Searching for Eden in the Middle East

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Searching for Eden in the Middle East

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Imagine walking into the Garden of Eden for the very first time! It's always a topic of interesting conversation when we imagine Adam and Eve living in such an idyllic setting. They had a perfect climate—to the point that not even clothes were needed for them to be comfortably warm. And we read about those magnificent animals dwelling in perfect peace with them!

Eden has come to represent the perfect idea of paradise. Adam and Eve were placed in a luxuriant garden, a kind of paradise. The English word paradise can be traced back the ancient Persian word for an enclosed garden, a beautiful setting common to royalty where anyone might want to live. In this beginning, human beings were at peace with nature, not fearing bad weather or wild animals. It was a perfect setting to prepare them for their ultimate destiny in the family of God.

However, something happened in that garden that forever changed the course of human history! And it wasn't pretty. Adam and Eve took fruit from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After that, humanity descended deep into another world, filled with sin and trouble.

A destructive cycle of disobedience to God became embedded in their children and grandchildren—all the way down to you and me today. The gravity of sin led to the needed sacrifice of our Lord and Savior in order for humanity to regain any hope of the original intent of the Garden of Eden—eternal life in the family of God.

Does God plan for a return to paradise? Will the intent behind the Garden in Eden ever be restored?

Where was Eden?

Note in Genesis chapter 2 a few details about the location of this garden fit for royalty:

"The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed . . . Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold . . . The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one which goes around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Hiddekel; [or Tigris] it is the one which goes toward the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates" (Genesis 2:8-14 Genesis 2:8-14 [8] And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. [9] And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. [10] And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it was parted, and became into four heads. [11] The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasses the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; [12] And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. [13] And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasses the whole land of Ethiopia. [14] And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goes toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.
American King James Version×
).

Where are the Tigris and Euphrates rivers on our modern world map? Historically, the area is known as Mesopotamia—as part of the larger Fertile Crescent. It is often dubbed the cradle of civilization. The Tigris-Euphrates Basin is shared by Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Kuwait. Most of us think of this area as the Middle East.

The location of the Garden of Eden is generally believed to have been in the area of what is today Iraq and neighboring countries. Some Bible scholars feel it could have been near the Persian Gulf, either on the north side near Basrah or along its western coast in Kuwait or Bahrain. Others locate it in the north near Mosul, or to the northeast near Tabriz in Iran. In any case, it's in the area of the Middle East, and it leads us to a very big question.

Will paradise ever be restored?

Paradise lost—now a region of turmoil and want

What do we see happening in the area of Mesopotamia today as we turn on the news, read the newspaper or check the latest Twitter feeds? It's nothing like we see pictured as paradise! Rather, it's a hotbed of ethnic strife, war, religious confusion, violence, unhappiness—and a warped sense of who and what God is. Where is the Garden of Eden now? Where is paradise? 

It's gone. Paradise has been lost! Peace among the nations and peoples of the "fertile crescent" is now elusive. Look at a brief summary of some major, tragic events from the wider region of where once stood the Garden of Eden.

The recent fall of Fallujah in Iraq to al-Qaeda-inspired fighters shows that many American and British lives lost in this century's first decade have tragically been in vain. The blurb beneath the headline of a USA Today article on losing Iraq stated that "a nation once seen as a great hope in the Middle East is unraveling, as al-Qaeda sinks its teeth in, and a bloodied America wonders what could have been" (Oren Dorell, "U.S. War Gains in Iraq Now Lost or Threatened," Jan. 12, 2014).

The many billions of U.S. dollars spent to modernize Afghanistan didn't stop its government's decision to release more than 70 enemy combatant prisoners, who promptly assaulted American and British soldiers. A column by Christina Lamb in the London Sunday Times was titled somewhat cynically "Our New Afghan Mission Is to Tiptoe Away and Hope Nobody Notices" (Dec. 22, 2013). Yet, she went on to comment, "Which mission? After 12 years of war there is still total confusion."

Insufficient water is becoming a growing regional problem in Egypt because a dam is being constructed on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia, substantially cutting the main Egyptian water supply. The Euphrates and Tigris rivers of "Eden" fame are seeing reduced flows, severely cutting water supplies in Iraq and Syria.

Middle Eastern countries waste enormous amounts of money on competing armed forces and modern military hardware in hopes of containing bordering nations that are doing the same. Other serious difficulties in several Mideast countries include inadequate schools, falling birth rates and repressive governments. And as Middle East expert Daniel Pipes wrote in a Washington Times piece earlier this year, "Efforts to overthrow greedy tyrants lead to yet-worse ideological tyrants (as in Iran in 1979) or to anarchy (as in Libya and Yemen)" ("The Middle East Mightily Resists Efforts to Prod Modernization," Jan. 23, 2014).

The Middle Eastern nations also lead the world in the use of the great moral plague of our time—pornography. Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and their neighbors lead the world in Internet searches for all subjects connected with pornography.  Perhaps the most disturbing is searches for child pornography. According to WikiIslam.net, the top five nations in this category are Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

And so we again see that Eden, our image of paradise, is no more. We see anything but peace and hope in the region today. But there is hope of it being restored! We'll get to that in a moment.

Jerusalem a heavy stone

The Bible often represents the city of Jerusalem as symbolic of the nation of Israel (or Judah) as a whole. Geopolitically the Bible primarily focuses on the Middle East and the city of Jerusalem. Particularly during the last 100 years, this region has stubbornly housed ethnic tensions that constantly stir anew. Scripture tells us the Middle East is destined to affect the lives of all of humankind. But why?

Many prophetic passages of the Bible provide a telling backdrop to the chaotic events we witness on a daily basis in the Middle East—tragic occurrences that shed light on the loss of the hopes and dreams God had for Eden.

The prophet Zechariah spoke of a time when Jerusalem would become a hotly contested piece of real estate. We see this coming to pass in many ways today as we reach the end of the age:

"The burden of the word of the Lord against Israel. Thus says the Lord: . . . 'Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it'" (Zechariah 12:1-3 Zechariah 12:1-3 [1] The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, said the LORD, which stretches forth the heavens, and lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him. [2] Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling to all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. [3] And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.
American King James Version×
, emphasis added throughout).

Middle East: focus of end-time prophecy

The Middle East is destined to play a big role in the fulfillment of many end-time Bible prophecies just prior to Christ's second coming (please see our free online study aid Seven Prophetic Signs Before Jesus Returns).

Ensuing events will climax in a horrendous time of world troubles never before experienced in human history. We get a glimpse of this in Jesus Christ's prophecy recorded in Matthew 24: "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:21 Matthew 24:21For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
American King James Version×
).

Clearly ethnic, religious and political tensions now dominate the Middle East. Prophecy shows that no nation on the globe can escape the effects of what the Bible says will happen there. However necessary they were deemed at the time, the military incursions both the United States and Britain have made into this remarkable region have clearly shown that, as Pipes observed, "Maladies run so deep in the Middle East . . . that outside powers cannot remedy them."

The Middle East is sick, but healing is coming

Observing this region's extremism, despotism, hatred and violence, Daniel Pipes labeled the Middle East as the "sick man of the world." Yet Bible prophecy indicates that this entire Middle Eastern region will, during Christ's magnificent reign, become another "Garden of Eden," showing the way of peace to the rest of the world! It's hard to imagine that today, isn't it?

What can be most encouraging to us is to know that such an Eden-like paradise is not too far off. It will happen during "the times of restoration of all things" spoken by the apostle Peter in Acts 3:19-21 Acts 3:19-21 [19] Repent you therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. [20] And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached to you: [21] Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
American King James Version×
. He wrote about a time when the earth would be "refreshed" and when all things would be restored to their original intent. These prosperous "times of refreshing" (Acts 3:19 Acts 3:19Repent you therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
American King James Version×
) will be instituted by Jesus Christ Himself after His return to the earth.

Yes, there is a definite plan for the ideals of Eden to be brought back. And yes, right in the middle of it all, Jerusalem is where Jesus Christ will bring this hope and joy back to humankind!

We have been on a tragic ride these past 6,000 years since Adam and Eve first sinned. And we have all followed suit. We're all to blame! It's time for a true, godly paradise to be restored.

Our world, the Middle East in particular, is moving even further from any kind of paradise—from any kind of Eden. And it affects all of us, whether we like to believe it or not. It's easy to sit in the comfort of our modern homes and block out world conditions from our minds. But that doesn't mean they'll go away! It's going to take a strong force, a godly force, to get our world back to an Edenic condition.

So what is our hope? When will an Eden-like realm be restored to our ailing planet?

Israel regathered to follow God

There must first come the restoration of all 12 tribes of Israel as one nation under the reign of the Messiah, as foretold again and again in the writings of the prophets. This is a prerequisite to all nations learning to follow God. After Jesus Christ's return to Jerusalem to establish His Father's Kingdom, the end-time survivors of the tribes of Israel will experience an unprecedented regathering.

Notice this vital prophecy from the book of Ezekiel. And note, this has not yet happened. It's prophetic. This has never before taken place—but it soon will!

"Thus says the Lord God: 'Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again" (Ezekiel 37:21-22 Ezekiel 37:21-22 [21] And say to them, Thus said the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, where they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: [22] And I will make them one nation in the land on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all.
American King James Version×
, emphasis added throughout).

As end-time prophecies about Israel unfold, these people will come to understand God and His expectations of them in a way they have never known before. The descendants of the lost 10 tribes of the northern kingdom will discover they are not gentiles, as so many mistakenly believe today. As humbled people, they will turn from their evil ways and seek the true knowledge of God. The house of Israel and the house of Judah will unite again as one nation under Jesus Christ—their reigning King.

The prophecies of Ezekiel point to the dramatic reunion of those of "lost Israel" with their brothers from Judah. This unified nation will comprise both the Jewish people —the descendants of the ancient kingdom of Judah—and the descendants of the other 10 tribes. Those of the so-called lost tribes of the northern kingdom, including the British and American people, will have repented of breaking the laws of the covenant, including God's Sabbath and Holy Days. And the Jews of the southern kingdom will have acknowledged Jesus as the true Messiah. Please read our important study aid on this subject, The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.

Finally, modern descendants of both kingdoms, for the first time in almost 3,000 years, will reunite as one nation. But they won't be the last. Peace and an Eden-like paradise will eventually envelope the entire world.

All nations will see Eden

As their King, Jesus Christ will immediately begin establishing a close working relationship with all people. As the righteous reign of Jesus Christ extends from Jerusalem and the surrounding Middle East, an idyllic, Eden-like civilization will flourish and spread. Peace and hope will return to old Mesopotamia!

In fact, God promises to restore the land to be like Eden: "For the Lord will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in it" (Isaiah 51:3 Isaiah 51:3For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.
American King James Version×
). And: "The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by. So they will say, 'This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited'" (Ezekiel 36:34-35 Ezekiel 36:34-35 [34] And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. [35] And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited.
American King James Version×
).

Moreover, peace will return to the animal realm: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the young lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den" (Isaiah 11:6-8 Isaiah 11:6-8 [6] The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatted calf together; and a little child shall lead them. [7] And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. [8] And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.
American King James Version×
).

And this peace in nature will also represent peace among all peoples, as the next verse tells us: "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain [the Kingdom that will overspread the world], for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9 Isaiah 11:9They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
American King James Version×
).

Other passages show rivers of waters going out from Jerusalem to water the earth and give life to trees for the healing of the nations (see Zechariah 14:8-9 Zechariah 14:8-9 [8] And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be. [9] And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one.
American King James Version×
; Ezekiel 47:1-12 Ezekiel 47:1-12 [1] Afterward he brought me again to the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar. [2] Then brought he me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without to the utter gate by the way that looks eastward; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side. [3] And when the man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the waters were to the ankles. [4] Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters; the waters were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters were to the loins. [5] Afterward he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over. [6] And he said to me, Son of man, have you seen this? Then he brought me, and caused me to return to the brink of the river. [7] Now when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other. [8] Then said he to me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. [9] And it shall come to pass, that every thing that lives, which moves, wherever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live where the river comes. [10] And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand on it from Engedi even to Eneglaim; they shall be a place to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many. [11] But the miry places thereof and the marshes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt. [12] And by the river on the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.
American King James Version×
). This symbolizes God's truth and Spirit extending out to a parched world and bringing amazing transformation—producing awesome physical abundance as well as spiritual conversion.

Playing your part: The cusp of a new age

But just knowing what God has revealed about the future is not enough. With knowledge comes responsibility. To benefit from what we have learned, we must act on it.

God inspired the writings of men like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel to make us think, to cause us to consider our future, to stimulate us to assume responsibility for our character, behavior and destiny. The end-time and millennial prophecies that God gave through Zechariah and others are certainly sobering, but also inspiring for all of us who look forward in faith to their fulfillment. The original intent of the Garden of Eden will be restored.

Over the years, there have been many counterfeits to God's vision of paradise. Many have tried to find paradise, but mostly in all the wrong places. Without God, paradise is impossible. Without God, paradise is deceptive.

Phillips Brooks was a noted American clergyman and author who briefly served as Bishop of Massachusetts in the Episcopal Church during the early 1890s. He is quoted as saying, "Live such a life, that if every man were such a man as you, and every life a life like yours, this earth would be a paradise."

And so, by extension, if every man lived a life like God does, this earth would be like a Garden of Eden! We are on the cusp of a great new age. Today, God is preparing a people, a small group of truly faithful believers, who are forerunners of a paradise soon to come to the earth. You have the opportunity before you to become a part of this group.

As Revelation 2:7 Revelation 2:7He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said to the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the middle of the paradise of God.
American King James Version×
promises us, "To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God"! Rest assured, paradise is coming back! Will you seize your opportunity to inherit this future?