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Genesis 2:15–17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
15 And Jehovah God took the man and set him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it. 16 And Jehovah God commanded the man, saying, “From every tree of the garden you may freely eat, 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”
- נוּחַ rest, dwell. עָבַד work, till, serve. שָׁמַר keep, guard.
We have here the education of man summed up in a single sentence. Let us endeavor to unfold the great lessons that are here taught.
Gen. 15. Jehovah God took the man. The same omnipotent hand that made him still held him. And put him into the garden. The original word is “caused him to rest,” or dwell in the garden as an abode of peace and recreation. To dress it and to keep it. The plants of nature, left to their own course, may degenerate and become wild through the poverty of the soil on which they alight or the gradual exhaustion of a once rich soil. Therefore, the hand of rational man has its appropriate sphere in preparing and enriching the soil, distributing the seeds, and training the shoots in the way most favorable for the full development of the plant, especially of its seed or fruits. This “dressing” was needed even in the garden. The “keeping” of it may refer to the guarding of it by enclosure from the depredations of the cattle, the wild beasts, or even the smaller animals. It also includes its faithful preservation as a trust committed to man by his bounteous Maker. There was now a man to till the soil. The second want of the world of plants was now supplied. Gardening was the first occupation of the first man.
NOTE: After the fall of Adam and Eve, humans were mentally bent toward evil (Gen. 6:5; 8:21), having an unknowable treacherous heart (Jer. 17:9), with a natural inclination toward bad (Rom. 2, 5, and 7) In other words, for man to sin after the flood is like rowing downstream on the fastest current in the world. However, before the flood, it would be very difficult for Adam or Eve to sin, like rowing upstream on the strongest current in the world. Adam and Eve were given a moral compass that was perfect. After their fall, we inherited sin (missing the mark of perfection), old age, and death. Humans still are born with a measure of the moral compass that Adam and Eve had, but not perfect like they had, which was self-sustaining on their part. If the imperfect moral compass is ignored, it will become calloused, unfeeling, failing to warn of good and bad, right and wrong. It needs constant cultivation by an in-depth study of God’s Word.
Gen. 16, 17. And Jehovah God commanded the man, saying. This is a pregnant sentence. It involves the first principles of our intellectual and moral philosophy.
First. The command here given in words brings into activity the intellectual nature of man. 1st. The power of understanding language is called forth. The command here addressed to him by his Maker is totally different from the blessings addressed to the animals in the preceding chapter. It was not necessary that these blessings be understood to be carried into effect, inasmuch as He who pronounced them gave the instincts and powers requisite to their accomplishment. But this command addressed to man in words must be understood in order to be obeyed. The capacity for understanding language was originally lodged in the constitution of man, and only required to be called out by the articulate voice of God. Still there is something wonderful here, something beyond the present grasp and promptitude of human apprehension. If we except the blessing, which may not have been heard, or may not have been uttered before this command, these words were absolutely the first that man heard. The significance of the sentences they formed must have been at the same time conveyed to man by immediate divine teaching. How the lesson was taught in an instant of time we cannot explain, though we have a distant resemblance of it in an infant learning to understand its mother tongue. This process, indeed, goes over a space of two years; but still there is an instant in which the first conception of a sign is formed, the first word is apprehended, the first sentence is understood. In that instant, the knowledge of language is virtually attained. With man, created at once in his full though undeveloped powers and still unaffected by any moral taint, this instant came with the first words spoken to his ear and to his soul by his Maker’s impressive voice, and the first lesson of language was at once thoroughly taught and learned. Man is now master of the theory of speech; the conception of a sign has been conveyed into his mind. This is the passive lesson of elocution: the practice, the active lesson, will speedily follow.
Not only the secondary part, however, but at the same time the primary and fundamental part of man’s intellectual nature is here developed. The understanding of the sign necessarily implies the knowledge of the thing signified. The objective is represented here by the “trees of the garden.” The subjective comes before his mind in the pronoun “thou.” The physical constitution of man appears in the process of “eating.” The moral part of his nature comes out in the significance of the words “mayest” and “shalt not.” The distinction of merit in actions and things is expressed in the epithets “good and evil.” The notion of reward is conveyed in the terms “life” and “death.” And, lastly, the presence and authority of “the Lord God” is implied in the very nature of a command. Here is at least the opening of a wide field of observation for the nascent powers of the mind. He, indeed, must bear the image of God in perceptive powers, who shall scan with heedful eye the loftiest as well as the lowest in these varied scenes of reality. But as with the sign, so with the thing signified, a glance of intelligence instantaneously begins the converse of the susceptible mind with the world of reality around, and the enlargement of the sphere of human knowledge is merely a matter of time without end. How rapidly the process of apprehension would go on in the opening dawn of man’s intellectual activity, how many flashes of intelligence would be compressed into a few moments of his first consciousness, we cannot tell. But we can readily believe that he would soon be able to form a just yet an infantile conception of the varied themes which are presented to his mind in this brief command.
Thus the susceptible part of man’s intellect is evoked. The conceptive part will speedily follow and display itself in the many inventions that will be sought out and applied to the objects which are placed at his disposal.
Second. 1st. Next, the moral part of man’s nature is here called into play. Mark God’s mode of teaching. He issues a command. This is required in order to bring forth into consciousness the hitherto latent sensibility to moral obligation which was laid in the original constitution of man’s being. A command implies a superior, whose right it is to command, and an inferior, whose duty it is to obey. The only ultimate and absolute ground of supremacy is creating, and of inferiority, being created. The Creator is the only proper and entire owner; within legitimate bounds, the owner has the right to do what he will with his own. Therefore, the laying on of this command brings man to the recognition of his dependence for being and the character of that being on his Maker. From the knowledge of the fundamental relation of the creature to the Creator springs an immediate sense of the obligation he is under to render implicit obedience to the Author of his being. This is, therefore, man’s first lesson in morals. It calls up in his breast the sense of duty, of right, of responsibility. These feelings could not have been elicited unless the moral susceptibility had been laid in the soul and only waited for the first command to awaken it into consciousness. This lesson, however, is only the command’s incidental effect, not the primary ground of its imposition.
2d. The special mandate here given is not arbitrary in its form, as is sometimes hastily supposed, but absolutely essential to the legal adjustment of things in this new stage of creation. Antecedent to the behest of the Creator, the only indefeasible right to all the creatures lay in himself. These creatures may be related to one another. In the great system of things, through the wonderful wisdom of the grand Designer, the use of some may be needful to the well-being, the development, and perpetuation of others. Nevertheless, no one has a shadow of right in the original nature of things to the use of any other. And when a moral agent comes upon the stage of being, in order to mark out the sphere of his legitimate action, an explicit declaration of the rights over other creatures granted and reserved must be made. The very issue of the command proclaims man’s original right of property to be, not inherent but derived.
Genesis 2:17 BDC: Why did Adam and Eve not die in the day that they ate of the fruit from the forbidden tree?
As might be expected in these circumstances, the command has two clauses,—a permissive and a prohibitive. “Of every tree of the garden thou mayst freely eat.” This displays in conspicuous terms the benignity of the Creator. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat.” This signalizes the absolute right of the Creator over all the trees, and over man himself. One tree only is withheld, which, whatever were its qualities, was at all events not necessary to the well-being of man. All the others that were likely for sight and good for food, including the tree of life, are made over to him by free grant. In this original provision for the vested rights of man in creation, we cannot but acknowledge the generous and considerate bounty of the Creator with gratitude and humility. This is not more conspicuous in the bestowment of all the other trees than in the withholding of the one, the participation of which was fraught with evil to mankind.
3d. The prohibitory part of this enactment is not a matter of indifference, as is sometimes imagined, but indispensable to the nature of a command, and, in particular, of a permissive act or declaration of granted rights. Every command has a negative part, expressed or implied, without which there would be no command. The command, “Go work today in my vineyard,” implies thou shalt not do anything else; otherwise, the son who works not obeys as well as the son who works. The present address of God to Adam, without the exceptive clause, would be a mere license, and not a command. But with the exceptive clause it is a command, and tantamount in meaning to the following positive injunction: Thou mayest eat of these trees only. An edict of license with a restrictive clause is the mildest form of command that could have been imposed for the trial of human obedience. Some may have thought that it would have been better for man if there had been no tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But second thoughts will correct this rash and wrong conclusion. 1st. This tree may have had other purposes to serve in the economy of things we are unaware of; if so, it could not have been absent without detriment to the general good. 2d. But without any supposition, the tree was fraught with no evil to man in itself. It was in the first instance the instrument of great good, of the most precious kind, to him. It served the purpose of calling up into view out of the depths of his nature the notion of moral obligation, with all the kindred notions of the inherent authority of the Creator and the innate subordination of himself, the creature, of the aboriginal right of the Creator alone in all the creatures, and the utter absence of any right, in himself to any other creature whatsoever. The command concerning this tree thus set his moral convictions agoing and awakened in him the new and pleasing consciousness that he was a moral being, and not a mere clod of the valley or brute of the field. This is the first thing this tree did for man; and we shall find it would have done a still better thing for him if he had only made a proper use of it. 3d. The absence of this tree would not at all have secured Adam from the possibility or the consequence of disobedience. Any grant to him whatsoever must have been made with the reserve, implicit or explicit, of the rights of all others. The thing reserved must in equity have been made known to him. In the present course of things it must have come in his way, and his trial would have been inevitable, and therefore his fall possible. Now, the forbidden tree is merely the thing reserved. Besides, even if man had been introduced into a sphere of existence where no reserved tree or other thing could ever have come within the range of his observation, and so no outward act of disobedience could have been perpetrated, still, as a being of moral susceptibility, he must come to the acknowledgment, express or implied, of the rights of the heavenly crown, before a mutual good understanding could have been established between him and his Maker. Thus we perceive that even in the impossible Utopia of metaphysical abstraction there is a virtual forbidden tree which forms the test of a man’s moral relation to his Creator. Now, if the reserve be necessary, and therefore the test of obedience inevitable, to a moral being, it only remains to inquire whether the test employed be suitable and seasonable.
4th. That which is here made the matter of reserve, and so the test of obedience, is so far from being trivial or out of place, as has been imagined, that it is the proper and the only object immediately available for these purposes. The immediate want of man is food. The kind of food primarily designed for him is the fruit of trees. Grain, the secondary kind of vegetable diet, is the product of the farm rather than of the garden and therefore does not now come into use. As the law must be laid down before man proceeds to an act of appropriation, the matter of reserve and consequent test of obedience is the fruit of a tree. Only by this can man at present learn the lessons of morality. To devise any other means not arising from the actual state of things in which man was placed would have been arbitrary and unreasonable. The immediate sphere of obedience lies in the circumstances in which he actually stands. These afforded no occasion for any other command than that which is given. Adam had no father, or mother, or neighbor, male or female, and therefore the second table of the law could not apply. But he had a relation to his Maker, and legislation on this could not be postponed. The command assumes the kindest, most intelligible, and most convenient form for the infantile mind of first man.
5th. We are now prepared to understand why this tree is called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The prohibition of this tree brings man to the knowledge of good and evil. The products of creative power were all very good (Gen. 1:31). Even this tree itself is good, and productive of unspeakable good in the first instance to man. The discernment of merit comes up in his mind by this tree. Obedience to the command of God not to partake of this tree is a moral good. Disobedience to God by partaking of it is a moral evil. When we have formed an idea of a quality, we have at the same time an idea of its contrary. By the command concerning this tree man became possessed of the conceptions of good and evil, and so, theoretically, acquainted with their nature. This was that first lesson in morals of which we have spoken. It is quite evident that this knowledge could not be any physical effect of the tree, seeing its fruit was forbidden. It is obvious also that evil is as yet known in this fair world only as the negative of good. Hence the tree is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because by the command concerning it man comes to this knowledge.
6th. In the day that you eat from it you shall surely die. [Lit dying you [singular] shall die. Heb moth tamuth; the first reference to death in the Scriptures] The divine command is accompanied with its awful sanction,—death. The man could not have any practical knowledge of the physical dissolution called death at this time. (So says James G. Murphy) Edward D. Andrews would disagree; see his note below. We must, therefore, suppose either that God made him preternaturally acquainted with it, or that he conveyed to him the knowledge of it simply as the negation of life. The latter hypothesis is to be preferred for several reasons. First, it is the more economical mode of instruction. Such knowledge may be imparted to man without anticipating experience. He was already conscious of life as a pure blessing. He was therefore capable of forming an idea of its loss. And death in the physical sense of the cessation of animal life and the disorganization of the body, he would come to understand in due time by experience. Secondly, death in reference to man is regarded in Scripture much more as the privation of life in the sense of a state of favor with God and consequent happiness than as the mere cessation of animal life (Gen. 28:13; Exod. 3:6; Matt. 22:32).
NOTE: The days were not literal 24 hours but creative days. Animals were not given eternal life, so Adam would have seen animals age and die, meaning he understood old age and death.—Andrews.
Genesis 1:1 BDC: Is the earth only 6,000 to 10,000 years old? Are the creative days literally, only 24 hours long?
Thirdly, the presence and privilege of the tree of life would enable man to see how easily he could be deprived of life, especially when he began to drink in its life-sustaining juices and feel the flow of vitality rushing through his veins and refreshing his whole physical nature. Take away this tree, and with all the other resources of nature, he cannot but eventually droop and die. Fourthly, the man would thus regard his exclusion from the tree of life as the earnest of the sentence which would come to its fulness when the animal frame would at length sink down under the wear and tear of life like the beasts that perish. Then would ensue to the dead but perpetually existing soul of man the total privation of all the sweets of life and the experience of all the ills of penal death. Andrews: man did not possess a soul; he is a soul. Genesis 2:7 explicitly states this, “Then Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
EXCURSION BIBLE DIFFICULTY
What is the punishment for sin here? What is the punishment for rebellion here? Was there some footnote that added eternal torment? Why would God hold back eternal torment from Adam? Was it just/right to not inform Adam of eternal torment?
Was the serpent [Satan] right, saying God was withholding knowledge from Adam and Eve? Or, maybe … it was exactly as God said. “you eat from it you shall surely die.”
Ezekiel 18:4 Updated American Standard Version
4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.
Romans 6:23 Updated American Standard Version
23 For the wages of sin is death
- What Does the Bible Really Say About Hellfire – Eternal Torment?
- What Did Jesus Teach About Hell?
- Is Hellfire Part of Divine Justice?
- Is the Hellfire Doctrine Truly Just?
- The Bible’s Viewpoint of Death
END OF EXCURSION
Third. Man has here evidently become acquainted with his Maker. On the hearing and understanding of this sentence, at least, if not before, he has arrived at the knowledge of God as existing, thinking, speaking, permitting, commanding, and thereby exercising all the prerogatives of that absolute authority over men and things which creation alone can give. If we were to draw all this out into distinct propositions, we should find that man was here furnished with a whole system of theology, ethics, and metaphysics, in a brief sentence. It may be said that we need not suppose all this conveyed in the sentence before us. But, at all events, all this is implied in the few words here recorded to have been addressed to Adam, and there was not much time between his creation and his location in the garden for conveying any preliminary information. We may suppose the substance of the narrative contained in Gen. 1:2-3, to have been communicated to him in due time. But it could not be all conveyed yet, as we are only in the sixth day, and the record in question reaches to the end of the seventh. It was not, therefore, composed until after that day had elapsed.
It is to be noticed here that God reserves to himself the administration of the divine law. This was absolutely necessary at the present stage of affairs, as man was but an individual subject, and not yet spread out into a multitude of people. Civil government was not formally constituted till after the deluge.
We can hardly overestimate the benefit, in the rapid development of his mind, which Adam thus derived from the presence and converse of his Maker. If no voice had struck his ear, no articulate sentence had reached his intellect, no authoritative command had penetrated his conscience, no perception of the Eternal Spirit had been presented to his apprehension, he might have been long in the mute, rude, and imperfectly developed state which has sometimes been ascribed to the first man. But suppose contact with a highly accomplished master and a highly polished state of society makes all the difference between the savage and the civilized. What instantaneous expansion and elevation of the primitive mind, while yet in its virgin purity and unimpaired power, must have resulted from free converse with the all-perfect mind of the Creator himself! To the clear eye of native genius a starting idea is a whole science. By the insinuation of a few fundamental and germinant notions into his mind, Adam shot up at once into the full height and compass of a master spirit prepared to scan creation and adore the Creator.
By James G. Murphy and Edward D. Andrews
- Edward D Andrews, BIBLE DIFFICULTIES: How to Approach Difficulties In the Bible, Christian Publishing House. 2020.
- Edward D. Andrews, INTERPRETING THE BIBLE: Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, Christian Publishing House, 2016.
- Gleason L. Archer, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan’s Understand the Bible Reference Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982).
- Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., “Appearance,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988).
- Hermann J. Austel, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999).
- Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).
- James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
- John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, vol. 1-4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989).
- John F. MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
- Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).
- Thomas Howe; Norman L. Geisler. Big Book of Bible Difficulties, The: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. Kindle Edition.
- Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Chronology, Old Testament,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988).
- W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996).