Adam is Tested
In the next section (2:15-17) we read of God giving the man a straightforward command:
Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you may not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was an actual tree. It is not called a symbol and need not be seen as one. I agree with Merrill that we should not think of “good and evil” in this place as contrasting values so much as an idiom for comprehensive knowledge. Certainly, ethical knowledge would be included, since all knowledge bears an ethical stamp, but the innocence of our first parents does not at all lead us to think they were ignorant of the meanings of the terms “good” and “evil.” God is communicating meaningfully to Adam, not speaking over his head. Every word which God speaks to Adam presupposes his ability to receive and comprehend it. Thus, the expression “to freely eat” was just as well understood as the designation “every tree of the garden.” Again the warning “in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” was God speaking to a comprehending and responsive creature. He was not speaking into the air.
Because this is so I wish to re-emphasize the communicative aspect of revelation. Words which cannot be understood, either because the hearer does not have the tools to understand them, or because they lack the capacity for language itself, are very poor conveyers of meaning and intention. We cannot, without veering close to blasphemy, predicate such a thing of God. Adam and Eve understood God’s every word.
Although these verses refer to a prohibition, they in no case speak of a promise for obedience, or any Divine commitment to grant anything to the man and woman. There is no trace of covenantal language in this section. And any and every attempt to read a covenant into Genesis 2 (or 3) requires the interpreter to bring along far more speculative material than textual material to fill out the content of such a venture.
But then, why the prohibition? We are not told outright, but one reason which I find useful is to test and deepen the level of trust and love between the man and God. Sometimes in life we allow certain trusted friends to know more about us than we vouchsafe to others. We feel that they are able to understand who we are more deeply because a level of trust has been reached which was not present at the start of our friendship. Seen like this, God’s warning and testing of Adam was a means of developing the relationship and of teaching Adam more about God as Lord. It was a test of friendship as much as a test of obedience.
Adam under God’s Instruction
Genesis 2:18-25 features two episodes in which Adam names those brought to him by God. At first sight the two episodes don’t appear to be related at all. In fact, the second one; the naming of the animals, almost seems to cut across the first: the problem of the man’s solitariness. But as the passage is pondered it becomes apparent that what is happening is that the Lord is using the exercise of describing the animals to teach the man about his own situation. It is noticeable that God does not simply inform the man directly that he does not have a helper and companion. He sets Adam a course of study through which Adam himself arrives at that conclusion. Thus, under the guidance of his God, Adam was coming to knowledge through reflecting on what he was encountering in God’s world. I have no doubt that this is the way all our knowledge (as scientia) was to be gained and used; that is to say, knowledge gained either listening directly to what the Creator said about His world, or indirectly through the process of accruing knowledge by examining and reflecting upon the world under God’s tutelage. Today the only access to this tutelage is through believing God’s Word. Yet we remain hugely privileged. It has rightly been said: (more…)