Tracing 9 themes throughout the Bible, this book reveals how God’s plan for the new heaven and the new earth, far better than restoration to Eden, is already having an impact in the world today.
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About the Author
Nancy Guthrie teaches the Bible at her church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and at conferences worldwide. She and her husband, David, are the cohosts of the GriefShare video series used in more than 10,000 churches nationwide and also host Respite Retreats for couples who have experienced the death of a child. Guthrie is also the host of Help Me Teach the Bible, a podcast of the Gospel Coalition.
Read an Excerpt
The Story of the Wilderness
I promise you: I am the last person in the world who should attempt to teach you a word in another language. I took two years of German in high school and two semesters of it in college, and all I can remember is ich bin, which means, "I am." I can't even remember enough German to make a complete sentence out of those words. Once after I spoke in a women's prison in Colombia, South America, I wanted to be able to greet each woman as she picked up the small gift we had for her and to say, "The Lord loves you," in Spanish. But I just couldn't keep it straight. My husband, David, had to stand behind me and repeat the Spanish phrase over and over because I kept getting off track. Who knows what I said to those women?
But there is a Hebrew phrase I want to teach you because it adds such dimension to the story the Bible tells, beginning with the first sentence in the Bible. And besides, it's kind of fun to say. Ready? Here it is: tohu wabohu (TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII).
It's there, in the opening sentences of the Bible. Our English Bible reads, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep" (Gen. 1:1–2). The Bible begins by saying that God created the heavens and the earth and that it was, in Hebrew, tohu wabohu. It was "without form and void" or "formless and empty" (NIV). Tohu means "unformed, chaotic wilderness," and bohu means "empty." So Genesis 1:2 tells us that when God created the heavens and the earth, it was initially an uninhabitable wasteland, a barren wilderness. There was no shape or form to it. No life could live in it.
I suppose I've always thought that when God created the earth, he spoke it into existence as it is. But evidently what God spoke into being was initially a mass of unformed matter in which nothing and no one could live. It was the raw materials to which God would give shape and form. In fact, there were three significant problems with the earth as God initially created it, according to Genesis 1:2. It was formless, empty, and dark. But it was not without hope. Why? Because "the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (Gen 1:2).
The Spirit of God was there hovering — or fluttering — over the deep darkness of the unformed earth like a hen hovering over an unhatched cosmos. Something was about to happen. God, by his Spirit, through his Word, was about to illumine and order and fill his creation.
So right there in the first chapter of the Bible we discover that tohu wabohu is not a problem for God. As his word, "Let there be," goes out, and as the Spirit's creative energy hovers, what was dark was flooded with light, what was chaotic came to order, and what was empty was filled with life and beauty and purpose.
This is really good news. Because, although you may have been unfamiliar with the term tohu wabohu, the reality of it may be achingly familiar. Perhaps you sense that the deepest, most honest place inside you is tohu wabohu — a dark and brooding emptiness. Perhaps it is an emptiness brought about by loss. There was once something or someone that filled up that space in your life, but now your heart aches with longing for what once was. Now there is an empty place at the table or an empty room in the house, or you sleep in an empty bed. Instead of having plans and a sense of purpose, an empty schedule and future loom before you. Or perhaps the emptiness in your life is punctuated not by what once was but by what has never been. There has never been a ring on your finger or a child in your womb or a title by your name. The dreams you have often sought to downplay for fear that saying them out loud would somehow serve to crush them, and thereby crush you, seem to be out of range or the realm of possibility. Or perhaps you can't pinpoint exactly why you have this sense of emptiness. You realize that in comparison to so many others around you, you have it good. Yet your soul harbors a nagging sense of disappointment and discontentment. It sometimes seems as if the lives of nearly everyone around you are full of purpose and meaning, life and love, fun times and future plans, which serve to punctuate the empty place in your life.
Sometimes your sense of emptiness haunts you as a nagging ache. At other times it overwhelms you as a relentless agony. Perhaps you have come to see your emptiness as your biggest problem. I have to tell you: that's not how God sees it. God sees the emptiness in your life as his greatest opportunity, because God does his best work with empty as he fills it with himself.
Discontentment in the Garden
Adam and Eve had no reason to feel a sense of emptiness. Their world was filled with so much goodness. Everywhere they looked, they encountered what God had spoken into being and declared to be good and even very good. He put them in a garden paradise where he had planted every kind of tree that was good for food. God simply spoke, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth" (Gen. 1:11). And it was so. And God saw that it was good.
Anyone who has struggled to get a tree or shrub to take root in resistant ground or spent a day pulling weeds in the garden, only to see them choking out your sweet strawberries, or anyone who has tried to chase the moles to the next-door neighbor's yard (who would do such a thing?) can hardly imagine what this must have been like. Nothing turned brown and wilted away or dried up in Eden. The prick of a thorn never sent Adam looking for a Band-Aid. Adam and Eve were given the work of filling the earth, subduing it, and exercising dominion over it. In the same way that God brought order to the initial chaos of his creation, Adam was to extend the order of Eden. Together, Adam and Eve were to be fruitful and multiply so that their progeny would extend the boundaries of Eden, filling it with men and women who, like Adam and Eve, bore the image of their Creator so that "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14).
There was no lack in Adam and Eve's lives; they had every reason to be perfectly content. Yet when the Serpent suggested to Eve that there was something she didn't have, something she really needed to be happy, namely, the wisdom that would come from eating from the forbidden tree and the taste experience of eating its delicious fruit, Eve allowed the perspective of the Serpent to shape her perspective. Rather than being content with all the goodness showered on her and surrounding her, Eve began to see an empty place in her life, in her diet, in her knowledge, in her experience. Her desire for something more, something other than God's provision, combined with her growing doubts about God's goodness, led her to reach out for what she thought would make her happy, fulfilled, and satisfied.
Oh, how that bite must have turned sour in her stomach as the reality of what she had done worked its way through her. Oh, how that grab for wisdom must have seemed so foolish on the other side of it. When God turned from cursing the Serpent toward telling Eve and Adam how this curse was going to affect them, it must have become clear that what she had seen as a delight was actually a disaster. The very things that were supposed to bring them so much joy and satisfaction would now bring pain and frustration. Giving birth to children and raising children in the now sin-infected world would be painful. Her one-flesh marriage to Adam would now be filled with friction. Adam's work would be frustrating instead of fulfilling. Adam was meant to till the soil. But now it would become painful toil. The ground would grow fruit, but it would also grow thorns, thorns that would penetrate Adam's flesh.
That flicker of discontentment that Eve had entertained in the garden must have become a raging fire after she and Adam were exiled into the unsubdued wilderness that surrounded it. But the chronic discontentment that now dogged her also proved to be a grace. It proved to be a constant reminder that complete and lasting contentment exists only in the life that was promised to them had they obeyed, had they been able to feast forever on the fruit of the tree of life. But how would they get it now? Angels were there on watch, guarding the way back into the garden.
God himself would make a way for his people to enter into a garden even better than Eden. He began by calling to himself one man living in Ur — Abraham — to live in the land God would give him. There was no angel guarding the entrance to that land when Abraham entered it, but, interestingly, when his grandson Jacob later left that land to get a wife, he wrestled with an angel on his way back in. By the end of Jacob's life, his sons were not living in the land but were enslaved in Egypt. So God sent a deliverer who announced to God's people that he had "come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. 3:8). Kind of sounds like a new Eden, doesn't it?
Discontentment in the Wilderness
Unfortunately, the pathway to this edenic land took a forty-year detour in the wilderness. It was there that the discontentment inherent to life in the wilderness raised its ugly head. We read about it in the book we call Numbers but which was originally titled, "In the Wilderness." Moses tells us:
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, "Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at." (Num. 11:4–6)
It's not that they had nothing to eat. It's that they wanted something else to eat besides the manna God rained down on them every day. Their stomachs, in reality, were not empty. But they felt a sense of emptiness nonetheless. And it sounds a little familiar, doesn't it? Like Adam and Eve, who were free to eat of every tree in the garden except for one — yet they felt deprived? (And like me when I order Diet Coke, and the waiter says, "Will Diet Pepsi be all right?")
Forty years after the Israelites first allowed their appetites to give way to grumbling, as their children prepared to emerge from the wilderness into the land God had promised to give to them, Moses explained why God had let them experience empty stomachs in the first place: "He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deut. 8:3).
He "let you hunger." He allowed them to feel their emptiness. Why? So that their hunger pangs, their discontentment, would cause them to consider carefully what would deeply satisfy them, what would fill them up. It wasn't merely spicy food. It was a divine word, a divine presence, a divine promise, a divine power for living with less than everything they might want in the wilderness of this world.
Have you ever thought about the emptiness you feel in this light? Do you think, perhaps, that God has let you hunger for whatever it is you are so hungry for so that you might become more desperate for him, more convinced that he is the source of what will fill you up? Do you think he might want to retrain your appetites, redirecting them away from this world, this life, even this age, so that your anticipation of the age to come might begin to shape your perspective on whatever it is you lack?
As they prepared to enter the land, Moses passed along this promise from God to his people:
If you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you. (Deut. 11:13–17)
Oh, how we wish that they had learned the lessons they were meant to learn during those forty years in the wilderness. Evidently they didn't. Rather than living by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord, they consumed everything served up to them by the Canaanites living in the land. What Moses had warned them would happen if they refused to obey God became their harsh reality. God used the Babylonian army to bring judgment on his people. In the wake of their destruction, the land of milk and honey became a wilderness. The prophet Jeremiah described what Israel was like after the armies of Babylon descended on it:
I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. ...
I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger. (Jer. 4:23, 26)
Did you see our new Hebrew phrase, tohu wabohu, in there? Jeremiah borrows language from Genesis 1:2 to describe the condition of Judah under the devastating destruction of the Babylonian army. The land had once again become "without form and void" — tohu wabohu. They'd been given a land of milk and honey, and it had become a barren wasteland. Empty of beauty. Empty of life. Empty of joy.
But this was not the end of the story. Jeremiah was also given a vision of what was to come when God's people would leave behind their wilderness existence in Babylon to come home. Jeremiah prophesied, "They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more" (Jer.31:12).
A "watered garden"? How would this happen? When would this happen?
Contentment in the Wilderness
Real restoration began centuries later with the sound of a single voice, the voice of the messenger, John the Baptist:
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight." (Matt. 3:3)
Just as the Spirit hovered and the Word went out and the dark emptiness was filled with light and life at creation, so, at the dawn of the new creation, the same Spirit hovered over the dark emptiness of a virgin's womb. Mary was told: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). Once again the Word went out, but this time instead of going out in creative power, it went out in human form. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). God flooded the world with his goodness by entering into it in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the second Adam, the true Israel, left the heavenly land of milk and honey and entered into the wilderness of this world with all of its thorns and thistles. We're meant to see it at the very beginning of his ministry: "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matt. 4:1). Just as Satan had entered the garden to tempt Adam and Eve, so the Devil entered into the wilderness to tempt Jesus. Just as Satan had twisted God's word, stoking the fires of discontentment with God's provision of food and suggesting that Adam and Eve could reach out and grab for themselves the glory God had promised rather than trusting God to give it to them, so Satan twisted God's word toward his own evil ends, suggesting that Jesus use his power to feed himself rather than trust in God's provision of food. He tempted Jesus to grab hold of glory by indulging himself rather than waiting for the glory that would come by submitting to the cross. But instead of falling prey to what the Tempter said, Jesus responded by quoting the words God had spoken through Moses to his people in the wilderness: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt.4:4; cf. Deut. 8:3).
Matthew tells us that after Jesus passed the test of temptation in the wilderness, "angels came and were ministering to him" (Matt. 4:11). Such a different experience than that of the first Adam. The angels had stood against the first Adam as adversaries, preventing his return from the wilderness to the garden. And such a different result than the first Adam brought about. Because of the first Adam's failure to obey in a garden, all of humanity was plunged into the wilderness. But because of the second Adam's willingness to obey in the wilderness, the way back into a garden even better than Eden has been opened to us.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Even Better than Eden"
Copyright © 2018 Nancy Guthrie.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 The Story of the Wilderness,
2 The Story of the Tree,
3 The Story of His Image,
4 The Story of Clothing,
5 The Story of the Bridegroom,
6 The Story of Sabbath,
7 The Story of Offspring,
8 The Story of a Dwelling Place,
9 The Story of the City,
What People are Saying About This
“Nancy Guthrie is one of the best teachers of Scripture I’ve ever heard or read. Her styleeven in writingis conversational. It’s like you’re sharing a cup of coffee while tracing the central motifs of the biblical story from Genesis to Revelation. Eden was great, but the new creation will be greater than the firstnot because this world will be no more, but because it will be so much more. It’s not only the end of sin and death, but the kind of righteousness and life that we just can’t wrap our brain around right now. But we do get glimpsesand no better ones than those that Guthrie brings out with such warmth, excitement, and skill.”
Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California; author, Justification (New Studies in Dogmatics)
“Even Better than Eden weaves a glorious tapestry of variegated scriptural threads. Nancy Guthrie traces nine magnificent threads from creation to consummation that provide an accessible primer on the biblical metanarrative. Each thread, when unraveled, reveals the beauty and splendor of Jesus. The pages of this book fill me with an eager anticipation of the day when we will get to our home that will be even better than Eden and the completed work of art will be unveiled in all its glory.”
Karen Hodge, Coordinator of Women’s Ministries, Presbyterian Church in America; coauthor, Life-giving Leadership and Transformed
“One of the weaknesses of much popular Christian teaching on the Bible is the tendency to read the story of the Bible in a circular manner, as if Jesus Christ came into the world to bring us back to Eden. Nancy Guthrie charts a better course in her book. In a manner that is profoundly biblical and deeply practical, she traces nine biblical themes along a common trajectory, from their beginning in God’s good creation, through their destruction and devastation by Adam’s sin, to the ways Christ perfects, consummates, and crowns each theme by means of his suffering and glory. Let Guthrie take you by the hand and lead you through the Bible to Jesus Christ, in whom we find a better provision, a better life, a better identity, a better rest, a better wardrobe, a better spouse, a better savior, a better sanctuary, and a better city than this world in its present state could or would afford.”
Scott R. Swain,President and James Woodrow Hassell Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando
“As a pastor, I have discovered that Christians need help learning to tell their own story in ways that rightly connect it to what God has preserved for us in his Word. With Even Better than Eden, Nancy Guthrie does just that. Here is a book that will train you to speak more winsomely to others about why and how Jesus matters.”
David R. Helm, Pastor, Holy Trinity Church, Chicago; author, The Big Picture Story Bible
“This delightful book will help you seethrough new eyesthe beautiful threads in the rich tapestry of the Bible’s story. I will be recommending this insightful and informative book to many.”
Jonathan Gibson, Assistant Professor of Old Testament, Westminster Theological Seminary
“The more we understand the big story of the Bible, the more depth and riches we’ll enjoy in our own study of God’s Word. As I read this book, I learned so much in a way that deepened my love for the Lord Jesusand I’m sure you will too. Even Better than Eden will help Christians of all ages grow in their grasp of how glorious Jesus is and help them long for the day when we get to see him face-to-face. Guthrie has written with both a clarity and richness of ideas that will set you off on the path to enjoy the whole story of Scripture for the rest of your life. I can’t wait to get into this book with the women at church.”
Amy Wicks, Women’s Worker, St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, UK
“With characteristic clarity and wisdom, Nancy Guthrie helps us see the story of the Bible from ‘In the beginning’ to ‘Amen.’ Guthrie lovingly traces how the themes of the garden of Genesis point us to the city of Revelation, revealing the story of redemption they contain. This book is both useful and devotional, a help for all who want to grow in their understanding of God’s Word and will.”
Jen Wilkin, Director of Classes and Curriculum, The Village Church; author, Women of the Word; None Like Him; and In His Image
“In this remarkable, beautiful, and hopeful book, Nancy Guthrie retells The Great Story and explains how each of our stories fit in. She shares why, despite the brokenness of everything and our best efforts to stoically accept a despairing conclusion, we can’t help but deeply long for a happy endingto find our long-lost Eden. Nancy’s news is very good: if we’ll have it, there’s something even better than Eden to find. And our ending will only be a beginning.”
Jon Bloom, Cofounder, Desiring God; author, Not by Sight
“With a rare combination of biblical faithfulness, theological insight, pastoral care, and storytelling skill, Nancy Guthrie has produced a remarkable book. Each chapter takes a different theme or image and tells the story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. As a result, the reader grows in her understanding not only of how the Bible is put together, but of how awesome God is to weave the web of history and revelation for his glory and our salvation. And while this book will help everyone read and apply the Bible better, I especially appreciate the way in which Nancy reflects on the story of redemption as a woman speaking to women. This book should not only be read by women's ministry and Bible study leaders but also emulated in their teaching and discipling ministries.”
Michael Lawrence,Senior Pastor, Hinson Baptist Church, Portland, Oregon; author, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was really excited to see that Nancy Gutherie had a new book out.Even Better Than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything traces the whole story of scripture and points out the glory that is to come in the new heavens and the new earth. I really enjoyed this book and it is one I will need to go back through and read again to fully absorb all the truths she so eloquently shared. Nancy challenged my thinking and encouraged me with the future hope that is to come. I loved how she traced the big story of the scripture. I recommend this book if you are looking to grow in your biblical knowledge and if you would like to learn more about our future hope. I was blessed to receive an electronic copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
Nancy Guthrie renders biblical theology with beauty and a depth of emotion that motivates me to become a better learner, and a more passionate student of Scripture and observer of life. A firm grasp on the gospel-oriented-big-picture of the Bible’s 66 books will change the way you read. God takes a long view of goodness and hope, and his promises for our welfare point to a life that exponentially transcends the three-score-and-ten we fixate upon. A good foundation in biblical theology also impacts on the way we pray. For example, God’s promise of protection in Psalm 91 is not the lucky-rabbit’s foot that means our children will “never face danger or death in this life. But [rather that God] has promised to gather his own to himself, where he will protect them from ultimate and eternal harm.” Following the threads of these nine stories reinforced my understanding of God as both transcendent and relational. Finding myself within the context of His desires for me — a hope that far exceeds my own aspirations for myself and those I love — opens my eyes to the beauty of struggle and the redemptive nature of waiting as we fix our eyes upon the unseen, and trust God for a future home that will be truly (and amazingly!) even better than Eden. Many thanks to Crossway for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
Nancy Guthrie does a good job in her book of presenting nine reoccurring themes in Scripture and the impact each of these has on our own walk with God. Written in an easy to understand and readable style, it’s a great way for both new believers and those who have been believers for some time to study an overview of the story of the Bible. I enjoyed reading this book on my own, but I’d also enjoy doing this as a group Bible study, too. Although all the chapters were interesting, I think the one that meant the most to me was “The Story of Offspring”. Mrs. Guthrie’s discussion in that chapter is of the battle between good and evil, as well as God’s ultimate protection of His children. She recounts her own struggle with Psalm 91 after the death of her daughter, and how she came to view God’s love and care even in times of deep sadness. As I go forward in my own personal Bible study, I’ll be referring to this book again as I study these themes further. I received a copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Coming out at the end of August: Even Better than Eden by Nancy Guthrie. In Even Better than Eden, Nancy Guthrie traces nine themes throughout the Bible. These themes reveal how God’s plan for the new creation will be far more glorious than the original. This new creation glory isn’t reserved just for the future, however. The hope of God's plans changes so much our daily live, in the here and now as well. I think we are all familiar with the Garden of Eden. I think we are all even familiar with the events that happened in the Garden of Eden. We might not, however, think about all the implications that the actions set there. This are what the nine themes in the book discuss. As we reflect on these themes found in the story of Eden, we find how they still affect our lives today. And we find redemption even now. I found Nancy Guthrie was theologically solid. She reminds the reader of the wonderful promises of God throughout the Scriptures. The book starts in Genesis and ends in Revelations -- which is a wonderful way to cover God's promises to us. I loved how these chapters brought great insights for our lives right now. At the same time, Nancy Guthrie reminds the reader of the glorious hope of eternity and the beauty of it. I do think this book is better for those who are fairly new to the Bible and the Scriptures. Still to those who are familiar with the Bible, Even Better than Eden holds great reminders. Though not all chapters spoke to me, I gained good and inspirational insights from reading this.