There seems to be some significance to the east in the Scriptures.

In some places it seems to have a negative connotation. For example, in the opening chapters of Genesis, moving eastward seems to signify moving into wickedness. But then in other places it seems like righteousness comes from the east. What associations would "east" have had? Is there some common symbolic significance to it?

  • 5
    @Soldarnal, To add to your question: When Lot departs from Abraham he goes east (Gen. 13:11), the children of Abraham's concubines are sent east (25:6), Reuben, Gad and half of the tribe of Menashe choose to dwell outside and to the east of the land of Israel (Deut. 29:8).
    – Amichai
    Oct 28, 2011 at 20:11
  • 1
    Also, the Cherubim are stationed east of Eden because Adam and Eve are exiled to the east (Gen. 3:24).
    – Amichai
    Oct 28, 2011 at 20:17
  • 2
    Peter J. Leithart has an instructive discussion of this in his book A House for My Name.
    – Kazark
    Apr 3, 2012 at 19:03

4 Answers 4


You just about have your answer right in the question. The short answer is that moving eastward seems to relate to exile, while moving westward is a return to the garden and the presence of God.

The long answer:

The garden is planted in the east of Eden

The garden is the primeval meeting place between God and man. It is the first sanctuary, where man is placed to work (serve) and keep (guard) (Gen 2:15). These are the same tasks of the priests and Levites with regard to the tabernacle (cf. Num 18:1-7).

Cherubim are stationed on the east side of the Garden of Eden

When Adam and Eve are exiled from the presence of God and from access to the tree of life, they are sent out eastward. To re-enter the garden, they would have to travel west and pass the cherubim and flaming sword. Also, after Cain murders his brother, he is driven even further east, further from the garden. By implication, the cherubim are also guarding the way into Eden itself, which is higher up and further west than the garden. I'll come back to this.

Parts of the burnt offering are to be thrown to the east side of the altar

This is part of the fowl Ascension ritual. It is the 'crop', which is somehow associated with the tail feathers. So, the rear of the bird is thrown to the east, while the head and body move westward, into the fiery presence of God.

The tabernacle's entrance faces east

This implies that the tabernacle is a new, more glorified garden sanctuary. Armed priests and Levites guard the tabernacle (Num 18:4) just like the cherubim who guarded the entrance of the garden. They also wield the flaming sword. In order for a worshiper to draw near to God, he would have to pass through the knife and the fire. He can't do this without dying, so he leans his hand on the head of an animal to commission it to go as his representative (cf. Num 8:10-18, 27:18-23). The animal passes through the knife and fire, moving westward and upward into the presence of God (it is "burned up" Lev 1:13 - lit. transformed into smoke, thus joining the glory cloud over the tabernacle)

In Ezekiel's vision God's glory comes from the east and enters the temple from the east.

Earlier (ch 10), we see the glory of God depart from the temple, traveling eastward to join the exiles in Babylon. Here, in chapter 43, Ezekiel sees a restored, more glorious temple, and the glory of God moves back in.

The same temple faces east with a river flowing east from it

This goes all the way back to the garden. A river flowed out of Eden - that is, from higher up and further west - through the garden and then out to the outlying lands. This seems to imply that moving west into the land of Eden would be desirable and would be moving closer to the throne of God (at least symbolically). Solomon's temple was also a garden sanctuary, with carvings of trees and fruit on the walls (cf. 1 Kings 6). It had a great bronze sea and bronze water chariots, which lined the north and south sides of the courtyard (1 Kings 7:23-39). The chariots with wheels imply a flow of water and correspond to the river that flowed through the garden. This is expanded further in Ezekiel's vision in chapter 47 to an increasingly deep and wide river coming from the temple and flowing to the outlying lands. This is picked up again in Revelation 22, where an angel shows John a vision of the New Jerusalem, the Church, the City-Bride of Christ, and "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."


When the sun rises, in the East, it banishes the darkness of the night. On the other hand, as the sun sets, in the West, it ushers in the darkness.

Throughout both the Christian and Hebrew scriptures the images of light represent God/holiness/goodness and images of darkness represent sin/danger/evil. Here are a few* :

You are my lamp, O LORD;
the LORD turns my darkness into light.
(2 Samuel 22:29)

He redeemed my soul from going down to the Pit,
and I will live to enjoy the light.
(Job 33:28)

In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
(John 1:4)

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
(Romans 13:12)

* All references are from the New International Version 1984.

It makes sense that the East (from where light springs at the dawn) becomes an image/type for the Glory of God.


I had thought about this when I read Gen 11:2 "As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there"

I asked myself "east" from where? The answer, as has been stated above, is "east from Eden". Eden is where God's Presence was. The way back to Eden was now protected by Cherubim:

Gen 3:24 So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

We now have a metaphor for east: to go east is to move away from God, to go away from His presence.

To move from the east to the west to to come back to His Presence.

Note that the Tabernacle and Temple are ALWAYS set up that way: To approach God is by going from east to west. It is in this direction by entering the Tabernacle that one meets the Alter of Sacrifice first for forgiveness, and then the basin of water for cleansing. When the Priests entered the Tent of meeting (the Holy Place) where the lamp, table of Shewbread, and alter of incense were - it was always from east to west.

Psa 103:12 says "As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us."

When Jesus came to be our sacrifice at Calvary on the Triumphal entry, He came from the east to the west.

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    – Dan
    Sep 9, 2013 at 5:45

Perhaps not the entire answer, but the Sun does rise in the east. So for practical reasons, the door of the tabernacle and temple should face east so that there is light for ceremonies early in the morning. (It would be facing the west if ceremonies happened in the late afternoon, I suppose.)

It may be that the rising sun is invoked as a symbol of God's glory in the Ezekiel passage. Or it may be that God is simply taking a direct route into the temple.

  • East also has the meaning of ancient, or from old.
    – Bob Jones
    Oct 29, 2011 at 1:43

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