Sep

05

2011

Justin Taylor|12:00 am CT

The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

Some exegetical notes, observations, and tentative conclusions:

1. Among all the trees in the Garden of Eden, God identified two special trees: of life, and of the knowledge of good and evil.

“And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:9)

2. God allowed Adam to eat from all the trees except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, warning him that death would result.

“The LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Genesis 2:16-17)

3. After being tempted by the serpent, Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and Adam did the same.

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.” (Genesis 3:6)

“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” (Genesis 3:7)

4. After eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—in part to become “wise”—Adam now possesses the knowledge of good and evil like God does, as well as knowledge of their nakedness.

. . . the woman saw that the tree . . . was to be desired to make one wise.” (Genesis 3:6)

“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” (Genesis 3:7)

“Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.’” (Genesis 3:22b-24)

5. After Adam disobeyed God’s command regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God forbade Adam to eat from the tree of life lest he live forever in that state; therefore God guards the tree.

“Then the Lord God said, ‘. . . Now, lest [the man] 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. 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.” (Genesis 3:22b-24)

6. What does the Hebrew idiom “knowing/understanding/discerning good and evil” mean?

6.1. It is something God—and probably the angels—possess.

“Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:22a)

“And your servant thought, ‘The word of my lord the king will set me at rest,’ for my lord the king is like the angel of God to discern good and evil. The Lord your God be with you!” (2 Samuel 14:17)

6.2. It is something that young children do not possess.

And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” (Deuteronomy 1:39)

“He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.” (Isaiah 7:15)

6.3. It is something that elderly people may no longer possess.

“I [=David] am this day eighty years old. Can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? . . .” (2 Samuel 19:35)

6.4. It is something that God may grant.

“Give your servant [=Solomon] therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3:9)

6.5. Perhaps it is best there to regard it at as something like “mature or independent wisdom, insight, discernment,” with the tree representing an improper way to attain it.

Franz Delitzch:

The tree of knowledge was to lead man to the knowledge of good and evil; and, according to the divine intention, this was to be attained through his not eating of its fruit. This end was to be accomplished, not only by his discerning in the limit imposed by the prohibition the difference between that which accorded with the will of God and that which opposed it, but also by his coming eventually, through obedience to the prohibition, to recognize the fact that all that is opposed to the will of God is an evil to be avoided, and through voluntary resistance to such evil, to the full development of the freedom of choice originally imparted to him into the actual freedom of a deliberate and self-conscious choice of good. By obedience to the divine will he would have attained to a godlike knowledge of good and evil, i.e. to one in accordance with his own likeness to God. He would have detected the evil in the approaching tempter; but instead of yielding to it, he would have resisted it, and thus have made good his own property acquired with consciousness and of his won free-will, and in this way by proper self-determination would gradually have advanced to the possession of the truest liberty. But as he failed to keep this divine appointed way, and ate the forbidden fruit in opposition to the command of God, the power imparted by God to the fruit was manifested in a different way. He learned the difference between good and evil from his own guilty experience, and by receiving the evil into his own soul, fell a victim to the threatened death. Thus through his own fault the tree, which should have helped him to attain true freedom, brought nothing but a sham liberty of sin, and with it death, and that without any demoniacal power of destruction being conjured into the tree itself, or any fatal poison being hidden in its fruit.

C. John Collins agrees:

God intended that through this tree humans would come to know good and evil: either from above, as masters of temptation, or from below, as slaves to sin.

7. In the book of Proverbs, the tree of life is used as imagery in conjunction with a wisdom and understanding, the fruit of righteousness, fulfilled desire, and a gentle tongue.

“She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.” (Proverbs 3:18)

“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.” (Proverbs 11:30)

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)

“A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4)

8. Those in the new heavens and the new earth will enjoy the fruit of the tree of life for all of eternity.

“To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7b)

“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.” (Revelation 22:2)

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” (Revelation 22:14)

“If anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:19)

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