Most of us know that in the Garden of Eden there were two trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. And because we know that the Tree of Life is good and represents God’s Son, we usually conclude that the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil is bad. Being prompted to go deeper and find out more about this, I discovered that knowledge is very rarely spoken of in negative terms in the Scriptures. God said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6) and we are told to value and search for it (Prov. 2:1-6). The Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil is not mentioned again after Genesis, so I went back to look at the beginning….
We are told that everything that God made and placed in that garden was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Presumably that included the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil because the Bible does not state otherwise, instead it says, “And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” That challenged my understanding, as I had always thought of this tree as being “evil”, because I thought it represented my knowledge of good and evil.
However, instead of saying that the Tree of Knowledge represented our knowledge, the Bible seems to suggest that it represented God’s knowledge of good and evil. He said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil,” and even the enemy said, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil“. Doesn’t that sound as though this knowledge was God’s, that this was HIS knowledge rather than our own?
The fact of the matter is that relying on our own understanding and knowledge is simply our nature; we don’t have to eat that fruit, we simply ARE it! Without even thinking, we accept our own knowledge of good and evil all the time. But this Tree is not about MY knowledge, I wasn’t in the Garden of Eden, but God was. It represents HIS Knowledge.
The Tree of Knowledge
Some people have taken out the word “knowledge” and think of this Tree as being the “tree of good and evil”. But this is the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. That word for “knowledge” in the Hebrew means perception, discernment, understanding, wisdom… and Christ is our Wisdom: “Christ Jesus has become for us Wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30), “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). My knowledge must now come from a new source: Christ as the Tree of Knowledge! This Knowledge is not a thing that can be apprehended mentally, this Knowledge is a Person who is KNOWN, just as the Tree of Life is a Person we live through. The knowledge/perception that comes from knowing what is good or bad is something personal and something that cannot be given to another.
This begs the question of why God prohibited Adam and Eve from eating from this Tree in the first place. Why did He tell Adam that he would die (spiritually) on the day that he ate that fruit? Perhaps because he would have been accessing the Knowledge of God without having first eaten/assimilated His Life, therefore it would bring death. What is another term for knowing what is right and wrong, good and evil? The Law! This explains why eating that fruit brought death, “since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). It also explains why God then gave the Law; it had all become legal instead of relational, they had chosen the Law over Life. And so Christ came to fulfill the Law and bring Life. Knowledge without Life, even a perfect knowledge of what is right and wrong, brings death; just written words (head knowledge, the law) kills, but the Spirit brings Life (2 Cor. 3:6).
It may also have been an issue of timing; God may have wanted Adam to choose to eat from the Tree of Life before sharing with him His Knowledge/Discernment of good and evil. You cannot know God intimately until you first have His Life in you, until you have been birthed into His Family. You can’t have any real knowledge of what your Father likes and dislikes and considers to be good or evil, unless you have been born (brought to Life) as His child and live with Him!
Neither the Law, nor the Tree of Knowledge, were the problem in the Garden of Eden; the problem was in man and still is…
“The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh.” (Rom. 7:12-14). Over and over in the Bible we are told that the Law (the instruction) of God is good, holy, and right, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” (Psalm 19:7). Today we seem to have lost sight of this. Jesus said that He did not come to do away with the Law, but to perfectly fulfill it (Matt. 5:17).
Our Father in His wisdom does not trust just anyone with His Knowledge and revelation; too many would serve themselves with it. Instead, knowledge and revelation are linked with intimate relationship in Life; the deeper the relationship, the deeper the revelation and knowledge. Jesus loved His disciples, yet He revealed more of Himself and His heart to those who knew Him intimately. Only three were close to Him, with only one being the closest…. It was all about relationship then, and still is now. Even in our human relationships we do not reveal much of who we are to people we don’t know very well; the fullest revelation and knowledge is reserved for those we know and trust. And because of our respect and love in the relationship, we do not reveal all that we know about them to others (2 Cor. 12:1-4).
In the Garden of Eden it was not the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil that was the problem; it was the fact that Adam and Eve didn’t believe or trust God. Their unbelief and distrust was an offence and violation in God’s eyes and caused the break in their relationship with Him.
Most of us are very good at blame shifting: Adam blamed God, Eve blamed the enemy, and today we blame the Tree of Knowledge and vilify it and think it was the problem instead of us being the problem! The fact is that Adam and Eve chose to trust themselves and their own knowledge and judgment before they ever took one bite of that fruit. Their suspicions had been aroused, “Did God really say…?” They no longer believed or trusted God. If they had trusted God instead of themselves, they would never have done what He had told them not to do.
I see myself right there. We make our own judgments based on our knowledge all the time, and they are usually wrong. So often I trust in what I see and think I know is right or wrong (my knowledge) instead of searching and asking God for His Knowledge and then believing what He shows me. This was the big issue for the Israelites in the wilderness, their unbelief prevented them from entering into the Promised Land of Rest (symbolising Christ): “We see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter His rest” (Heb. 3:16). Just as the Israelites died in the wilderness, so Adam and Eve were sent from the garden and from His Rest to a comparative wilderness where they would have to work and labour until they too died. Because of their unbelief they were not allowed to eat from the Tree of Life.
The issue of trust and belief is important in any relationship, and clearly God values it: “I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered His people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 1:5). This belief is not merely mental assent of something you believe to be true, but the kind of belief in your heart that makes you trust and have faith no matter what. When you think about it, not trusting God makes NO sense at all! HE is in control of this universe; He created us, loves us, and knows us! So why on earth do we not trust Him? Simply because each of us grows up believing a lie: that we can trust ourselves and our knowledge, and that we know what is best for ourselves. We basically believe that we are God – the lie that was introduced in the Garden of Eden. It is only when God Himself shatters this illusion that we can begin to see rays of Truth bursting through: He is in control, I am not. He can change things, I cannot. He knows what is best, I do not. My knowledge is totally redundant.
The Two Trees
So there were two trees in the garden… and those two trees go together, it is a Law of Life! When we eat the fruit of the Tree of Life (Christ), we also need to eat from God’s Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, because if we go by our own knowledge of good and evil, we just get it wrong all the time. Not only is it impossible for us to keep the laws of God, it is also impossible for us to know what is good and what is evil unless we have Christ’s Life and Knowledge. There are many instances in the Bible where God broke His own laws, the prime example being Jesus Himself breaking the Sabbath and many other laws, because HIS Knowledge, and His Law is perfect and transcends our understanding of it! And I am not thinking of the Law as commands or rules that must be obeyed, I am thinking of God’s Perfect Law as summed up and fulfilled in Christ (Matt. 5:17,18) Who has given us a new “law”, the Law of Life, Love and Liberty! “Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in Him are made right with God.” (Rom. 10:4). It is about belief, trust and faith in the heart, and not about what we do or don’t do according to external laws and rules. This Knowledge is not about knowing and following the rules in your head, but knowing and following the Man in your heart!
Accepting and eating God’s Knowledge of good and evil is vital, because in and of ourselves, we don’t have a clue. Yet many treat this Tree of Knowledge with disdain saying, “don’t judge, don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. But if you don’t accept God’s Knowledge of good and evil, then you will either rely on your own incorrect knowledge, or compromise and accept anything and everything. The very nature of God – which is holiness – separates, sets apart, distinguishes and judges between what He knows is good or evil.
Often judging and discerning are put in the “too hard basket” because we have to seek Wisdom and rely on the Spirit of Life and the Spirit of the Knowledge of God in order to discern and judge correctly. If you just say “you must not judge” that makes it so much easier, but that is going back to using a law instead of depending on Life! The law becomes “you must not judge” instead of spending time asking Christ for His Knowledge and discernment in each situation. People often use the plank in the eye example for not judging, but seem to miss the fact that Jesus went on to say, “first get the beam of timber out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the tiny particle out of your brother’s eye”. He wasn’t saying don’t judge at all, but deal with yourself first, and then you will be able to judge/see clearly and help your friend.
Due to this mindset that the knowledge of good and evil is bad, many just reject knowledge altogether and so reject judging and discerning. Consequently, today there is an awful mixture of good and evil, truth and error, and a lack of knowledge and discernment.
God’s people are destroyed just as Hosea prophesied (Hos. 4:6) and as Isaiah also prophesied: “My people have gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge.”
Light to See
We desperately need the Life and Knowledge of God summed up in His Son Jesus Christ. After Father had shown me these things, He then brought me across these words written many years ago by T. Austin-Sparks which I found very encouraging (italics are mine):
“Who can fail to see that this garden is a type of Christ! Is He not the tree of life? Is He not the river of life? Is He not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Is not such knowledge in a secret way bound up with Him, to the end that through Him it should be known? Are not the deepest secrets of God concerning good and evil bound up in the mystery of the person of Christ? He is the fruit. He is the health. He is the nourishment. In a word, He is the sum of the knowledge of the glory of God. Christ is set forth in type by that garden….
“God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, planted a tree of life, open to man, and a tree of light (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) which, while man was under probation, was kept from him, under a prohibition. It is well to remember that true light only comes along the line of the obedience of faith. It was not that God was withholding essential knowledge from man, but was testing him as to his faith in Himself, and as to his obedience of faith…. The knowledge must be living, must be linked with life. You can eat of the ‘tree of knowledge’ – I mean that other tree of knowledge, the knowledge of the Lord, of heavenly things – but even so, you must have the “tree of life” to keep the balance. Knowledge and life correspond, go together.” (from Spiritual Maturity – Chapter 3).
I was very interested that he referred to the Tree of Knowledge as the Tree of Light, “The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:8). God’s Knowledge gives insight and enables us to see what we could not see before. I am not thinking for one moment of head knowledge or “knowledge” that we accumulate from others. That is man’s knowledge, not God’s Knowledge. I am talking about first hand experiential knowledge, the full, correct knowledge (epignosis) of Christ that changes you from the inside out because it is the knowledge, perception and insight that comes from intimate relationship! This Knowledge enables you to say, “I have SEEN!” It is the eyes of our hearts being enlightened (2 Cor. 4:6, Eph. 1:18).
It is only when we have seen something for ourselves that we then have real knowledge that can be recounted to others. You cannot describe the breathtaking awe of Niagara Falls until you yourself have stood within two feet of that enormous volume of water cascading over the edge. And even after recounting what you have seen for yourself, you cannot make another see it unless they too go and see for themselves. Then they will know… because they too have seen! Seeing is something intensely personal, just as knowledge is. I can tell you what I have seen and know of Christ, but that cannot compare with the delight and depth of knowledge you experience when you too see, hear and know Him for yourself. May each of us see and know for ourselves how beyond words and beyond our knowledge Christ Jesus is!
This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God. Phil. 1:9-11