The Cursed and Blessed Ground
In recent years it has become common for theologians to give focused treatment to the sphere (i.e. the sacred space) in which redemption occurs. The Temple motif--from the Garden of Eden to the Heavenly City (i.e. the New Jerusalem)--is traced out in such noteworthy works as O. Palmer Robertson's Christ of the Prophets, and Understanding the Land of the Bible; T. Desmond Alexander's From Paradise to the Promised Land, and From Eden to the New Jerusalem; William J. Dumbrell's Covenant and Creation; G.K. Beale's The Temple and the Church's Mission, John Fesko's Last Things First, and Meredith Kline's Kingdom Prologue.
The restoration of Eden moves from the Garden of Eden to the Land of Israel to the Temple to the incarnate Jesus to His eternal dwelling with His Bride, the Church. The Scriptures move through all of these "dwelling places" from the Garden-Temple (Gen. 2-3) to the Garden-Bride (Rev. 21-22). All of this is built upon the fact that man was made out of "the ground." A biblical-theological consideration of "the ground" will help us better tie all of this together from creation to the new creation in Christ.
Eden was a special place, a physical location (i.e. a land), in which Adam was place by God at Creation. Man was made from "the ground" outside of the Garden and then, by God's grace, was placed within this paradisical sacred space. It was the prototypical Promised Land. There is also identification between Eden and the Temple--the place where God is worshiped by man, and where God dwells with man. The presence of lilies, palm trees, and pomegranates carved around the outside of the Temple are meant to bring the minds of the people of God back to Eden.
Throughout the Old Testament era, the Lord was moving everything toward the restoration of the blessing of Eden. This in turn ought to move our attention back to the Garden of Eden to find hints as to the ground/land/world connection. This is the case if we begin at the beginning, with the creation of man.
In Genesis 2:7 we are told that God formed man out of the dust of the ground. The ground (הָאֲדָמָה) was man's original environment. In fact, there seems to be an intentional play on words in Gen. 1:27 where we are told that the Lord formed הָאָדָם (i.e. the man) out of the הָאֲדָמָה (i.e. the ground). There is a clear connection between the ground, and the man who was formed out of the ground. The name Adam lit. means 'red.' Since he was made out of red-like clay of the ground, the name is a play on the word ground (הָאֲדָמָה). The close relationship between man and beast may be argued, in part, from the fact that both are created on the same day (Gen. 1:24; 26-27), as living, moving and breathing beings, and from the same place--the ground. The dissimilarity is to be observed by the fact that man and woman, alone are singularly the image bearers of God. Genesis 1:24 is the first time הָאָרֶץ (i.e. the earth/land) is mentioned. God is said to have created ever living thing that moves from the earth.
There is another reference to the ground found in Genesis 2:5 where we read, "there was no man to work the ground." The ground is the sphere of blessing and fruitfulness. Eden was the sphere of God's richest blessing. God intended to create an image bearer who would work the ground and who would turn the world into the Garden-Temple. Because God made man from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7), this sphere of blessing would become the source of fruitfulness. Man was taken out of the ground and was created to work the ground. Adam was made to be fruitful and multiply, and to dress and keep the Garden. Adam was to work the ground and take the Garden out into the world. His task was to turn the world into the Garden-Temple.
We know from Scripture and experience that man forfeited his task by sinning against his Creator. In the pronouncement of judgment on man (Gen. 3:17-19) we discover that the sphere of blessing--the very place where man originated--will now be cursed and turned into a thorny, barren wilderness that man will have to suffer toilsome labor in order to cultivate. The ground was cursed on account of Adam's sin. Adam was taken from the ground, the ground was the sphere of God's blessing man, "the environment in which blessings would be uncovered;" but Adam rebelled against His Maker so God cursed the very place out of which He made man.
Adam's sin--together with the depravity and corruption that he brought on all his descendants--manifests itself, in the worst way, in the life of his firstborn son. Cain kills his brother, shedding Abel's blood into the ground that he, incidentally, tilled. When the LORD confronted Cain He made the following astonishing statement: "The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground." Cain had sought to hide the body of his brother in the ground, but the blood of Abel cried out to God for vengeance and judgment on Cain.
The author of Hebrews picked up on the idea of Abel's blood crying out when he set out the privileges that belong to the members of the New Covenant church:
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24)
Abel was a type of our Lord Jesus Christ. The blood that Abel shed was on account of Christ. Abel, was a righteous man, putting his faith and trust in the promise of God for a Savior (Gen. 3:15). Just as Cain, the seed of the serpent (1 John 3:12), killed Abel, the typical "seed of the woman," so the apostate Jews and unbelieving Romans, the "seed of the serpent" (Matt. 3:7; John 8:44) killed Jesus, the Seed of the woman (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 3:23-38; and Rev. 12:1-5). The blood of Abel cried out from the ground for judgment on the ungodly, but the blood of Jesus speaks better things than that of Abel, crying out for redemption and salvation. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus agonized under the realization of what He would suffer for His people. Luke tells us that his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. The blood of Jesus fell into the ground in the Garden, and it was shed into the earth at the cross. While, the most important aspect of the blood of Christ is that it is sprinkled on the mercy seat in Heaven, it nevertheless, falls to the ground--the cursed place that He came into the world to redeem and which He then turns into the sphere of blessing.
After mentioning that his brother's blood cried out from the ground, God further curses Cain by again cursing the ground that had once yielded its fruit for him. Cain had shed his brothers blood into the ground, therefore, God again cursed the ground, from which man was taken.
When we come to the genealogy of Seth--the son who replaced Abel--we find Lamach naming his son, Noah (lit."rest"). He said of his son, "This one will comfort [lit. give rest to] us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD has cursed (Gen. 5:29)." Noah is also a type of Christ. Lamech named his son "rest" because he believed the promise of God (Gen. 3:15), and was hopefully expectant that God would send a Redeemer to give rest from the burden of sin manifested in God's curse on the "ground." Interestingly, Noah does give a typical rest to the ground by obeying the LORD when he is called to go into the ark with the animals and his family. Man and beast, were brought into the ark. God did indeed provide a type of rest through the judgment He brought on the earth with the flood. In this way, the Lord was indicating that rest would come through judgment. Likewise, Jesus, the greater than Noah, provides eternal rest through the judgment He endures as the sin-bearer. When Noah left the ark, the rest that he typically provided for man is discovered in the fact that he was the typical head of humanity on a new earth. All of the flood narrative is moving toward the re-creation of the earth that had been so polluted by sin. In the same way, Christ, does not just redeem His elect-- He purchases the new heavens and new earth with His blood. He provides "rest" for us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD has cursed.
When we come to God's dealing with Abraham, the Land motif surfaces in a new and clear way (Gen. 12:1-3). In Romans 4:13 the apostle Paul explained, "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promise made that he would be heir of the world." The Apostle makes the transition from Abraham and his Seed inheriting the land to Abraham and his Seed inheriting the world. It becomes evident that the land of Israel was typical of the world. The land of Israel was basically a microcosm of the cosmos. In Genesis 12:1-3 the first thing that stands out is that the word "world" does not appear to be mentioned in the promise to which Paul refers. In each and every instance, the reference appears to be the "land" of Israel. This should only serve to help us understand that Paul had a greater grasp on the biblical-theological significance of the land. In the same context in which God promises Abraham the land of Israel another promise is made. God promises to bless the "nations" of the world through Abraham's seed. We know from the NT that the seed is Christ and that the nations have reference to all those throughout redemptive history--from every tongue, tribe, nation and language, who trust in Him. The NT writers' explanation of the promise made to Abraham is much, much larger than many have acknowledged.
This idea is strengthened by the linguistic relationship between the Hebrew word for land and earth. The word הָאָרֶץ can be translated either land or earth. It is used in Gen. 12:1 where God promised Abraham that he would inherit the land. One can immediately see how Paul understands the development from the idea of the land of Israel (as being the typical inheritance) to the inheritance of the entire world. God's promise to Abraham functioned on two levels: 1) the typical, earthly promise, and 2) the eschatological realization of this promise in the new heavens and new earth.
It is, in fact, the case that Abraham's descendants (i.e. those who have faith in Christ, see Gal. 3) become heirs of the "world," in Him who overcame and received the inheritance of the world from His Father. In Christ, we too become heirs of God and of the world. This is also the explanation of the words of our Lord, "The meek shall inherit the earth," and Peter's reference to the New Heavens and the New Earth. Believers will come to possess "all things," as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 6.
In the book of Revelation, all of the places that were representative of the sphere of God's blessing (i.e. the Garden, Land and City) become names of the Church. Redeemed humanity becomes the environment (i.e. the sacred space) of God's dwelling, the eschatological sphere of blessing. The covenant promise that God would dwell with and in His people is typified from Eden to Christ. In the New Covenant the land no longer has the typical significance it once had. Meredith Kline explained how it is that man no longer needs a typical environment for redemption because He becomes the dwelling place:
At the consummation man leaves behind the external he has developed through his earthly history. Glorified mankind is depicted as the city of God, the fullness of the new heaven and new earth. Scriptures identification of the eternal city with the glorified church (Rev. 21:9-10) is accompanied by its proclamation of a new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1) and thus intends, of course, no negation of the cosmic dimension of consummated creation, glorified mankind is incorporated into the archetypal Spirit-temple, with which, the cosmos has been integrated. Hence, it is at once the people-temple and the cosmos-temple, together consummated in the glory temple.
The interchangeable language used in Scripture--in which the Church is likened to a Garden, Land, City and Temple--is founded upon the fact that man is taken from the earth/land /ground, the original dwelling place of God with man. It is only through the shed blood of our Savior Jesus Christ that the ground is redeemed, and man again enjoys (and now to a much greater degree) the blessings of God on the land. The blessings of Christ on the land are really typical of His blessings on His people. It will be fully realized in His dwelling with His people in the New Heavens and New Earth. It is image bearers with which God is most concerned. The environment is simply a way of showing the totality and comprehensiveness of His riches in Christ Jesus. In the truest and highest sense, "He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found."
Nick Batzig is the organizing pastor/church planter of New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Richmond Hill, Ga. Nick has written numerous articles for Tabletalk Magazine, >Reformation 21, and is published in Jonathan Edwards and Scotland (Dunedin, 2011) and the forthcoming Jonathan Edwards for the Church (EP 2015). Nick is the editor of the Christward Collective, blogs at Feeding on Christ and is the host of East of Eden: The Biblical and Systematic Theology of Jonathan Edwards. You can friend him on Facebook here or follow him on Twitter @nick_Batzig.