Liturgy in the Garden of Eden

March 23, 2018

by Jonathan Gibson

Worship in Eden

The beginning of creation was the beginning of worship in heaven and on earth—by the created order, and by the first couple of mankind. However, in the unfolding revelation of God in history, the first explicit call to worship was made to Adam. Created from the dust of the earth as a man, yet made in the image of God as his son, Adam was placed in the garden-temple of Eden as God’s prophet-priest-king to work and keep it. As prophet, he was to speak God’s Word to God’s world; as priest, he was to guard God’s divine sanctuary and mediate God’s blessing to the world; as king, he was to rule God’s world. As God’s son—and in his specific roles of prophet, priest, and king—Adam was called to worship God through his word: “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'” (Gen. 2:16–17). It was a call to adore and acknowledge the goodness and greatness of God. His goodness was seen in the invitation to eat from every tree of the garden, trees that were pleasant to the eye and good for food; his greatness was seen in the prohibition to eat from one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—a sign that God alone was God, and man was to have no other gods before him. In sum, it was a command to know God and enjoy him forever.

The call of worship came to Adam in the context of a covenant, in which life was promised to him and through him to all his descendants, upon the condition of his personal and perfect obedience (cf. WCF 7.2). This call to worship within a life-and-death bond distinguished Adam from the animal kingdom: He was not only unique as an image-bearer of God’s glory; he was unique as a heaven-bound homo liturgicus.

Worship in Eden was familial, covenantal communion with God, through his Word and sacrament.

God’s call to worship within this covenant of life was expected to elicit in Adam a response of faith and obedience, love and devotion, with heart and mind and strength. Adam’s reward for such a response was to be a fellowship meal with God at the tree of life. Adam was commanded to fast from one tree in order that he might feast at another tree, and thus enjoy consummate union and communion with God—everlasting life. And so, for Adam and all his descendants, a liturgy was fixed, stitched into the very order and fabric of human life on earth: call—response—meal:

Call to worship (through God’s Word)
Response (by faith and obedience, love and devotion)
Fellowship meal (union and communion with God)

In short, worship in Eden was familial, covenantal communion with God, through his Word and sacrament.

Idolatry in Eden

This singular invitation to worship was soon muted when Adam allowed the serpent—that craftiest of creatures—to enter the garden-temple. Through Eve, the serpent presented Adam with an alternative liturgy. He called Eve (and through her, Adam) to abandon the call of God and follow his call to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and become like God. It was an invitation to act in unbelief and disobedience toward God, but in faith and obedience toward the devil—to bow down and worship the creature instead of the creator. The one who had abandoned the worship of God in heaven—angelic Lucifer himself—had come to spoil the worship of God on earth. In careless and sinful rebellion, Adam followed the lead of his wife and obeyed the voice of the serpent, eating from the forbidden tree. He abandoned his probationary fast, disobeyed the voice of God, and bowed down to the serpent. Since evil and error are always parasitic on goodness and truth, the worship of the serpent became a counterfeit worship of God. Adam and all his descendants remained in the same state: homo liturgicus. The liturgical structure for humanity remained the same: call—response—meal. But the object of worship had changed. God had been dethroned in the heart of man, and the devil had been enthroned. The worship of the Creator had been exchanged for the worship of the creature. An alternative liturgy—idolatry—had been introduced into the world and would remain the liturgical disposition of all Adam’s descendants.

Worship through Sacrifice

Yet God is too great and good and glorious to forego the right, fitting, and delightful adoration that is due him from his creatures—angelic and human. And so, in heaven, he removed the wicked Lucifer (cf. Luke 10:18), in order to preserve a devoted and faithful angelic choir for his own praise. On earth, God made another covenant with man—the covenant of grace.

The worship of the serpent became a counterfeit worship of God.

In Genesis 3:15, God promised another son who would come and crush the serpent, and by implication, restore—and perfect—the worship to which he had first called Adam in the beginning. The covenant of grace became the context in which God would relate to his elect people from the offspring of the woman. God’s first act in this new gracious arrangement was to clothe Adam and Eve with garments of skin, which implied an animal had been slain. An innocent victim had to die in the place of the guilty pair, so that they could remain, even temporarily, in the presence of God. The idea of sacrifice as a prerequisite for being in the presence of a holy God, whatever the duration, would become essential for all future worship of the chosen seed. Indeed, for there to be a permanent restoration of God’s people living in God’s presence, worshiping him and communing with him, a future son of the woman would have to undergo the flaming sword of God’s judgment—in effect, experience death and resurrection—in order to lead the offspring of the woman back into the presence of God, so that they could eat from the tree of life.

However, until that permanent arrangement would be realized through the promised son, animal sacrifice would become an essential part of worship in the covenant of grace. The mention of descendants of Eve “calling upon the name of the Lord” after the birth of Seth (Gen. 4:26) demonstrates that the dawning of a new era of worship, east of Eden, had begun. As redemptive history unfolded, sacrifices began to play an important part in the lives of the chosen seed. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob responded to God’s call (Word) in faith and obedience, and offered sacrificed to God. The centrality of sacrifice to the worship of God under this new dispensation of grace was also seen in the life of God’s national (typical) son Israel, where the sacrificial system became foundational to their cultic practices. Indeed the purpose of the Exodus and the Tabernacle building at Sinai is described in terms of the sacrificial worship of God’s son. In Egypt, God commanded Pharaoh to let his son go, so that his son might “serve” him (Exod. 3:18; 5:1). Worship by sacrifice in the Holy of Holies reached its climax under King Solomon, God’s royal (typical) son. In his “dedication service” for the temple on Mount Zion, Solomon offered an incalculable number of sheep and oxen (cf. 2 Chron. 5:6), as he led Israel in worship in the Holy of Holies.

This piece is adapted from Jonathan Gibson, “Worship: On Earth as It Is in Heaven″ in Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present, eds. Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey (Greensboro, IL: New Growth Press, 2018) 4–6. Used with permission of the publisher.

Jonathan Gibson

Dr. Jonathan Gibson (PhD, Cambridge) is professor of Old Testament at WTS.

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