By using this website, I acknowledge that I am 16 years of age or older, and I agree to the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.
Under 16? Accept
Back
Aspect Ratio GIF
BibleProject Podcast
BibleProject Podcast
Genesis Scroll • Episode 3
Under the Trees with Yahweh
51m • January 17, 2022
Blessing, testing, failure, success, God’s plan for the nations—you’ll find all these themes woven through the story of the Bible, often accompanied by … trees? While it might not seem obvious, trees play an important role in the Bible and, notably, in the life of Abraham. In this episode, join Tim, Jon, and Carissa as they dive into the second movement of Genesis and trace the theme of trees through the story of Abraham.
Listen Here
See Series
refresh
refresh
Untitled
close
Play Episode
Share
Download

QUOTE

The tree is right on pages one and two in the opening literary units of Genesis. And then that image is picked up and employed and developed in really neat ways throughout the story of Abraham because Abraham and Sarah are depicted as a new Adam and Eve, who God is calling to return to the garden so he can bless all the nations through them.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • In Genesis 1-2, trees represent both God’s blessing and a test: will humans choose to trust God or try to determine good and evil for themselves? Going forward, significant plot developments in Genesis are frequently marked by “new Adam” figures in gardens (often beneath trees).
  • In the second movement of Genesis, Abraham and Sarah are presented as a new Adam and Eve who will (ideally) reverse the failures of Babylon and Eden.
  • In Genesis 18, Yahweh appears to Abraham and Sarah under trees at the door of their tent—a scene that looks backward to Eden and forward to the tabernacle.

The Second Movement of Genesis

In part one (00:00-08:25), Tim, Jon, and Carissa dive into the second movement of Genesis. Because the original scrolls didn’t have chapters like we’re used to today, the scrolls were organized by themes that separated larger blocks of text. We call these thematic sections movements. The second literary movement of Genesis follows the life of Abraham.

In the first movement, we traced the theme of God’s Spirit. In this movement, we’ll trace the theme of trees (related to, but distinct from, our video Tree of Life).

In movement one of Genesis, God creates Eden, a high garden refuge where he offers life and blessing to his people. After humans forfeit and lose access to the garden and its blessings, the rest of the biblical story is about God working to restore humanity to the Eden blessing, symbolized by access to God’s presence through the sacred trees.

The narrator of Genesis picks up and develops this motif in the story of Abraham and Sarah, who become new Adam and Eve figures.

Trees of Blessing and Testing

In part two (08:25-20:26), Tim, Jon, and Carissa revisit the biblical theme of trees. Trees play an important role in the Bible, starting with its opening paragraphs and specifically in the descriptions of the third and sixth days of creation. God gives fruit trees as a special gift to humans and animals to enjoy.

In Genesis 1-2, trees represent both God’s blessing and a test. Will humans choose to trust God, or will they try to determine good and evil for themselves? By failing the test and taking from the tree of knowing good and evil, humans forfeit their access to the tree of life.

Significant plot developments in Genesis are frequently marked by “new Adam” figures in gardens (e.g., when Noah leaves the ark and plants a vineyard in Genesis 9).

The first movement of Genesis concludes with the scattering of nations after humanity’s rebellion at Babel (Gen. 11), and then we meet Abraham. The story of Abraham has three parts, each broken into three more parts, that follow the thematic patterns of Genesis 1-11. Trees play a significant role in each major development of Abraham’s life.

A New Adam and Eve

In part three (20:26-27:28), the team discusses Abraham’s role as a new Adam who will (ideally) reverse the failures of Babylon and Eden.

God calls Abram (later named Abraham) to leave his home in Mesopotamia and go to the land of Canaan. This calling comes with a blessing that contains the same elements as God’s blessing upon Adam and Noah. His first entry into the land portrays him as a new Adam and also as a new Noah, and Sarah as a new Eve. Abram journeys into Canaan and ascends to a high hill (Shechem) where there is a tree called “vision,” and Yahweh appears to him in a vision.

Then Abram goes to a mountain near Bethel, meaning “house of God,” and builds another altar where he worships Yahweh (Gen. 12:1-9). Abram is a human meeting with God on a high place under a tree. Sound familiar? This is Eden imagery!

So now we have a new Adam and Eve and a blessing from Yahweh—what could possibly go wrong? Too quickly, the narrative takes a turn for the worse as Abram leaves the land God gave him for Egypt, jeopardizing Sarah’s safety.

Those Who Walk with God

In part four (27:28-38:00), Tim, Jon, and Carissa pick up Abraham’s story in Genesis 13.

Abram goes back to the Eden place at the “house of God,” Bethel, and from that high place, God tells Abram to look out upon the promised land as a new Eden. God tells Abram he’ll make his descendants as numerous as the dust. In other words, God is creating a family out of dust. God then instructs Abram to “walk about” (hithalek). This is a unique verb that recalls Genesis 3:8, where God comes “walking about” (mithalek) in Eden to look for the humans. Abram is depicted as a new Adam, walking about the trees and mountains of a new Eden.

Abraham then moves from the oak of Moreh to the oaks of Mamre, where, yet again, he meets God near trees on a mountain.

This is a biblical pattern that will show up in many of the Bible’s movements. Whenever the biblical authors describe humans beneath trees on a high place, we should pay attention. This is a new Eden moment where God has come to meet with humanity. And those Eden moments are always followed by parallel sequences of events. God meets with his chosen ones (those who “walk with God”) under trees in Eden. Then the chosen ones fail. Next, God restates his blessing to his chosen ones despite their failures. Then there’s an outbreak of violence among the nations. That final plot movement is the next development in Abraham’s life in Genesis 14. While a battle rages around Abraham, he sits in peace among the oak trees of Mamre (Gen. 14:13).

Meeting with God Under the Trees

In part five (38:00-50:20), Tim, Jon, and Carissa discuss the next appearance of trees in the Abraham narrative (Gen. 18:1-8).

In Genesis 18, Abraham is once again among the oaks of Mamre where he camped in Genesis 13:18. The narrator describes Abraham’s location as “under the tree” (takhat ha‘ets) in verses 4 and 8, and at “the door of the tent” (petakh ha’ohel) in verses 1, 2, and 10. The tree and the door are both Eden images (Gen. 4:7-8) that are replayed in the Noah story as well (Gen. 7:13). Yahweh appears to Abraham and Sarah under these trees at the door of their tent, and he reminds them of his promise that Sarah will have a fruitful womb. This is all Eden imagery, which foreshadows the language that will be used to describe the tabernacle.

The author of Genesis is setting our expectations high—perhaps this is the moment that God’s chosen ones will do the right thing and reverse the Eden failure. Momentarily, this is exactly what happens. Abraham “takes” a “good” calf from his herd as an offering to Yahweh, and he becomes an image bearer who is taking from God’s creation for a good purpose instead of a bad one.

This story is a high point in Abraham’s life. And as readers, we can now recognize that areas with trees are locations for God’s blessing upon humans. Going forward, as biblical authors mention trees, it’s an invitation to us to read a little more carefully and notice imagery that is either mirroring or inverting the Eden narrative.

Referenced Resources

  • The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus, L. Michael Morales
  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • “Invisible” by Philanthrope and mommy

Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.

Powered and distributed by Simplecast.

Genesis E1  –  57m
God’s Spirit in Creation
57m
1hr
Genesis E3  –  51m
Under the Trees with Yahweh
51m
Genesis E4  –  1hr 6m
Trees of Testing and Blessing
1hr 6m
1hr 3m
Genesis E6  –  1hr 6m
Wrestling God for a Blessing
1hr 6m
Genesis E7  –  42m
Joseph the Exile
42m
Genesis E8  –  45m
Joseph the Suffering Servant
45m
1hr 2m
For advanced bible reading tools:
Login  or  Join