The trees in Eden, particularly the two trees, have profound significance. But first, the Biblical Hebrew word for tree needs to be understood.
The trees in Eden are often depicted by Adam and Eve standing beside the evil tree generally with a serpent nearby. Such a caricatural image blurs our understanding. Not to say, enforces the mythological side and obliterating meaningful comprehension of this all-important first encounter of humankind. Here’s clarification.
(Origin of Humankind, chapter 3.6)
Here’s the story so far; the Creation is the quickest room renovation ever for a newborn, and what a makeover. God renovated the whole world; it was now ready for humankind. But rather than insert man in this global environment, God creates a spectacular, private Garden, with two meaningful trees, what a privilege. His newly created guest, this man, a full-blown adult with a developed mind, the neshama and ruach, was a neophyte in living, no experience whatsoever. his first encounter with his Creator is a solemn reminder of their relationship; that if the man wants all to go well (tov), he’d be wise to worship (dress) God and observe (keep) His recommendations (Genesis 2:15).
In verse 16, we come back to the two trees in Eden. It seems to pick up the context from verse 9. As we develop the meaning of these trees, let’s step back to the beginning. What is a tree? Just a wooden trunk with branches that bloom and give leaves and fruit? In English and probably most other languages that is the case, but not in Biblical Hebrew.
9 And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree (H6086) that is pleasant (H2530) to the sight, and good (H2896) for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Here’s the origin of the word tree. not just from Strong’s concordance, but from the different translations of the KJV scholarly translators. They’re doing their best to capture the intent and meaning of the author. That’s why many English words are used to render this one Biblical Hebrew word.
עָצָה ʻâtsâh aw-tsaw’; a primitive root; properly, to fasten (or make firm), i.e. to close (the eyes):
KJV – shut.
A tree is not just a tree. In Hebrew, words have meaning that is often deeper than the visible appearance. H6086 is translated gallows in the book of Esther. A tree can give us positive shade, scent, leaves for healing, purification of the air, and wood for building purposes. But, negatively, gallows is another use for a tree. I’d invoke the second key of mastering Biblical Hebrew in this instance. Two opposite outcomes for one word. The same word: two routes, two results. The root (maybe in this case literally) of the word tree is H6095 (עָצָה); this is enlightening given the two trees in Eden we’re about to investigate. The first tree opens eyes; the second shuts eyes. Here’s just one verse the root of tree.
He shuts (H6095) his eyes to devise (H2803) froward things: (H8419) moving his lips he brings evil to pass.
There’s no ambivalence in this verse. Tree leads to shutting of eyes, which leads to plotting perverse things. You can follow this trajectory by reading the meanings of a couple of the Hebrew words in Pro. 16:30.
חָשַׁב châshab khaw-shab’; a primitive root; properly, to plait or interpenetrate, i.e. (literally) to weave or (generally) to fabricate; figuratively, to plot or contrive (usually in a malicious sense); hence (from the mental effort) to think, regard, value, compute:
KJV – (make) account (of), conceive, consider, count, cunning (man, work, workman), devise, esteem, find out, forecast, hold, imagine, impute, invent, be like, mean, purpose, reckon(-ing be made), regard, think.
תַּהְפֻּכָה tahpukâh tah-poo-kaw’; from H2015 (הָפַךְ); a perversity or fraud:
KJV – (very) froward(-ness, thing), perverse thing.
הָפַךְ hâphak haw-fak’; a primitive root; to turn about or over; by implication, to change, overturn, return, pervert:
KJV – ⨯ become, change, come, be converted, give, make (a bed), overthrow (-turn), perverse, retire, tumble, turn (again, aside, back, to the contrary, every way).
Partaking of the fruit of the wrong tree turns the mind upside down. That’s the implication of the Biblical Hebrew; this is the effect of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
In discussing the meaning of tree, I’ve emphasized the negative to show you how roots lead to deeper understanding. Of course, the Biblical Hebrew for tree has a positive meaning as well. This positive aspect is emphasized in the following verses with the river flowing out of Eden and is repeatedly highlighted by reference to trees in conjunction with this river and the ultimate tree that brings healing to all the nations (Rev. 22.2).
Tree of Life
A quick summary to prepare us for the two trees in Eden. God has already told us WHY He created us (Genesis 1:26-27). Recollect, it is to become His kin. We’ve already received His image and likeness, with the hope of becoming His full sons and daughters. God told the first human WHAT to do in Genesis 2:15, to worship and serve Him. Then He immediately follows with the HOW in verses 16-17; eat from ALL the trees, don’t eat from just one tree. Pretty straight forward, right? Wrong! Humanity has not figured this out yet.
Frankly, in the 21st century with the Occidental environment of liberty, where choices are primary and compulsory compliance is secondary this kind of hard, direct talk is politically inappropriate. That said, it does have the merit of being clear. Well, this direct talk continues and before we get too negative about the approach let’s see just how positive it is, the vista of well-being that this directive, decreeing God opens up in verse 16.
16 And the Lord God commanded (6680) the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat:
17 But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.
God reinforces this direct approach when He commands (vs. 16) the man to eat of every tree in the Garden.
צָוָה tsâvâh tsaw-vaw’; a primitive root; (intensively) to constitute, enjoin:
KJV – appoint, (for-) bid, (give a) charge, (give a, give in, send with) command(-er, -ment), send a messenger, put, (set) in order.
This enjoining order or given charge’, as Strong’s 6680 renders it, is generally only used by God Himself, God’s servants, Kings, and High ranking governmental officials. With authority, God says to the first man he may eat from all the trees in the Garden.
Is this a positive or a negative command?
If you had a choice of dozens, maybe hundreds or thousands of luscious, delicious fruit, nuts, and berries for a meal, how would you feel? Just step up and pick your juicy, tasty lunch. Not only that but amongst every tree was the Tree of Life; man could’ve eaten from that Tree at this point. Nowhere does it say he wasn’t allowed that, to the contrary, access to the Tree of Life was open. The Hebrew for freely eat is eat eat, the doubling of words has the sense of go ahead and feast.
In verse 9 at the beginning of this post we saw that of all the flora, the trees in Eden, are highlighted in relation to 2 human senses we are somewhat sensitized to when it comes to food. Sight: They are pleasant (H2530), as the KJV translates: ‘beauty, greatly beloved, covet, delectable, delight, desire, goodly, precious,’ to the point that they could even evoke lust and covetousness. Taste: They are favorable, sweet, and precious for good (H2896) food. We’d go out of our way for a tasty fruit salad from this garden.
The reason I’m emphasizing this point is that many have the impression that God is austere, ascetic, and severe, depriving man of pleasure and the enjoyment of life. Not so, humans received all the beauty and practicality of creation, even the Tree of Life was readily accessible, Adam could’ve reached out and partaken of it.
Ponder this thought, since God has just given life to Adam; therefore this Tree of Life must represent something beyond that, some benefit God was immediately ready to share with His physical creation; the importance of which the man failed to realize at that time. God had good in mind for man, way beyond what man could and can even imagine. And God wants to share this goodness with humans so much, that He commanded man to partake of it, but God didn’t impose the Tree of Life.
This blog post is an excerpt from chapter 3.6 of the book Origin of Humankind.
Go to UnlockBibleMeaning.com and do a study on H6086 (עֵץ) and H6095 (עָצָה) in Genesis 2:16. See where the first is translated gallows and the second shut.
Biblical Hebrew words tell stories. You’d never know it from the English word tree. For those of you who want to go further with this study, here’s a clue. Shut eyes (H6035) has to do with spiritual blindness. That’s what happened to Adam and Eve after they ate of the forbidden tree. We will develop this point.
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