Marduk was the chief deity of the Babylonian pantheon. Every aspect of ancient near eastern society was arranged around the temples of the gods: humankind existed, so it was thought, to care for the gods. Genesis Chapters 1-2 is written in the shadow of Ancient Near Eastern temple mythology. It radically dismantles the dominant worldview of its time and builds an understanding of the world that gives hope. Not enslaved to the gods, God’s people are launched into society to love the world to life and God is their strength.
Marduk’s temple had a garden. Gardens were a part of ancient near eastern temple complexes. Temple gardens supplied food for the gods. A well-fed god, so it was thought, would be more likely to act favourably towards people! So priests set out food for the gods, three times day, from the temple garden. What Babylonians believed about the garden they believed about the world: the world exists only for the benefit of the gods. The world is an unimportant backwater location, a second-class scene.
The garden of Genesis Chapter 2 dialogues with this worldview. In rejection of the
And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food…(Genesis 2:8-9).
The God of Israel has created a first-class world. What He creates is truly ‘good’. And this garden is a place where humanity can thrive. ‘Pleasant to the sight and good for food’, it both sustains and pleasures. God does not stop at feeding Adam and Eve – He delights and woos them with aesthetic beauty.
What does this imply for Christian discipleship? Christian discipleship begins with delight and wonder. Delighted immersion in God’s world, full of praise and wonder. Christian education begins here too. As students learn to delight their response to God befits his fatherly care and creativity. Delight too is the impetus for deep investigation of God’s intricate world.
It helps to recognise that the default posture of our culture towards the world is not wonder but convenience. Our culture of convenience and consumption has a Babylonian, second-class view of the world. Sometimes we are too busy to pause and delight in the world that God has made:
In a way, nobody sees a flower really, it is so small, we haven’t time—to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
Delight then ought to be a dominant tone of our classrooms. We must guide our children to take the time to ‘see’. A teacher friend of mine gave a lesson to primary aged children, most of whom didn’t know Christ. How to bring these children to delight as they gaze upon God’s world? He began the lesson with two ‘blades’ of grass in his hands. One was regular green grass, long enough to be sprouting seeds. The other was a head of wheat, golden, attached to a long stalk. He also took along a basket of bread. ‘Both of these are ‘grass’’ he explained. ‘But we only get bread from one – the wheat. What is it about wheat that it can be used to make bread? Wheat is a kind of grass that holds its seeds. Most grass can’t produce bread because most grass drops its seeds too early.’ As children observed the difference between the two grasses he added: ‘The only way us human beings can have bread is if there is a grass that holds its seeds. And there is – wheat! Amazing! Isn’t God wise to give us grass that holds its seeds? Isn’t he good!’
The children agreed. They had begun to delight. And it is often a short distance from delight to worship. Then they read together Genesis 1:29:
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth…
He explained that this verse is probably referring to the very phenomenon we had been speaking about: God’s supplying the earth with grass that holds its seeds.