The tree of knowledge of good and evil impacts each of our lives. Four vital points to take away; this is not just symbolism; it’s a reality.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Enigmatic, how can good lead to death? Let’s understand. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was highly discouraged, a massive penalty was attached to misconduct to dissuade the man from eating of its fruit. What was so negative about this tree, that eating its produce would bring death?
(Origin of Humankind, chapter 3.7)
Death, yes, but this Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was not placed behind bars, made inaccessible or protected in any way. The man could see it, as any of the other trees and had free access to it, just like the Tree of Life. The fruit was outwardly pleasing to the eye and fragrant to the nose; only the Godly interdiction gave away its harmful nature.
This sole Tree of knowledge of good and evil embodies four concepts we want to elucidate to understand what it signifies: Knowledge (H1847), Good (H2896), Evil (H7451), Death (H4191).
15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat:
17 But of the tree of the knowledge (H1947) of good (H2896) and evil (H7451), you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die (H4191).
We’ve already seen the first two, which, due to the importance of this verse, I briefly remind you of here:
Knowledge is anything and everything that humans can acquire by themselves as a result of the neshama and spirit in man that God had breathed into the first human. This ability to discover, attain, and accumulate knowledge is given only to humans as a result of their singularity. As we’ve seen in Inventory and Audit of the Universe and Humankind, humanity has been able to obtain volumes of encyclopedic knowledge about ourselves and the surroundings in which we exist.
When we use the term knowledge, we might tend to think of physical knowledge related to atoms, the sea, automobiles, flowers; but we must also include knowledge related to the social functioning of people like dating, sexuality, marriage, childrearing, leadership, and government. There are also the physical and mental aptitudes of humans that correspond to the medical and psychological disciplines, physical and mental health, all about the body and mind. In other words, knowledge encompasses all subjects, fields, branches, and twigs that observation and experience, science, philosophy, and religion have investigated, probed and scrutinized, and which research continues to expand each day. Here’s the Biblical Hebrew for knowledge.
דַּעַת daʻath dah’-ath; from H3045 (יָדַע); knowledge:
KJV – cunning, (ig-) norantly, know(-ledge), (un-) awares (wittingly).
יָדַע yâdaʻ yaw-dah’; a primitive root; to know (properly, to ascertain by seeing); used in a great variety of senses, figuratively, literally, euphemistically and inferentially (including observation, care, recognition; and causatively, instruction, designation, punishment, etc.):
KJV – acknowledge, acquaintance(-ted with), advise, answer, appoint, assuredly, be aware, (un-) awares, can(-not), certainly, comprehend, consider, ⨯ could they, cunning, declare, be diligent, (can, cause to) discern, discover, endued with, familiar friend, famous, feel, can have, be (ig-) norant, instruct, kinsfolk, kinsman, (cause to let, make) know, (come to give, have, take) knowledge, have (knowledge), (be, make, make to be, make self) known, + be learned, + lie by man, mark, perceive, privy to, ⨯prognosticator, regard, have respect, skilful, shew, can (man of) skill, be sure, of a surety, teach, (can) tell, understand, have (understanding), ⨯ will be, wist, wit, wot.
It is clear from the words above like discover, instruct, perceive, understand that only humans, and no other animate beings, can learn the knowledge referred to here. It is also evident that this knowledge, associated with the Tree that leads to death, is that which can be determined by the neshama and spirit in man. It is the comprehension that the human mind and brain can attain to, but limited to human intellectual capacity and understanding.
1 Corinthians 2:11 is very explicit in corroborating the origin and essence of human knowledge, “For what man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God.” Humans may like to think they are self-contained and limitless in their quest of knowledge, but that is not the case. The human defining singularity is the presence of this spirit coupled with the neshama that confers on them their human capabilities. (If you’re reading this for the first time. I insist you go and read both these links.)
We shall return to this crucial concept of knowledge. The other three elements: good, evil, and death, are all derivatives of this knowledge. We don’t call our era the Information-Age for no good reason. Knowledge is at the core of all thoughts, activities, and decision-making. Now for the second aspect of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
This element of the Tree is, in my opinion, the most paradoxical and least understood component of this tree. We’ve already seen the Hebrew term good nine times before this verse, notably after creating the animals when God said, it was very good. I devoted an entire chapter to explaining what a fiasco that translation is, the understatement of the year. And now, we see the same good associated with the Tree that leads to death. Explain! But, explain we must because it is a vital piece of the puzzle. If we can’t understand the good of the Tree of Death then we can’t assemble the jigsaw puzzle correctly, can we? Here’s the Biblical Hebrew good.
טוֹב ṭôwb tobe; from H2895 (טוֹב); good (as an adjective) in the widest sense; used likewise as a noun, both in the masculine and the feminine, the singular and the plural (good, a good or good thing, a good man or woman; the good, goods or good things, good men or women), also as an adverb (well):
KJV – beautiful, best, better, bountiful, cheerful, at ease, ⨯ fair (word), (be in) favour, fine, glad, good (deed, -lier, -liest, -ly, -ness, -s), graciously, joyful, kindly, kindness, liketh (best), loving, merry, ⨯ most, pleasant, + pleaseth, pleasure, precious, prosperity, ready, sweet, wealth, welfare, (be) well(-favoured).
When we read good and evil, we tend to think of good from a dictionary point of view. Even Strong’s and the KJV translations need to be put in perspective here.
In Genesis 2:17 the good is associated with the Tree that leads to death. We cannot overlook the precise shape of this piece of the puzzle otherwise it won’t fit: even this good leads to death. We must answer the question: How can good lead to death?
We’re talking about the human definition of good. For instance, in the name of freedom, we allow and condone white lies, foul vocabulary, suggestive images that characterize Top 10 songs and character assassination tidbits as headlines. That’s the tip of the iceberg, and many will take a firm stance to defend such conduct. Some fundamental issues have become blurred; basic questions like, is there good? What is good? What is the Bible definition of good? Answers will be forthcoming, but, at this point, I reiterate that the good in this context leads to death. Hence, it’s debatable as to how healthy this good is.
This idea impacts a significant concept that is widespread. It is held by what I call the spiritual philosophers and secular religious. These are two groups of people, the first for non-believers in God and the second for believers. The key defining characteristic is that both groups believe doing good is their salvation. Doing good, including being virtuous and loving your neighbor, no matter how it’s expressed, allows these people to have a peaceful conscience. Please don’t get me wrong; this is not a criticism. Doing good is 100% laudable. But, the question is: To where does this good lead us? The Tree of Life or the Tree of Death?
Yes, that sounds horrible. To consider that devoting one’s life to doing good, and even suggesting that it’s partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is outrageous. I will be giving you more details as we move forward with Genesis chapters 2 and 3. For now, ponder the words of Jesus … no one is good … And ask yourself, what is the reality of this good that is an integral part of this Tree of Death.
Look at it this way. Is doing good sufficient for God to attribute eternal life? The Bible answer is NO. You should be able to answer the next question. What supplementary necessity is needed to receive eternal life? Just think of the two commandments in the New Covenant. We shall be returning to this subject. The answer is in the previous verse, Genesis 2:15, God put the man in the Garden of Eden to worship and serve Him. God answers the questions right in the context.
Evil leads to death. We’d agree on this even though some have deliberately chosen an evil way of life.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know me and how I write. I get to the point. Well, correctly writing about evil isn’t easy, but let’s be open and do it. Here are three examples the illustrate the meaning Evil.
- Job was a servant of God. But, he and his friends had a significant problem, self-righteousness. The whole book of Job expounds this self-righteous attitude. By the way, Job was the ultimate doer of good, and he’d used that to justify his righteousness and God’s unjust trial. In essence, Job says, “I don’t merit this horrendous trial, I’ve done good all my life.” As I said above, goodness is NOT the crux of the matter. The trial was to help Job learn the most crucial lesson a human being can learn. Job 42:5-6 “I have heard of you [God] by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees you. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” This is worship and serve and seeing oneself through God’s eyes.
- Jordan Peterson is one of the most lucid public figures I know. His role as a clinical psychologist has brought him into contact with some of the most abject and degenerate types of people imaginable. At the same time, he’s possibly one of the most profound thinkers alive today. He has insight, particularly into what is evil. Not evil in others, of which he is well aware, but evil in HIMSELF. Evil that he knows, that he’s convinced, he could commit given the right circumstances. I’ve yet to hear it expressed in such a sincere and heartfelt way. Listen for yourself.He realizes that he could’ve been a perpetrator in the Auschwitz concentration camp. That’s serious-thinking about the potential evil lurking in you. Modern psychology and religion have hidden the realization of the depth and breadth of darkness in each of us. I’m generalizing but the rampant idea today is that although humans can do bad things, humans are fundamentally good. That is diametrically opposite of what the Bible says. The example of Job and the words of Jesus Himself tell us otherwise.
- Jesus Christ, answering a rich man, stated in Luke 18:19 “…Why call you me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.” If none is good, then all are bad, and that includes you and me. We’ve all partaken of this Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We all carry evil; We all merit the results of this tree. Here’s the Biblical Hebrew:
רַע raʻ rah; from H7489 (רָעַע); bad or (as noun) evil (natural or moral):
KJV – adversity, affliction, bad, calamity, +displease(-ure), distress, evil((-favouredness), man, thing), + exceedingly, ⨯ great, grief(-vous), harm, heavy, hurt(-ful), ill (favoured), + mark, mischief(-vous), misery, naught(-ty), noisome, + not please, sad(-ly), sore, sorrow, trouble, vex, wicked(-ly, -ness, one), worse(-st), wretchedness, wrong. (Incl. feminine raaah; as adjective or noun).
Notice the translation, wicked, wretchedness. We have ideas about ourselves to the contrary. Are we delusionary? Isaiah 64:6 “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Filthy rags sums us up pretty well. Audit of the Universe was written to help us see what humans have done to Earth. The three major commodities have been polluted or depleted beyond repair: Air, water, land even space. Flora and fauna are paying a heavy price as species disappear. Our planet is dying. That’s the result of partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Both the Bible and real-life show us that death is real. As much as it’s an enigma, we can’t deny death in the Old Testament or the New Testament. God is love, but love includes death! I spent a lot of time explaining the meaning of the neshama that God breathed in Adam’s nostrils. How neshama confers on humans their singularities that make us what we are. At the time, I didn’t emphasize a point regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and death. It is necessary to return to the meaning of neshama and see an important aspect.
נְשָׁמָה nᵉshâmâh nesh-aw-maw’; from H5395 (נָשַׁם); a puff, i.e., wind, angry or vital breath, divine inspiration, intellect. or (concretely) an animal:
KJV – blast, (that) breath(-eth), inspiration, soul, spirit.
נָשַׁם nâsham naw-sham’; a primitive root; properly, to blow away, i.e. destroy:
KJV – destroy.
The neshama of life is also that of death! The root of neshama includes destroy; this is the reason for the opposite meaning of same Hebrew words! Must be able to reconcile and explain this. Look at the Hebrew of Genesis 2.16-17. It doubles a couple of words eat eat (H398) and die die (H4191).
“eat eat,” “die die.” In Biblical Hebrew, the doubling of words reveals that it will come to pass. Eternal Life and Eternal Death. Doubling a word is to emphasize the surety of its outcome.
Eating of the Tree of Life means you will inherit life forever (Genesis 3:22). Eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil means death FOREVER.
There’s no intermediary state. Physical life is now and in the future. Life forever is eternal life. The alternative is death, destruction forever. I will not go into this here, but you can pursue this study by looking at the Second Death in Revelations. Some who don’t understand this, think a good God would not tolerate eternal death. Again, it’s a lengthy subject. Just think of the concept of what we do with a rotten apple. Those who partake of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and who do not come to see the rottenness of their ways; God removes them from the crate. The vast majority lives forever.
This blog post is an excerpt from chapter 3.7 of the book Origin of Humankind.
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