************ Sermon on Genesis 2:9,16-17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 26, 2010
"The First Command"
Two trees. There were two special trees in the middle of the Garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As we continue our study of Genesis, we want to look at these two trees.
What is said about all the other trees of the Garden also applies to these two trees:
(Gen 2:9) And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.There are two things I want you to notice. First, it was the LORD God Who made the trees grow – including the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Second, all the trees were pleasing to the eye and good for food – including the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In fact, a peek at Genesis 3 supports this. The woman saw that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was good for food and pleasing to the eye (Gen 3:6). We can presume that this applies to the Tree of Life too.
Usually, when we look at Genesis 2, we focus on what Adam is not allowed to do – namely, he cannot eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Generally overlooked is what Adam can do – namely, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden" (Gen 3:16). This is a wonderfully gracious act of God. Most masters would let a gardener eat from one or two poor trees. God invites Adam, as gardener, to eat from all of the trees except one. Adam is even allowed to eat from the Tree of Life.
I The Tree of Life
A The first three chapters of Genesis and their account of creation and the fall lays the foundation for the entire history of redemption. So, we should not be surprised to see many of the themes introduced in these chapters occurring again and again. The Tree of Life is one such theme developed through the Old Testament (Gen 2:9; 3:33,24; Prov 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4; the apocryphal literature) and fulfilled in the New Testament (Rev 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19).
At the time of Moses, parallels to the tree of life were to be found in the fables of the pagan religions. And, archaeologists have uncovered many ancient depictions of what looks to be a tree brimming with life. In many of these images, animals and people are clinging fast to the tree as a picture of how true life is impossible without the tree. Telling us what? Telling us that humans everywhere are in a quest to regain the access to the Tree of Life that was lost when our first parents broke God's law in Eden (Gen 3:22-24).
It isn't only people of ancient times that are engaged in this quest. Think of Juan Ponce De Leon and his search for the Fountain of Youth in the Florida Everglades during the early 1500s. Think of today's never-ending attempts to extend our youth through surgeries, creams, pills, face-lifts, tummy-tucks, and exercise equipment. All of it a search for the Tree of Life.
Before saying anything more, we should note the way the Bible understands trees in general. Trees are often used in Scripture as symbols of life, full life. Consider, for instance, the righteous man of Psalm 1:
(Ps 1:3) He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Cf Jer 17:7-8)Proverbs uses a similar image when it likens wisdom to a tree of life; all those who have it are blessed (Prov 3:13-18).
B Given this background, it is easy to see why the Lord chose to supply eternal life to His people by means of the Tree of Life while they lived in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:9). The message of the Bible is that immortality was the gift to anyone who regularly ate the fruit of the Tree (Gen 3:22). Which means, conversely, that man as originally made was not made immortal – he needed to eat from the Tree of Life. Or, to put it still another way, man was originally made mortal (cf 1 Tim 6:16 which tells us that God alone is immortal).
As long as Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Life they had eternal life. And, they had access to the Tree only because they were in a right relationship with God (Gen 2:16-17; 3:22-24).
Of course, we know that Adam and Eve failed and they and their descendants were barred from eating the fruit of the Tree of Life (Gen 3:24). Cut off from the Lord's presence and His life-giving Tree, their deeds plunged all of us into darkness and death, and all people since that day have been trying to find their way back to Eden and its Tree.
C Let's not make the mistake of the pagans and confer magical powers upon a tree, a plant, a fountain, or any other thing. The pagans believed that these, in and of themselves, give eternal life. Under this view, to eat from the Tree confers life and the loss of the Tree means death.
But what has Genesis been teaching us? That life is from God the Creator (Gen 1:26-28)! Life is from God Who formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2:7). Life is from God Who made the Tree of Life grow out of the ground. Life is from God, not from a Tree! And the loss of life, we learn in Genesis 3, is not due to the loss of the Tree of Life, but rather to the sin of the first couple in the Garden.
Therefore, let us never separate the Tree of Life from God. Through the Tree, God confers eternal life. As for the loss of the Tree, it ends up being God's judgment upon sin.
The Tree of Life is like the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper. It represents communion with God. The tree was a physical means of conducting a spiritual transaction.
D We find the fulfilment of the Tree of Life theme in Revelation 22:
(Rev 22:1-2) Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (2) down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.We notice three things. First, in the new heaven and new earth, the Redeemed again have access to and eat from the Tree of Life. Second, the leaves of the Tree of Life are good for the healing of the nations. Third, access to the Tree of Life indicates access to God, reconciliation with God, and intimacy with God (Rev 22:4; 21:3).
II The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
A There was also a second special tree in the middle of the Garden: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
This second tree has always raised questions in my mind. What is it about this tree that makes it bad because, like all the other trees of the Garden, it was good for food and pleasing to the eye (Gen 3:6; 2:9)? And, how are we to understand the knowledge this tree gives because knowledge does not grow on trees – if it did, every teacher and professor would be out of work? And, what happened to this Tree because we know an angel and a flaming sword guarded the way to the Tree of Life (Gen 3:24) but we read no such thing about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? What was the forbidden fruit and are we still eating it today? Are the medieval painters right in picturing an apple as the forbidden fruit? Or is it, perhaps, a pomegranate? Or, is it some exotic tropical fruit to be found in the fruit and vegetable section at SaveMart?
Obviously, what makes the Tree special is God. God made it. God planted it in the middle of the Garden. And, it was God Who set the Tree off-limits in the first commandment addressed to Adam:
(Gen 2:16-17) And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; (17) but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
B I repeat what I asked before: What is it about the Tree that makes it bad?
Consider the appearance of this Tree. It stands in the middle the Garden. It looks independent, self-developing, self-sustaining, self-causing. It looks strong and aloof. But the Tree's appearance is deceiving. Though separate and distinct, the Tree belongs to the earth and gets its nourishment from the earth. Though it appears lofty to the human eye, it comes from the earth. The Tree may look independent, but it certainly is not.
Next, let's consider the name of the Tree. The key word in the Tree's name is the word "knowledge." But what kind of knowledge? The text says the knowledge of "good and evil" (Gen 2:9,17). In the Bible, the phrase "good and evil" is a technical expression; it means to make a decision on what is right or wrong.
Keeping all of this in mind, what is forbidden is man's attempt to decide for himself what is right or wrong. The knowledge that is forbidden is autonomous knowledge of how to live. The knowledge that is forbidden is knowledge that does not begin with the "fear of the Lord" (Prov 1:7); rather, it is knowledge that begins and ends with man. Think of Israel in the days of Judges. Do you remember the last verse of this book, the saddest verse of this book?
(Judg 21:25) In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.This is what we are to see in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Everyone deciding for themselves what is right and wrong.
Take a look at the woman in Genesis 3. We are told that the woman, before she eats of it, has already made a judgment that the Tree "was good for food and pleasing to the eye" (Gen 3:6). Never mind that God said "NO." She was already setting herself up as judge. The woman judges for herself, on the basis of her own feelings and desires.
What is one of the biggest heresies of today's world? Every man, woman, and child thinks they are a tree – independent, self-developing, self-sustaining, self-causing. They think they are a law to themselves. They think they can decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong. They think no one but themselves can decide how they should live. In other words, man turns himself into a god. Man makes himself the center, the springboard, the only frame of reference, for moral guidelines. Thanks to this viewpoint, what do we see in today's world? Let me list some of the things:
-a woman gets to decide whether to keep her baby or abort her baby; it is her decision, not God's
-a couple divorce because they no longer feel "love" for the other person; it is their decision and God's Word has no input
-a guy and a gal choose to live together outside of marriage; the seventh commandment has nothing to say
-a man pursues unnatural relations with another man; Genesis 2 does not apply
In each and every case, man makes himself the moral compass by which something is judged to be right or wrong.
No wonder God says "NO" to the fruit of this tree. No, it is off-limits. No, you may not eat of it. No, the fruit of this tree is for God alone. Man is not given the power to decide for himself what is in his best interests and what is not. That right belongs to God alone. Which is why it is God Who gives the Law at Sinai. God declares what is right and wrong – not man!
C Attached to God's "NO" is a rather ominous remark: "for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Gen 2:17). It this a prophecy or a threat? As I already said, this cannot mean that man will become mortal – because man was already mortal. Nor does it mean instant death because Adam lives for more than nine centuries. So what does this remark really mean?
Let's ask another question: What does death mean to Adam before the fall into sin? It certainly was not something that scared him; it was not viewed as an enemy. It was something natural that he saw with the plants and the animals. So what was different after the fall compared to before the fall? Adam realized, for the first time, that he was mortal and that someday he was going to die. After the fall, immortality becomes a conscious desire – because God has cut off access to the Tree of Life. And, after the fall, immortality is recognized to be impossible.
Who is the human author of Genesis? Isn't it Moses? Moses also wrote Psalm 90. Listen to what he says about man's mortality:
(Ps 90:3) You turn men back to dust, saying, "Return to dust, O sons of men" ... (5) You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning ... (10) The length of our days is seventy years-- or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away ... (12) Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.After the fall, man recognizes his body will die. After the fall, man recognizes his body will not live forever.
We know that another kind of death is also in mind: spiritual death, eternal death, separation from God. When man ate the forbidden fruit, he alienated himself from God and God's presence in the Garden. Remember how Adam actually hid from God (Gen 3:8-9)? Eternal death was God's punishment for disobedience to the first command (Rom 6:23).
III The Covenant of Works
A In Genesis 1 & 2, Moses provides us with a number of important doctrines that govern our relationship to God and to one another on this earth. First, man is placed on the earth and in the Garden to work – no laying around, no endless days of improving your tan. Second, man is called to observe God's Sabbath day rest – we do it by gathering together for worship every single Sunday. Third, traditional marriage is a divine institution from God Himself – a man leaves his father and his mother and is united to his wife. Fourth, man's duty is to subdue the whole earth for the glory of God – we know this as the cultural mandate. Fifth, we see the covenant of works in these chapters.
B I want to concentrate on this last doctrine – the covenant of works – for the remainder of my message.
Who are the covenant partners? God, and Adam as the representative of the human race.
What is the covenant promise? The promise is eternal life – as represented by the Tree of Life.
What is the covenant condition? The condition is obedience – by not eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
What is the covenant penalty? The penalty is eternal death.
What is the covenant sign? The covenant sign is the Tree of Life. I mentioned earlier that the Tree of Life is like the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper. It isn't the Tree of Life that gives eternal life – God does. Likewise, it isn't the bread and wine that gives eternal life – God does. Signs are merely visible expressions of something internal and invisible that God works in us.
C The covenant of works was broken when Adam and Eve fell into sin, when they ate of the forbidden fruit. Because of Adam and Eve, all of mankind has been plunged into sin and none of us can keep God's demand of obedience and none of us deserves to live forever.
God's response, as we all should know, is the covenant of grace. So, are we under the covenant of works or are we under the covenant of grace? Yes. Yes? Yes, because we are under both. Under the covenant of works, God still demands obedience from us and holds the promise of eternal life before us. Under the covenant of grace, it is Christ Who makes both possible. It is Christ Who is obedient in our place and it is Christ Who earns life for us.
Two trees were in the middle of the Garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
I want you to look at your heart, congregation. What do you see? I want you to see that, like Adam & Eve, we all want to eat from both trees. Like Adam & Eve, we all want to live forever and yet decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. We all want to live forever and yet do our own thing, our own sinful thing.
Look at your heart, congregation. It needs changing. It needs cleansing. The solution, the only solution, is to come to Christ.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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