Most LDS temples are surrounded by beautiful landscaped grounds. These provide a peaceful atmosphere and a place for reflection. However, they also serve an important symbolic purpose: they remind us that the Garden of Eden was the first place on earth where mankind stood in the presence of God. The Garden of Eden can be regarded as the earth’s first temple.
In Genesis 3:8 we read:
‘And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…’
Perhaps it was a common experience for Adam and Eve before they were cast out of the Garden to commune with God as he walked in the Garden. The same Hebrew word translated as ‘walking ’is used in a number of places in the Old Testament to describe the Lord’s presence in the tabernacle and temple:
‘I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.’ (Leviticus 26:11-12; see also Deuteronomy 23:14 and 2 Samuel 7:6-7)
It seems likely that Solomon’s temple reflected the concept of the Garden of Eden as a temple. The Jewish Encyclopaedia (1906) says that the abode of God was a ‘garden of Eden.’ And in the Book of Jubilees, an ancient Jewish religious work, we read:
‘ …the Garden of Eden is the holy of holies, and the dwelling of the Lord… (Jubilees 8:19)
The prophet Ezekiel in the Old Testament links the Garden of Eden with the temple, ‘the holy mountain of God’:
Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.
Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. (Ezekiel 28:13-14)
The Lord gave very explicit and detailed instructions on the construction and ornamentation of Solomon’s temple which included extensive garden imagery.
‘And the cedar of the house within was carved with knops and open flowers: all was cedar; there was no stone seen.’ (1 Kings 6:18)
‘And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, within and without.’ (1 Kings 6:29)
‘The two doors also were of olive tree; and he carved upon them carvings of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, and overlaid them with gold, and spread gold upon the cherubims, and upon the palm trees.’ (1 Kings 6:32)
‘And he carved thereon cherubims and palm trees and open flowers: and covered them with gold fitted upon the carved work.’ (1 Kings 6:35)
Even the robes of the temple priests contained garden symbols:
‘And they made upon the hems of the robe pomegranates of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and twined linen.
And they made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates upon the hem of the robe, round about between the pomegranates;
A bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate, round about the hem of the robe to minister in; as the Lord commanded Moses.’ (Exodus 39:24-26)
As we enter the temple grounds and enjoy the beauty of the landscaping, we are reminded that it is possible for mankind to be reconciled to God and enjoy his presence as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden before they were cast out.
LDS writer Beverley Campbell says:
‘ We in essence enter Eden when we enter the temple, for there, as in Eden, we are in a place wherein God can dwell, wherein we can make covenants, receive ordinances, and learn all that is necessary to find our way back to our heavenly home.’ (Beverley Campbell, Eve and the Choice Made in Eden).
The pools found near some temples (for example, the Preston and London Temples) bring to mind several scriptures which link water and temples. Joel 3:18 says that ‘a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord’. Ezekiel 47:1-12 presents a vivid image of healing waters flowing from the temple.
S Michael Wilcox writes:
‘The first time we enter a temple, we barely get our feet wet. We are barely introduced to the Lord’s light and love. What a tragedy it is when members of the Church judge the temple to be shallow or not deeply refreshing based on that first experience. Yet all of us know that on a hot summer day, wading even ankle deep in a cool stream brings instant refreshment and a hesitancy to leave the flowing water to return to our shoes. In light of this, it is not difficult to feel Moses’ sense of wonder when he was told to ‘put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.’ (Exodus 3:5.)
Elder Widtsoe cautioned that it is not fair ‘to pass opinion on temple worship after one day’s participation followed by an absence of many years. The work should be repeated several times in quick succession, so that the lessons of the temple may be fastened upon the mind.’ (“Temple Worship,” p. 64.)
Little do the casual waders know that down the river, if they will patiently persist, are life-giving, healing ‘waters to swim in.’ For the water rises each time we wade. Little do they realize the power of those waters to heal the disharmony of our lives, our families, and eventually the world.’ (S. Michael Wilcox, House of Glory: Finding Personal Meaning in the Temple [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 41 – 43)
So, next time you visit an LDS temple and wander through the grounds take time not only to enjoy the beauty of nature but also consider the spiritual messages being taught in that garden setting.