Root: גַּנָּה / גַּן
Sounds like: gahn/gah’nah
I’m not a very good gardener. Unlike my parents I was not blessed with a green thumb (apparently that skips a generation), but I try my best. I have some lovely poppies (my favourite), a few fruit and nut trees, a healthy crop of tomatoes, and a thriving, vibrant, collection of weeds.
Gan and gannah, comes from the root ganan, which means to surround or to defend, indicating that the Hebrew concept of a garden was an enclosed area, perhaps like a walled garden. We’re not talking about expansive open fields of mass produced crops; rather a garden was a specific enclosed location. This is how we should picture the garden in Eden:
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that YHWH God made earth and heaven. Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for YHWH God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. Then YHWH God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. YHWH God planted a garden in Eden [gan b-Eden] toward the east; and there He placed the man [ha-adam] whom He had formed. Out of the ground YHWH God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden [ha-gan], and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
YHWH had yet to create a shrub or a plant because there was no rain and no man to cultivate such things. But once God created mist and water for the surface, He formed a human and gave it the breath of life… and only after these things, did God plant a garden, or more specifically, an orchard of trees:
Then YHWH God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden [b-gan Eden] to cultivate it and keep it. YHWH God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden [ha-gan] you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” Then YHWH God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
Notice that the human was put into the garden to cultivate it and to keep it, and to help the garden flourish. And God gave a helper to Adam, and that helper, called Life [khava], was to come to the aid of the human when he cried out for help. But the first time Life took action, she tried to help herself:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which YHWH God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden [ha-gan]’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden [ha-gan] we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden [ha-gan], God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The serpent makes Eve doubt her understanding of God… “Are you sure that’s what God said? Surely you won’t die! Maybe He’s just saying that so you don’t find out that you actually can be your own god, understanding all of creation and all there is to know! Maybe He doesn’t want you to find out that you don’t need Him!”
Of all the beautiful trees in God’s garden, why was just this one tree in the orchard forbidden? What was so bad about eating from the tree of knowledge? Wasn’t it a good thing to be knowledgeable?
But that wasn’t the point. Knowing everything wasn’t the key to life… trusting in the Creator and living in the goodness of His garden was all that was needed to live a fulfilling life. Eve didn’t trust that this was the case… and neither did Adam.
As soon as they ate, death invaded the garden. Adam and Eve received the knowledge they thought they wanted to know… but that knowledge brought feelings of shame, not illumination.
They heard the sound of YHWH God walking in the garden [ba-gan] in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of YHWH God among the trees of the garden [ha-gan]. Then the YHWH God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He [Adam] said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden [ba-gan], and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then YHWH God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Notice, both Adam (human) and Eve (life) tried to shift the blame to someone else. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent… certainly, the path of sin had a strong start. Blame was the first step towards death and destruction, self importance and pride. It was all alive and well within Eden the moment someone took a bite of the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden.
And so with this terrible mistake, Eve and Adam were sent out of the garden…. Not because YHWH didn’t want them there, but because there was no place for them.
You cannot live in the presence of God and try to be a god yourself. God loved life and order; the Deceiver loved death and chaos… and when the serpent deceived Eve and got her to taste sin, it opened the floodgates for death to enter the garden and infect humanity. Death cannot exist in the presence of God and so Eve and Adam had to leave the garden:
Then YHWH God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore YHWH God sent him out from the garden of Eden [mi-gan Eden], to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden [le-gan Eden] He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
Now Eve and Adam were expelled from the garden and were left to cultivate the earth which had grown weedy and burdensome with the choice they made. Remember that the earth started off as an uninhabitable wasteland until God put it in order. The choice to eat the forbidden fruit caused the return of chaos and death, but God would not give up on humanity. He would come up with a plan to save them from their own poorly executed choices.
Referring to Eden
YHWH promised He would take the desert wilderness (tohu v’vohu) of Zion, which we created ourselves, and turn it back into Eden:
Indeed, YHWH will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden [k-Eden], and her desert like the garden [k-gan] of YHWH; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and sound of a melody.
“Pay attention to Me, O My people, and give ear to Me, O My nation; for a law will go forth from Me, and I will set My justice for a light of the peoples. My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth…”
Biblical garden imagery is very much wrapped up with salvation. YHWH made a Covenant with the people: He would save them from their own dreadful mistake. They chose to become gods themselves, and in doing so they took the well ordered and watered garden and created a wild wasteland. But YHWH would take the uninhabitable chaotic space and remake it to be like Eden and the garden He planted within it.
This would not be an easy transition, however. There was much destruction and much sin that had to be addressed and God would not let all go unpunished:
Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of YHWH is coming; surely it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.
As the dawn is spread over the mountains, so there is a great and mighty people; there has never been anything like it, nor will there be again after it to the years of many generations.
A fire consumes before them and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden [k-gan Eden] before them but a desolate wilderness behind them, and nothing at all escapes them.
YHWH put the garden of Eden ahead of them. It was reachable, but they would have to step out into the wilderness and walk through the destruction they created to get back to the garden.
But many could not step away, and they relied on their own power and their desire to be gods themselves. Pharaoh was continually seen as such a man. The writings of Ezekiel pointed out to the Pharaoh of Egypt that the Assyrians were surrounded by beauty reflective of the garden of Eden. In fact it was even said that “no tree in God’s garden could compare with it in its beauty”:
Ezekiel 31-1-3, 7-14
In the eleventh year, in the third month, on the first of the month, the word of YHWH came to me saying, “Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his hordes, ‘Whom are you like in your greatness?’
Behold, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon with beautiful branches and forest shade, and very high, and its top was among the clouds.’ …‘So it was beautiful in its greatness, in the length of its branches; for its roots extended to many waters. ‘The cedars in God’s garden could not match it; the cypresses could not compare with its boughs, and the plane trees could not match its branches. No tree in God’s garden could compare with it in its beauty. I made it beautiful with the multitude of its branches, and all the trees of Eden, which were in the garden of God [b’gan ha-Elohim], were jealous of it’.
‘Therefore thus says the Lord YHWH, “Because it is high in stature and has set its top among the clouds, and its heart is haughty in its loftiness, therefore I will give it into the hand of a despot of the nations; he will thoroughly deal with it. According to its wickedness I have driven it away. Alien tyrants of the nations have cut it down and left it; on the mountains and in all the valleys its branches have fallen and its boughs have been broken in all the ravines of the land. And all the peoples of the earth have gone down from its shade and left it. On its ruin all the birds of the heavens will dwell, and all the beasts of the field will be on its fallen branches so that all the trees by the waters may not be exalted in their stature, nor set their top among the clouds, nor their well-watered mighty ones stand erect in their height. For they have all been given over to death, to the earth beneath, among the sons of men, with those who go down to the pit.”
Humans can make things very visually beautiful, comparable even to the beauty of God’s garden, but it’s all temporary and fleeting. The things of this world will be cut down, branches will fall, boughs will break, and it will all be given over to death and thrown into the pit. But YHWH loved humans, regardless of their great faults. All other earthly things would fade away, but humans He vowed to save:
‘Thus says the Lord YHWH, “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passes by. They will say, ‘This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden [k-gan Eden]; and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left round about you will know that I, YHWH, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate; I, YHWH, have spoken and will do it.”
God would take the desolate and cultivate it as it was meant to be gardened. YHWH is the great Gardener. He wouldn’t let the bad seeds sprout and flourish like an invading species. He would tend to, and care for, each and every plant, making sure to quench the garden’s thirst with water and guide every little seed to reach their full potential.
A Well Watered Garden
Of course all gardens need water to flourish, the Creation story made that clear. From Eden came a river to water the garden, and that river branched into four more rivers:
Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden [l’hash’qowt et ha-gan]; and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
This earth is the garden… and YHWH provided the waters and everything we needed to govern over it and help it grow, and produce, and flourish. But the land promised by YHWH, for the Hebrew people, was a special part of the garden-earth:
“For the land, into which you are entering to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you used to sow your seed and water it with your foot like a vegetable garden [k-gan]. But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which YHWH your God cares; the eyes of YHWH your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.
YHWH’s eyes were always on Israel. He cared deeply for this land which was compared to a well watered garden:
“How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens [k-gannot] beside the river, like aloes planted by YHWH, like cedars beside the waters. Water will flow from his buckets, and his seed will be by many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.”
But those who turned their back on YHWH, or refused to repent, were compared to a parched and dying garden:
Zion will be redeemed with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness. But transgressors and sinners will be crushed together, and those who forsake YHWH will come to an end.
Surely you will be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired, and you will be embarrassed at the gardens [meh-ha-gannot]] which you have chosen. For you will be like an oak whose leaf fades away or as a garden [u-k’gannah]] that has no water.
The strong man will become tinder, his work also a spark. Thus they shall both burn together and there will be none to quench them.
Destroying the Garden
These people were like a dying garden because they turned away from their Creator. They gave no heed, or respect, or honour the the very One who made the garden in the first place. So YHWH allowed the people to continue to uphold the ridiculous facade that they were gods themselves, but He wouldn’t make it easy for them. YHWH let nature take its course: bugs, wind, and mould brought destruction to the gardens. The power of God’s creation made it very clear to humans that they were not gods and that they had very little control over anything themselves.
Amos 4:9, 12-13
“I smote you with scorching wind and mildew; and the caterpillar was devouring your many gardens [har’bowt gannotekem] and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees; yet you have not returned to Me,” declares YHWH… Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel.”
For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind and declares to man what are His thoughts, He who makes dawn into darkness and treads on the high places of the earth, YHWH God of hosts is His name.
Humans were not gods, no matter how hard we wanted to be. The only God was YHWH, God of all the heavenly hosts and all the earth. There was only one human who had any claim to the attributes of God: His Anointed One, His Son, the Messiah.
Restoring the Garden
It would be the Messiah who would restore the garden. Only through Him would there be hope for those who humbly sought out YHWH and followed Him, and actively lived out the commandments of the Kingdom.
And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday.
And YHWH will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden [k-gan raweh], and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will raise up the age-old foundations; and you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell.
Those who followed YHWH would repair the breach between God and humanity.
Then you will say on that day, “I will give thanks to You, O YHWH; for although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for YAH YHWH is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation. Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.”
God is a God of Salvation. He wants to save His people and the garden they live in.
Throughout his life the prophet Jeremiah suffered horribly. He was mocked, beaten, thrown down a cistern, and eventually dragged to Egypt. And despite all his dire warnings, which came to fruition, the people never came to his defence. Jeremiah was there when Jerusalem fell and the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. But despite all this, it was Jeremiah who communicated the greatest hope:
Hear the word of YHWH, O nations, and declare in the coastlands afar off, and say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him and keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.”
For YHWH has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the hand of him who was stronger than he. They will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion, and they will be radiant over the bounty of YHWH— over the grain and the new wine and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; and their life will be like a watered garden [k-gan raweh], and they will never languish again.
The prophet Isaiah also shared this great hope. After all the suffering all the nations would become like a watered, sprouting, garden:
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden [u-k’gannah] causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord YHWH will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
The prophet Amos also shared the same message when he recorded YHWH’s words:
“Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; they will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens [gannowt] and eat their fruit.
I will also plant them on their land, and they will not again be rooted out from their land which I have given them,” says YHWH your God.
The earth was God’s garden and all the nations who sought God would become like a well watered a garden. But Israel was a special part of the garden… and God promised to restore and rebuild them; He would plant them so strongly that they could never again be rooted out. This enclosed garden would be planted deeply, securely, and permanently.
Besides these metaphorical representations of the word garden, there are also a few stories in the Bible where the garden (as a location) makes an intriguing appearance:
Fleeing by way of the Garden
There are at least two incidents (recorded in three locations) where a king of Judah tried to escape from oncoming foreign persecution, by fleeing through his own garden. King Ahaziah, (2 Kings 9:27-28) and Zedekiah (see below) both tried to evade oncoming armies by escaping through their gardens. In both instances the kings were captured. Ahaziah was killed and Zedekiah was tortured and dragged into exile:
Jeremiah 39:4-7 (see also 2 Kings 25:1-7)
When Zedekiah the king of Judah and all the men of war saw them, they fled and went out of the city at night by way of the king’s garden [gan ha-melek] through the gate between the two walls; and he went out toward the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho; and they seized him and brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, and he passed sentence on him. Then the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes at Riblah; the king of Babylon also slew all the nobles of Judah. He then blinded Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him in fetters of bronze to bring him to Babylon.
I suspect the author had a reason for mentioning that Zedekiah (and Ahaziah) fled through the garden. It’s a detail that some might deem superfluous. But fleeing through the garden, means you’re passing through the work of the gardener, and maybe even passing the gardener himself. God was watching.
Buried in the Garden
It’s also important to point out that in ancient Israel, kings and high officials were buried in their gardens:
2 Kings 21:17-18, 25-26
Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh and all that he did and his sin which he committed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? And Manasseh slept with his fathers and was buried in the garden [b-gan] of his own house, in the garden [b-gan] of Uzza, and Amon his son became king in his place….
…Now the rest of the acts of Amon which he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? He was buried in his grave in the garden [b-gan] of Uzza, and Josiah his son became king in his place.
These stories of fleeing through gardens and being buried in gardens all point to the New Testament.
The New Testament Garden
Believers often talk about the Garden of Gethsemane. But nowhere in the Bible do the words “Garden of Gethsemane” appear together. Gethsemane is a Hebrew combination word made up of gath (1660), meaning press, and shemen (8081), meaning oil. So Gethsemane meant oil press and the area was an olive garden/grove (which it still is today).
Mark 14:32-36 (See also Matthew 26)
They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He [Jesus] said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.” And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”
This great prayer (“not what I will, but what You will.”) was well placed in the garden. We know God walked through the garden in the days of Eve and Adam and spoke to them. He connected with His creation by walking alongside them. Yeshua fell to the ground and called out to YHWH in the garden. But YHWH did not respond. There had been a separation, a breach, and Yeshua had to be the sacrifice to bring humanity back to the garden. It was God’s will… and Yeshua accepted it.
The Gospel of John doesn’t mention Gethsemane but it does mention the garden on the other side of the Kidron Valley. Putting Mark and Matthew’s account beside John’s account, gives us the phrase Garden of Gethsemane.
John 18:1b-4, 17-18, 25-26
…He [Jesus] went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples. Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples. Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”…
After Judas’ infamous kiss, all of Yeshua’s followers fled the garden. Just like the kings of Judah they feared their enemies and made a run for it (Mark 14:51). Yeshua was abandoned by his friends and arrested by the Roman cohort and the officers of the Jews. Immediately after bolting, Peter faced his own impromptu trial:
John 17-18, 25-26
…Then the slave-girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself…
…Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it, and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” Peter then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
In Peter’s final denial he said he was NOT in the garden with Yeshua. This is something which I think is often overlooked: in that moment Peter took himself out of God’s garden, and then the rooster crowed. It wasn’t just the fact that he denied God… it was that he denied God AND removed himself from the garden of Eden and all the goodness that goes with it, including walking alongside the Creator. In that moment Peter put a gap between himself and God; he stepped out of the garden and walked alone.
Meanwhile, Yeshua was sent to the execution rack. He was nailed, lifted up, and hung on the cross.
But Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed His last. And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
When the centurion standing there in front of Jesus saw how He had breathed His last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
And there were also women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. These women had followed Jesus and ministered to Him while He was in Galilee, and there were many other women who had come up to Jerusalem with Him.
At this point Yeshua’s body was removed from the cross by two of Jesus’ followers:
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. Nicodemus, who had first come to Him [Jesus] by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Yeshua [Jesus], like the kings of Judah before him, was buried in a garden tomb.
The True King, the True Gardener
Yeshua’s faithful follower, Mary Magdalen, must have been in agony. She wept at Yeshua’s grave, and in a moment of great heartbreak she peeked into the tomb, perhaps hoping to see one last glimpse of her friend and King:
But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her.
Mary wasn’t completely wrong. She thought this man was just the gardener and, in a way, she was right. But this was no ordinary gardener, this was the True Gardener, leading people back to Eden, replanting and restoring, and offering Salvation to all who wanted to partake in the goodness of God’s Garden. Eve and Adam may have invited death into the orchard, but Yeshua’s death destroyed the gap and allowed us all to enter freely into the garden, face our Creator, and be at peace. This Gardener knew Mary’s name, and He knows yours too.
Next week: AWEsome!