Any thought of the garden’s perfection must include the command to “till it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Paradise is a place of work divinely assigned and therefore incessantly fruitful. “You shall freely eat of every tree of the garden” (Gen. 2:16). Turning the soil with vigilant care, the man and woman witness nature’s obedience to a prodigal and provident God. The prohibition regarding the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” expresses the same parental care as the positive command to “till it and keep it.” It is good for the man and woman to work. It is likewise good for them to avoid what they cannot manage. Recalling that the phrase “good and evil” in the Old Testament commonly means “everything,” and negatively “nothing,” God is instructing them to avoid things that are too great for them, too overwhelming. In obedience to both the positive and permissive command, and the one restrictive prohibition, the man and woman are safe.
The serpent enters the story, described as “more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made” (Gen. 3:1). That there are other creatures who, though to a lesser degree, are “crafty” suggests a sort of slipping or sliding away from goodness as a possibility though not a necessity in the ordered life of the garden. The actual defection from obedience is carefully orchestrated by shifting the woman’s attention, her man standing ready to follow, from the God who simply is to a more analytical posture in which she is ready to talk about and defend God. Gerhard Von Rod gets to the point: “Man’s ancient folly is in thinking he can understand God better from his freely assumed standpoint and from his notion of God than he can if he would subject himself to his Word” (Genesis, p. 86; this is still an important commentary to be consulted often). In a sense, the fruit of the forbidden tree indeed gave the knowledge of “good and evil,” that is, the knowledge of “everything” divorced entirely from the obedience of faith. This knowledge is additionally a kind of participation, even possession. We now know everything in the biblical sense of attachment and participation except God. God we know merely as the object of our conversation.
Our having pushed aside God, the very source of all life, death now comes into the world. Refusing the obedience of faith owed to the one who created us, we wither and are diminished, are ruled by death and brought to destruction. Look around. But God has not abandoned us to sin and death. God has come again and again, until, in the fullness of time, he came in the person of his Son, who, as the new Adam, brings justification. Since Adam, sin seeped into humanity, infecting one generation and then the next. Christ, however, called “the free gift following many transgressions,” brings “justification,” even “the abundance of grace” (Rom. 5:16-17). This new life doesn’t seep and infect in the slow progress of time. Rather, in one sudden and undeserved gift, Christ reaches the whole human family with the all-sufficient sacrifice of his life.
The New Adam is tested and proved. He barks down evil: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Matt. 4:10). The devil’s conditional clause “If you are” is resoundingly answered “I am.” We are safe in the One who is.
Look It Up
Read Ps. 32:2. He imputes no guilt, but imputes the grace of his innocent Son.
Think About It
There is too much talk about God. Yes, I am on consignment as I write, and, yes, I will preach tomorrow. But my soul in silence waits.