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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Spatha

A Tale of Two Trees: Man's Impatience with God's Promises

Usually when something we want is dangled before us, our natural response is to reach out and take it. The fact that we desire it is the justification used for our impetuousness and the end is used to justify the means. But usually shortcuts taken to obtain or achieve something do not produce superior or even equal results. Scripture clearly describes patience as a virtue, not impulsiveness, and discipline and longsuffering as building blocks of good character, not indulgence. Yet many read the story of the fall of man in Genesis and question God's wisdom and even character for placing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden.

Chapter One: A Bad Apple?

Genesis 2:9 sets the stage by introducing the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then in verse 17 God gives the famous decree to man not to eat of the latter, for in that day he would surely die. Many have accused God here of placing a temptation before Adam and Eve, but such an accusation clearly runs afoul of other explicit passages.

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. -James 1:12-17 NASB

James makes it clear that God tempts no one and obviously the presence of something desirable neither automatically makes it a temptation nor justifies the unlawful taking of it. If a man rapes a woman, he cannot claim she is to blame due to dressing provocatively any more than a car thief can blame the owner of the vehicle for parking it unlocked. It is man's lust of a desirable thing which produces the temptation, not the mere presence of the thing itself, and it is the undisciplined character of man which then acts upon that lust.

So, if the tree of the knowledge of good and evil wasn't a temptation, what was it? Well firstly, it was required in order to demonstrate man's free will, but secondly it was symbolic of a promise. In fact, both trees were symbolic of a promise, and man's desire for them was not inherently sinful as both trees were indeed good. It was not the desire or the things themselves which was evil, but the way in which man went about acquiring them which was. God designed sex and intended it to be good within those design parameters, but rape is evil due to the how, not necessarily the what. The same is true of the car — in and of itself it is quite good, but the taking of one is unequivocally bad. Sin isn't always the pursuit of an evil desire, but often the perverse path one chooses to pursue a quite good desire. As Oswald Chambers once said,

“…Satan does not tempt us to do wrong things, he tempts us in order to make us lose... the possibility of being of value to God... Temptation is a suggested short cut to the realization of

the highest at which I aim not at what I understand as evil, but towards what I understand as good... [At this point Satan] does not come along the line of tempting us to sin, but on the line

of shifting the point of view, and only the Spirit of God can reveal this as a temptation of the Devil.“

The desire Adam and Eve had was to know the difference between good and evil, and that is obviously a good thing as God gave humankind the law of Moses later on to do just that. So, if the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not a bad tree (everything in the garden God declared as "good") and the desire Adam and Eve had was good, then why did eating it turn out so horribly bad? Because of how that fruit was acquired. Taking the fruit against God's command was the sin, not the acquiring of the knowledge itself. But like all sin, it produced some unintended consequences — not just in the direct punishment God pronounced, but also in the effect the fruit had.

By taking the fruit through his own means outside of God's design and parameters, man gained a warped and twisted version of what he was truly after. Rather than gaining the true knowledge of good and evil, he gained a conscience, which produced very subjective and malleable definitions. We see this immediately after the eating of the fruit when God calls Adam and Eve and they hide from Him due to their nakedness. It wasn't God who determined that nakedness was wrong or shameful, but man suddenly made that determination himself. This rogue agent called the conscience continues to resist, challenge, and overrule God's definitions throughout the rest of human history to the detriment of all. But God, rather than eliminating the byproduct of the fruit of that tree, instead honors it, which is a terrible realization once you fully understand the implications.

This is because a just and holy God must hold us to the strictest standard of sin. Before the eating of the fruit that standard was solely God's, which is a high bar, but is both consistent and knowable. After the eating of that fruit though, God not only must hold us to His standard, but also our own. So, if the law of God permits something, but our own conscience does not, it is sin. If the law of God permits something and our own conscience aligns with His definitions, but the culture around us does not, it is sin. If the law of God permits something, our own conscience and the culture around us agrees, but we're in the presence of another individual whose conscience does not, that act is sin for us.

This adds innumerable possible infractions to (but does not subtract any from) God's law, and what's worse, they are not nearly as clearly defined or communicated, so we won't always even know that we've broken them and sinned. Yet, at judgement day, God will hold us accountable to each and every infraction of His definition of sin, our own definition, cultural definitions, and individuals we have interacted with in the course of our lives (for more detail on this biblical doctrine, see the article Issues of Conscience: When Sin Seems Uncertain). So, by acquiring the knowledge of good and evil by our own means, we multiplied our own judgement, making our situation not just worse, but impossibly difficult to navigate.

Chapter Two: A Prophesied Consequence

Then of course there was the issue of the direct consequences for their actions. God sentenced man to toil to feed himself, sentenced woman to pain in childbearing, and sentenced the serpent to crawl on his belly of course, but the main consequence was death. We all know that humanity introduced death into creation that day and were doomed to die as a result of their sin, but the specific wording of God's warning was that if Adam ate of the fruit, "in that day he shall surely die." However, Adam didn't die the day he ate the fruit... Or did he? In the Jewish understanding, a prophetic day (a day spoken of in the context of future, rather than past or present events) is not 24 hours, but symbolizes a period of time. We see a symbolic use of 70 weeks in Daniel chapter 9 with each day being a year for a total of 490 years, but more broadly, a prophetic day was associated with 1,000 years. We see this correlation explicitly in 2nd Peter in the context of prophecy.

...You should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” ...But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. -2Pe 3:2-4, 8 ESV

If that passage seems vague or inconclusive, one can look at early church writings for clarification. A letter written by Barnabas (companion of Paul) from the first century clearly elucidates this association in The Epistle of Barnabas chapter 15 when he writes, "Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, He finished in six days. This implies that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifies, saying, Behold, today will be as a thousand years. Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished."

This ties into the biblical apocalyptic use of the phrase "the day of the Lord," which isn't just the actual day he appears, but also His 1,000 year reign on the earth (Rev 20). So, if a prophetic day is 1,000 years, and God prophesied to Adam that in that day he would surely die, the question is, when did Adam die? We know from the account of Genesis itself that Adam died at 930 years old (Gen 5:5) — exactly 70 years short of the end of the first prophetic day. The apocryphal book of Jubilees (often reverentially referred to as "lesser Genesis") which is considered part of the canon of scripture in some traditions, spells this math out for us.

And at the close of the nineteenth jubilee, in the seventh week in the sixth year [930 A.M.] thereof, Adam died, and all his sons buried him in the land of his creation, and he was the first to be buried in the earth. And he lacked seventy years of one thousand years; for one thousand years are as one day in the testimony of the heavens and therefore was it written concerning the tree of knowledge: 'On the day that ye eat thereof ye shall die.' For this reason he did not complete the years of this day; for he died during it. -Jubilees 4:29-30

Chapter Three: A Tree of Promise

But if the two trees in the garden were both good rather than a temptation, why did God place them there? Because they were promises to humankind, prophecies of what was to come. It was only man's impatience which took what only God could give that created death and destruction in God's perfect creation. But God's arm is not too short and His redemption is nothing if not total and complete. But as with all things of God, His timing, process, and order is required. By eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, humanity definitely got things out of order as Proverbs makes clear.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. -Pro 1:7 ESV

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. -Pro 9:10-11 ESV

We tried to seek the knowledge of good and evil before seeking God, and that is precisely backwards as seeking God, knowing Him and His ways, is the only true path to that knowledge — there is no shortcut or workaround. Isaiah prophesied of one coming who understood this and would walk in the fear of the Lord.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. -Isa 11:1-5 ESV

The coming Messiah would not make his own judgements, choose his own definitions, or make his own law according to what was right in his own eyes, but would walk in the knowledge of God, faithful to His commands and decrees and therefore walking in true righteousness. But it was also through the Messiah, that the redemption and fulfillment of both trees, promises, and prophecies would come.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” -Jer 31:31-34 ESV

This is one of the most exciting aspects about God's redemption in that He not only restores what was lost, but He improves it. Adam and Eve may have walked with God, but they did not have the spirit of God in them. Like the Israelites, they required an external law to be given to them. God's spirit and His law was not within them, or "written on their hearts" as Jeremiah prophesied. We see this clearly in the Hebrew wording in Genesis as Adam was given the breath of life, but not the spirit of God. In Hebrew, the spirit of God or the Holy Spirit is called ruach and means spirit, breath or wind. God's ruach was present in the beginning, hovering over the waters of creation in Genesis 1:2, but in Genesis 2:7, a different word meaning breath or wind is used when God breathes life into Adam. That word was neshamah, meaning breath, wind, inspiration, or intellect. Paul makes this even clearer in the New Testament.

So also it is written, "The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. -1Co 15:45-46 NASB

Paul differentiates between what Adam became versus what Jesus became by using the Greek words psuche and pneuma respectively. Psuche is where we get our English word psyche from, and pneuma is where we get our term pneumatic. The former meaning soul or personality, and the latter meaning breath, wind, air, or spirit. So, Adam was a living soul (he had a mind, will, and emotions), but he did not have the spirit of God residing in him. He had the spirit (life or breath) of man, separate and distinct from that of his creator. But the Messiah changed that and fulfilled the prophecy given by Jeremiah. We see this fulfillment after Jesus is resurrected and meets with His disciples.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit." -Joh 20:19-22 ESV

Here in the book of John, Jesus mirrored what the Father had done in the book of Genesis by breathing on man. But where in Genesis, man was granted physical life, in John we see spiritual life being given. In Genesis we see God with man, but in John we see God in man. Later in Acts chapter 2, we would see the third context of the Holy Spirit in God coming upon man. With denotes God's presence, in denotes His peace, while upon denotes His power. But through Jesus, God's promise in the garden to give us the knowledge of good and evil was made possible as His law — His definitions of good and evil — could be written on our hearts, revealed to us through the spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit in us.

Chapter Four: A Second Tree

But remember there were two trees in the garden, not just one. We tend to focus on the tree which was forbidden and forget about the one which had no restrictions placed upon it whatsoever. The tree of life was actually mentioned first in the story (Gen 2:9), which should give a strong indication of both its importance and divine order. But its existence was seemingly uninteresting to humankind and we barely even took note of it until it was taken from us. Suddenly, now that we couldn't have it, like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it became an object of great desire for all of humanity.

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. -Gen 3:22-24 ESV

Given that humankind has been on a quest for the holy grail of immortality ever since, in retrospect, having access to that tree makes Adam and Eve's choice all the more baffling. Regardless, after humanity ate of the second tree, the first tree not only became forbidden, but completely inaccessible. This is often viewed as another consequence or punishment for the sin, but this action by God is clearly separate from his pronouncements of punishments. Others may view this, as the serpent did, as God denying man the ability to become god-like. But there is a much more innocuous answer which actually conforms to the character of God: if man reached out and took of the tree of life as he had the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he would be condemned in his sin forever. There would be no reconciliation, no redemption, and no relationship possible, for like the fallen angels, we would be eternally and irrevocably damned. The removal of access to the tree of life was not a punitive act, but a protective one.

Again, the tree of life was a promise, and God is faithful to keep His promises. So, though He had to remove it from man's reach in the garden, it was to protect God's redemptive plan from man's impatience, not to protect God from man's competition. After its brief role in Genesis, we don't hear about the tree of life again until Revelation, though there are a few poetic uses of the phrase in Proverbs (Pro 3:18, 11:30, 13:12, and 15:4). But Revelation makes it quite clear that God had a plan all along to give man access to the tree of life at the right time. And when was the right time? Once man had been sanctified, cleansed of all sin and shame, and once again stood blameless before a holy and righteous God.

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. 'To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’" -Rev 2:7 ESV

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. -Rev 22:14 ESV

Chapter Five: An Uncomfortable Process

The problem was never that God was not good, or that He did not want the best for humanity as the serpent alleged. The problem was that humanity was tempted by their own vain and selfish ambition to take the promises of God without God's prescribed plan or process. We wanted what was good, but like any petulant child who thinks themselves wiser than their parents, we wanted it now. Tempted by lust, we began to question God's character, wondering why a good and loving God would withhold such a thing from us. Blinded by desire, distrust and suspicion crept in and without carefully considering the evidence, we simply presumed God to be guilty.

But despite our willful disobedience, our baseless accusations against an innocent God, and the catastrophe our actions created in God's perfect creation, He still loved us and He remained faithful to His promise of the two trees. His loving plan was so thorough, so perfect, and so complete, that He not only bore the payment for our sin, but even redeemed the consequence of sin itself, making death the gateway to eternal life through Christ.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. -Rom 5:12-13 ESV

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. -Rom 5:18-19 ESV

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. -Gal 2:19-20 ESV

But before God could bear our sin and shame and die for our transgressions, He had to show us that "our righteousness was as filthy rags" (Isa 64:6). We had to learn that our sin of taking the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil hadn't made us like God at all. We had to understand how much we needed God's grace and mercy, and the only way to come to the realization of that truth was to experience the utter failure of trying to attain righteousness in our own strength.

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. -Rom 7:10-13 ESV

You see, we had put our faith in ourselves, in the strength of our own right arm. We tried to take what only God in His perfect timing could give and in attempting that shortcut, we produced nothing but pain, misery, and a long road to redemption. You see, shortcuts don't exist — they are empty promises posted on cheap signs along the clearly marked path of righteousness. They do not get you there faster, they take you deep into the bush and are dead ends that get you sidetracked, lost, and in need of rescue. Thankfully, God is willing to come after us once we stop trusting our own sense of direction and acknowledge our need for help. Then we see how foolish we were, how trustworthy and good God is, and how perfect His plan, process, and path are. And at the end of that path, if we keep to it and endure to the end, is the promise that we were chasing in the bush all along.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. -1Co 15:20-23 ESV

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain... So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. -1Co 15:42-44 ESV

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable... For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” -1Co 15:50, 53-55 ESV

Chapter Six: A Necessary Introspection

There are undoubtedly areas in our own lives where we have not trusted God and have instead, struck out on our own due to a dubious sign along the path. Maybe we questioned God's goodness or faithfulness, maybe we adopted a theology which placed the onus on us to fulfill God's promises, or maybe we were simply impatient. Certainly patience is costly and hard, which is why it's a virtue — if it were cheap and easy, it would be a vice. We may justify our little expeditions into the bush as being visionary or a go-getter, or as taking initiative, being a leader, a pioneer, or a trailblazer. We may even spiritualize them as being apostolic (often a term used to justify starting something but not finishing it or following through), but the truth is, we're trusting in our own strength to deliver the promises of God, which is nothing more than pride.

Abraham also adopted this utilitarian theology of expedience and instead of waiting and trusting God to fulfill His promise of a son through Sarah, he took it upon himself to seize it by having extra-marital relations with his servant. But his self-initiative did not earn him favor with God, nor did it produce the intended result. Like all sin, it produced only pain, misery, and a long road of redemption — one that continues even to this day.

That is not to say that God does not ask us to take steps of faith, but there is a big difference between hearing God give direction, not fully understanding it, but stepping out in obedience versus perceiving a promise of God, and then working out your own plan to achieve it. Faith comes by hearing the word of God, failure comes by presuming the will and way of God. If God has a promise, He also has a purpose, a plan, and a process. Waiting is often a part of that process and taking matters into your own hands will at best, communicate to God that you have not yet learned the lesson or gained the character necessary to move on to the next part of the process. So, you'll be stuck in a repetitive and endless cycle precisely due to your best efforts to work your way out of it. Swinging a hammer rather than waiting for the architect may feel productive and may appear impressive, but in the end it's only performative.

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. -Psa 127:1 ESV

Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. -Isa 9:7 ESV (emphasis added)

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose...’" -Isa 46:8-10 ESV (emphasis added)

"...Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." -Mat 16:18 KJV (emphasis added)

God invites us into His counsel and into partnership with Him, but He is looking for humility and obedience, not ambition and initiative. He values stillness, not busyness, and patience, not posturing. The overarching narrative of scripture is that of an active God who is not slow about His promises, but is patient with us, preparing us to be able to enter the promise. We may not always see it from our vantage point, but we must realize that an omniscient and omnipotent God knows best and we must trust His character, for He is a good and loving father.

We must respond to His promptings and take steps of faith as we walk in obedience, but we must follow the good shepherd, not attempt to lead Him or force His hand. The great miracles recorded in scripture did not come about by strong men with a bold idea, but by an all-powerful God who gave guidance to weak men with no idea. That reality isn't flattering, but humility rarely is. The glory goes to God, not the frail and broken people He uses.

It's time to stop. Stop trying to earn God's favor and stop trying to impress others and prove ourselves. Stop trying to make things happen and stop trying to take shortcuts to fulfill God's promises or our desires. We must stop chasing after righteous things by unrighteous, unsanctioned means. It's time to stop being Abrahams and start being Davids. We have to be still and trust and wait on the Lord.

“Cease striving, and know that I am God..." -Psa 46:10 NASB

"Behold, the man who would not make God his refuge, But trusted in the abundance of his riches And was strong in his evil desire." But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it, And I will wait on Your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones. -Psa 52:7-9 NASB (emphasis added)


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