16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
In these two trees, we have the whole of the Gospel. Before looking at these two trees and what they symbolize, I would like to go back and take another look at Genesis 1:2. “Now the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.” What we have in Genesis 1:2 is a chiastic structure. A chiastic structure is a form in literature where two things are being compared to one another. In the case of Genesis 1:2, we have the face of the deep being compared with the waters, and the darkness being compared with the ruach (Spirit). The question to ask is this: are they being likened to one another, or opposites?
Simple logic would say that the deeps are being likened to the waters, therefore the darkness is being likened to the Spirit of God. Now, lets take a moment and break down this Hebrew phrase ruach elohim merachepheth. The verb is merachepheth. It is a piel participle of rachaph. Rachaph means to relax, the piel conjugation simply meaning that we intensify the verb. This particular verb is only found in the piel participle one other time in Scripture: Deuteronomy 32:11. “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions…” Notice here that the verb is being compared with a stirring up of the young.
The verb, scholars say, denotes an intense vibration. However, lets not lose the fact that it comes from the root rachaph, which means “to relax.” There is something about the Spirit of God being at rest that caused for an intense vibration. My question is this: what was vibrating? Is it possible that the vibrations weren’t from the Spirit, but instead from the creation? Obviously the verb is supposed to be describing the Spirit, but what if this is a better description of what the Hebrew word ruach is? Ruach is used in relationship to God, and only God. It is His Spirit, but it is sometimes translated as breath or wind. This movement of air, whether by breath or wind, might actually give us a clue.
I find it much more satisfying to translate this passage as “the Divine Essence (Spirit) stirred up the waters.” Now, I want you to remember the whole verse. “Darkness was upon the face of the deep.” So, what is being compared is still the Spirit with darkness. That isn’t to say that God is darkness, but to say that there is a positive relationship between God and darkness. I think we’ve all felt formlessness, emptiness, and darkness. We’ve all felt the sensation of, “If God exists, then why would He allow this?”
It is precisely in those moments that we find the “Spirit stirs up the creation.” What is being spoken here is an intense poetry. Every Christian can give their testimony of how God has helped them through even the darkest and most chaotic moments in life. This is the positive relationship between God and darkness. Even though He cloaks Himself in darkness, and speaks out of the cloud of thick darkness, He doesn’t leave us there without stirring up those deeps and saying from the inside out, “Let there be…”
Now, when we get to Genesis 2:16-17, we need to keep in mind that those two trees represent the two opposites mentioned in Genesis 1:2. Though darkness and the Spirit are being likened to one another, God is still light. In Him there is no darkness. In order for God to have fellowship with His creation, He has had to clothe Himself in darkness. We cannot see Him in full unadulterated splendor and live. But the darkness is not permanent. In Revelation 21-22, we find that there is no darkness. So there is a glory still to come where we will see God as He is, and we will not be harmed.
These two trees represent the clash between choosing to serve in that final Kingdom without darkness, and desiring to have our own thoughts and opinions outside of God. To take of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is to say, “I can decide this on my own. I have freewill, and God gave me a good enough mind to come to my own conclusions.” At the center of what these two trees represent, we find the heart of all of our disputes in Christendom. Do we come to conclusions because of philosophy, intellect, or some other form? Or do we wait until Divine inspiration inserts the correct understanding into our hearts?
I know a lot of information. I have a good understanding of what the Bible says. But I could not tell you what my opinion is on whether we ought to follow the Law. My wife tells me all the time what it means to observe the Law, and how much we’re required to keep, and that if I really want to know, I should just look to the words of Jesus. But there is a difference between mental ascent and revelation. I can mentally go through the doctrine and Scriptures and come to a pretty good conclusion. In fact, I have done that. But there is knowing and knowing. There is taking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and thus having an opinion and an understanding. Then there is taking of the tree of life, and because of the revelation of Christ, I am changed in the deepest parts of who I am.
What is it that you are content with? Are you content with a knowledge simply because you took a class, got a degree, studied it out for yourself, etc? Or is there something in you that says “deep calls unto deep,” and until I know deeply, I don’t truly know? This one thing alone will actually set you free from almost every deception. There is a phrase in the New Testament that actually expresses this concept perfectly: “A love of the truth.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:10, we read that the only thing to keep us from deception and strong delusion is a love of the truth. That love is something deeper than a respect. We don’t subscribe to doctrines, but desire the reality in the inner parts of who we are.
These two trees are two value systems. What do you desire more? Do you desire intimacy with God, or knowledge about God? Do you desire life or knowledge? The latter will come, but it only comes when God has shared His knowledge. If God doesn’t share, and instead hides from us this or that understanding, we don’t go to seek understanding on our own, but we rest in the fact that we aren’t required to at this time know and understand. When that serpent comes to say, “I know something you don’t know!” we respond with, “So?”
It isn’t for me to know everything, and I thank God for it. The darkness upon the face of the deep is something that is difficult to wade through, but I’m not alone. I might not understand it now, but when I get through it, I’ll be able to look back and see that God has been redeeming every moment.