The tree of knowing good and bad represents something that must be undone. We need a human who will not only not take from that tree, but now who will cover for and deal with the trainwreck of human evil and pain that came from eating from that tree. And I think what’s happening, with these two trees, with Abraham, is a way of doing that.
In part one (0:00–29:00), Tim and Jon recap the series so far. The Bible introduces us to the theme of trees on page one and highlights two trees of particular importance. The tree of life was a familiar symbol in ancient cultures, representing the gift of life found in God’s presence given to humans. The second tree was the tree of knowing good and bad, which represented the choice we all have to either listen and obey God or choose to define good and bad for ourselves.
After humanity is removed from Eden, we find that humans continue to fail the same choice presented in the garden. Cain murders his brother (Genesis 4), Lamech kills the innocent for honor (Genesis 5), and spiritual beings rebel and cause even greater bloodshed on earth (Genesis 6). This sets up the beginning of the flood narrative.
Now he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will give us comfort (nakham) from our work and from the pain of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.”
Noah is presented as the first potential seed who will reverse the mess. In Noah’s story, we find the next occurrence of the word “tree” when God commands Noah to make an ark of gopher wood. God will save humanity through this seed and this tree.
When the floodwaters recede, we find Noah and the tree (ark) on top of a mountain. There, Noah sacrifices to God.
So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by their families from the ark. Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. The Lord smelled the soothing aroma, and the Lord said to himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the purpose of man’s heart is evil from his youth, and I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done.”
The reason God brought the flood is the reason God will never bring the flood again. The moment that stands between these two statements is Noah’s sacrifice to God. Noah serves a priest-like role atop a mountain by a tree. This is the first act of intercession.
In part two (29:00–42:30), Tim and Jon unpack trees in the story of Abraham. Although Noah succeeds at his test for a moment, he too fails and is found naked and ashamed in a garden (Genesis 9). One of Noah’s grandsons goes on to establish the cities of Assyria and Babylon, and all humanity comes together to make a name for themselves at Babylon. God scatters them, and the story zeroes in on the family of Abraham.
Abraham listens to God and leaves the land of his fathers. When he arrives in the land of Canaan, he goes to a tree called Moreh, or “vision.”
So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him…. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan. Thus they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh (lit. “oak of visibility”). Now the Canaanites were then in the land. The Lord appeared (Heb. yera’eh, “became visible”) to Abram and said, “To your seed I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east, and there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.
Abraham’s story is filled with trees and mountains. After he returns from Egypt, God shows him the land all around, walks it with him, and promises it to his seed.
Jon points out that God gives Abraham many chances. Tim says that God often bails Abraham out, but the chance before Abraham is a chance for all humanity. In Abraham’s story, he has ten moments of decision. Some he passes, and others he fails. In both cases, God is patient with Abraham and gives him many chances.
In part three (42:30–52:50), Tim and Jon talk about two of the most significant events in Abraham’s life—the banishment of Hagar and the sacrifice of Isaac.
In Genesis 16, Abraham and Sarah decide to do what is good in their own eyes to receive God’s promise. Abraham has a child with Hagar, only to have Sarah become jealous in chapter 21. Abraham and Sarah exile Hagar and her son into the wilderness to die.
In the next chapter, God brings a measure-for-measure test to Abraham. Because Abraham “sacrificed” his firstborn Ishmael to the wilderness, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his promised son Isaac on the mountain. This culminating moment for Abraham is marked by the words “tree” and “wood” all over Genesis 22. Abraham lays the wood on Isaac, who carries it up a mountain to give his life to God. In Abraham’s final test, he chooses to do what seems bad in his eyes and trusts God’s wisdom.
Abraham’s decision to trust opens up the door to life. Abraham sees a ram caught hanging in a bush. He offers it up like Noah’s sacrifice and calls the name of the place, “Yahweh Will See,” which later becomes the site for the temple.
In part 4 (52:50–end), Tim and Jon talk about the scope of the video on the tree of life. Tim says that the two trees are like sides of a coin, based on the question of whether we will trust God to give us what is good. The solution to our distrust will happen in a place that imitates where the problem took place—a tree of testing on a high place. We see this in the stories of Noah, Abraham, and Jesus.
God offered the gift of his life through the tree of life, but humanity passed by it to take wisdom for themselves. Tim shares that the tree of knowing good and bad represents something that needs to be undone. We need a human who will not only refuse to take from the tree but will deal with the wreck of human pain that came from choosing that tree.
In the story of Abraham and Noah, the tree can become a means of continuing failure, or it can become a means of undoing humanity’s failure. These possibilities will continue to multiply across the biblical story. And all of it builds up to Jesus’ sacrifice on a high place on a tree.
Why Did God Ask Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac? Blog by Andy Patton
Show produced by Dan Gummel.
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