What Are the Two Trees in the Garden of Eden Really About?

A tree of life. And, a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man could eat from the first but not the second. And, if man ate from the second tree, then he would die.

The names of these two trees have caused a lot of confusion.

The tree of life does not symbolize living forever. In other words, if you eat the fruit of the tree of life that you doesn’t mean you will achieve some sort of immortality and live forever.

As for the other tree, what’s the problem with having a knowledge of whether or not a thing is good or evil? Why would knowing if something is good or evil lead to my dying? Isn’t a knowledge a good thing? But, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil isn’t about actual knowledge.

So, if what seems to be the common understanding of the symbolism of these two trees is not really what these two trees represent, then just exactly what are the two trees in the middle of the garden of Eden all about?

We could say that the middle of the garden was the heart of the garden. Therefore, these trees represent two ways of living from the heart.

What are the two ways of living from the heart that the trees represent?

Study the Bible long enough and you will find that it equates life with wisdom. Life, eternal life, does not mean living forever and ever and ever. Rather, it means living with true wisdom. The tree of life is the tree of wisdom.

At its root, wisdom is knowledge applied to a specific situation that brings about the best possible outcome for all. This requires discernment. Therefore, we could think of the tree of life as the tree of discernment.

Wisdom and discernment imply that there are gray areas to life. Gray areas require contemplative thought to discern the best solution to the situation or problem at hand.

Also, if you study the Bible long enough you will find that the simple adherence to rules and laws lead to death. Merely following rules and laws requires no thought and no wisdom. This leads to death, not in the sense that you are eternally dead forever and ever, but in the sense that you have arrived at the worst possible outcome for all involved.

Therefore, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents the opposite of wisdom and discernment, which is judgement. In the Bible, judgment means to decide something ahead of time as always good or always bad.

While the tree of life symbolizes living in the gray areas of life, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents living as if everything is black and white. This tree symbolizes a dualistic way of thinking in which everything resides in either the good or the bad all the time without ever thinking about particular situations.

For example, heterosexuality is good and homosexuality is evil. Always.

This is how most Christians think. But, this is to live by judgment and discernment. This is to live by black and white rules instead of the gray of wisdom.

How so?

Is homosexuality always evil? If it is a practice used to worship a god or gods falsely, then yes it is evil. If it is a practice of sexual debauchery, which the mainstream seems to equate it with, then yes it is evil. But, what if it is two people committed to a loving relationship where the highest good is truly sought for both people through self-sacrificial love? Then homosexuality would be good.

Now consider heterosexuality. Is it always good? Well, if it is two people committed to a loving relationship where the highest good is truly sought for both people through self-sacrificial love, then it is good. But, what if the heterosexuality is a man raping a woman? That’s clearly evil.

The same kind of argument could be used for white and black people. Throughout history white people have been judged good and black people have been judged evil. Clearly, this is not true though. Sometimes white people are good and sometimes white people are evil. The same is true of black people.

Or, what about communism and democracy? One system is not always good and the other always evil. It depends.

Or, what about individual people? An individual is not always good or always evil. Each individual does some good things and some evil things.

What is good and evil cannot be determined by an a priori judgment. It requires discernment.

The life of Jesus in the gospels shows us just this distinction. Jesus lived by wisdom or discernment. Jesus lived in the gray areas. Jesus did not live by judgment. He did not live by the knowledge of good and evil. He did not live by the letter of the law as if something was always good or always evil.

Consider Jesus’ handling of the situation of the woman caught in the act of adultery. According to the law, the woman should have been stoned to death. It’s obvious adultery is evil, right? But, not in this particular case for Jesus. In this case, Jesus discerned that this woman was suffering under a patriarchal culture that made the woman the scapegoat. For, why wasn’t the man she was caught in the adulterous act also brought to Jesus?

Consider the time Jesus and the disciples ate the grain from the field on the Sabbath. That was clearly against the law and therefore evil. But, Jesus used discernment and pointed out that they were hungry. It would be better to feed a hungry person than let them starve because of a rule.

Or, how about when Jesus asked those in the synagogue if a man’s withered hand should be healed on the Sabbath? Working on the Sabbath was deemed to be always evil. But, Jesus showed that if you were actually doing something good, like healing someone, then it was okay to work on the Sabbath.

The nature of the questions Jesus was asked in the gospels often set up the distinction between wisdom or discernment and judgment. They often contrast gray versus black-and-white thinking.

Which is the greatest commandment?

One rule has to be better and more important than other. Surely, the questioner expected Jesus to pick on of the ten commandments. But, Jesus quoted two “commandments” that weren’t even part of the ten commandments. And, both of Jesus’ commandments were about love. Love requires wisdom and discernment not judgment. Is it loving to give someone $100? It depends, doesn’t it? Is it better to give someone a hug or a stern word? They both can be love in the right situation. It depends.

Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?

The expected answer was yes or no. Paying taxes to Caesar is either good or evil. Tell us which one Jesus. Jesus answers without answering. He doesn’t give a black and white answer. Instead render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. If think that is clear, black and white, easy to apply, then please tell me in exactly every situation if I should pay taxes or not.

Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?

The very nature of the question is begging for a black and white answer. But, Jesus does not give one. Read Jesus’ answer and you will quickly see that it creates quite a bit of confusion among the disciples and still does today.

I think the following quote from The Wisdom of the Enneagram really sums up the difference between the two trees, between discernment and judgment.

What we “are actually seeking is not judgment but the quality of discernment. Discernment is noticing that things have different qualities. Judgment, however, includes an emotional reaction that actually interferes with discernment. It is one thing to say that a carpet is a different color from the wall. It is another thing to say that one is better, more important, or more righteous than the other. In other words, a witness and judge are not the same thing. Discernment requires us to be a witness.

“Note that we are not talking about situation ethics or ethical relativism but about the ability to see that as situations and facts change, so does what can be expected as a best outcome for them. Wisdom allows us to see reality exactly as it is, not as we wish it to be. Wisdom does not ignore right and wrong or deny that there are better or worse choices a person might have made. Rather, wisdom looks at the choices that have been made, at the situation in which we find ourselves now, and considers the best possible thing to do. Wisdom always sees what is truly necessary and for the best – although it can only arise in the present moment and spring forth from an absence of preconceived values, opinions, and judgments. Even if we have created some kind of hell for ourselves, wisdom can show us a way out – if we are willing to suspend judgment about what we “should” do, or how we “must” respond.”

I find this to be a succinct and beautiful summary of what Jesus lived and taught. It captures the essence of living by the tree of life and not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

What Is the Judgment of Jesus?

TODAY’S READING: 2 SAMUEL 8-11

Judgment is a very tricky subject.

Christians often confuse discernment and judgment. Discernment is to see, to understand, or to know. Judgment is to pass a verdict or a sentence. You can discern without passing judgment.

One sentence from today’s reading caused me to meditate on judgment.

“After this David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and David took Metheg-ammah out of the hand of the Philistines.” – 2 Samuel 8:1

Who judges who? And, how does who judge you?

WHO IS DAVID?

David means beloved. He is the king chosen by God, not because of his outward appearance but because of his heart. David was a man after, that is seeking, God’s own heart. Therefore, David is a picture of Jesus.

WHO ARE THE PHILISTINES

The Philistines were from Philistia. Philistia comes from the Hebrew root word palash. It means to roll, to roll in dust, to roll about in mourning. Palash is used just four times in scripture.

Micah 1:10 says, “Tell it not in Gath; weep not at all; in Beth-le-aphrah roll your selves in the dust.” This is an interesting verse because, as we will see below, Gath was one the five major cities of the Philistines. Another reason this verse is interesting is the name Beth-le-aphrah, which means something like the house of dust, the house towards dust, or the house that strives toward dust.

Jeremiah 6:26 says, “O daughter of my people, put on sackcloth, and roll in ashes; make mourning as for an only son, most bitter lamentation, for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us.” While the verse is not about the Philistines, palash is still connected to rolling in ashes. Further, palash is connected to mourning for an only son, a bitter lamentation, and the destroyer suddenly coming upon those rolling in ashes.

Man was made from the dust of the earth. And, after Adam’s sin, man returns to dust of the earth when he dies. In Genesis 18:27, Abraham said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.”

So, the Philistines rolled about in dust and ashes. They were people of the earth. This is why the Philistines were ruled by five lords, which symbolized the Philistines as people controlled by their five natural senses.

Therefore, the Philistines were carnally minded. Notice what Paul says about the carnal mind in Romans 8:5-8, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…For to set the mind on the flesh is death…For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

WHAT IS METHEG-AMMAH?

The name Metheg-ammah means “bridle of the mother” or “bridle of bondage.”

The same account we are looking at in 2 Samuel 8:1 is found in 1 Chronicles 18:1, which says, “After David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and he took Gath and its villages out of the hand of the Philistines.”

So, we can see Gath as the mother city of the Philistine villages around it.

But, what is the bridle?

Gath means wine-press. So, Metheg-ammah, the bridle of the mother, is the wine-press of the Philistines. And, throughout the Bible, the wine-press is linked with judgment.

JESUS TOOK JUDGMENT FROM THE FLESH

So, in 2 Samuel, we see that David took judgment out of the hand of the Philistines. Therefore, this passage is a picture of Jesus taking judgment out of the hands of those that are of the flesh, those that are carnally minded.

In Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Jesus is not speaking of discernment here. Remember, discernment is to see, to understand, to know. Instead, he’s speaking of a final judgment of someone. The Greek word for pronounce, krino, means judge, pass judgment on, consider, separate. The word means to hold a view, to make a legal decision, to decide. Most importantly, krino carries the connotation of condemnation.

This statement from Jesus is recorded a little differently in Luke 6:37, which says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you not be condemned.”

Jesus in even says in John 8:15, “You judge according to the flesh.” To judge according to the flesh is pronounce a sentence of condemnation to death. Recall from above Romans 8:6, which says, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death. Therefore, when we judge others we judge them with a sentence of death.

But, Jesus took this type of judgment away from us. Romans 8:1, 5-6 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…But those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit…But to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

The word condemnation in Romans 8:1 comes from the same Greek word, krino, that we examined above. Therefore, there is no pronouncement of judgment for those who are in Christ Jesus. But, the word “for” is not in the Greek. It is assumed. And, we just as easily assume that the passage says, “There is therefore now no condemnation by those who are in Christ Jesus.” For, Jesus said, “Judge not.”

Instead of judging, condemning to death, we are to speak life and peace because we are in the Spirit. Let’s look at Luke 6:37 again, but this time I will quote the whole verse. “Judge not, and you not be judged; condemn not, and you not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

So, how does one in the Spirit, one who does not condemn someone to death, speak life and peace to someone?

Forgiveness.

Jesus took judgment from the hands of the flesh, from those that are carnally minded. He took away the judgment of condemnation to death.

THE FLESH PUT JUDGMENT ON JESUS

While the second part of 2 Samuel 8:1 says David took judgment “out of” the hand of the Philistines, there are alternatives for the Hebrew word translated “out of.” Alternatively, the second part of the verse could say that David took the judgment “because of” or “from” the hand of the Philistines. Therefore, instead of Jesus taking judgment away from the flesh, we could understand the spiritual meaning of this verse as the flesh putting judgment on Jesus.

During his trial in front of the high priest, scribes, and elders, the high priest declared that Jesus uttered blasphemy and said, “What is your judgment?” (Matthew 26:66) This is not the same word for judgment we saw above, but the word still means to think, to suppose, or to have an opinion. All those gathered answered, “He deserves death.” Just as the flesh does, the Jews pronounced a judgment of condemnation and death on Jesus.

In John 18, the Jews brought Jesus to Pilate, who symbolizes the ruler and all the people of this world. Pilate asked what the accusation was against Jesus? The Jews simply said that they would not have brought to Jesus to Pilate if he were not doing evil. In John 18:31, Pilate responded, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” Pilate uses the word krino for judgment, implying that he knew the Jews wanted to condemn Jesus to death.

While Pilate sought to release Jesus, the Jews convinced Pilate that he would be opposing Caesar if he did not do something about Jesus. John 19:13 says Pilate “brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat.” It was from there that Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified.

Therefore, both the Jews and the whole world, all flesh, passed judgment on Jesus, condemning him to death.

JESUS DEFEATED AND HUMBLED THE FLESH

When Jesus took the judgment of death out of, or received it from, the hands of the flesh, he defeated and humbled the flesh. This is what we see David doing when he defeated the Philistines and subdued them (the Hebrew word for subdued here also means humbled).

This brings to mind Peter’s first sermon in Acts. In Acts 2:23, Peter says, “You crucified and killed [Jesus] by the hands of lawless men.” Peter ends in his sermon in verse 36 by saying, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

God did not kill Jesus. Man killed Jesus because man judged Jesus according to the flesh, and the mind set on flesh is death. Therefore, the flesh is under the control of Satan since he is the one who has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14).

But, when the Jews, and any man thereafter, Peter was preaching to “heard this they were cut to the heart.” (Acts 2:37). In other words, they were subdued or humbled. This led to their repentance and their receiving the Holy Spirit, which yields a mind set on life and peace and not death.

WHAT IS THE JUDGMENT OF JESUS?

We know that the judgment of Jesus, the judgment of God, cannot bring death. Satan has the power of death. And, it is the carnal mind, the mind of the flesh, that is set on death and pronounces a judgment condemns one to death. However, as we saw above, there is no condemnation in Christ. There is no judgment of death in Jesus.

Also recall from above that Jesus told us to “judge not.” Generally, Jesus tells us to do or not to do something because that command or instruction is in accordance with the Father’s character.

In John 5:22, Jesus says, “For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.” Judge is the Greek word krino. The Father does not pass a judgment of condemnation to death on anyone.

While the Father does not give a judgment of condemnation to death, he does give the authority to judge to Jesus. However, in John 5:30, Jesus says, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Jesus cannot judge any differently than the Father because he judges as he hears. Therefore, Jesus cannot give a judgment of condemnation to death either.  Indeed in John 8:15, Jesus says, “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.” The flesh gives a judgment of condemnation to death. Jesus flat out says he does not give judgment that way.

In John 12:47, Jesus says, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” Jesus said it another way in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus does not pass judgement in a manner that condemns one to death.

Then, what is the judgement of Jesus?

First, let’s look at the context of Jesus’ statement in John 5:21 that “the Father judges no one.” In John 5:21-23, Jesus says, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that may honor the Son, just as the honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” Instead of passing judgment to death, the Father raises the dead to life. The Son also gives life.

Then, in John 5:26-29, Jesus says, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

We’ve already seen that God and Jesus’ judgment is not condemnation to death. They cannot do that because they both have life in themselves. Further, Jesus came not to judge, or to condemn to death, the world but to save it. So, whatever “the resurrection of judgment” that evil are raised to evil is to give them life and not bring to death.

Why would God even resurrect the evil just to pass a final condemnation to eternal death upon them? How would that cause anyone to honor Jesus just as they honor the Father?

Even though Jesus judges no one according to the flesh, he says in John 8:16, “Yet even I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.” So, Jesus does judge, but his judgment is true, or righteous.

How is the judgment of Jesus true and righteous?

The book of Ecclesiastes closes with, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

Paul says in Romans 2:16 that “according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

Where are these secrets that God judges by Jesus?

When Samuel was looking for a king to replace Saul, the Lord said to him, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Jesus says in John 7:24, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

Psalm 44:21 says that God “knows the secrets of the heart.”

Because he knows the secrets of the heart, God is able to judge them by Jesus. This happens when the church, Jesus’ body, is gathered together. According to 1 Corinthians 14:22, Paul says, “But if all prophesy, and un unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” Remember from above that the judgment of Jesus causes one to honor the son and the Father.

So, Jesus’ true and righteous judgment has to do the judgment of our hearts. Therefore, Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Again, this judgment of the heart by Jesus is not a condemnation to death. Jesus’ judgment is to separate the intentions of the heart – the pure from the impure, the clean from the unclean. When these are separate there is life. Christ will be all in all.

In the context of his judging on the last day, Jesus says in John 13:49-50, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” Jesus has a commandment from the Father to speak eternal life. Jesus only says what the Father says.

Jesus did just this on the cross when he suffered under the judgment of the flesh to the condemnation of death. During his judgment, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Forgiveness is the judgment of Jesus. This it the commandment of eternal life that he speaks. Notice that this judgment is not for the believer only. The judgment of forgiveness for all. Getting to eternal life may require a painful separation of soul and spirit, but the ultimate judgment has been declared to all.

Jesus’ judgment is you are forgiven.