What does God mean when he warns Adam and Eve that on the day that they eat from the forbidden tree that they will die? We know that they didn’t immediately die physically, they lived for many years after, although they would now experience, sickness and mortality.
This is where our Biblical Theology theme of “God’s people in God’s place, under God’s rule” helps us. Life is meant to be lived in God’s presence. When God created man and woman, he blessed them and told them to fill and subdue the earth. They were meant eventually to go out from the Garden of Eden. However, they would go as God’s image bearers, they would go with the Spirit of God present with them, following God’s purpose, with his blessing.
Because of sin, things don’t work out that way. Instead, Adam and Eve are banished from Eden. This means that they are sent away from the place where they lived in God’s presence. Now, God is omnipresent, he is everywhere and infinite, so there isn’t a place where we can flee from him. However, we are talking here about his manifest presence -an experience of his closeness and we are talking about his loving presence that will be marked later in Scripture by Covenants. So, Adam and Eve must leave Eden without God’s manifest life giving presence to bless.
From this perspective, we can also see how the Flood brings the judgement of death through a form of exile. The human race are banished from the face of the earth, from the land itself. Even Noah and his family experience this banishment too. They are kept safe from the penal affect of the flood. It is exile or death without its sting because they are kept safe in the ark. Some commentators have even suggested that the ark as a big wooden box was as much coffin as boat.
Noah and his family are banished from the land of the living, they are taken through the waters of death but land safely on the other side of death, kept safe in the ark. Considered that way, we can also see how the ark prefigures later events. It prefigures Moses being kept safe through the waters of death in the river Nile. The basket he is placed in is also an ark. It also is echoed in Israel’s passage through the Red Sea, they had to go through the waters of death to arrive safely on the other side in the land given to them.
We can also see how Noah’s story points us to Jesus and the Gospel. It is through Jesus’ death and resurrection that we too are kept safe through death and brought safely to the other side. The imagery of both the flood and the crossing of the Red Sea are also picked up in baptism. We might say that Noah was buried with or in the ark, he died with it as he was baptised into the flood so that he could be raised to life with the ark as they land on the mountain top.
3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.Romans 6:3-4
Returning to Adam and Eve and their banishment and exile, I believe then that we can see how Jesus in his incarnation, suffering and death intentionally takes on banishment and exile. He is the one who voluntarily leaves the glory of his eternal home in heaven but also experiences rejection from his own people including being handed over to the justice of foreign oppressors. Jesus is banished/exiled to a criminal’s death outside of the city, just as Old Testament Law breakers were banished outside of the camp. On the Cross, he chooses the words of the Psalm that begins “My God, why have you forsaken me” so that again, at the point of his death there is again the language of banishment and exile.
Jesus takes on the death of our exile so that we might be brought home (John 14).