Three Trees, a Curse, and a Blessing
The fall and the depravity of man started with a choice; one simple choice that changed the eternal fate for the rest of the posterity of mankind. This choice had to do with choosing to do right or choosing to do wrong. Most people today who are outside of the grace of God will most times do wrong—they will always do wrong when it comes to spiritual matters. Most today find themselves faced with a number of choices that seem almost impossible for them to decide which is right and which is wrong; and no thanks to society who tell people that it is okay for them to follow the wicked desires of their own evil natures. But what if the choices were clear cut and direct? What if all the choices were dwindled down to only one command? “You shall not eat.”
This was the very circumstance that Adam was placed in. He only had one command that needed to be obeyed. There were no other prohibitions that might have skewed his thoughts or caused him to think that maybe it was wrong, but maybe it was right. There were no other choices that had to be made; no other laws to be considered. It was just this one! God had clearly laid the commandment, as well as the consequences, before Adam and his bride:
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Gen 2:16-17).
Now, one might be tempted to think it easy to keep just one commandment. But our human natures are evil and the very thing that is forbidden will be that one thing that will be most tempting to us. Tell a child he cannot have a cookie until he eats his vegetables and see which one he will cram in his mouth first. For that matter, tell an adult what he can and cannot do and that rebellious nature will most assuredly come to life and override all other common sense; and all this just to prove that he can do as he pleases and no one, not even the proper authority will stop him if this be his real desire.
Grant it that Adam did not have the depraved nature until after the fall we see that with a little coaxing from an outside force that the prohibited desires spring to life. It takes very little convince a person that he really needs something. Even if the consequences are dire our natures will tell us to gratify ourselves now and worry about the due penalty later. The interesting thing about this situation is that one can be almost certain that disobeying God may have never even crossed the minds of the first parents until the serpent arrived on the scene to twist and corrupt the minds of his enemy. This is the very character of Satan. In John 8:44 Jesus attributes to Satan three different characteristics: (1) Lies are his very character, or as the NIV translates, “His native language.” Every time Satan speaks he lies. He cannot tell the truth about anything for that is who he is. (2) He is a murderer. Satan has been planning the murder of the human race ever since his defeat and his being cast from God’s presence. He hates God, God’s people, and the human race in general. He will do everything in his power to kill and destroy us. (3) He has been this way from the beginning. By the time Jesus became incarnate and spoke these words it had been several thousand years since the Fall. Jesus was speaking to a group of Pharisees in this text but His main point was that if Satan had not changed his tactics in several thousand years he would certainly not change them now. His only goal was to lie, kill, and steal. The same was true in Jesus’ time and the same is true today.
Satan entered the Garden with the purpose of defeating God. But little did Satan know that he was a defeated foe long before God ever created him. This is where we pick up the text of Genesis 3.
In Genesis 3 there exist for the first time a choice of obeying the voice of God and obeying the voice of Satan. We obviously know the outcome for all one needs to do is look out his front window and see the results of that choice. The pain, the death, and the diseases that plague all mankind is a horrible reality and we are told that the entire earth groans in expectation of being redeemed. Adam’s choice not only brought a curse to man himself but to the earth as well. I would like to focus attention, not so much on the curse, but on the parallels of the two trees that were present as well as the third tree, which was only present in promise but not yet made a reality.
A.The Tree of knowledge of good and evil / The Tree of Life
In the second chapter it is revealed that there were actually two trees in the middle of the Garden. The second being the Tree of life:
And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.(Gen 2:9)
It is interesting indeed that God would place the two trees before them. Here, they would directly be placed with the choice of eating that which held eternal life or that which would cause death. God had purposely placed this choice right in front of their faces. What conclusions then can we draw from this? There are two parallels that I would like to point to.
First, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represents man’s wisdom and the Tree of Life represents God’s wisdom. Man has always been endowed with intelligence from his Creator. But it is when he allows this intelligence to be the guiding factor in all areas of life that problems arise. Romans 1 records for us what happens when man becomes the ultimate authority of his own fate:
Claiming to be wise, they became fools (Ro 1:22)
Within this context we see that man though himself so wise and intelligent that he no longer needed to worship God. He decided to give up worship of God for the worship of four-footed creatures. He sough wisdom but instead became a fool. It is interesting to note that the word ‘fool’ is the Greek word from which we derive our word ‘moron.’ A moron is someone who, despite knowing truth, refuses to believe or act upon that truth. These morons in Romans 1 were the same way. They changed the truth of God for a lie, and they did it gladly and without a second thought. Man’s wisdom is really no wisdom at all and we are told so from Scripture in a number of different ways. There are two that would suffice for the illustration:
- Man’s wisest thoughts are God’s lowest thoughts.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1Co 1:25)
Paul is not obviously stating that God is foolish. He is using a metaphor to these Gentile believers that no matter how wise they think they can become God is always wiser. In fact, God is so wise that His lowest of thoughts (which would be considered foolishness to the Greeks) was even more wise than their highest thoughts (‘high’ being things such as philosophy and the like). The Gentiles seemed to have a real problem, as do we that nothing could be done as to obtain salvation on their own. They were looking for something that had the appearance of wisdom, but Paul plainly explains to them that it is the very foolish things to which God makes known His salvation. This salvation came through the cross. But the cross is a stumbling block. It is a stumbling block because it represents the worst of deaths, and no one could possibly choose this way as a way of salvation. Yet we are commanded to “Look and live,” just as Moses commanded the children of Israel to look up to the bronze serpent upon the pole so that God might heal the wound received from the plague of serpents He had brought upon them. If it is this simple why do we always seek another way? Why do we constantly strive to “help” God in our salvation? We have in mind to do as much good as we possibly can so that God will be pleased with us. We wear ourselves thin trying to impress God with our own righteousness. But is all foolishness! The only thing that needs to be done is to look to the cross for our salvation for we are told firmly in Scripture, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!
#. Man’ wisdom produces selfish ambition and is called demonic.
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. (Jas 3:14-15)
James describes that wisdom which is from man in one word: demonic! How is it that something like wisdom be demonic? It is because it has its source from Satan himself. Think back to the tree and remember the words Satan used to deceive Eve: “God knows your eyes will be opened.” Eve’s eyes were certainly open, only not the way that Satan had told her they would be opened. Eve came to know what good and evil was experientially. This was not at all God’s intention for them to come to this knowledge. Yet Satan was crafty and knew where to strike. His wisdom caused death to all. Today, Satan tempts sore those who rely on their own wisdom. He gives to them the “knowledge” of good and evil, so to speak. His wisdom produces pride, which in turn produces self-superiority, which in turn produces quarrellings, and in the end kills other men who are created in the image of God. Not one bit of wisdom that he offers is sound. His is that which is totally opposite of the wisdom of God, and this is why James can say that the wisdom of men is demonic.
What else can we reckon the two trees as?
Second, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represents the cursed state of destruction whereas the Tree of Life represents the blessedness of eternal life.
God’s clear command to Adam and Eve was the promise of death upon passing the forbidden fruit through their lips.
In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. (Gen 2:17)
“Dying, you will die,” is the literal translation of the Greek Septuagint. God was serious about the business of obeying Him. He promised death and death is what they would receive. Of course there are two kinds of death being spoken of by God.
- A physical death. The moment they ate the fruit their physical bodies began to break down. God had created them with perfect and whole bodies; bodies without disease or weakness; bodies without sickness or corruption. Now, the former things had passed upon the violation of God’s commands and the perfect had become imperfect. This is the current state of all living things. We are prone and subject to sickness and disease. Because of the curse of sin our bodies are literally rotting from the inside out. Age takes its toll upon the internal and external organs and appendages of men. None can escape the consequences of our father’s first choice.
- A spiritual death. More so than the physical is most assuredly the spiritual. The spiritual life is more important and far outweighs anything in the physical realm. God certainly had it in mind a spiritual death when He warned Adam and Eve of the consequences. What is death but separation? Physical death is separation of the soul from its compartment, the body, whereas spiritual death is the separation of the soul from its Creator, God. It is a peculiar word that is used in the Septuagint to express this death. As already stated, it can be used to convey the idea of both physical and spiritual death. But the curiosity comes in the fact that the death is one that is deserving. The same word is used by the crowds when they wanted to crucify Jesus. The shouted that He was worthy of death, meaning that His so called crime should be punished by death. It is also used in Exodus at the giving of God’s holy law that certain penalties could only be resolved by the death of the individual. What God is in essence telling Adam and Eve is that breaking of their actions is worthy of death; the only way to resolve their disobedience would be death. Most people have a real problem with this. They gripe that the penalty God laid upon them was too severe for the crime. They accuse God of being unjust and that even the strictest of judges today would never impose such a sentence. What we must try to keep in mind here is not necessarily the nature of the crime but rather the consequences that would ensue as a result of the crime. God had created a world of order and goodness. Not one thing had been misplaced. The fact that God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good is an attestation to the fact that there was no chaos breaking loose from the creation to wander on its own. The chaos was produced as a result of a failing choice. Not only did this choice throw all of creation into a mortified state, but the results would continue on and never stop until such a time as God’s plan of redemption would be accomplished. Adam and Eve’s choice would bring death, misery, and destruction to creation itself as well as every human being that would ever be born. This one selfish act would cause more people (namely the entire human race) to be separated from God than any other choice that would ever be made. In short, Adam and Eve were responsible for sending countless of millions of souls to separation from God in eternal Hell. That is why the penalty had to be so severe!
B.The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil/The Cross
There is one more set of parallels that I would like to point to and it is very noteworthy to point out. These are the parallels of the Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil and the Cross. Both trees are a central focus in God’s plan on redemption. One was the beginning of the curse; the other the redemption from the curse. One brought sin; the other brought righteousness. So these parallels are important and give us insight into the mind and heart of God.
- The first tree brought a curse. The cross brought a blessing. We pointed out that Adam’s decision brought a curse for all mankind and that the only suitable penalty could have been death. But more than this Adam’s decision would be that which brought physical death for the Prince of all Glory, Jesus Christ. We are told two specific things in Scripture regarding the connection of the Curse with the death of our beloved Savior: (1.) He became a curse for us (Gal 3:13). Christ became cursed for our sakes. It was for us that He willingly hung and bled and died in a cursed way. To the Jews, being hung on a tree in any fashion was considered being cursed by God. Those who were executed in this fashion were seen as being forsaken by God. We can see this in Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” As a matter of fact, it was so despicable to be hung upon a tree in execution that the bodies of those misfortunate souls would be cut down before the sunset. This is seen in Moses’ second giving of the law before Israel enters the promised land:
"And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.(Deut 21:22-23).
This was the death that was despised worse than anything. God told Israel that the leaving of a body overnight on a tree would defile the land. Christ died the unthinkable death in order to secure our righteousness. He endured sham and the humility that common thieves deserve. But surely God had in mind the death of His beloved Son when giving these instructions to Moses. Surely He knew what the ultimate end of this command would produce through the cross. (2.) He became sin for us. The perfect and spotless Lamb of God became undefiled became defiled (in a sense) for us. He took upon our sin having none of His own:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Cor 5:21)
Christ bore our sin so that we may not have to experience the death of sin. He was separated from the Father for a time so that we may not have to be separated from Him for eternity. This truth is brought out in the Old Testament archetype of the scapegoat.
And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. (Lev 16:21-22)
The Jews’ custom was to take two goats and cast lots for them. The goat to which the lot fell would be the goat that was sacrifices as a sin offering to make atonement for the people. But the death was not enough. The sin of the people not only had to be atoned for but also bared by the innocence of another. This would be the fate of the live goat. The priest would place hands upon the goat’s head and confess his and the nation’s sins, thereby signifying that the guilt was transferred from the guilty to the innocent. The scapegoat would then be released into the wilderness, a remote area, to bear sin. This was indeed accomplished by Christ. He bore the sins of many and had to bear them alone. No one else could do it, and thus causing Christ to be remotely cut off for a time from the Father and the people of God. What blessedness has resulted from the cross! Without its curse we who have been redeemed would still be under the curse. And so the first tree was a curse and the second, the cross, was a blessing.
- The fruit of the first tree was forbidden by God to be eaten. The fruit of the cross is commanded by God to be eaten. Because the fruit of the cross is the only source of eternal life for all men then it should be no surprise that all men are commanded to repent and believe in Christ through His death on the cross. Jesus’ own command for the Jews was to take of His flesh. In the gospel of John we are told,
So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.(Joh 6:53-54)
This was a difficult thing for many of Jesus’ followers to digest. They took Jesus as saying that one must practically commit cannibalism in order to have eternal life. But they missed His entire point. He had just explained to them the concept of manna, which was the miracle that God had used to feed Israel in the wilderness. Just as the manna came down from Heaven and nourished the physical bodies of those who ingested it, so the Son of God descended from Heaven (sent by the Father, just as He sent the manna) for the purpose of the nourishment of the soul. The crowd could not comprehend this spiritual truth and so at the end of chapter six of the gospel of John you read that many, not a few, but many of His disciples left Him and followed Him no more. They were more interested in the physical bread than the Spiritual bread which brings life everlasting. This is why Christ signified this as He ate the Passover for the last time with His inner twelve. He broke the bread, symbolizing His body which was going to be broken for them and commanded them to eat it. And He did likewise with the wine, telling them that it represented His blood which would be poured out. In the same way, only those who eat and drink of the fruit of the cross can have eternal life.
- The fruit of the first tree alienated man from God. The cross reconciles man to God. Adam’s choice caused Him to be kicked out of the Garden of Eden. But the penalty was much more serious than it may appear. Being banished from the Paradise meant being banished from God’s presence for we read that it was here that God walked in the cool of the day to meet with the man. And not only that, God set His cherubim at the entrance armed with flaming swords so that no one would ever enter it again. But why all this fuss over a garden? Why not simply let the man deal with his own consequences by keeping him in the garden and instituting the rest of the curses? The answer should be quite obvious. The Garden was in a perfect condition. It represented God’s perfect order of creation. In this perfection was where God dwelt. It was his holy meeting place with the couple. Just as God is said to have dwelled between the cherubim which covered the ark of the covenant, so He dwelt and walked among the man and the woman in the Garden. Likewise, just as no man could approach God’s dwelling place in his sinful state without being put to death, so man had to be forbidden to come back to the Garden lest he die. If this were not so then there would have been no need to, first of all eject the man from it, and second of all to keep man completely out of it. But the cross is a totally different story. This tree beckons men to come into the presence of God that they may once again enjoy fellowship with God. Reconciliation is now possible with the Creator and the cherubim with the fearful flaming swords have been commanded to step aside and allow those who have been washed in the blood to enter into the awesome throne room of the Father. Because Christ died once for the sinner, now the sinner no longer has to die twice for his sin. The tree that was intended to be the curse of all curses has indeed been transformed into the greatest blessing that an individual could ever receive.
Yes, the curse is still in effect for mankind today. Man is desperately lost and groping about in darkness to find an anchor that he may firmly grasp. In all his wisdom and intelligence he clings to that which only promises death. His curse is that he wishes to overlook the second tree which curse was turned into a blessing for him. And as long as he considers his own wisdom to suffice him he shall always remain under the curse of the first tree rather than being overshadowed by the blessing of the second tree; the tree that contains the life-giving blood of the spotless Lamb of God.