Question: "Why did God have the cherubim guard just the east side of Eden (Genesis 3:24)?"
Answer: Genesis 3:24 says, “He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” According to this verse, only one side of Eden was guarded—the east side. Was it possible for Adam and Eve to have sneaked in another way?
Part of understanding this passage is a consideration of the Hebrew perspective regarding directions. The Jewish people listed directions starting with “east,” unlike Western cultures that typically list the compass points starting with “north.” To say “at the east of the Garden of Eden” could have been a reference to the edge of Eden. Though this is not definitive, it appears to fit the context of the passage.
In addition, the presence of the sword-bearing cherubim stresses that Adam and Eve were forcefully expelled from the Garden of Eden. The word cherubim is plural, indicating several angelic beings, either on the eastern side or the edge of the Garden, who completely blocked the way to the tree of life. The added facts that the sword was flaming and “turned every way” (which might mean that each angel had a sword) also emphasize the strong security God had provided. There was no possibility that Adam and Eve or any other person could later reach the tree of life.
Another possibility may be that guarding the “east side” of Eden is related to Genesis 2:8, which says, “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” If Eden was in the east, then guarding “the east” would make sense. In this interpretation, guarding the east means to guard the area where Eden was located.
Either way, the emphasis is that God completely protected the tree of life from any humans who would approach it. Whether the intended idea is protecting “the edge” or protecting “the location” of Eden, God’s Word emphasizes that Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden, unable to return.
The Bible mentions the tree of life again, when it shows up in the new heaven with the Lord. Revelation 22:1-3a notes, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed.”
At the end of time, God’s people will experience the blessings of a restored creation and renewed access to the tree of life.