Trees are marvelous things, and they also teach us a great deal. Consider the Palm tree with its straightness, the grape tree or vine with its abundant and luscious harvest, or the olive tree, which is a tree of light and anointing. We remember that there were trees in the garden of God, trees that God himself planted. In fact, there were two special trees there.
In Genesis 2:9 we read these words: “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 knowledge of good and evil.” Let us take some time and consider these two trees in reverse order.
THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
The first tree we will speak of is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One may ask, what was good about such a tree? The old Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, answered this question by saying, “It was good not to eat of this tree.” The Micro Bible describes the tree in this manner: “…the tree that caused the people to know the difference between right and wrong.” We might even call it the tree of “hard knocks.” It is a tree of knowledge, but it is certainly not an advisable way to obtain our knowledge.
In many places, both in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, knowledge is praised as a thing to be greatly desired. However it was bad when man looked upon this tree of knowledge as his source for understanding and direction in life. Sometimes, it seems that we Christians do a similar thing with knowledge today. It even happens with biblical and theological knowledge. Any seminarian can understand the dryness and emptiness that comes with an overdose of theological knowledge. We can surely go to the same extreme in knowledge of Jewish studies, and even with the knowledge of Israel.
Today we are in a knowledge explosion which is moving so rapidly that probably few people understand its consequences. Terms that were scarcely heard a decade or so ago are now common household words. These are words like PC, CD-Rom, hard disc, Internet, web, etc. It is now possible to travel with a laptop computer and a pouch full of CD Roms that contain a larger library on disc than most pastors were ever privileged to have in their study. In just one of my programs I have over 230 Bibles and Bible reference books. On another discs I have the whole Encyclopedia Judaica. All that is amazing! We are surely living in the time when knowledge has increased.
Through the medium of the computer and Internet, we are now able to go through cyberspace and hook up with libraries, colleges, and institutions on distant continents. We can download the contents of books and materials in those libraries to our computers in a flash. Already there are stories of people who are so hooked on their computers that they spend hours a day at them. Unfortunately, after spending an hour or so in cyberspace we may find ourselves weary. We learn quickly that this is also a tree of knowledge. Ironically, even the organization of the computer storage mechanism is called a “tree.” The reason for our weariness is that there is no life in this tree, just as there was no life in the tree of knowledge back in the Garden of Eden.
An angel speaking to the prophet Daniel seems to refer to such a day as ours. The angel told him: “But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” (Dan. 12:4). We understand from this that knowledge will be increased so dramatically that it will be a sign of the end days. Surely we are living in such a time.
Unfortunately, all the knowledge explosion of the 20th and early 21st centuries has not brought us any closer to God. In fact, most people are further from God now than they ever were. This was also true of some progressive societies in the past. The ancient Greeks excelled in knowledge, but they never excelled in the knowledge of God or the knowledge of salvation. Our age is like that. Perhaps Amos 8:11-12 speaks of us with these words: “Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.” This passage clarifies the “going here and there” in Daniel 12:4 that we mentioned above. In the end, knowledge leaves us weary and searching, literally running to and fro. Knowledge alone only inflates our egos. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 8:1, when he says, “…Knowledge
puffs up, but love builds up.”
THE TREE OF LIFE
Now let us consider the other tree, the tree of life. In one sense, the tree of life is also a tree of knowledge, but it represents a vastly different kind of knowledge. It is the knowledge of God that brings salvation and life. It is a knowledge born in intimacy with God. The author of Proverbs speaks of this knowledge when he says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…” (Pro. 1:7).
We might describe the tree of life as a tree of relationship. Unlike this world’s knowledge which is so impersonal, the knowledge of God can only be attained by relationship, by intimacy, by walking with God and listening to his voice; by taking counsel from him and by living in him. Indeed, this is what Adam was doing before the fall. The Lord describes this as a tree/branch relationship. In John 15:4, Jesus says: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
This is not a strange picture. All through the Bible the righteous are compared to trees. The nation of Israel was compared to a tree or vine by the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 5:1-7). In Proverbs 11:30, we read, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.” There is a similar reference in Proverbs 15:4 in which the healing tongue is compared to a tree of life. Jesus once spoke of men as either good trees or bad trees (Matt. 7:17). He said, “Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” The person following the Lord in a real sense becomes a tree of life, while those following their own desires become trees of evil.
Many Christians are convinced that Yeshua or Jesus exemplifies the tree of life. In John 14:6, he says, “I am… the life.” It is also clear from John 15:1-8, that Jesus is the true vine. We Christians know that we can only be productive and become trees of life for those around us, by being joined to the vine and by abiding in him always. Jesus is our life supply, our food, our shade, our rest, our support, etc.
More than that, He was lifted up on a tree to deal forever with the pride of man’s knowledge. When the highly educated Apostle Paul went to Corinth to preach, he determined not to know anything but Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2:2), in order that the faith of the Corinthians would not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God. His message was surely foolishness and a stumbling block to many who heard him, but to others it was the breath of life.
How then do we get true knowledge or saving knowledge? We get true knowledge from the face of Jesus, from close fellowship with him. In 2 Corinthians 4:6 we read, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” The more intently we look at Christ, the wiser we become. Unlike the knowledge from the tree in the garden, this knowledge is a saving knowledge; this knowledge does not make us weary, instead it gives us life, hope, joy, fulfillment and enthusiasm. Neither does it lift us up in pride, but conversely it bows us down in humility.
As we continue to look to the Lord, an amazing things happens, we become conformed to him, and become like him. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Perhaps this is why the word of God encourages us in 1 Chronicles 16:11, “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” As we seek him we acquire saving knowledge and we acquire true life.
Someday this kind of saving knowledge will fill the earth just as waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:9). Men will again eat from the tree that brings life. What a beautiful scene in Revelation 22:2: “…On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing
of the nations.”
What beautiful promises to God’s overcomers. We read more about them in Revelation 2:7 and 22:14: “…To him who overcomes I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God…Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”
– Jim Gerrish
This updated article is published courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem. Original publication date, 1996.
Picture: Two olive trees at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem