This is part eight of a series called “The Backstory.” Part seven is available here or the entire series may be found here. Backstory is a reference to the sequence of events which form the backdrop to “The call of Abram” and the unfolding of God’s mysterious plan of redemption.
Have you ever wondered why there were two special trees in the garden of God? How are these trees connected to the knowledge of good and evil? Let’s begin by reading the following section of scripture.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Gen. 3:1-6
Let’s consider several rhetorical questions.
- Why did God create a tree that is not to be eaten from? Why create the tree in the first place?
- It appears that God did not tell them about the tree of life; if he wanted relationship with them why not tell them about that special tree?
- Was there anything inherently evil about the tree of knowledge of good and evil?
Up to this point we’ve seen that there are two stories of creation, two personas of the Godhead, and man as male and female. But there are other elements of creation that also come in pairs like: sun|moon, heavens|earth, and land|seas. It appears things come in pairs so we should not be surprised to find two unique trees in the garden. Since creation reflects the Godhead, perhaps the two trees reflect the two names of God in creation story one and two, namely Elohim and YHVH Elohim.
Recall from our study of Creation Story One that Elohim is one who brings order out of chaos, he’s powerful, omnipotent, commanding, and a king and judge. When we obey his command and stay away from the tree of Knowledge of good and evil, it shows that we understand there are boundaries. It shows that we honor and respect his commands. We understand there is a master in the garden. Then we can connect with him through all the other trees. Obeying his command not to eat from this tree is a way of demonstrating our reverence for him. It reminds me of another example in the Torah. Didn’t God tell the Hebrews at Mount Sinai not to come near the mountain lest they die (Ex 19:21-25)?
Consider a human illustration. If I love without boundaries or respect – it will lead to my self-indulgence or personal narcissism. Respect is that ingredient which leavens love. Without respect, I forget about you as a separate being and the relationship becomes about my desire. So maybe the tree of knowledge of good and evil is a way to show honor, respect, and deference to the Most High.
If we consider the trees as symbols for the Godhead, then perhaps the tree of life represents YHVH Elohim from Creation Story Two – the God who is close, near, and involved in our day-to-day experience. But lest we forget, this is not a cafeteria plan. You can’t have YHVH apart from Elohim – the God of each creation story are one. They are united, and relationship is a package deal. When we respect and honor this union we may eat from the tree of life.
Even though we are made in the image of God, we are not Gods. Honor and obedience to his commands are two ways we demonstrate this understanding. He is the true “knower of good and evil” and we are not. This is the core argument in the ancient war between the two kingdoms. Let’s unpack this idea a bit.
Knower of good and evil
In our last two studies we came to understand who the snake was and his plan to overthrow the Most High. Now we look at the execution of that plan.
Of all the descriptions we have for God in our songs and worship services, “knower of good and evil” is not at the top of the list. Yet this is an early description for the Most High – bestowed by the snake. Further, God confirms the accuracy of this title at the end of chapter three. See Gen. 3:5; 3:22
As we look at this section, please consider two questions.
- Did they know good and evil before they ate from the tree, if so, how?
- What does it mean to be good or evil, who defines these qualities?
If God is the creator of all things, does he not have the prerogative to define what is good? In the first creation story, God saw all that he had made (sun, moon stars, etc.) and said it was good. All these parts of creation conformed to his will or his desire – therefore they were good. In other words, he had an idea, a vision of what creation should be, and he set out to bring it into reality. When each stage was completed, he stood back to examine it, and with the scrutiny of a sculptor declared, “it is good.”
Now let us fast forward to the woman who was considering the fruit. She also studied and scrutinized the fruit – it’s delightful to look at, it will make us wise and it’s good for food. She was making a judgment about what was good even though God had already said this was off limits. When they ate, they became “knowers of good and evil.” Stated differently, good, and evil became subjective qualities based upon their will and desire. And that will and desire were informed by the snake. There was now a change in loyalty, trust, and respect of boundaries. The relationship had been breached as their will and desire (informed by the snake) became more important than that of the creator.
Banishment – Didn’t God Overreact?
Let’s ask a final question to bring this all together. Why did God banish Adam and Eve from the garden?
Eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil represented a boundary which they were not to cross. Honoring this boundary was a way of demonstrating honor and respect to the creator, acknowledging God as master gardener, different than humans. Eating from the tree was also a defiant act of human will. We determine what is good, informed by our will, our desires and what we find delightful, despite the will of God.
In our Genesis 1 study we saw that after creating each element, God observed each one and declared, “it is good.” But now we find humanity looking at the fruit of the tree declaring, “it is good”, irrespective of God’s instruction not to eat from it. Clearly, we have two opposing wills in conflict.
How can this conflict be resolved?
In the cool of the day, God came to check on his friends. I believe he was looking for sorrow and remorse for exalting their wills above his own; but that is not what he found. Instead of repentance and personal ownership, they squirmed beneath the penetrating questions in a vain attempt to deflect blame.
Expulsion from paradise was not as simple as they ate the fruit, therefore you’re cursed. Eating the fruit reflected what was in their heart. It was a heart of, “I want what I want”, regardless of the will and desire of their Lord. This seems reminiscent of the snakes will in Isaiah 14. “I will ascend,” “I will set my throne,” “I will make myself like the Most High.” Adam and Eve were being conformed to the image of the snake. This is the essence of sin and rebellion that separates the world system from his kingdom. This is what is being called out in the final section of Genesis 3.
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.
As they are exiled from the garden, two things stand out to me. The first is that there is no mention of eating from the tree. The focus is on being a “knower of good and evil,” a role they were never intended to carry apart from relationship with their Lord. Because of their unwillingness to submit their wills and desires to the master gardener, there was no other choice but to expel them from the paradise of God.
The second is verse 23; “therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.”
The Lord God is referring back to Adam’s source (the earth), but we know Adam was a product of both the earth and the breath of God. God’s consigning Adam back to the earth is an indictment that he has become more like the animals (ruled by instinct and desire) who are of the earth.
This brings us to one of the great mysteries of life in God’s kingdom. He created us with free will, but our will is to be submitted to the greater will of God. He never intended for us to live on our own, apart from his presence and will being active in our lives. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.
Notice how the snake refers to the Creator as God, (Elohim of Creation Story One) never as Lord God (YHVH Elohim of Creation Story Two). He corrupts the knowledge of God by not wanting us to understand the full revelation of who God is.
- Why does the snake not want us to understand the full picture of who God is?
- Does he still operate this way today?