The word ‘Eden’ means bliss or delight, virtually a place like heaven. For people familiar with the desert, as the ancient Hebrews were, this lush, well-watered Garden would have sounded exquisite. It didn’t just have the usual desert shrubs and cacti, it had pleasing trees of every kind, rich with fruit. God is described as a gardener, taking personal care in planting each tree by hand, selecting each one individually for its beauty, and the goodness of its fruit.
It also didn’t have the usual oases dotted here and there, or the seasonal brook; instead, it contained the headwaters of four mighty rivers. Living water, or rushing water, was often a symbol of blessing in the Old Testament, so Eden was overflowing with blessing.
Eden was abounding
- in delicious food,
- in physical beauty,
- in acres of space,
- in plentiful resources like gold, precious gems, and aromatic resins
Eden was pristine, and full of variety; it was Paradise, the environment you and I were meant to enjoy, a place where God would meet humankind’s every need, and where people would worship the One Who blessed them.
Eden was luscious because God had carefully designed and planted it Himself. Now God gave adam, the human being, this exquisite Garden, along with a purpose and responsibility: adam was to continue in the work God had started, cultivating and sustaining the beauty of Eden. This is an extension of the blessing and command God had given in Genesis 1. Human beings, both women and men, were to be God’s representatives on earth, stewards bearing responsibility to manage earth’s resources, to rule with benevolent care in God’s service and to His glory. What a privilege! The Lord’s work now became adam’s work.
God’s mission for humankind’s ruling the earth would involve caring for it, serving and nurturing the garden. By this action, the Lord declared that working to the glory of God is the right setting for humankind. You and I were created to find our fulfillment in the work we do as to the Lord, working always for the glory of God. God could have decreed that the Garden would be self-keeping; instead, He determined it would be enriching and satisfying for people to work the garden themselves.
Work is good, and was part of humankind’s perfect existence before the fall. Work would develop adam’s character and personality. Through nurturing and wise husbandry, adam could cause the Garden to bring forth new fruit, expressing human ingenuity and creative energy. Adam’s work was indeed a delight, nothing frustrated the first person’s efforts, the ground readily produced in response to adam’s effort. Every good thing that humans could desire, and that would satisfy them, were provided in Eden.
However, though perfect, adamg was also inexperienced and, as yet, undeveloped. Along with meaningful work, adam needed instruction, adam needed God’s teaching and guidance, for adam’s education would extend beyond gardening.
Imagine God guiding His newborn to the center of this lush garden, then pointing as He spoke the word Life. And there, before adam’s young eyes, rose up the Tree of Life, its broad, warm trunk covered in rough, rivuleted bark, its low branches verdant with green leaves, and perfectly ripe, aromatic fruit. Imagine how safe and strong one would feel, sitting there, leaning against its sturdy base.
But, look. The Tree of Life was not alone in this preternaturally quiet and hidden glade. Here was another, strange, tree rising up from the earth, as God uttered Knowledge. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It, too was lovely, with a rich, exotic scent, and luscious fruit. What did God’s new creation think as adam gazed at this tree? Unexpectedly, God gave an unsettling admonition, “You shall not eat.”
For the first time, the indulgent and loving Father withheld something from His adored child.
Each tree was distinctive. It was easy to distinguish between the two; one was unmistakably the Tree of Life, the other was unmistakably the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As adam and God stood at the edge of this meadow, God pointed them out and gave adam important, indeed life-and-death, instructions concerning these two trees. In such a beautiful place, with great mounds of gold and silver, with every possible treasure, a magical place with the music of rippling rivers, peaceful breezes, and joyful flowers, the harmony of wholeness and health, there was warning. Don’t eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil,
“For when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
The Tree of Life was always available to adam, and it was there for God’s beloved clay dust person to see, every time adam went by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam would never be left without recourse when faced with temptation. Because the human being’s every need was met by God in the Garden, there would be no compelling reason, ever, for adam to feel a need to eat of the forbidden fruit
God was very clear: Eating from the forbidden tree would bring death. Adam was an intelligent person, and adam already knew what was “good” because the human being had a conscience. Adam’s mind was untouched by the destructive effects of sin. There was no suppression of truth, no clouded or darkened thinking, here. Adam understood.
However, it seems the Tree of Life must have gone unnoticed, because the earth creature never did eat any of its fruit. And why would adam? Death had not yet entered the world, so adam felt no need to escape it.
But, every time adam walked by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the forbidden tree’s fruit would have reminded the dust person that adam was not adam’s own person. The human being was accountable to Yahweh, the God Who had made a covenant with adam.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil symbolized a desire for moral independence “I’ll decide what is good and what is bad. No one is going to dictate to me what I can and cannot do.” Adam was given a choice. Follow God’s word, which is life, or choose what is outside of the Lord’s expressed will, which would bring disconnection from the source of light, love, and life. It would bring death.