’s offering is revealing. It says, “and Able also brought.” Many scholars say that the wording indicates that Able brought an offering and also brought a blood sacrifice in addition to his first offing. Whatever the case, Able understood that a blood sacrifice was necessary to please God. The writer of Hebrews says, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice.” Abel had faith in his blood sacrifice.
God is merciful to Cain.
God could not receive a person in right standing through an offering of the ground. He could receive the offering of the fruit of the ground, but not for right standing. So, Able was received and Cain was not. Cain got angry.
(Genesis 4:6–7 ESV) “The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
God is telling Cain that if a blood sacrifice is offered then he will be accepted also. The problem is that Cain would have to get a lamb from his brother. Cain was the firstborn and probably didn’t like the idea of going to his little brother in order to be accepted by God. After all, he did get angry that his brother Able had been accepted by God. Think about it, Able did nothing to Cain to anger him other than offering a lamb to God. Cain was a jealous older brother.
God is compassionate toward Cain and his firstborn status. If we use Biblical patterns and temple language to interpret what God said we will see the Lord’s compassion.
The phrase, “sin is crouching at the door” is usually misunderstood because the word “sin” should be translated as it is literally,”sin offering.” The word “crouching” means to lie down, or to make lie down, or to cause to rest. Brace yourself, God is saying to Cain (author’s paraphrase) “If you don’t have a sin offering, I will provide one for you and it is lying at the door of the temple.”
God says to Cain, “Its desire is for you” speaking of the sin offering. The definition of “desire” here carries the feeling of longing for - an affectionate word. The sin offering longed for Cain to receive it for his righteousness. Sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it? Had Cain received the sin offering that God provided he would have been able to rule over sin in his life. But in his anger, Cain rejected God’s provision for righteousness. Just like people today reject the sacrifice that Jesus has made for them, yet, He longs for them to receive it.
This pattern continues in the Bible.
(Genesis 22:8 ESV) “Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.”
Where did Abraham get that? How could he have known that? While Abraham’s understanding of this could easily have been direct revelation, it could also have been prior knowledge passed down through the generations of what occurred with Cain outside the Garden.
The doctrine of the substitutionary work of God in Christ is the foundation of all redemption and salvation. There is not a greater Bible doctrine. Only God could provide the lamb that would qualify as the sacrifice for the sin of humanity, and He offered one to Cain. To consider a different interpretation of the sin offering offered to Cain would place God outside of His established character!
An Unused Altar.
After Cain killed Able we have no record of the altar being used again. Adam and Eve are strangely absent in the events surrounding the sacrifices of Cain and Able. We know that Adam and Eve had other children, one that she claimed was appointed in stead of Able, but this was many years later.
(Genesis 4:25–26 ESV) “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.”
It wasn’t until Adam’s grandson Enosh, by way of Seth, did people begin to call upon the Lord. However, the generations that went by increased in evil in the earth until God decided to destroy all living things with the flood of Noah. After the flood of Noah, the Garden of Eden was lost and the first altar that man built was lost - never to be found. However, the knowledge of the need for a blood sacrifice upon an altar continued.
(Genesis 8:20 ESV) “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.”
This is why Noah is listed in Hebrews as an “heir of righteousness that comes by faith.” Noah had never seen God like Adam and Eve had, but he believed in God like Able had.