We take a look at the two trees in the Garden of Eden and discover how they symbolically represent two views of God. One view is held by the Old Testament writers and the other by Jesus who has seen God and knows God's heart.
The Two Trees in the Garden
Many Old Testament writers and characters portray God as the source of both Good and Evil.
The Garden of Eden—Two Views of God
The two significant trees in the garden were the Tree of Life and the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. This second tree represents the belief that both good and evil come from God. Eating from it means one has subscribed to this dualistic of God.
makes this dualism plain when he says, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good from evil” (Genesis 3:5 NLT). “Knowing” is from Hebrew yada which implies experience rather than information. The serpent is implying that God experiences both good and evil in himself. This picture of God results in an unhealthy fear of God and a suspicion that he does not always have one’s best interests at heart. This means one negotiate the favour of God with acts of penance and sacrifice to please him to ensure a happy life. This picture of God has permeated human perception to this very day since this picture is so pervasive. Jesus, it seems, is the only one who knew this picture to be false. He came to correct the picture of his Father and give us the truth about the Father’s heart. First, we will notice the violent picture of God that was common in the Old Testament. Satan: In Job chapters one and two Satan suggests that it is God that strikes people with misfortune and tragedy. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has and he will surely curse you to your face. Job 1:11 “But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face” Job 2:5 Job: Dated anywhere from the 10th century B.C.E. to the Second Century B.C.E. Job was ignorant of the back story told in the first two chapters of the book that bears his name. The use of “Satan” in these first two chapters suggests that these chapters are post exilic because this title, “Satan,” only occurs in postexilic literature viz. 1 Chronicles 21 and Zechariah 3. The genre of the first two chapters is also different to the rest of the book. What is consistent for the whole book is that Job believes his misfortune comes from God. Consider the first two chapters: 1:21 The LORD giveth and the LORD taketh away. Blessed be the name of the LORD. 2:10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. Now notice from chapter three of this beautiful, poetic narrative that Job believes all his misfortune come from God. Here are examples:
6:4 The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God=s terrors are marshalled against me.
10:2-3 NLT I will say to God, “Don’t simply condemn me—tell me the charge you are bringing against me. What do you gain by oppressing me? Why do you reject me, the work of your own hands, while smiling on the schemes of the wicked? (Cf. 13:21; 16:7-9; 17:6; 19:6, 22)
writing around the 13th century BCE believes the LORD can destroy anyone he wants to destroy. Although killing is forbidden in the commandments given later at Mount Sinai Moses has no problem writing,
in the story as told by Moses, understands that the destruction of Sodom will be by the LORD. Moses is certain that God is inflicting the evil that manifests in the ten plagues. Moses is also certain that God punishes disobedient people in violent ways. At the end of his life Moses gives this summary of God after showing the impotence of the false gods Israel often worshipped, Look now; I myself am he! There is no other god but me! I am the one who kills and gives life; I am the one who wounds and heals; No one can be rescued from my powerful hand! (Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT) Joshua: 11th century B.C.E. Joshua is clear that the LORD is ordering the execution of the people of Jericho to placate the LORD. Joshua 6:17 NLT Jericho and everything in it must be completely destroyed as an offering to the LORD. Genesis 6:7 NLT And the LORD said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” Genesis 18:7 NLT Abraham approached him (the LORD) and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked?” Exodus 3:20 NLT So, I (I AM) will raise my hand and strike the Egyptians, performing all kinds of miracles among them. Then at last he will let you go. Leviticus 26:16 NLT I (the LORD) will punish you. I will bring sudden terrors upon you—wasting diseases and burning fevers that will cause your eyes to fail and your life to ebb away. You will plant crops in vain because your enemies will eat them. 17 I will turn against you and you will be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you will rule over you, and you will run even when no one is chasing you! (This chapter continues in the same vein up to verse 39.)
The author of Samuel, 8th century B.C.E., is certain that the LORD is the source of evil.
1 Samuel 16:14 But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him. 15 And Saul's servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee. 16 Let our lord now command thy servants, [which are] before thee, to seek out a man, [who is] a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well. 1 Samuel 16:23 And it came to pass, when the [evil] spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him. 1 Samuel 18:10 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand, as at other times: and [there was] a javelin in Saul's hand. 1 Samuel 19:9 And the evil spirit from the LORD was upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his javelin in his hand: and David played with [his] hand. The author of Samuel can also write that God will punish King David in this horrible, immoral way, This is what the LORD says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. (2 Samuel 12:11 NLT)
King David: (reigned 1010-970 B.C.E.)
David can appeal to God to do horrendous acts against David’s enemies. This means he understands God is capable of these violent acts. Psalm 58:6 NLT Break off their (David’s enemies) fangs, O God! Smash the jaws of these lions, O LORD! Psalm 58:10 NLT The godly will rejoice when they see injustice avenged. They will wash their feet in the blood of the wicked. Psalm 59:13 NLT Destroy them (hostile nations) in your anger! Wipe them out completely! Then the whole world will know that God reigns in Israel. Isaiah, 8th to 7th century B.C.E., is of the same opinion as Moses about God being the source of both good and evil. I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times, I, the LORD, am the one who does these things. (Isaiah 45:7 NLT)
believe that God has some evil in him when they pray that God will defeat their enemies with violence.
The War Prayer by Mark Twain It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory with stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks thewhile; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.
It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.
Sunday morning came—next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams—visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!
Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building,and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation:
God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword! Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory—
An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord and God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside—which the startled minister did—and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said: “I come from the Throne—bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import—that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of—except he pause and think. “God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two—one uttered, and the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this—keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon your neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain on your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse on some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it. “You have heard your servant’s prayer—the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it—that part which the pastor—and also you in your hearts—fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard the words ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory—must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen! “Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into battle—be Thou near them! With them—in spirit—we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it— For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen. (After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits.” — It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.
Jesus arrived two millennia ago and negated this dualistic view of God.
Jesus came to show that God is represented by the Tree of Life NOT the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This picture of God was completely new for our suffering planet (John 13:15).
It was not a magnification of something Moses or Elijah or Isaiah or Jeremiah had said. Jesus is the most creative being who has ever existed. He is unique. He is more than an improvement of the Old Testament prophets, he is God himself. He is the only eyewitness we have of God (John 1:18), and his testimony about God is more accurate than any other prophet’s testimony. Hebrews 1:1-3 NLT Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to his Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honour at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. Here are some of the unbelievable statements made by Jesus which contradicted long held beliefs by God’s chosen people. Matthew 5:27-28 NLT You have heard the commandment that says, “You must not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:31-32 NLT You have heard the law that says, “A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1). But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery. Matthew 5:38 19:21) NLT “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. (Cp. Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy Matthew 5:43-48 NLT “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. (Make war with them and blot them out.) 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (In your unconditional love for enemies. Jesus loved and prayed for his executioners (Luke 23:34)) Jesus Christ claimed that he and God are congruent in character, this means that they are alike in every aspect of character. Jesus portrays the whole character of God not only one aspect of his character. Some say that Jesus came to show the love of God with his first advent and at the second advent he will show the power of God in executing unrepentant sinners. Here is some of the evidence Jesus gave that his revelation implied he embraces all of God character:
John 1:1 NLT In the beginning the Word already existed, the Word was with God and the Word was God.
John 1:18 NLT No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.19 So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. (This means the Son has never seen the Father act violently.)
John 12:45 NLT When you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me.
John 14:8-10 NLT Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. (“Father in me” means Jesus embraced all the Father is.)
Whatever we say about Jesus we can also say about God. Whatever we say that is true about God we can also say about Jesus. We cannot provide contradictions between God and Jesus Christ. If there are apparent contradictions the contradiction indicates some truth about God or Jesus is misstated.
Ian Hartley November 2020