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Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

by David Johnson

Article # 7 in the Genesis Series

(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)

     It is great to be together again as we look into the Word of God.  The title for the lesson is: “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”  Our primary text is taken from the Old Testament in our continuing series in Genesis chapter 2 verses 4 through 17 we will share the text in the body of the lesson.

     Some Old Testament scholars have claimed that Genesis chapter 2 verses 4 through 14 is another account of creation by another writer whose message conflicts with what’s found in the first chapter of Genesis.  This theory is false.  Moses, inspired of the Holy Spirit, relates the very same creation story but adds details that we would need to know in order to better understand later events.  Learning about the first humans created helps us understand ourselves.  Certainly, through our original parents, Adam and Eve, we can learn important principals about the way God desires for us to live.

     How could Moses have obtained this fuller account so very different from the fables of ancient pagan peoples?  Only from God’s inspiration.  No humans were there to see it “in the beginning.”  It could not have been by the light of reason for though intellect can know God, and that God created the heavens and the earth as according to Romans chapter 1 verse 18 and following in the New Testament, intellect could not have known how.  Only the Creator himself could have revealed this and therefore it is through faith that one can understand and accept, that as it is recorded in the New Testament Hebrews chapter 11 verse 3 “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”  Let’s continue in this God given revelation of God’s creation for his glory ultimately.

     Genesis chapter 2 verse 4 “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” In the original Hebrew if translated literally the beginning of this verse would be “This is the generations, or ‘history” as in the New King James, of the heavens and the earth when they were created.”  Therefore, in Genesis chapter 2 verse 4 we find the first of eleven ‘generation’ statements, as translated literally, that mark the progress of the story Moses wrote in the book of Genesis.  In our version of the Bible, there are fifty chapters in the book of Genesis.  But in the original Hebrew text it isn’t divided.  After describing the basic creation in Genesis chapter 1 verse 1 through chapter 2 verse 3 then Moses listed eleven “generations” that comprise the Genesis narrative.

     In Genesis chapter 2 verse 4 “Lord God” is a new revealed name.  All through Genesis chapter 1 God’s name is ‘Elohim’, a Hebrew word relating God’s power and majesty as Creator apart from his creation.  However, beginning with this verse the name God, Elohim, is joined with the name ‘Yahweh’ (or LORD) indicating that he is immediate, involved, interactive with his creation, not remote or distant.

     ‘Elohim’ throughout Genesis chapter 1 is a generic, or general and proper name for ‘God’.  However, ‘Yahweh’, or LORD, usually denotes deity in his personal relationship, especially with mankind.  So, in Genesis chapter 2 and following, since the focus will primarily be on Adam and Eve, ‘LORD God’ is the name that is more appropriate than his only generic name of ‘God’ or ‘Elohim’.  As human beings we need to understand our Creator in both ways: as God in his power and majesty apart, from his creation and as ‘Yahweh’ or ‘LORD’ in that he is also involved and interactive with his creation, especially mankind to which we should be eternally grateful.  We cling to a God who is both proper and personal.  So, the narrative reveals God’s interaction with creation for the benefit of mankind.

     Genesis chapter 2 verses 5 and 6 “Now no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.”  Henry Morris, a creationist Christian and Ph. D. in engineering science writes regarding: “not sent rain on the earth”.  He writes “The primeval water cycle was from underground rather than from the atmosphere, the absence of rain being a consequence of the water vapor above the firmament and the uniform temperature which it maintained over the earth.  Rain today is dependent on the global circulation of the atmosphere, transporting water evaporated from the ocean inland to condense and precipitate on the lands.  This circulation is driven by worldwide temperature differences in the atmosphere and would be impossible with the global warmth sustained by the canopy.  “There was no man to work the ground” points us to the eventuality that what was needed was a created being powerful and authoritative enough to act as God’s steward in his creation on earth.

       In Verse 6 “streams, or mist, came up from the earth” indicates that water came up from beneath the ground, perhaps as springs and spread over the entire earth in an uninterrupted cycle of moisture.  Since rain became the primary means of watering the earth after the fall of mankind, that allowed for floods and droughts as part of God’s curse that did not exist originally.”

So, a steward for God was the next focus.  Genesis chapter 2 verse 7 “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”A fine expositor of scripture, David Jeremiah writes: “Here the Hebrew term for “formed” is pictorial in nature, describing the work of a potter; thus ‘the dust of the ground’ should be understood as clay.  The image of God at a potter’s wheel, fashioning the body of man, is a wonderous image of his love and grace.  God breathed the breath of life directly into humans rather than simply giving them life, distinguishing them from animals.”  So, the word “formed” is a picture of our Creator as a master craftsman shaping a work of art to whom he gives life.  Man made from the ground; his value is not in his physical components but instead in the quality of life which forms his soul.

     That man’s body was formed out of the elements of the earth such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, etc. was also from which both plants and the bodies of animals had been formed as according to Genesis chapter 1 verses 12 and 24 “Let the land produce.”  This unity of physical composition is a fact of modern science and therefore long beforehand known in scripture.  Scripture and good science, the natural laws put in place by our Creator do not contradict but are in harmony.

     Regarding “breath of life” this, animals also possess.  However, man’s breath and soul were imparted to him by the LORD God directly, rather than indirectly as to animals.  Animals have the ‘breath of life’, but they were not made in the ‘image or likeness of God.’  Genesis chapter 1 verse 27 as mankind is made in the image of God.

     Genesis chapter 2 verse 8 “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.”  “Eden” from the Hebrew means either ‘delight’ or ‘place of much water’ and was a garden as a paradise from the LORD God who planted it.  Bible history of mankind begins with a perfect garden and our story ends with a glorious garden, earth and city Revelation chapter 21 and 22.  Yet it took a third garden, Gethsemane, where Christ surrendered and submitted to his Father’s will and then went forth to die on a cross for the sins of the world of mankind.

  1. C. Leopold, a fine conservative scholar of scripture writes: “The word “garden” or “enclosure” or a sheltered, protected spot corresponds to the Oriental conception of a garden. Paradise, the conception borrowed from the Persian by the Septuagint translators, is appropriate but suggests rather a royal park.  A place of particular beauty and excellence best reflects God’s favor toward his chief creature.  No doubt, the fact that man is created outside of the garden and then put into the garden serves the divine purpose of making man clearly aware at the very outset of the distinction between the garden and all the land that lay outside.”  This garden was conspicuously unique.

     Genesis chapter 2 verse 9 “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  As God caused an infinite variety of trees to grow out of the ground.  Note that in the beginning all life was fully grown, mature.  That is with apparent age built in, not seedlings here but fully grown; as man and woman were created as mature beings not infants or toddlers.

     However, our attention is drawn to two trees and the one in particular in the upcoming narrative: “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  Both trees are identified here because both were in the garden and both were destined for a very definite purpose.  The ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ aims to cover the whole range of moral concepts in brief, or the ethical contrast between good and evil.  The tree of life presumably was to ensure the ongoing life of humanity, by continuing to eat of it, humans would live forever.

     Interestingly, the name of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ implies that evil had already occurred and was known.  This presumably was at Lucifer’s or Satan’s fall and the angels that followed him and became ‘evil spirits’, and the ‘evil one.’

     So, the usual question remains, were the ‘tree of life’ and ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ real trees?  There are two basic views: (1) The trees are real but symbolic.  For example, eternal life with God is pictured as eating from the ‘tree of life.’  (2) The trees are real and possess special properties enacted by their Creator.  By eating the fruit from the tree of life, Adam and Eve could have had eternal life, enjoying a permanent relationship as God’s children.  Yet Adam and Eve’s sin separated them from the tree of life and so kept them from obtaining eternal life in their original perfect bodies.  The ‘tree of life’ is again revealed in the last book of the Bible whereby believers will enjoy eternal life in perfect bodies again with God.  This can be found in Revelation chapter 22 verses 1 through 5.

     The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was given this name probably because it was to be a test of obedience.  Evidently God gave Adam and Eve free-will to choose to obey rather than to automatically obey without alternative.  Obedience as love needs to be tested, verified to really be volitional and valid toward the one seeking it.

     Dr. Henry Morris writes: “The tree of life was an actual tree, with real fruit, Genesis chapter 3 and verse 22.  Whose properties would have enabled even mortal men to live indefinitely.  Though modern scientists may have difficulty in determining the nature of such a remarkable food, they also have been unable so far even to determine the basic physiological cause of aging and death.  Thus, it is impossible to say scientifically that no chemical substance could exist which might stabilize all metabolic processes and thereby prevent aging.  The same cautions apply to any discussions of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which likewise was genuinely physical.  Man had abundant knowledge of good already, since everything God had made was ‘very good’ Genesis chapter 1 and verse 31, but disobedience would itself constitute an experimental knowledge of evil.”

     Surely since God created everything visible and invisible out of nothing instantly and very good.  Then God could create these then two unique trees for their intended purposes.  Then God gave more interesting detail: Genesis chapter 2 verses 10 through 14 “A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.”

     The geography described here obviously corresponds to nothing in the present world, although some of the names are familiar.  We should remember that the world-wide flood in Noah’s day was so cataclysmic that the primeval topography was obliterated.  The similarity of certain names such as “Cush, Tigris and Euphrates” are probably not located where they originally were.  These names were probably handed down by the ascription by Noah or his sons to post-flood features which reminded them of pre-flood geographic features, just as the explorers of the New World and Americas often gave European names to American sites.

     The four headwaters could not have derived their waters from rainfall since there was none yet Genesis chapter 2 and verse 5, and so must have been fed by artesian springs, or controlled fountains from the great deep. “Cush” today is in reference to modern day Ethiopia.  The post flood Tigris River runs Northwest to Southeast and east of the ancient city of Babylon through the Mesopotamian Valley.  The Euphrates River runs parallel Northwest to Southeast of the Tigris River and empties today into the Persian Gulf after joining the Tigris.  These rivers provided luxuriant irrigation to the region since there was no rain as of yet.  The gold, aromatic resin (or pearls) and onyx (gemstone with bands of different colors) indicates the special place God had prepared for man.

     Our last section could be referred to as God’s first covenant with man.  Genesis chapter 2 verses 15 through 17 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.”

     A covenant is simply a binding arrangement between two or more parties that governs their relationship.  Note the word “commanded” in verse 16, it is introduced because God is the one who makes the terms of this covenant or agreement.  God is Creator, man is a creature, therefore, God has the right to dictate terms.

    Warren Wiersbe a fine expositor of scripture writes: “God had given great honor and privilege to Adam in making him his vice-regent on earth, Genesis chapter 1 and verse 28, but with privilege always comes responsibility.  The same divine Word that brought the universe into being also expresses God’s love and will to Adam and Eve and their descendants.  Obedience to this Word would keep them in the sphere of God’s fellowship and approval.  All God’s commands are good commands and bring good things to those who obey them.  Eating from the second tree would confer an experiential knowledge of good and evil, but it would also bring death.

     Since they had never experienced evil, Adam and Eve were like innocent children.  When they disobeyed God, the became like him in being able to discriminate between good and evil; but they became unlike God in that they lost their sinlessness and eventually died.  But why did God have to test Adam and Eve?  God wanted humans to love and obey him freely and willingly and not because they were programmed like robots who had to obey.  This is the way God foreordained for them to learn about freedom and obedience.”

     Adam and Eve had remarkable freedoms while only one single restriction or prohibition.  Someone has summarized Genesis chapter 2 verses 15 through 17 with three words: Vocation (“Garden of Eden to work it”) verse 15; Permission (“free to eat from any tree in the garden”) verse 16; Prohibition (“you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”) verse 17.  Most people focus usually only on God’s one prohibition and not the other two, yet the basic primary human task is to hold all three together and be pleasing to our Creator.  Vocation, Permission and Prohibition.  Any two of them without the third is surely to pervert life as acceptable to God.  Prohibition only makes good sense in terms of the other two.

     Some people erroneously claim that work is the result of the Fall.  Hard toil is, but not work itself.  In our passage verse 15 it is confirmed that meaningful work existed before sin, before the fall of man and is good and proper.  As soon as Eve and Adam sinned death began.  First, they died immediately spiritually.  Only by God’s grace did they remain alive physically.  However, the process of physical death began immediately with disease, the degeneration of aging and eventually death.

     God still gives us choices today.  It is by our choosing good over evil that we continue in fellowship with him and pleasing in his sight.  Making wrong choices will eventually cause us troubles, but they can help us to learn and grow to make right choices in the future.  Living with the consequences of our choices teaches us to think and choose more carefully and in obedience to God.

     May we all grow in our obedience which Jesus stated equates to loving him.  “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” from Luke chapter 6 and verse 46.

If Christ is our Lord, we will do what he says.

        David Johnson is minister of Sellersburg Church of Christ in Sellersburg, IN.

 




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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10