A vital ingredient to understanding the messages contained in the third chapter of Genesis is centered in our understanding of one particular tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We sometimes hear people refer to this tree as "the tree of good and evil", which it is not. It is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and there is a vast difference between being evil and having the knowledge of something being evil or potentially evil. As an example, we know that it is evil to kill someone, to take away the life that God gave that person, but to have this knowledge does not make us killers.
Some people refer to this tree as the "tree of knowledge", which is also a misnomer, for it doesn't give knowledge, but only knowledge of one thing, the difference between good and evil. As an example, if we gain the knowledge to drive an automobile, it doesn't mean that we also gain the knowledge to fly an airplane.
Another more subtle example of having the knowledge of good and evil would be that of a young child who sees his or her mother picking flowers in their own garden, and then proceeds to pick the flowers in a public park where it is forbidden to do so, and gives them to his or her mother as a gift of love. The child's picking of the flowers was done in loving innocence without the knowledge that it was forbidden, which is an example of limited knowledge. But once the child has the knowledge that the picking of flowers in the park is forbidden, and he or she continues to pick the flowers, then and only then does the act become evil. The act of picking the flowers while innocent of the knowledge that it is forbidden is still wrong, and a possible violation of the law, but the intent was good and loving and not evil.
This is also the note on which Genesis Chapter 2 ends with verse 25:
25. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Shame comes from the knowledge that something that we are doing is inappropriate. Adam and Eve were created naked and thought nothing about it. They were even created as sexual beings, as we saw in Genesis 1:28, where God tells the man and the woman to be fruitful and multiply. We are also told in Genesis 1:31 that "God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good". It was very good.
There was nothing in His creation that was evil. And since we are talking about all that God made we are to understand that this includes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for we are told in Genesis 1:12 that God created the trees, and in Genesis 2:9 that this tree was in the midst of the garden. Thus, that which God created as being very good cannot also be evil. There must be another explanation, which is the reason for our present journey into the Word of God.
The obvious question arises, "If God created everything as good, then why did he plant the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden and tell the man (Genesis 2:17), 'but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die'?"
The first place I decided to look for a possible answer was in the writings of Rashi, the Eleventh Century Jewish commentator, but he was strangely silent on this subject. In fact, he doesn't even mention the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and totally skips over making a comment on Genesis 2:17. This sparked my interest even more. Why would something so obvious to me be of non-importance to someone like Rashi? My only explanation was that he didn't have an answer.
Thus, I searched through several commentaries and likewise found little comment on the reason for the planting of this tree, except that it was for the testing of man. But why would God want to test man whom He created as being good? I believe it's because God also created us with a free will. A will to choose what we desire to do, as well as what is best to do. When God gave Man the responsibility of managing His earthly creation (Genesis 1:26 and 28), He gave us the ability and responsibility to do it properly. When God said to "subdue it" (Genesis 1:28), I believe he is referring to those things that are evil or will harm the earth.
If we return to our comments, above, on killing, even if we are living in innocence among the other creatures of God's creation, whom we love and have named, and someone else threatens us or them with harm, we will know that it is evil, for it goes against that which is good. Thus the "testing" must be one of obedience to God. Will we listen to what God tells us to do, and not to do?
We are to be as the little child who picks the flowers for Mom. We can pick them from any part of our garden except for one area. Or in the case before us, we can pick fruit from every tree of the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
What the knowledge of good and evil does is make us want to pick that which is forbidden and to tempt others to do the same. We want to do what is evil, because it becomes "exciting" once we have tasted of it, simply because it is forbidden. Tell a child not to do something, and that turns into the very thing that the child seems to want to do.
Another way of looking at good and evil is to understand it in terms of hot and cold. In reality, there is no such thing as cold, though we do pay a lot of money to cool our homes and offices and run our refrigerators. What we are actually doing, however, is removing the heat. That which has less heat is colder than that which has more heat. I believe that good and evil are the same type of thing, and that there is no such thing as evil, though there is much evil in the world.
Evil is really the lack of any good. If we destroy or remove the righteous and good intentions of God in his creation, we in essence are causing evil. God didn't create evil; He only created good. It is we who remove the good, or the proper intent. And the more knowledge some people have of the difference, the more they seem to want to remove the good. It seems to become boring for many people to continue to live in God's goodness.
The Bible also uses a visual way of depicting good and evil; it uses the examples of light and darkness. As with the reality of hot and cold, we can understand the reality of light and darkness, for there is really no such thing as darkness. We can be in an extremely dark place, and we even refer to it as darkness, but it is really a place without light. Darkness is the absence of light. We also sometimes describe our getting of an idea or insight as "turning on the light". The cartoonists depict this as a light bulb over a character's head.
We live in the darkness of ignorance and doubt until we receive Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Note what we are told in 1 John 1:5-10.
5. And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
6. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;
7. but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
8. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10. It we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
In this passage from 1 John we have the full comparison of good and evil and of light and darkness, and the fact that God is only good and that He couldn't have created evil. Once God decided to give us a free will, He also knew that we could choose to turn off His light or goodness. The eating of the "fruit", whatever it was, of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil gave us the insight into what would happen if we did choose to remove God's goodness, and thus began our experimenting with sin, which is the very tactic used by the serpent, as we will see in the next Chapter.
Before we leave this Chapter, we should look at the other tree which is in the middle of the garden, the tree of life, and the curious comment made by God in Genesis 3:21:
"Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"
From this statement, there appears to be an ingredient in the the fruit of both trees that changes our physical and perhaps spiritual being. If the eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil brought about death (Genesis 2:17), and the eating of the fruit of the tree of life could counter this death (Genesis 3:21), then why didn't God want the man to eat from it? I believe that the answer lies in the fact that the knowledge of evil and the desire for it would not be removed, and the man could be as Satan.
If we then look at this with the understanding of how God created us as living souls, we add another facet in our understanding. In Genesis 2:7, we are told:
"Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground [our physical being], and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [soul - the spiritual being, which coupled with the physical and lived]."
In the King James version of the Bible, the translation of this verse says that man became a living soul. It is also interesting to note that this same Hebrew phrase for living soul, nes-fesh khah-yaw, is also used in reference to every other created animal. Thus, it appears that the only good thing to do, would be to use the same translation of this expression for both humans and animals, but alas, it is not, making us conclude that there is a lack of goodness in some of the translations from the original good text.
We have also heard and read commentary about the "fruit" being animals flesh, which would answer a lot of questions if this is true, such as why the Bible translations hide the fact that animals are also living souls. As we go on with this study, we will see a lot more of how the raising and killing of animals is a major component of the evil in this world, or the lack of goodness in the world.
It is within this physical and spiritual relationship that I believe the fruit of these trees caused a change, which can be passed on to future generations. It created a type of genetic change, much in the way we do with some of the modern genetic engineering experiments. But this change was God-created. I believe that what we are doing with genetic engineering is extremely dangerous, and is partly the result of our lack of faith and trust in God, and partly the result of our eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but this is a subject for another time.
Let's look at what we do know:
- Based upon what we are told in Genesis 2:7 and 17, mankind was created to live forever, for there was no death until the disobedience.
- We know that even sinless Jesus' body died, which could imply that not only a sinful change occurred in mankind, but also a change in the physical composition.
- We know that the physical appearance of Jesus changed with His resurrection and that He could suddenly appear, could pass through walls, and that His appearance was different in some ways, for He was not always recognized immediately.
The eating of the "fruit" of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had a profound effect upon the creation. If this is true, then why did God place it in the garden? I believe the answer is hidden in the covenant between mankind, and perhaps the other creatures, too, and God. It's a covenant in the blood and it has a spiritual/physical link in the manner of giving us life, as we discussed above. Thus as we broke the perfect covenant with God by eating of the fruit of the tree, we caused not only a physical change but an estrangement in our physical and spiritual relationship with God.
If we had eaten of the tree of life instead, the Edenic life would have continued forever without death, but we chose differently. Thus, I have come to the conclusion that any test of mankind's faithfulness and obedience to God would have caused similar consequences. It is as though we "sell our soul" to anyone whom we believe above God, or place above God. The spiritual-life connection is really quite fragile, and can be broken or bound without any physical act. However, we must remember that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil also imparted a physical characteristic: the knowledge which was stored in our brains.
As we will see, the whole of life fell because of the eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; and more importantly, because of the act of disobedience to God - "You shall not eat" - when they ate, they believed another above God. But restoration of the spiritual being can still occur, even if the body dies. We know this from Genesis 15:6 and John 3:16:
Genesis 15:6 Then he [Abram] believed in the Lord; and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
As we move forward in our study, let's keep in mind some of the things we discussed here in this Chapter.