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