and YHWH planted a garden in Eden Genesis 2:8
Eden – By the time Rousseau finished refurbishing the Garden of Eden, we all thought this Hebrew word referred to a tropical paradise filled with exotic plants and erotic delights. It’s time to leave all those images behind and look at the real word play involved in this verse. What we discover just might change your entire view of pleasure.
A little detective work reveals that ‘eden is a very unusual word. As you know, most nouns in Hebrew have gender. Just like French, Spanish and Latin, nouns are either feminine or masculine. Often this gender characteristic seems completely independent of the actual object the word refers to. For example, a full harvest is feminine but an angel is masculine (yes, that’s right, there are no blond, female angels, even for Charlie). This characteristic produces some strange (but important) insights. For example, the words describing Man (adam – masculine) as a “living being” are both feminine nouns (nephesh hayah). But ‘eden is really odd. It is both masculine and feminine. In Psalm 36:8, ‘eden is masculine. It describes the many enjoyments God gives us. But in Genesis 18:12, ‘eden is a feminine noun that describes intimate sexual delight. Of course, ‘eden is also the name of a place. So, when we read this text in Hebrew, a host of images come immediately to mind. God’s good gifts, sexual pleasure, luxury and pregnancy are all included in the word for the location of this Garden. Apparently the Hebrew language defines pleasure in much broader categories than our usual imagination about Eden.
There is something else we need to notice here. Eden was not created by Disney or MGM or the Las Vegas zoning commission. Eden is God’s place of pleasure. In other words, Man does not determine what will be his pleasure in life. God puts Man in the place of God’s pleasure. God tells Man what pleasure is – and what it is not. The pictograph makes the point. Ayin-Daleth-Nun is a picture of “experiencing the door to life.” God defines pleasure as that which gives life. And, of course, God, the author of life, defines what life is.
This hidden assumption is vitally important for us. What happens when we decide to define pleasure in our own terms? We take on God’s role. We act as though we are the source of life. We choose pleasure based on what satisfies us, what is good for us, what we find enjoyable. But we are not God. We do not own life. We are but fragile creatures completely dependent on His grace for our breath and bread. Who are we to determine what belongs in the garden? Eden is God’s realm and His design. Every time we choose to define pleasure based on our estimation of what is good, we eat from the tree that brings chaos, destruction and death. From the biblical perspective, I am not free to determine the nature of pleasure. God decides that for me. That’s why He planted a garden in ‘eden.
How desperately we need to learn the lesson in this simple Hebrew word play! In a culture that advocates redefining pleasure with every new stimulus, we no longer understand God’s Eden nor are we able to find it among the lesser gods of our own making. The pursuit of pleasure only takes us further from the truth. I don’t need to pursue what God has already given me. I just need to obey – and let His design become my delight once again.
Topical Index: Eden, ‘eden, pleasure, delight, sex, Genesis 2:8