The tree is a powerful explanation of human experience. Every good thing in my life is matched by an equal or greater number of opportunities to ruin it by taking my own knowledge of good and bad. But I take it without knowing it. I make what I think is the right decision, but I don’t recognize all these screwed up motives underneath it.
In part one (0:00-14:00), Tim and Jon recap the conversation so far. Trees frequently appear in the Bible, and they often serve as a metaphor for people (see Psalm 1-2). Trees and people both carry the possibility of perpetual life within themselves, which is why trees are often depicted as symbols of life in the ancient Near East.
The Bible introduces us to a garden filled with trees on a high place. In the middle of the garden is the tree of life, a common image in ancient cultures. The tree of life resonates and contrasts with ancient imagery by showing life as a gift that God wants to give humanity. The tree presents the opportunity for humanity to have proximity with God and receive life in his presence.
Another tree is found in the middle of the garden, the tree of knowing good and bad. “Knowing good and bad” is used elsewhere in the Bible to talk about children in moral infancy. God wants to shelter humans from good and bad until they can learn wisdom from him. Humanity now has a choice: receive wisdom from God or take it for themselves.
Then the Lord God took the human and put him into the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may surely eat; but from the tree of knowing good and bad you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
The first command doesn’t place the tree of life off limits. God commands humans to enjoy the gift of eternal life. The tree of good and bad is a warning about forfeiting what God has already given.
In part two (14:00-23:00), Tim and Jon talk about the intertwined relationship of the two trees in the garden. This choice between life and death is played out in Genesis 3 with Adam and Eve and in Genesis 4 with Cain and Abel. The first death in the Bible comes not from God but from a human who has taken the knowledge of good and bad in their own hands.
Tim shares that the two trees in the garden are pictured next to each other. To eat from one, you have to walk by the other. The trees are an image of the human condition; eternal life is a gift available to us, but in order to receive it, we have to refuse to live by our own wisdom. In the same way, good things in our lives are matched by opportunities to choose our own self interest, often without recognizing our selfish motives.
In part three (23:00-34:30), Tim and Jon look back over the first part of Genesis 3 and consider the choice and consequences presented by the tree of knowing good and bad.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 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 desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.
This passage introduces the snake as shrewd—one who is able to use their knowledge for good or terrible ends. The serpent inverts the words of God, and the woman sees, desires, and takes from the tree of knowing good and bad. These moments of testing in the Bible are often a choice between something that is good and something that seems good.
When the man and woman eat from the tree, their eyes are opened to their vulnerability, and they hide. In one sense they did become like elohim, knowing good from bad. But instead of trusting God to give them this knowledge, humans took it for themselves.
In part four (34:30-end), Tim and Jon talk about how the moment before the tree of knowing good and bad is later reflected in the biblical story and in our own experience as humans. The permanently corrosive effects of taking from the tree are illuminated further at Mount Sinai, when Moses meets God at a tree (the burning bush) on a high place and receives God’s commands. Israel’s obedience to the covenant with God is compared to life and death: “So choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). First and foremost, wisdom and life are about listening to God’s voice.
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. And now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”
In the middle of a situation that seems hopeless, God makes a promise to humanity that a seed from their line will undo what has been done. To point us back to this moment, future biblical authors will put key characters at moments of testing by trees on high places. Tim shares that the Hebrew idea of testing is about exposing the truth not about proving yourself.
The story of the tree of good and bad shows us our failure to pass the test, but the biblical story later gives us glimpses of humans who do pass the test through their trust in God’s character and promises. The narrative is communicating that we need a human who is fully infused with God’s life presence to repair what was done in the garden.
At the end of this segment, Tim and Jon discuss the question of whether Adam and Eve missed a chance to repent in the garden. Instead of asking for forgiveness, Adam and Eve avoid God and shift blame. This story is meant to illuminate the human condition while also explaining the choice before each of us. God has commanded us to enjoy his good gifts, and each of us choose whether to receive those good gifts from God or define good and bad for ourselves.
How to Read the Bible: The Books of Solomon
Show produced by Dan Gummel.
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