(This essay is a close adaptation excerpted from the book Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission, © David B. Doty, 2011, available from the author or from Wipf & Stock Publishers. This essay should be read with the thesis of Eden’s Bridge—the marketplace in an institution of God, implicit in the creation narrative of Genesis 1–2 and vital to God’s mission in the world—in full view.)
Wealth of itself is innocuous. It is inanimate and amoral. At the same time, the pursuit and acquisition of wealth has enormous influence in human behavior. The pursuit and acquisition of wealth will exacerbate and reveal the true dispositions of its possessor, whether for good or ill. There is a great deal of biblical and extra-biblical commentary dealing with wealth justly or unjustly gained and justly or unjustly wielded.
The first consideration here is to illuminate the possibilities surrounding the mention of symbols of wealth—gold, bdellium, and onyx—in the Garden narrative (Genesis 2:12). My speculation anticipates the allegorical nature of the creation story. As allegory, the story can be taken to represent truth without necessarily being a historically accurate account. That is, Adam (means man or mankind) and Eve (Chavvah, means life or living), together, represent the fullness of humankind, as their names imply. But reading the creation narrative allegorically helps illuminate the judgment of the King of Tyre in Ezekiel 28.
The mention of gold, bdellium, and onyx in the middle of the creation narrative invites theorizing about concentrated wealth in close proximity to the Garden (as Havilah is a region adjacent to the widely proposed location of the Garden), and what it means to an eschatological view of the coming Kingdom of Christ.
Gold (zahab) is a focus of discussion throughout the Bible, from this earliest mention to the “streets of gold” of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:21). In particular, we may note the use of gold in the making of the Ark of the Covenant, and for the adornment of and the making utensils for use in both the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple. These give a view of wealth appropriately consecrated to the worship of God.
The onyx (shoham) stone is mentioned eleven times in the Bible. In addition to Genesis, onyx is mentioned seven times in Exodus (25:7; 28:9; 28:20; 35:9; 35:27; 39:6; 39:13) in reference to the two stones mounted on the shoulders and one stone set in the breastplate of the ephod (i) to be worn by Aaron in his role as high priest. The two mounted on the shoulders were engraved each with six of the names of Israel’s sons, the tribes of Israel, and the one on the breastplate a single name, along with eleven other precious stones to represent all twelve tribes.
Onyx is also mentioned in the supplies presented by David for the building and fittings of the Temple (1 Chronicles 29:2), is among precious commodities mentioned in comparison to the value of godly wisdom (Job 28:16), and is part of the adornment worn by the King of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13).
Bdellium (bedolach) is mentioned only twice in the Bible. The second occurrence is in the comparison of its color to the manna (Numbers 11:7) gathered for food by Israel during the desert journey. It has been speculated that bdellium refers either to pearls, due to their availability along the Persian coast, or to an aromatic gum resin used in the manufacture of highly desirable incenses. Aromatic incense is also used in the worship of God in both the Tabernacle and the Temple, along with gold and onyx which are instruments of accumulated wealth and are symbolic of purity and high value.
Eden is derived from a primitive Hebrew root meaning pleasure or delight, with implications of self-direction, as to delight oneself or to live voluptuously. Isaiah (51:3), Ezekiel (28:13; 36:35), and Joel (2:3) used Eden as the paradisiacal model of the dwelling “place” of those restored to the presence of God. The Septuagint translated this Garden of God as Paradise (paradisi), the idyllic and blessed destination of the righteous. This is echoed three times in the New Testament, by Jesus in His assurance to the thief dying by His side (Luke 23:43), by Paul when he explains having been transported into the heavenlies (2 Corinthians 12:4), and as the place of glorification granted to those who overcome the world (Revelation 2:7).
Historical interpretations of the creation narrative, influenced in particular by the mention of Havilah in Genesis 2:11, generally assumes the location of the Garden of Eden to have been in the Northwest of Mesopotamia which lends itself to the image of a lush land of plant production, especially for human provision. The mention of these precious commodities suggests it was a land of great wealth. The presence of gold, onyx, and bdellium in the creation narrative, being present in Havilah, suggests that Eden could have been an important trade center or was in close proximity to major trade centers or routes of the pre-historic world. These items, like other precious metals, stones, and even spices, were means to concentrate and transport wealth, making them easily convertible as forms of currency, though they are not specifically identified as currency in the Genesis account. These items are mentioned as being in the Garden itself in the indictment of the King of Tyre in Ezekiel 28:13:
You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the ruby, the topaz, and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper; the lapis lazuli, the turquoise, and the emerald; and the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you. On the day that you were created They were prepared.
Gum resin (bdellium) was not necessarily available within Eden but possibly originated in Arabia, Media, and India. Coupled with the geographic centrality of Eden to the land bridge between the three continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe, and the listing of gold and onyx, the mention of the gum resin supports the notion of Eden as a significant trading center of the ancient world. This would go a long way in correlating the descriptions of self-delight, luxury, and security of Eden to the abundance without want (shalom) in the restored grace of the New Jerusalem.
Again, taking resort in allegory as representational truth over historic fact, Adam and Eve may not have been alone in the Garden, a view encouraged by speculations on the origin of their sons’ wives. If communal provision and material trade before the Fall had been carried out in just and equitable ways, humankind could well have been living in the abundance of well-being, the peace and harmony Jesus suggests in John 10:10. The abundance of His claim is the fruit of obedience to the will of God, which was empowered by the presence, especially as grace, of God in the Garden fostering communal justice. Living abundantly when in communion with God, in this sense, living righteously, is also an idea strongly defended by the blessings of obedience juxtaposed to the curses of disobedience in Deuteronomy 28.
In a very real way, eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, as the central event of the Fall, was when the human community chose to break communion with God, chose the path of self-determination, and established their own system of morality, deciding for themselves the measures of right and wrong. The covenant broken, deprivation ensued.
The Lord’s pronouncement against the King of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 also lends credence to an Edenic marketplace. Some commentators, such as John MacArthur,(ii) draw attention to the parallelism between this characterization and the judgment of Satan. Tyre was an island citadel protected by virtue of its great walls. The Tyrian kingdom is known for its long enduring wealth in antiquity and its far-reaching colonization.(iii) Tyre was a significant trading partner with Israel under the Kingships of David and Solomon.(iv) Tyre serves, both practically and symbolically, as an example of the potential and accompanying dangers of amassing wealth.
The word of the Lord came again to me saying, “Son of man, say to the leader of Tyre, ‘Thus says the Lord God, ‘Because your heart is lifted up and you have said, “I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods, in the heart of the seas”; Yet you are a man and not God, although you make your heart like the heart of God– Behold, you are wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that is a match for you. By your wisdom and understanding you have acquired riches for yourself, and have acquired gold and silver for your treasuries. By your great wisdom, by your trade you have increased your riches, and your heart is lifted up because of your riches— ‘” (Ezekiel 28:1–5).
You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the ruby, the topaz, and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper; the lapis lazuli, the turquoise, and the emerald; and the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you. On the day that you were created They were prepared. (Ezekiel 28:13).
By the abundance of your trade You were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; Therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you. By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade, you profaned your sanctuaries. Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you; it has consumed you, and I have turned you to ashes on the earth in the eyes of all who see you.” (Ezekiel 28:16–18).
In these passages we read that the King of Tyre proudly proclaimed himself a God (v. 2). He had amassed great amounts of wealth (v. 4), and, having been present in Eden (v. 13), had been adorned with a variety of precious stones, including the onyx. Through his widespread trade (rekullah), he was filled with violence (chamac, v. 16a). Rekullah means trafficking, from a primitive root meaning traveling for trade. Chamac means to be violent or to maltreat, suggesting the possibility of both physical and ethical abuse in dealing. For this sin (v. 16b), the King of Tyre was driven from the mountain (presence) of God (v. 16c). He was very much taken with his own beauty and in pride willingly turned from wisdom (v. 17).
Ezekiel continues that this king’s sinfulness in dishonest and oppressive trade has desecrated his sanctuaries (v. 18). A fire from God came from the king’s midst to consume him and reduce him to ashes. Amos 1:9 then gives us the ultimate cause of the Tyrian fall in that they “did not remember the covenant of brotherhood” (NAS), as mentioned earlier, focusing only on profit for themselves and at any cost.
By contrast we see gold, onyx, and bdellium used appropriately and instrumentally in the worship of God, on the priestly ephod and in the adornment and service of the Tabernacle and Temple, set against the unholy use of such wealth, especially gained unrighteously and used for self-exaltation.
Self-aggrandizing and prideful abuse of wealth, our abundant material resources, was apparently birthed in Eden under satanic influence. Yet Isaiah’s pronouncement on the fall of Tyre (in Chapter 23) and the ultimate redemption of its gain (23:18) is that even this unrighteous wealth will yet be consecrated to the Lord.
The last assertion begs the question: how will unrighteous wealth be redeemed? Thus far we have seen that the earth itself, and by implication, the land, is the primary means of production. God informs Israel in Exodus 23:25 that He will go before them in their quest to repossess the land: “I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land.” It is a promise that, step by step, they will reclaim their economic viability.
Beyond the land itself, God plundered the possessions of the inhabitants of the land then reminded Israel: “And I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and cities which you had not built, and you have lived in them; you are eating of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant” (Joshua 24:13). Zephaniah’s pronouncement of God’s judgments on the unrighteous echoes the same sentiment: “their wealth will become plunder” (Zephaniah 1:13). Likewise, Jeremiah does the same in pronouncing judgment against Israel itself (Jeremiah 15:13; 17:3). And Jesus suggests the same in the Sermon on the Mount when He says: “Blessed are the gentle (meek), for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
The means of production and its associated wealth will be reclaimed for righteous purposes. But like the reclamation of the land it will come step by step. Railing against the status quo is like stopping a runaway train by jumping in front of it. Reclaiming the marketplace for God’s Kingdom will be accomplished as Jesus’ ministry subverts the world. Climbing aboard the train and taking control is a more effective strategy toward redemption than the suicidal leap. The economic and cultural revolution Jesus launched is now 2,000 years in progress. Grassroots efforts, subverting the status quo from within the institutions of governance and economics, by electing righteous candidates and redirecting the means and ends of commercial activity, will demonstrate the fruits of righteousness are far more plenteous that the fruits of self-service.
The redemption of the marketplace lies in the hearts of practitioners who love God, love their neighbor, and choose to serve both with the gifts and opportunities God has placed before them. Social enterprises and investment, and conscientious ownership are the tools in God’s hands to redeem wealth and reclaim the marketplace for His glory, for “the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Proverbs 13:22).
i. An ephod is a gown or robe that is worn to show the office or title of the wearer.
ii. MacArthur, John F., Jr., “The Fall of Satan.” Panorama City, CA, 2000. No pages. Online: http://jcsm.org/StudyCenter/john_macarthur/90-237.htm.
iii. Schultz, Samuel J. The Old Testament Speak, 117, 141. New York: Harper Collins, 2000.
iv. Smith, William. “Tyre,” in A Dictionary of the Bible, 715–18. Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1884.