Man's Privilege and Duty in the Garden: Part 2 of 2 (series: Lessons on Genesis)
by John Lowe
God did more than simply exert His authority by stipulating to him what he should do; He confirmed His desire to continue Adam’s present happiness by granting him this freedom, “Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat.” Thus He showed partiality by giving him the delicious fruits of paradise, as a reward for his care and labor in dressing and keeping it—“Who ever serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating its produce? Or who shepherds a flock without using some of the milk from the flock?...or is he not really speaking for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope, and the thresher in hope of receiving a share” (1 Co. 9:7, 10; NABWRNT). Everyone has the right to expect remuneration for his labors, and that is supported by natural law. Whoever heard of a soldier who went to war by paying his own way? The same is true for the owner of a vineyard, or a flock of sheep. They have the right to expect to be supported by the vocation to which they devote themselves. It is only natural and right, but more than that, it is scriptural that one should expect profit from his labors.
God has given Adam an assurance of immortal life, upon his obedience, because the tree of life was put in the midst of the garden (v. 9); it was the heart and soul of it, and no doubt God had it in mind when He made this concession; and therefore, when Adam revolted, God cancelled this grant. But still, no tree of the garden was prohibited to him, except the tree of life—“Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Gen 3:22; NKJV). If Adam had eaten the fruit from this tree he might have lived for ever, that is, never died, or ever lost his happiness. The rule is still in force: “Continue holy as thou art, in conformity to thy Creator’s will, and thou shalt continue happy as thou art in the enjoyment of thy Creator’s favor, either in this paradise or in a better.” Accordingly, Adam was sure of paradise for himself and his heirs forever, upon the condition of maintaining perfect personal obedience. It was not God’s original intention for man to die, but man is now put on probation. You see, man has a free will, and privilege always creates responsibility. This is a true statement that goes without saying. This man who is given a free will must be given a test to determine whether he will obey God or not.
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
God warned Adam, “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Just as the emphasis upon eating of “every tree” was indicated positively by the word “freely” (v. 16), so is the negative expressed by the strongest form of prohibition in the Hebrew language, “shalt,” as in the Ten Commandments. The results of eating are also expressed by a construction that relates the certainty of death (“in the day that thou eatest thou shalt certainly die”). The death depicted is not a physical death, but spiritual death which is a separation from God and this occurred on the day they ate the fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”—“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5; KJV). This is the first positive principle God gave to man; and it was given as a test of obedience, and a proof of his being in a dependent, probationary state. It was necessary that while God set him up as lord of this lower world, he knows that he was only God's vice-regent, and must be accountable to Him for how he uses his mental and physical powers, and for the use he made of the different creatures put under his care. Any man from whose mind the strong impression of this dependence and responsibility is erased, loses sight of his origin and purpose, and is capable of all kinds of wickedness. Since God is sovereign, he has a right to give to his creatures whatever commands he thinks proper. An intelligent creature, which does not have a law to regulate his conduct, is an absurdity; this would destroy his dependency and accountableness. Man must always feel that God is his sovereign, and act under his authority, which he cannot do unless he has rules to govern his conduct. God gave Adam this rule, but it doesn’t matter what the rule is, as long as obedience to it is not beyond the powers of the creature that is to obey it. God says: There is a certain fruit-bearing tree; thou shalt not eat of its fruit; but you can eat all the other fruits, and they are all that you need, you may eat all you want of them. Didn’t He have an absolute right to say it? And wasn’t man bound to obey?
This was to be a test of Adam’s obedience, and failure meant the forfeiture of all his happiness: "But of the other tree which stood very near the tree of life (since they are both said to be in the midst of the garden), and which was called the “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” you cannot eat. It is as if he had said, "Adam, you are now placed on probation, you are in paradise, but be on your best behavior and be obedient; otherwise you will be as miserable as you are now happy.” Observe:
1. Adam is threatened with death if he is disobedient to God’s command: “Thou shalt certainly die” indicates certain and dreadful consequence, just as, “thou mayest freely eat” denotes a free and full endowment. Observe—
a. Even Adam, in his state of innocence, was frightened by this threat; fear is one of the sensations that will grip the soul and hold it. If he then needed this guard against sin, how much more do we need it now?
b. The penalty threatened is death: “Thou shalt certainly die”, that is, "Thou shalt be barred from the tree of life, and all the good and all the happiness that is associated with it; and thou shalt become vulnerable to death, and all the misery that precedes it.
c. This was threatened as the immediate consequence of sin: “In the day thou eatest, thou shalt die,” that is, "Thou shalt become mortal and capable of dying; the gift of immortality shall be canceled, and there will be nothing to defend you from the perpetual threat of death. Thou shalt hate death, like a criminal that is condemned to die (It was only because Adam was to be the root of mankind, that He received a reprieve). Hereafter, yours shall be a dying life: and this is an established rule, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
2. Adam is tested with a well-defined law, not to eat of the fruit “of the tree of knowledge.” Now it was appropriate to test his obedience by such a command:
a. Because the rationale for it comes purely from the will of the Law-maker. Adam had in his nature a dislike for everything which was evil, and therefore he is tested by something which was evil only because it was forbidden; and, since it was such a small thing, it was well-suited to prove his obedience—
b. Because the restraint of self-control must defeat the desires of the flesh and of the mind, which, in the corrupt nature of man, are the two great fountains of sin. This prohibition must resist both his appetite for sensual pleasure and his curiosity for bizarre and intriguing knowledge, so that his body might be ruled by his soul and his soul by his God.
This very happy man was in a state of innocence, and he had all that heart could wish for, to keep him so. How good was God to him! How many favors did he did he lay on him! How easy was the rule he gave him! How kind was the covenant he made with him! Yet man, acting like he did not know what was good for him, soon became like the beasts that only want to satisfy their physical needs.
“For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” No reason is given for the prohibition, but death was to be the punishment for disobedience. A positive command like this was not only the simplest and easiest, but the only trial which would expose their faithfulness. Remember that man is a trinity, and he would have to die in a threefold way. Adam did not die physically until over nine hundred years after this, but God said, “In the day you eat, you shall die.” Death means separation, and Adam was separated from God spiritually the very day he ate, you may be sure of that.
Some expositors suggest that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was poison. On the contrary, I think it was the best fruit in the garden.