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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Tree of Life E4 Final
Dismantling the Tree
Podcast Date: January 27, 2020 (68.45)
Speakers in the audio file:
Jon: Hey, this is Jon at The Bible Project. Right now we're in the middle of a series on the theme of trees in the bible. If you're just joining us, I'd really recommend going back and listening to the previous episodes because these conversations are beginning to build on each other, and today's episode is directly related to last week's. You see, last week, we looked at the story of Adam and Eve in a garden that God planted, and how there were these two cosmic trees: the tree of life and the tree of knowing good and bad. And this story in Genesis 2 sets a template for us. The desire to find and eat of the tree of life up on a mountain, that is to participate in God's own presence and goodness. And also, it's a template for a tree of testing. A tree that forces us to decide if we're going to choose what's good in our own eyes or not. Trees on mountains it's a theme biblical authors are captivated by it.
Tim: If you just go through the Abraham story in Genesis 12 to the end of his life in Cpt. 25, and get a green marker, and a brown marker and highlight trees and mountains, they're everywhere. This guy's constantly having significant moments of his life in front of trees on top of really tall hills.
Jon: Perhaps one of the most iconic stories in the Hebrew Bible is of Abraham being tested in a way that confuses and even offends many readers. It's in Genesis 22 where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Now the story can be read on its own, but this story begins to make so much more sense when we layer it on top of this template that we find in Genesis 2 with Adam and Eve in the garden.
Tim: I think what's happening with these two trees with Abraham, he is taking the wood that he lays on Isaac and then he lays him on, that wood, that altar is his test. He has a moment of decision, and this wood represents whether or not he's going to listen to God's voice. That represents the tree of knowing good and bad. "I will not redefine as good to ignore God and not sacrifice my son." And then once he makes the right choice, he looks over and there's another tree that provides life for his son.
Jon: So today, the story of Abraham and also the story of Noah, who both stand in front of their own trees of decision. Thank you for joining us. Here we go.
Okay, we're talking about the trees of Eden.
Tim: Yes, trees of Eden. We are preparing for Bible Project theme video that will be called either the trees of Eden or the tree of life. We're supposed to figure that out in the course of these conversations. We've explored the theological symbolism, the meaning of trees in the Bible first by looking at Genesis 1 and 2 - the meaning of trees.
Jon: The trees are very connected to people.
Tim: People. That's right.
Jon: People are compared to trees.
Tim: Trees are given a gift of mimicking God's own self-generating eternal life by having a kind of perpetual life that we observe. They have within themselves the makings of their own future, energy, and offspring. It's seed. They have the seed within them that they plant that has the seed within them that they plant, that has a seed within, and on it goes. They're different from God and the trees have a beginning. But it's an image. And people are like that, too.
Jon: It's an interesting thought. And we've talked about at length. It's hard for me to want to start there in this conversation because it just begs so many questions interesting to me.
Tim: Okay, you're right. And by starting our conversation there, I wasn't necessarily suggesting we start there in the video. It's just been a very helpful set of observations to me to understand why trees and people are so metaphorically swappable.
Jon: That almost feels like its own video. It feels like if we did videos on design patterns or on metaphors or metaphoric schemes in the Bible...
Tim: Yeah, it's a good point. So maybe where we should really think about beginning the video is where we started in the second episode of this conversation, which is about the tree of life in the center of the garden and what it means and signifies.
Jon: We were introduced to this tree called the tree of life. God plants a garden in the wilderness and in the garden He plants trees for eat food, trees are just beautiful look at, and in the center of the garden He plants the tree of life. For an ancient thinker, they would have been familiar with this concept of a tree of life.
Tim: Even drawings of it had a fixed form from before the time of Israel and the Bible at all. It was the fixed motif and art and poetry and song and story.
Jon: And some of the main takeaways or things would come to mind is that it's connected to divinity, it's connected to God and God's gift of life to humans. But there's also something very cosmic about it, which is if you have access to it, you have this divine life.
Tim: They grow their own life. Their own future is within them. We're kind of back to that first point. But just to say, their self-generating abundance is perceived in all ancient cultures and many contemporary cultures as being a kind of divine life.
Jon: It's a thing everyone would want.
Tim: It's perpetual life. Self-generating life and life that can sprout in the middle of nowhere, which is the image of an oasis or of in a desert you have a tall hill, but that tall hill is high enough that it gets dew and snow, which is life from the divine realm and then it can grow stuff up there that can't grow down here.
Jon: It was a very basic construct that would speak to everyone and they're like, "Yeah, that's the thing I want."
Tim: Yeah, totally.
Jon: Which is different than nowadays. That isn't as built into our literature and thought. I mean, you don't have to go far to find it. But I'm trying to think what would be the thing that would get everyone off their chairs like rallying. It would almost be like they're like the tree of freedom or the tree of happiness.
Tim: Tree of liberty. Tree of self-actualization.
Jon: Self-actualization, yeah. Like, "And in the middle of the garden was the was self-actualization."
Tim: Yeah. Or like economic mobility, right?
Tim: The ability to have a fair chance of any person to have the same go at making an abundant life for themselves.
Jon: By making it a divine tree is saying, that desire that you have it's a divine desire that God can give you.
Tim: And that He wants to meet. That's why the trees are there. That's right.
Jon: But ultimately you sit down anyone down, and what do we want? We want life.
Tim: Life in abundance, security.
Jon: Fullness, security. And then the question is, how do you get life? Is it through freedom? Is it through prosperity? That's right.
Tim: So what the biblical authors share with their ancient Near Eastern neighbors is the conviction that true abundant life is a gift from the creators - from the gods. Where they differ is in identifying the tree as a divine being. Like you have in the Canaanite goddess Ashera or the Egyptian goddess Nut, we talked about.
Jon: The trees are a divine being. It's something that God grew for the human.
Tim: They can mediate a taste of God's life to you.
Jon: And it's in the center of the garden in the same way that God's throne is in the center of the temple. So it's very connected yet to being in the presence of God, and it's this intimate picture of eating of God's life.
Tim: That's right.
Jon: Cool. That's tree of life. We can all agree, yes, we want it. The second tree, which is also there is the tree of knowing good and bad. Tov and ra'. And knowing isn't just intellectual assent. In Hebrew knowing is a very relational, intimate, experiential thing. So there's this tree that represents having an experience of good and bad. And so this isn't abundantly clear what's going on, but as we've dug through it, the logic we make of the narrative is that humans are in the garden because God wants them to rule with Him.
Tim: And to eat from all the trees including the tree of life.
Jon: And the command that He gives them is "just enjoy way all this goodness and eat of it to be full and complete." In order to rule you need wisdom. And so the question becomes, how are they going to get this wisdom? Are they going to get it in relationship with God, eating of the tree of life, being in His presence, going on these walks, learning from Him, or are they going to take it on their own terms?
Tim: Are they going to get what they think is the same end goal but in a way that is good in their own eyes? That's what the second tree represents.
Jon: The story goes that there's this other character who is a snake who seems like maybe more than just a typical garden snake, and lies about what God said, and then tells them actually something that's true, which is "Yeah, you eat of this tree and something's going to happen. You're going to be like God. And you want that." And the humans are like, "Yeah, I think I want that." It looks desirable - something they wanted. And they took it. And something about taking Knowledge of Good and bad on our own terms leads to death.
Tim: Specifically, the next layer of the divine command was to not eat from it. Because if you take from that tree in the way the narrative scribes, it will ruin at all. It'll lead to your death.
Jon: It's poison.
Tim: It will kill you. So it's not just about the tree as such, it's that they're breaking a divine command. They're doing what God asked them not to do. And that also is part of what makes it the wrong thing.
Jon: But we talked about this in terms of the whole testing idea where it wasn't wrong just because God told them not to do it. God told them not to do it because it's a mode of existence that leads to death. And so it's wrong because it unleashes death. I guess it's wrong for both reasons.
Tim: I would say it's wrong for both. It's wrong because He said, "Don't do it this way."
Jon: But He didn't say, "Don't do it" just to test them, right? Just to be like, "I wonder what they'd do. I'm going to put a tree..."
Tim: No, no. In the same way when I taught my kids not to walk into the street without looking both ways. This happened last night. I'm on the front porch - it's finally summertime here, so the front porch becomes another room in our house - and I'm watching across the street to go swing on the neighbor's swing and I'm watching how they cross the street. I've told them so many times. But when they're crossing the street, they didn't know it but they were being tested. And Roman passed the test. My second son, August failed the test. It was so pedantic. But we go through it again, "Step out, one step, look both ways, do it." And then I'm like, "If I see you do it the wrong way again, buddy, across the street will be off-limits for the rest of the day." So he was being tested but it wasn't just because I said though that's one layer of it. The other is because people speed down the street.
Jon: It leads to death.
Tim: It leads to death. It's that. That's what it is.
Jon: We got the two trees. On a cosmic level, there's something about the story of humanity and coming into our own wisdom. How are we going to gain wisdom? This picture of humanity as all this innocent potential and then how we break bad. But on a very individual level, the story is also about the fact that every day there's a choice. And so those are the two trees.
Tim: And then narratively, the next story, Cain and Abel shows you another person doing what is good in their own eyes. And it's the first bloodshed in the story. And then you watch that human rebellion lead to a whole city that defines it as good to kill even the innocent in the name of honor and pride. That's Lamech and the city of Cain, which is the first human city of blood. And then that human city of blood is matched by a spiritual rebellion of the sons of God and the daughters of men. That creates even more bloodshed in the earth. And so humans taking what is good in their own eyes leads to a world stained with the blood of the innocent. That's the story of Genesis 4, 5, and 6.
Tim: Death, and the death of the innocent. God announces the plan to purify the land from the blood of the innocent. We call it the flood narrative. But the introduction to the flood narrative is about the staining of all the land with the blood of the innocent because of the violence of people like Cain, and then the violence of those giant warrior kings.
Jon: The Nephilim.
Tim: So what God does is He selects one person, one righteous, blameless one out of all because he's the only one. He's Noah. Noah. And when his dad names him in Genesis 5, his dad, Lamech names him and he says, "Let's call him Noach." This is Genesis 5:29. "Let's call him Noach," which is the Hebrew word for "rest."
Jon: Oh, that's right. That's right.
Tim: And then he rhymes. He says, "Let's call him Noach because he will nakham - bring us comfort." From what? "From our work and from the pain of our hands arising from the ground the Yahweh's cursed." So our hands have stained the land with blood. Yahweh's going to work it. Because it's stained with blood, it also is cursed land. That's hostile to us now.
Jon: We need to be rescued from it.
Tim: We need comfort and we need rest. That's what Noach and the nakham he brings. That's the promise of Noah. He's a seed. Here's the seed. And he's going to reverse the whole mess apparently.
Jon: Going to strike the serpent.
Tim: Correct. That's right.
Jon: Would be the hope.
Tim: Would be the hope. God is going to wash the world clean but this is the next appearance of the word "wood" or "tree." In other words, you leave Eden, the last thing you heard about is the trees in their exile. This is the next appearance of the word "tree." And it's God's command to Noah where He says. "Make for yourself an ark (ta-va). Make an ark of etz. What kind of etz? An etz of gopher which is not a species of animal in Hebrew. It's a type of tree. It's etz-gopher (a tree of gopher).
Now, the salvation of humanity is going to happen through an arc made of tree, which is interesting. I'm not going to make this load-bearing. I'm just saying the next time the word "tree" appears, it's the thing that saves humanity through the remnant seed of Noah. Are you with me?
Jon: I'm with you.
Tim: Now, why do God bring the flood? Few reasons. To wash the land. And why is the land...Well, we've heard narratively about the bloodshed, but in Genesis 6:5, God summarizes it. He says, "Then Yahweh saw that the ra', the badness of humanity was great on the earth and that every purpose of the thoughts of His heart was only evil perpetually - only ra'. Which means leading to catastrophe. This image keeps creating catastrophe.
Jon: It's bottom of the barrel here. Every thought always leading to catastrophe.
Tim: Yeah. Everything these humans think of just keeps creating even more bloodshed on the land. Not an inaccurate summary.
Jon: Well, I mean, I wouldn't say that about any civilization now. I mean, that's pretty hyperbolic. Every thought was always leading to that.
Tim: Sure. I hear that. And I agree, it's hyperbolic.
Jon: Am I supposed to kind of get a sense of like, "Oh, this is worse than I've ever experienced?"
Tim: Ah, that's interesting. I think so. I think the fact that it brings about a kind of judgment that God says He'll never repeat means that we're meant to imagine this terrible.
Jon: Because if this is true. I mean, if every time human comes up with an idea it leads to catastrophe, it would be really mean to let them go on.
Tim: Yeah, sure.
Jon: That's a mess.
Tim: There is an element of truth to it, though. That any good idea that a human comes up with stands before a tree of decision, so to speak where it could be put to wonderful ends. It could also, you know, whatever.
Jon: I almost feel like the human condition is we're always just flipping coin and we have no idea. Sometimes we get lucky and it works out better than it should have.
Tim: But that's about circumstance within when you bring in the moral factor.
Jon: I see. It's like I want this to land heads every time or tails or whatever. The outcome I want is catastrophe. Is that what we're supposed to get from this?
Tim: Well, at least if the outcome is catastrophe for them but good for me, then maybe it's not such a bad deal. I'm just saying any technology that's created is usually meant to serve a good purpose but some people also create it to do a lot of damage so that a few can benefit even at the expense of the many. Right?
Jon: So this isn't just about like, do my decisions end up creating bad situation?
Tim: Did I purpose them for bad?
Jon: But did I purpose them for bad? That's right.
Tim: That's one layer of it. So God's purpose is He still wants to rule with human partners forever and ever. Amen. So here's one black good apple.
Jon: One guy is not always evil in his heart.
Tim: No. Exactly. He's like, "This guy's right. I like this guy. I can build a new humanity out of this guy and his family." So he tells them to get some trees. Their salvation comes from a tree - from the gopher tree. The vehicle of their salvation is a tree. Here's what happens. Noah builds the boat, flood comes, land is purified. Then the boats floating, ark is floating, the waters recede and it lands on top of a mountain. Back to when Noah's dad named him, he says, "He will give us nakham (comfort) from the ground which Yahweh has arar. He has cursed et. It's the word cursed it. Arar. Noah is floating in a boat on the water and his boat lands on top of a high mountain named Ararat. It's one letter different.
Jon: Oh, wow.
Tim: And what Does Noah do on top of Mount Ararat? What he does is Chpt. 8 vs. 18. Noah went out of the boat, and his sons, his wife, sons' wise with him. Every creature, beast, creeping thing, bird is all the list from Genesis 1.
Jon: Yeah, we're supposed to be thinking of a new Adam here. Tim: Yeah, correct. Then Noah built an altar. Oh, that's cool. Jon: Has this happened before?
Tim: No, first person to build an altar. It's not the first sacrifice in the Bible. It's the first somebody's setting up an altar. Why do you set up an altar on the top of a mountain? That's interesting.
Jon: And why do you set up altars?
Tim: Well, the point of an altar is to offer animal sacrifices. Just way of establishing communion with God. So I'm in a high place and Noah wants to meet with God here. So he takes these pure animals which link back to the earlier part of the story where was God was like, "Well, yeah, you've got all these animals, make sure you take some ritually pure and impure ones." And you're like, "What?" I'm waiting for Leviticus to know what those are. But somehow God starts telling Noah to act like a priest. So here's Noah, he gets off the boat and he's acting like a priest. He's sorting out, he's getting the blameless, pure animals and he offers them up on the altar.
Vs 21, "Yahweh smelled the soothing aroma." It's exactly the phrase used in the sacrificial manual in Leviticus 1 through 7. "Yahweh said in his heart, 'You know what I'm never going to do again? I'm never going to arar the ground on account of humanity.'" So Noah, on top of Mount Ararat, where his dad said that he would relieve and give us comfort from our arar offers a sacrifice. And God says, "You know what I'm never going to do again, is bring the arar (a curse).
Jon: But He already has. The ground is curse.
Tim: Oh, right. So what does that mean?
Jon: Yeah, what does that mean?
Tim: Why am I never going to do that again? Because the purpose of the human heart is ra' from his youth. Wait a minute. So the reason that God brought the flood...
Jon: Because human heart was ra' all the time.
Tim: That's right, is now the reason why God will never bring back flood.
Jon: Oh, this is about the flood or this is about cursing the ground?
Tim: Next line, "and I will never again destroy every living thing as I've done."
Jon: I see.
Tim: It's a little three-line poetic structure. "I'll never curse the ground." Why? "Human is ra' all the time." Last line. "I'll never strike every living things as I have done. What does it mean that the ground is cursed because of bloodshed? What does God do when the ground is cursed? He springs divine justice to...
Jon: Washes it clean.
Tim: To washes it clean. And so what is God never going to do again because of the ground that humans keep bringing a curse upon it because of the bloodshed.
Jon: Never going to wipe it clean again.
Tim: Yeah. "I'm never going to do that again." So the reason God brought the flood is now the reason why God will never do that kind of catastrophic judgment again.
Jon: What does that mean?
Tim: First, let's just make that clear. Jon: Okay.
Tim: It's the same phrase. It's the same reason. Human heart is ra'. That's why that invited divine justice. As well it should. When you walk into a courtroom, someone's being tried for murder...
Jon: Well, the first time he says it. He says, "The witnesses great. Every purpose of the thoughts of the heart were only evil continually."
Jon: This next time, he says, "The purpose of the man's heart is evil from his youth." Seems a little less intense.
Tim: Oh, you think it's less intense? That's interesting. "For the purpose of the heart of human is evil from its youth," Genesis 8:21. Genesis 6:5, "For every purpose of the thoughts of his heart is only evil all day."
Jon: Those are two different, but they're very similar. There's a similarity.
Tim: But you're right. Instead of saying "it's only evil all the time," it says, "it is evil" or "it is ra' from its youth." And instead of saying, "every purpose," Genesis 8 says, "For the purpose of the heart."
Jon: I didn't want to get back to the similarities and kind of this but like...
Tim: It's ratcheted down.
Jon: What I hear when I read that is that things were so bad.
Tim: I hear that. Jon, it's such a really good observation. I have never taken a moment to ponder the differences because I've always been struck by how similar they are.
Jon: That is interesting that they are similar. I almost feel like he's saying, like, "You know what, humans from the get-go, they're going to be screwing up. And so if I'm just going to always wipe them out every time they screw up, this is going nowhere."
Tim: Exactly. That's exactly right. Thank you. Even with the difference, that's the point being made here.
Tim: Even though human is bringing the blood of the innocent constantly to soak the land with blood, it's within God's prerogative to bring ultimate divine justice. But He's not going to. The reason he did that before the flood, to bring the flood is now the reason why He's not going to do that. And what's the difference between those two scenarios? Noah's sacrifice. Noah, now if he built an altar and started a fire on an altar, it requires a whole bunch of things. All right, you pile up some stones, okay, that's cool. You need an animal, but you also need wood.
Jon: So he's taking the ark apart.
Tim: This is a little narrative detail that has been filled in in the history of interpretation that infers that he used the wood of the ark. It doesn't say that, but it suggests he got the wood from somewhere.
Tim: Here's Noah on the on the top of a mountain whose name rhymes with the word "curse" in Hebrew. And what he does is bring comfort and rest and future hope to humanity by...at least the scene is that he built an altar on the top of the mountain and he's sitting right next to the ark made of the tree. It's a symbolic tree. But that's the image here. So here we go. Again, this is another Eden moment, and you have a righteous human interceding on behalf of humanity. And God says, "Yeah, here's a righteous one. I'll accept that intercession and I won't ever do again."
We're going to see this is going to be replayed in its own way in the story of Abraham, and especially in the story of Moses. Story of Moses on Sinai interceding for the idolaters who's fully mapped and hyperlinked into this moment in Noah's life. So what is less powerful visually is that we don't have an explicit depiction of a tree, but we just have it as the boat.
Jon: But help me understand though the connection to...So we got to the high place...
Tim: We have an etz. The Hebrew word "etz" means "tree" or "wood."
Jon: Now, the tree in the garden represented a choice. It wasn't about sacrificing.
Tim: Nope, the Noah story would be adding a new layer of significance to the tree.
Jon: Okay. And that new layer of significance isn't a tree is now a vehicle for meeting with God?
Tim: For sacrifice, which represents giving up what is valuable and precious as a statement to God that I surrender.
Jon: So in a way, not eating of the tree of good and bad is that kind of sacrifice.
Tim: Thank you. It is a sacrifice. That looks good to me but I'm going to give up my desire.
Jon: Because like when you're burning an animal, you're giving it away. You're not letting yourself have what you want.
Tim: Correct. In a way, that's similar. That's right. Also, this is the first act of intercession of the righteous interceding for...
Jon: Which is another theme. And it's a theme that doesn't get developed in the Genesis 2 and 3 trees.
Tim: No, because there's no one to intercede for. You don't need an intercessor. But after they're exiled from the garden, you need an intercessor.
Jon: And then that's when you intercede, and then the seed is presented.
Tim: Correct. And then that's what Noah's dad says, "This is the seed was going to save us." And he does right here on top of Mount curse (Mount Ararat).
Tim: That's step one. The next step is the way the Abraham story works. We could spend a lot of time; I'm just going to point a few things out. Abraham comes onto the scene because his family was scattered from Babylon in the story, and then you get that genealogy in Genesis 11.
Jon: Because Noah is before Babylon.
Tim: Noah is pre-Babylon. Noah goes down from the mountain and his son Ham who does something sketchy with him, with his dad. Ham has a grandson named rebel in Hebrew - Nimrod. And Nimrod builds Babylon. And Nimrod is called a gibor, which is the same thing that the offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of men are called in Genesis 6. You're like, "Oh, no, he's another one of those."
Jon: Gibor, which is different than the word for Nephilim.
Tim: It means violent warrior.
Jon: Violent warrior. And Noah was the seed. But after the sacrifice is the story of him planting a garden.
Tim: He plants a garden. God says, "Be fruitful and multiply." You're like, "Yes."
Jon: And then he gets drunk, and then the whole thing falls apart.
Tim: He gets drunk and naked. His failure is drunkenness and nakedness in the garden that he planted. So kind of a mirroring of the nakedness and shame in Adam and Eve. And then his son violates his father's honor in the tent in some way.
Jon: So he doesn't actually bring the full comfort and rest that he intended to bring?
Tim: No, exactly. He does the right thing, but then he immediately fails, which crosses him off the list of...
Jon: So like, okay, we need someone like Noah but then that continues on in the path of life.
Tim: I need someone to do what Noah did on Mount Curse, but perpetually. Perpetually because humans are still ra' from their youth so they're going to need a perpetual intercessor.
Jon: Perpetual intercessor.
Tim: Noah did it once. But it was only once.
Jon: And it gets really bad.
Tim: It gets really bad.
Jon: It was bad before Noah but here it's getting really bad again.
Tim: Because of Noah's great-grandson whose name is rebel, who builds empires of Assyria in Babylon.
Jon: He's a mighty warrior and he builds Babylon.
Tim: And Assyria.
Jon: Interesting. Oh, wow.
Tim: He's the father of the two empires that will take Israel in exile later in the story. So God scatters Babylon, Genesis 11, and out of that scattering, one family is traced that leads to a guy named Abraham.
Jon: Just like Noah was chosen because he was blameless, Abraham was...
Tim: Not mentioned.
Jon: It's not mentioned.
Tim: It's not mentioned, yeah. In the biblical text, it's not mentioned. So God speaks a seven-line poem to Abraham starting in Genesis 12.
Jon: "I want to bless you."
Tim: "Eden blessing all over you and your seed. To your seed I will give this land," He says to the land of Canaan. So what does Abram do after God gives him the promise of a New Eden? Genesis 12:4. "Abraham went forth just as Yahweh spoke to him." Awesome. Where did he go? Where to do what God tells you to do.
Jon: Yeah, he listened and obeyed.
Tim: He took his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot. That's not so good. Because God said, "Leave your extended family." Abram brings along one member of his extended family, and lo behold, that member is going to create a ton of trouble in the narratives that follow. And they bring all their stuff. They set out for the land of Canaan and they came to the land of Canaan. You want to know the first thing that Abram did when he went into the land, the New Eden? He goes to the city of Shechem and he goes and he finds a tree. Big oak tree. You know the name of that tree? It's vision.
Tim: Moreh in Hebrew.
Jon: The vision tree.
Tim: Tree of vision. The oak of vision.
Jon: That's cool. Now the Canaanites were in the land. This is going to be important for the next chapter. But you know what Yahweh did? Yahweh became visible at the tree of vision there at Shechem, and said, "To your seat, I'll give this land." You know what he did then? It's Abraham meeting Yahweh personally under a tree. And so he built an altar to Yahweh who appeared to him. What's the story doing here? Who built the last altar?
Tim: Noah on a high place with his tree boat. And now here's the next new Adam who's going be giving the blessings of Adam: be fruitful and multiply. And he goes to Shechem and he finds this big tree named vision and then Yahweh appears to him in a vision and he built an altar. Then what's the next thing he does? Well, he moved on from there but he goes to a mountain. Stop one is at a sacred tree where he meets with God and worships God in an altar. Stop two, now go to the mountain. Because the tree was on a mountain. But you got to combine the mountain and the tree somehow. Stop one, the tree. Stop two, the mountain.
East of Bethel, he pitched his tent there. Bethel is on the west, Ai on the east and he builds another altar. So between these two stops, he's recreating the whole Noah moment on the Mount Curse. And he calls upon the name of Yahweh, which is that phrase was used at the end of Genesis 4 after the story moves on from Cain building a city. Adam and Eve have their son to replace Abel. They named him Seth. And then humans people began to call them name of Yahweah. Abram's the seed or the woman. He's worshiping Yahweh, meeting him on high mountains, under sacred trees. It's good stuff, man. The blessings of Eden
Jon: Yeah, we should be feeling pretty good.
Tim: Feeling great about this guy until the next sentence which is he leaves the land and goes down to Egypt because of famine. He doesn't trust that God can provide for him and so on. Here's what I want to highlight. If you just go through the Abraham story is in Genesis 12 to the end of his life in Chpt. 25, and get a green marker and a brown marker and highlight trees and mountain, they're everywhere. This guy's constantly having significant moments of his life in front of trees on top of really tall hills.
It happen to the next chapter. Chpt. 13. He goes back to that place on to the mountain in Genesis 13:3 where he built the altar and he starts calling on the name of the Lord again. Chpt. 13 and vs. 14, "The Lord said to Abraham, 'lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are.'" And so he's on top of that mountain, and God says, "Look, look at direction has a compass north, south, east, west, all the land I will give to you and your seed and to your seed after you." Vs. 17, "Arise, take a walk with me. Let's walk about this land together." So here it is. Rise. So Abraham takes a walk around the land with God.
So Abraham moved his tent in a new spot and he decided to dwell by some more trees. They're called the trees of Mamre which looks similar to Moreh. It's near Hebron. And he builds another altar. Now he's on another mountain. He has a vision of the New Eden. It's the same verb Mithaleh of what God was doing with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. This is the next step of that pattern of God walking with Abraham around the New Eden.
Jon: What do you think the purpose of showing him kind of recreating Eden on the mountain, building an altar and then this whole story of him going to Egypt and blowing it again, and then coming back reset?
Tim: Well, that story happens in between these two moments I showed. That's right. So he goes to Egypt and lies...
Jon: Because from the garden narrative, you screw up, game over.
Tim: That's good.
Jon: You're exiled. Here Abraham screws up and God's like, "okay, start again."
Tim: Totally. I got this great phrase from fellow Hebrew Bible scholar. His name is Charles You [SP]. We went to the same program together at UW Madison. I was talking with him recently, we were talking about these kinds of things in the patriarchal narratives in Genesis, and he reminded me of this line that's attributed to Franklin Roosevelt in a famous Oval Office meeting where they're debating about what to do with the dictator at Spain at that time, Francisco Franco. Because they were trying to negotiate a partnership with him, but then he was really brutal.
Apparently, somebody in the meeting said or he said - it's urban legends as to who said what exactly - but somebody said, "Yeah, sure, he's an SOB, but he's our SOB." Because they were trying to ally with him to get something done. I don't know. The whole point is this guy's not awesome. He has serious flaws, but he's our SOB.
Jon: That's how God feels about humanity.
Tim: Well, that's how God feels about humanity but that's how each generation of the patriarchs in Genesis...
Jon: Being presented.
Tim: Being presented. He may be an SOB, but he's God's SOB. And so, instead of bringing a blessing on the nations as God said, "That's what I'm calling you for..."
Jon: Goes down to Egypt and...
Tim: Goes down to Egypt, lies about his wife and brings a curse upon Pharaoh in his land because of his deception. And so God bails him out and says, "Go back to the land." And he does. Abraham goes back and...
Jon: This is kind of what I hoped would have happened in the garden story, right? They would have done the thing, maybe they even laughed, and then God was like, "Guys, come on." And he brings him back, and like, "Let's try this again."
Tim: I see. Well, in a way that kind of is what happens.
Jon: In a way that is what's happening.
Tim: That's what the Cain and Abel story is. The seed of the woman will crush the head on the snake. And then you have Cain sitting there, the seed of the woman - firstborn seed the woman - sitting before his own moment of decision of whether he will do good or not good.
Jon: But they're not allowed back in the garden. Because here he goes back to the mountain...
Tim: Well, they're not allowed back in the garden because Cain fails. He makes the same choice his parents do.
Jon: Well, Abraham failed, and the next scene he's walking with God.
Tim: Oh, he gets to go back in the land. I see.
Jon: He goes up to the mountain and he's walking With God.
Tim: All right. Here's what it is, is that the second chances the Adam and Eve get is through their son. The third chance that happens is through Noah in Genesis 1 through 11. Each next generation gets a chance, so to speak. In the life of Abraham, he's going to get 10 actually.
Tim: There's 10 key moments of decision in Abraham stories. He fails most, passes a few. It's a good point. I got almost an apologetic mode there. But it's a good point. He doesn't give Adam and Eve multiple chances. He passes them on and He gives their sons in the next...
Jon: This actually though gives me comfort because all of this is working together. It's all kind of riffing off the same idea. And so you find this God who does want. He wants to bring humanity back to the garden and that's happening through the narrative of Genesis 1 through 11. But it spirals out of control pretty fast and hard, and He wants to bring Abraham back to the garden. It seems like he's giving Abraham a lot more chances.
Tim: A lot more chances, yeah.
Tim: Last step. We could spend a lot more time on the thing we're about to do. I just want to wrap it because I think this could be a cool moment in the video where we can introduce...if we do Noah, I'm not sure, but Abraham for sure. Going into the New Eden, blessing the nations.
Jon: I love the image of Noah making an altar out of his boat.
Tim: I like it too.
Jon: It'd be a cool moment.
Tim: Good. And then of Abraham going in, God meets him at the top of a mountain under a sacred tree and then they walk about the land together. So cool.
Jon: So cool.
Tim: However, Abraham and his wife, we're going to have a serious failure moment when it comes to the hope of their seed. God keep saying, "I'm going to give you seed." But years go by, they're really old, they decide to scheme up their own good plan of producing a seed, which is for Abraham to have sex with one of their Egyptian slaves. So that doesn't go well. This is Genesis 16. We don't have time to read it. But there's lots of language echoing the Eden story about...
Jon: All the seeing and desiring and listening to the voice.
Tim: They take her, they do what is good in their eyes. He listens to the voice of his wife.
Jon: All that going in Genesis 3.
Tim: All this unique vocabulary of Genesis 3. It's portraying it negatively as a failure moment.
Jon: This isn't like, "Hey, that was actually kind of smart."
Tim: No, it's bad and everyone hurt each other. So what happens eventually, later in chapter 21, is Sarah gets jealous. Once Abraham and Sarah do have the promised son, Isaac themselves, then Sarah gets jealous that there's this other son Ishmael the son of the slave.
Jon: Yeah, the oldest child.
Tim: And so they exile that woman and her son out into the desert and they send them off with a loaf of bread and a Nalgene water bottle. Single mom, kid on her back, "Good luck. Here's 32 ounces loaf of white bread." And off they go. The whole point is it's negative. I mean, I would be guilty in a court of law if I would send my wife and her kids and we were in the middle of Mojave Desert.
Jon: And you just give her a skin of water and...
Tim: And drop them off. I would be guilty. Guilty. Willful neglect or something. And that's what Abraham and Sarah do.
Jon: It's like a death march.
Tim: So Abraham just sent off to their death Hagar and his and his firstborn son.
Jon: It's like wild swings of character.
Tim: Yeah, totally. So now we're on the middle of page 18. The next story is "it came about after these things - it's what we just said - that God tested Abraham." And if you're counting the narrative, this is the 10th
Jon: Oh, by the way, God does hook up Hagar.
Tim: He provides her with a spring in the wilderness and says, "I'm going to make him into a great nation."
Jon: He's like cleaning up Abraham's mess.
Tim: He's cleaning up after. He's my SOB. But now he's going to test. "Are you going to be my partner or not, Abram?" And he brings a measure for measure consequence. So you just killed off your firstborn son as far as you're concerned, so I'll tell you what, Abraham, give me back the son I just gave you." That's a test. Take your son, your only son, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah..." Do you remember the name?
Jon: It was like a third variation.
Tim: Totally. Oh, yeah. This is key. Abraham first met with God in Canaan by the oak of Moreh, now he's going to face his test on the mountain of Moriah. The tree of Moreh, the mountain of Moriah. It's one letter different in Hebrew. And offer him as a bird offering on one of the mountains. We're echoing...
Jon: Going to go to the mountains to make a sacrifice.
Tim: That's right. It's as if his whole story in the land from its first moment is coming to its culmination right here on a new mountain on the hill of Moriah. So he goes up there, and he just does it. He doesn't gripe, he doesn't argue. You just watch Abraham go through it. And then the narrative vs. 3 through vs. 9, Abraham and Isaac walking up the mountain Moriah. And lo and behold, you have this incredible density of the word "wood" or "tree" in the story. It's as if trees start growing everywhere, but it's just one tree.
Vs. 3, "He cuts down the wood, the etz. Remember the word "tree" and "woods" are the same. He cuts down the tree of the burnt offering. Vs. 6 "He took of the tree of the burnt offering and he laid the tree on Isaac." Isaac is carrying a tree as carrying it up to the high place unbeknownst where he's going to give his life back to God." Isaac speaks up: "Behold the fire and the trees. But where's the lamb?"
Jon: Something's missing.
Tim: God will ra'ah the lamb for himself. The name of the hill is Moriah and visually this Hebrew word "ra'ah" is visually made up of the same letters as Moriah. So he's going up to the mountain of vision and "God will make visible the lamb," Abraham says. So they came to the place, vs. 9, which God told him and Abraham built an altar on the high place just like he did in Chpt. 12.
Jon: Yeah, he's done it two time now.
Tim: The stories are intentionally matching each other. In Genesis 12, he goes to high place which is the oak of Moreh, by the tree he builds an altar. Here is again on the hill of Moriah take a tree, build and altar.
Jon: Is this the third time?
Tim: Actually the third time and there's been a couple of that we skipped.
Tim: He arranges the tree wood on the altar. He bound his son Isaac laid him on top of the tree. So Isaac's about to die on the tree. Abrams stretched out his hand and he took the...the word for knife here is very odd. It's the word "et" as a noun. It's a whole thing, we don't have time to talk about. He took the eter connected to the...I think he's connecting to the tree. But the angel of Yahweh called and said, "Abraham. Abraham." He said, "Here I am." And God says, "Stop." He just passed the test. He was about to do what seemed ra' in his eyes.
Jon: He wasn't going to decide what was good and ra'.
Tim: That's right.
Jon: He was going to let God decide.
Tim: But it means he's learned his lesson. He's redefined good and evil so many times now, and it's gone so terribly wrong. It's led to this terrible consequence, he's just like, "I give up. I'll do what you tell