The Two Trees

The two trees of Genesis 2 and 3 give us a way of understanding God’s original intentions for man and grasping the limitations of the human nature, the result of man’s experimentation with the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From the instruction that God gave to Adam, we see that whatever we gain from eating the tree of knowledge of good and evil, even if it is humanly good, religiously good, philosophically good, socially good etc, it can only bring death. 

Genesis 2:16-17 “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: [17] But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

The capacity to know and do right, under a different set of circumstances, can also become the capacity to know and do evil. The problem is not with what is known and done, the problem is the source of what is known and done. 

Why do we have two trees at the centre of Eden?

Genesis 2:9 “Then the Lord God caused all the beautiful trees that were good for food to grow in the garden. In the middle of the garden, he put the tree of life and the tree that gives knowledge about good and evil.” (Easy-to-Read Version)

You will notice that of all these trees, the two life-altering ones, the two most defining ones, were at the centre of Eden. Let us also agree that everything God created was good, including these two trees (Genesis 1:12, 31). Later on in Genesis 2, God gave man access to all the trees in the garden (v.16), except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (v.17). So, again we must establish that what makes that tree forbidden for man was not an inherent evil in the tree, but the instruction that God gave.

Although Adam was the head of government of the earthly realm, he was under the authority of Jehovah. Hence, he was only God’s delegate on planet earth and he was to live and rule by God’s principles.

But there was another tree at the centre of the garden, and it was never forbidden for Adam. And it is mindboggling that they never ate of that tree. The tree of life was the most important tree there but it was despised, bypassed, ignored and may we say, rejected. Yet, the very tree that was declared out of bounds by God, was the tree that attracted man’s attention. Of course, we must take into account the activity of the tempter, who brought that tree into the spotlight for man, and by deceiving Eve to lust after it and disobey God’s instruction, he brought man (male and female) into darkness. 

The tree of life is the tree of God’s life (GRACE) and it is available to all who will seek it. The tree of knowledge of good and evil is the tree of God’s law (WORKS) at work in man. And it is as if these two trees are a divine picture of how God and man should be one, living together and working together. It is also a picture of how grace and works are complementary. However, there is an order: the tree of life first and then the tree of knowledge of good and evil (please note the order in Genesis 2:9). God’s life in us will definitely produce God’s righteous works within and through us (Philippians 2:12b-13, Ephesians 2:10, James 2:17-18, 20, 26). Since, the tree of life was first mentioned in that scripture, it means it was God’s priority for man. It was the tree that he ought to have eaten and become forever perfect in God. But since he ate the other one, he had to be temporarily banished from the garden because he had changed the order.

Having eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, it was not possible for man to have the life of God. He had to wait for his redemption. And until the Son of God became the Son of Man, who lived sinlessly and freely gave himself in death and was raised powefully by the Holy Spirit, we who were made in the likeness of Adam, through his disobedience, could not become the sons of God again (Genesis 5:3, John 1:12, Romans 5:12, 14, 19).

The proper place for the second tree

Adam and Eve had only one source of life when it all began, and it was God Himself. The issue for them was not what they knew and did but of whom they were. Because they were produced in the very image and likeness of Elohim, there was not a single problem, mistake or wrongdoing. Remember Adam named all the animals and there was nothing for God to correct (Genesis 2:19-20a). The life of Him, of Whom they were, guaranteed their actions. Everything done could be taken as done by God Himself. Yet, because man was made by God a volitional being, who has freewill, he had to be brought to the point to choose life or reject it. Hence, the two trees in the middle of the garden. 

Remember that God Himself created this tree of knowledge of good and evil and we must agree that it is good. But God says to not eat from it. Without trying to spiritualize anything, knowledge of good and evil also come across as one thing, “discernment”, a derivative of law. Now, let’s look at this scenario critically, so we can understand the mind of God for us. Although discernment is a work of God, in God’s divine order, it is not the first thing you need, and it is certainly not the most important thing you need. 

It is a good tree no doubt but it is not the best (first) one for you. Even when you have discerned what is right, it doesn’t guarantee your commitment to it. It doesn’t mean you will do it. So, we imagine that a gift of God could be in operation and that gift itself cannot make us choose the right course of action. This is also embodied in the ten commandments that God gave the children of Israel at Sinai. With the law, we can say they had discernment, but that in itself didn’t guarantee their obedience. That was why the law failed. They didn’t draw near to God to receive His life, to have His law written on their hearts, which is grace. The only righteous purpose the law served was to unequivocally confirm to our conscience that we were all sinners (Romans 7:12-13, 3:19-20, Galatians 3:22a). It was not God’s way of making men righteous.

This is why we must solemnly agree with the word of God that “knowing” is not the same as “living”. Knowledge is one thing, life is another. However, whosoever has the life of God will eventually walk in discernment…will not be culpable by the law of God. You see! Life first, then knowledge. If the knowledge we have is as a result of life, we will not have hidden compromises in our lives. But when it is knowledge itself we are fascinated with, even the knowledge of the word of God, because it is not God’s order, we will not be able to live according to what we are learning.

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  2 Timothy 3:7

“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. [40] And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” John 5:39-40

Apart from the inflow of (new) life at salvation, the entire Christian experience must be driven by “life” first, and then “knowledge”. To change the order is to put ourselves into trouble. It is disastrous! The truth is, within this life, there is all the knowledge we need to have (1 Corinthians 1:30, Colossians 2:3). But in this case it will not be knowledge merely in the head, it will be knowledge at work in the heart. Jesus was showing the Pharisees in the scripture above that although they had knowledge, they didn’t have (His) life. And it was because they didn’t come to Him first; they went for knowledge instead. 

Today, you also have a choice to make: there are two trees at the heart of seeking God; tree of life and tree of knowledge of good and evil. The first represents grace; the second speaks of the law. Both are good, but there is a divine order. If you follow the order, it will be a relationship, a fellowship, if you don’t, it will be a religion, a dead doctrine. 

When you choose the second, the law, it brings weakness and condemnation; but when you choose the first, grace, it brings strength and justification. And then when you partake of the second tree (of knowledge of good and evil), after enjoying the tree of life, it will be healthy and approved of God, because it will not merely be the law anymore, it will be experienced as Truth (John 14:6). 

John 1:17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

Psalm 51:6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Cf: John 1:14, Colossians 1:6

Note: Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are from the King James Version.

Picture credits: lifehopeandtruth, YouTube, wideawakechristian

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