The pre-flood world is fascinating. Obviously, we don’t have as much info about it as we’d want. In the creation story, the author takes a good bit of space to present the Garden God created: a lush paradise on Earth in which the first couple lived. But God also lived in the Garden, together with his heavenly host and the first couple. Genesis does not clearly state that, but looking at texts like Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28 and Revelation 21 and 22 we can see that God created the Garden for himself as well. For further reading, I would recommend the writings of Michael Heiser.
In this perfect garden, Adam and Eve, God, and the angels lived together in perfect harmony. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were sent away from the Garden of Eden to Eden. When Cain sinned, he was kicked out of Eden, further away from God’s presence. As humans sinned more and more, God pushed them further and further away from his proximity.
What happened to the Garden of Eden is a question many of us thought about. It was the most important sacred space on Earth since God lived there. The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about it after the fall. Or does it?
Genesis 3:22-24 tells us God banned the access of humans to the tree of life that was in the Garden of Eden. When we look at Revelation 21 and 22, we see that where the tree of life is, that is where God is and vice-versa. Also, the Cherubim are protectors of God’s holy presence and sacred space in the Scripture. Therefore, we have hints from these verses that God continued to live on Earth, in the Garden, even after man sinned and was expelled from the Garden of Eden.
In Genesis 6:3, God says the following because of man’s sinfulness and the angelic rebellion:
Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” (ESV translation)
It’s indeed a difficult verse to translate, and there are many options that have been offered by scholars.
The verb form יָדוֹן (yadon) only occurs here. It‘s a hapax legomenon. That means a word that has only one occurrence in the Biblical text. Unique occurrences are always difficult to translate. Some derive it from the verbal root דִּין (din, “to judge”) and translate “strive” or “contend with” (for exemple NIV), but in this case one expects the form to be יָדִין (yadin). The Old Greek has “remain,” a rendering which may find support from an Arabic cognate according to Claus Westermann’s Genesis commentary. Cassuto, Gunkel, Westermann and other scholars support the translation „remain.”
Another problem is if it should be translated remain in or remain with? The Old Greek Septuagint text supports remain with. CSB and NASB translate this way and NET argues for it in a footnote. Many other translations present this alternative in their footnotes as well.
After carefully considering and studying all the possibilities, my translation is the following: My Spirit will not remain with man forever for he is flesh. His days shall be 120 years.
Once we move from the textual problem, we need to think about the interpretation. Accepting that God lived on Earth when the Garden was created and knowing that God did not live on Earth after the flood, this verse is God’s declaration of leaving Earth.
God declares His Spirit will not remain in the proximity of the sinful human race. The word Adam here has the same meaning as in verse 1, namely humankind. As humans became more and more sinful, God pushed them away from his presence as far as he could, yet human iniquity continued to increase. In this verse, God declares he will leave the Earth and destroy all humans in 120 years.
Many have tried to interpret 120 as referring to human longevity, but we have many patriarchs outliving 120 years for centuries after the flood. Even today, there are humans, few indeed, that have lived over 120 years. God’s words make much more sense when they are understood as a deadline for the flood from the moment God spoke the words of Genesis 6:3. If he left the Earth at that very moment, we cannot say. We see God closing the door of the Ark though.
So, what happened to the Garden of Eden? The most logical answer is that it was destroyed in the flood. This was another reason for the flood. The garden was destroyed together with the tree of life and the tree of knowledge.
This follows the pattern we see regarding sacred spaces in the Bible. When God decided to destroy the first temple in Jerusalem, His glory departed from the temple before it was destroyed (see Ezekiel 10). Not much longer after that, the temple obliterated by the Babylonians. Obviously, his glory couldn’t be in a place He was pouring judgement over, even if it was the visible symbol of it.
The same pattern is true of the second temple. The moment Christ gave his Spirit on the cross, the veil that separated the holy of the holies was torn in two. About 40 years later, the temple was destroyed by the Romans.
The Garden of Eden was God’s temple on Earth. His Spirit was there. But when humans and angels that lived on Earth rebelled again him, He moved to another realm and destroyed his earthly temple, the Garden. The Jerusalem temples were destroyed as well because of the sinfulness of Israel. After the death and resurrection of Christ, something unheard of happened. God does not abide WITH humans in earthly temples anymore, but his Spirit abides IN humans. Because of Christ and the Holy Spirit, the Christians are today living temples, a sacred space, holy and separated from sin, in which God does his work.