Two Trees (Genesis 3)
Genesis 3 may be one of the most important passages in all of Scripture. Its importance for understanding our nature, our need and our condition cannot be underestimated.
The chapter begins with the appearance of the serpent, whom Revelation 12:9 identifies as Satan. Satan's interaction with Eve provides a very instructive lesson in how he entices us to sin. First, notice his question: "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (verse 1, NIV) This is emphatically not what God had said. God had said, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 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" (Genesis 2:16-17, NIV). God had placed only one restriction upon Adam and Eve. Nothing else was withheld from them. Satan's question was designed to magnify the restriction beyond its true proportion, to distort Eve's perception of right limits, and thereby to instill a sense of being personally wronged.
She replied that only one tree was forbidden. But with doubt planted, her perception altered, her emotions stirred and an erroneous premise in mind, Satan then offered a very different explanation of the situation: "The serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil'" (3:4-5). Satan's words were a mixture of lie and deception. The assertion that Eve would not die was an outright lie. His statement that Eve would know good and evil was a deception, for the true nature of "knowing" good and evil was not disclosed to Eve. Satan's appealing assertion would have its effect upon Eve's unenlightened mind.
As affirmed in verse 22, Adam and Eve did indeed come to be like God in the sense of "knowing" good and evil. But just what does this mean? To answer, we might ask, in what way does God "know" good and evil? One very important way is that He determines it—that is, He decides what constitutes good and evil. And that is what Adam and Eve now did—they determined for themselves good and evil. In verse 6, Eve "saw that the [forbidden] tree was good for food." That wasn't true according to God's standard. But according to her own new standard, it was. In reality, she made that determination in her mind—albeit with Satan's influence. And mankind has followed suit ever since. For "there is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). This is the bitter result of relying on ourselves to determine good and evil—right and wrong—rather than trusting in what God reveals on the matter.
It should also be pointed out here that while Eve fell prey to Satan's deception, there was greater culpability on the part of Adam, who may have been right there "with" Eve during the talk with Satan (compare Genesis 3:6). As the apostle Paul later explained, "Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression" (1 Timothy 2:14). Adam freely chose to join his wife in transgression-perhaps to avoid the pain of separation from her that would have ensued. In any case, Paul tells us that it was "through one man [that] sin entered the world, and death through sin" (Romans 5:12)-that man being Adam. The episode with the two trees helps to explain human civilization ever since. For all of us, these two trees remain a figurative representation of the choice we have—either to embrace what God has to say about right and wrong and be blessed with life or to decide for ourselves and be cursed with suffering and death (compare Deuteronomy 30:19). Man, in general, has ever since Adam and Eve been cut off from the tree of life. Indeed, man has been cut off from right knowledge of God—so that to come to Him for life and spiritual direction requires that He call us out of this evil world (compare John 6:44). For this reason, even many who believe they are seeking God's definition of right and wrong are going along with what others have told them rather than what God's Word actually says. Indeed, in a sense the Scriptures themselves, the "words of eternal life" (John 6:63, 68), may be equated with the tree of life. But cut off from God, mankind is not truly able to understand the words unless God empowers them to do so. Sadly, man continues to choose from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This has had some measure of positive results—as man has embraced some truly good things as good (as experimentation and reason will often demonstrate the need and since man has retained elements of God's truth though sometimes corrupted). This explains why we find kindness and other right virtues among false religion—or even among people with no religion. But because mankind rejects other good and vital things as wrong or unnecessary and, at the same time, embraces so many bad and harmful things as good and acceptable, the overall effect of mankind's ongoing choice is all the pain and heartache we see in the world. Thankfully, Jesus Christ is returning soon to this earth to make the knowledge of God available to all nations (compare Isaiah 11:9).
Supplementary Reading: "Archaeology and Genesis: What Does the Record Show?," September/October 1996, Good News Magazine