S1E6 Transcript

006 – The Tale of Two Trees

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Season 1, Episode 6
Series: Journey Through the Old Testament



In the previous episode, we looked at three of the purposes for God’s creation of humanity: dominion, work, and relationship. And if you haven’t listened to that episode yet, I suggest you stop here and go back and do that first for the rest of this to make sense. 

We’ve been looking at Genesis 1 and 2, but there’s still more to be said about Genesis Chapter 2. And I intentionally have skipped over a key part of that until now. Before God ever got around to the sequence of creating Adam and Eve, he established the guidelines and the rule that was necessary to govern his good creation. And the one rule was not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. 

Well, right here we can add a fourth created purpose worship. In this context, worship rests on the proper recognition as to who is the creator and who is the creature. And recognize and acknowledge that it’s God himself who is the king. We are image bearers. We have tremendous authority because of that over ourselves in the world. But the one requirement is that we not confuse our authority from the king, with us being the king, we are not. We were under God’s rule, but we do not get to decide what that rule is all about. 

Alright, let’s look at the trees in Genesis 2. Verse 9 says the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground. Trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. At creation, God had given Adam all that was necessary for abundant life and productivity. And trees are a part of the realm of plant life that were a source of food. And remember: part of man’s work was to care for and to cultivate that plant life, that agricultural realm to make it even more productive. 

And here’s the first place, by the way, that beauty is mentioned. The description of the trees generically as a group in the Garden of Eden is that they were good for food and pleasing to the eye. And that’s just a really fascinating detail to me that is included here in the description and Genesis 2 somehow in this text, that idea of beauty is important. So, the trees are all there for man to use to benefit from, to enjoy. 

And then we have this specific identification of two particular trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Before we go on, the first thing is to point out that these two trees are specifically identified to serve as opposing polar symbols of this relationship between God and his creation. I think they’re there to represent the question of government as it were. One represents freedom, the other the boundary of that freedom. 

Here’s what I mean. God created his perfect world. He’s created mankind in his image. He set that garden up. And by the way, the language about this perfect garden is very geographically limited. The text does not suggest that the entire earth was like this. In fact, it seemed to suggest quite the opposite, that all this perfection of Eden was limited to this geographical area on Earth. It was not yet true of the entire planet.  

And the inference is that Adam and Eve are to take that space and then to expand it to multiply it around the globe. That’s part of what’s meant by “fill.” Humanity is to fill the earth by populating it through, having children, and to fill the earth with culture that reflects the Majesty and glory of God. So, at this point, God work is done. He’s created creatures who bear his image. He’s given them dominion, work, and relationship. The stage is all set and life in the new Kingdom of God on Earth is ready to commence.  


But what is necessary in order for that Kingdom to endure and sustain? That’s where the trees come into play. And indeed, we see that happening. First, the tree of life. Why is that singled out? Genesis 216 says that Adam and Eve were free to eat from any tree in the garden. They’re all lifegiving now. Some progressive Christian teaching will argue here that Adam had to eat from this particular tree on a regular basis in order to stay alive. Without that, he would die. Except the text here says nothing at all about the requirement to eat from this specific tree. 

Instead, the Bible tells us that every tree in the garden was pleasing to the eye and good for food. This tree of life Adam could eat from it if he wants, but he could eat from any of them. And both chapter 1 and 2 earlier have already said as much: that all of these trees were there for life and could be eaten of was part of the design for their work and the cultivation of the garden. You see, God himself was the source of that life originally for Adam and Eve, and then the rest of his creation was given to them to help sustain that life. So, it wouldn’t make sense to argue that the tree of Life was the only one whose specific purpose was for that. So, there’s something else going on. 

Perhaps the best way to understand this is to see the tree of life being used to reinforce the contrast to the tree of knowledge. The tree of life represents, as it were, all trees, all the bounty of God’s creation. Adam and Eve had been given free and full access to all of this already. As I said a moment ago, freedom. In other words, they’ve been given everything they need to live and to flourish and to carry out their purposes for which God had made them. They truly lacked for nothing in order to experience and enjoy and expand this good creation of God. And so, the tree of life physically symbolizes represents what they have and what they have been given.  

Well, the second tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil stands in stark contrast to this tree of life. It, too, is a physical reminder, an object lesson to Adam and Eve that their freedom and their rule are not absolute. The knowledge of good and evil means the authority to determine what is right and wrong. Humanity was given the authority to rule over the created world here. What they did not have was the right to define the rules by which that world would be ordered and operate. Only God as its divine creator as its king had that authority. In other words, God was the king, not us. 

So, at this point in the story, creation is set, it’s established. How were Adam and Eve to live in it? And this, by the way, is a question that runs all the way through the Bible. When God has done his work in and for us to make us new creatures, how do we live that way from that moment forward? How do we sustain that life? This is the question before Adam and Eve. The Tree of knowledge represents both to them and to us this core truth. You and I are not the source of our own life. Our life does not come from us. Our life comes from outside of us. 

And God was saying to his people, to his image bearers. If you’re going to live in the enjoyment in the experience of my creation, the way I designed. You must first recognize you are not the source of your own life. I am. You’ve got to get that right before anything else. And this is where worship comes into play. The acknowledgement that God is the ruler, that God is the source of life and that we are dependent on him for everything. 


So, we see two trees. And I do believe these were real objects there in the garden that they served as physical reminders of this essential truth about God creation: full freedom and joy and life happens only within the rule in the worship of God as king. And every time that Adam and Eve saw these trees, they were to be reminded of that. And that’s also why I say these trees are the opposite poles of God’s creation, expansive freedom within a boundary. 

I think it’s worth noting here, by the way, that the tree of Knowledge was the only prohibition. This is really meaningful. We live in a culture whose narrative is that Christianity is an oppressive religion of rules and things you can’t do. And I love the biblical narrative here, because at the beginning of the story, there’s only one. I can keep up with one rule. Of course, our problem now is that we can’t live out even that one, but we can at least keep track of it and it’s this, you know. 

We are prohibited from eating of that tree because that represents who gets to make the rules in the first place. Who is going to be the determiner of what is right and wrong? Adam and Eve had incredible power. They had God’s authority over all this creation. They were the stewards and they ruled it on behalf of God. And you know, that’s an incredible thing. And you know what else? That’s still the case. 

This aspect of God’s image in us our existence even today, as image bearers that has never gone away. Even with the fall into human sinfulness and the sin nature that we all deal with, we’ve got more freedom and more power than any other part of God’s creation, and our capacity to create culture, good or bad, to bring forth new things out of the natural resources of the world around us, good or bad; to spread, to grow, to be inquisitive and curious, to seek and desire and be able to change the world around us. To go beyond the planet itself and to move into space and to put feet on other planetary bodies around us around our world. You know these are uniquely human endeavors, and it’s what separates us from everything else. 

The great tragedy as we see later in the story — and we can see just by looking at the world around us — is that this capacity and power of human dominion has also proven to be quite destructive to God’s world and its inhabitants, and that’s part of the problem. But that’s what this tree of knowledge was all about. Don’t confuse freedom and dominion with absolute sovereignty and ownership. We are not the king. God is. We rule under his rule. He sets what’s right and wrong. Creature is subordinate to the creator and only the creator gets to decide what is morally right and wrong. 


Friends, this of great consequence to us today. Our culture has embraced a worldview that says there is no ultimate source of truth outside of us. The materialistic, evolutionary world that we live in says it religion and faith are private, personal matters and they’re not to be imposed on society. And truth about anything, including the very definition of words and principles of biology, the world says these are nothing more than socially constructed ideas. They’re fluid and they can change. That any culture defines reality only for its particular place in time, and there is no absolute truth. And therefore no one claim about truth can be more right than any others. And today to claim otherwise; to claim that Christianity is exclusive, for instance, or there’s only one way to think about marriage or truth or life or rules or law in the world’s eyes, here and now — that’s what it means to be an intolerant, immoral bigot. 

And we’re living in a culture where we have not only eaten with the fruit of the tree of knowledge, but we have chopped it down to burn it at the altars of our own self worship. And look at the result: confusion, chaos. A world reduced to power struggles where people are nothing more than the color of their skin. We celebrate the right to kill the unborn in breathtaking numbers and we can no longer even say for certain what a woman is.  

And you think about Romans chapter 1 and Paul observing in his world. Mankind taking what is good and calling it evil and taking what is evil and calling it good. A world in which basic reality itself has been flipped up on its head. And that’s where we are in our culture, and that’s a consequence that’s the result of getting the two trees wrong. The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Freedom within boundaries.  


And so, here’s the takeaway with the trees in the whole of Genesis chapter 2. The Tree of Life represents the abundance and the splendor and this incredible potential of the garden. There’s maximum freedom for beauty, joy, and productivity as a result of our work together. The Tree of Knowledge? That represents the boundary that God is the ruler and the source of how that world will operate. And the free access to the one is entirely dependent upon the absolute obedience to the other.  

That’s the one rule. This is worship. You rightly relate to me, God says, and everything else fits into its place. You get that wrong and it’s all going to fall apart. And indeed, we see that happening. In the Old Testament story to follow, this is the basis for idolatry. We are the ruler, or we look to something or someone else as the ruler rather than God as a creator and king. 

One book I highly recommend to you is Greg Koukl’s The Story of Reality. In her preface to that book, Nancy Pearcey writes, “If a personal God created us as personal beings, then it is logical to conclude that we stand in a personal relationship with him. In fact, we have a moral obligation to him owing respect and fidelity. Just as human offspring have an obligation to honor the parents who brought them into the world.” You see, God is not merely the creator. Nor is he the distant, impersonal sovereign who rules from a far-off land. He is creator. He is sovereign. But God made us in order that we might share in the goodness and the splendor of his creation by participating in it.  

We possess a chief role in that world’s growth and expansion. And when we worship God as the personal, revealing King who alone has rightful rule over us, we experience every bit of freedom and goodness in our lives for which we were created. And only there can we then experience all that as possible when it comes to our dominion, our work, and our relationships. And it begins with worship. 

And so, we see a world in which we’ve gotten the trees backward. We’ve pursued the freedom and tried to violate the boundaries. But the good news is that God designed his world to work the right way, and that God is going to put it back together again, and we can experience, and we can have a taste of that even now.