The Hebrew word gan means enclosure or garden. Eden was described as such, a place set apart from the wild and untamed: a paradise. Ever since the fall and the expulsion from Eden, people have tried to return. There is something about tamed nature that is relaxing and reassuring. The wild and chaotic frighten us, but there is a security in enclosure.
Notice that shortly after the flood account, Noah plants a vineyard. We like our enclosures, and being “men of the soil” (within reason). There are those of us today who would be totally lost in the world of agriculture, but in our gardens and lawns we find the taste of Eden, as Noah sought to do.
The idea of a cultivated enclosure has a place in the Christian story as well. Jesus uses the imagery of a sheep pen to describe His relationship with the church.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers (John 10:1-5).”
Jesus’ sheep have haven in the enclosure, it is only in His presence do they go out into the wild. This is an interesting reflection, as Jesus said that we were to “go into all the world . . . .” But remember He also said, “. . . make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).” He is with us, leading us outwards.
This metaphor of the church being a “garden enclosed,” a special place of nurture has a long history. It was particularly popular with Puritan writers such as Milton, and Paul Hobson, where the special fruit of God (His people) will grow and flourish.
We seek a return to the “Paradise Lost,” and we find brief snippets of it in our gans. But, let us seek it as well, and more actively in His enclosure, the church. Where will you find your secure nurture this week?