Genesis 2:16-17, Who Can Eat from the Tree of Knowledge?
The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but you shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
This verse provokes a reasonable question from both skeptics and believers: ‘If God didn’t want Adam to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, why put it within his reach?’
Skeptics usually ask this question from a sarcastic point of view – often accusing God of entrapment. Believers on the other hand ask this question to better understand God’s will. However, both sides seem to think it would make better sense for God to put the Tree of Knowledge as far from Adam as possible so he would not sin.
I believe the answer to the question is more simple than complex. First, let’s look at what YHVH actually says to the man:
“In the day YOU eat from it, dying YOU shall die.” (vs. 17). The Hebrew records the –echa suffix making it quite clear God is speaking directly to Adam. However, the Bible never claims the tree’s fruit wouldn’t be eaten… it only says mankind is forbidden to eat it. This of course provokes another question: ‘who CAN eat the fruit?’
The Tree of Knowledge was in a garden planted by God. He is the owner; its trees and fruit belonged to Him. Adam worked and preserved the garden but was allowed to reap its bounty – including the fruitful delicacies that were seemingly always in season. However, the placement of the Tree of Knowledge at the center of the Garden shouldn’t be viewed solely as the entrapment or temptation of Adam. Perhaps there is another explanation.
God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). Spirit is the form by which God is historically known – omnipresent and always near. Of course, God never changes – He was Spirit when Adam kept the Garden of Eden. However, the Bible records God in another form back then:
“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day… the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:8-9, ESV)
Sometimes, God manifests Himself in our dimension, though He is always Spirit. In such manifestations, He walks, He talks, and looks like a man. In fact, His whole purpose of creating Mankind was to eventually become a Man, as He did through His promised visitation to Israel as Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). In those days, He was accustomed to eat and drink with those who desired His company. After ultimately demonstrating God’s plan of atonement through His death, He even ate in His resurrected body:
“Yeshua himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were terrified and filled with fear, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. He said to them, “Why are you troubled? …Touch me and see, for a spirit doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you see that I have.” …While they still didn’t believe for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. He took them, and ate in front of them. He said to them, “This is what I told you, while I was still with you, that all things which are written in the Torah of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, concerning me must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:36-44)
God is Spirit indeed, but in times past and future, He desires to eat and drink with men. At His last Passover, Yeshua gave us a glimpse of this fellowship in the olam haba (age to come):
He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you, I will no longer by any means eat of it until it is fulfilled in God’s Kingdom.” He received a cup, and when he had given thanks, he said, “Take this, and share it among yourselves, for I tell you, I will not drink at all again from the fruit of the vine, until God’s Kingdom comes.” (Luke 22:16-18)
There is a day known to God when we will once again eat with Messiah Yeshua in His Kingdom. Until that day, we find joy that God has always desired fellowship with men by eating and drinking in flesh and bone:
The LORD appeared to (Abraham) by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and saw that three men stood near him. When he saw them, he ran to meet them… and said, “My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please don’t go away from your servant. Now let a little water be fetched, wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. I will get a piece of bread so you can refresh your heart… He took butter, milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them. He stood by them under the tree, and they ate. (Gen. 18:1-8)
Just as He did through the life of Yeshua, YHVH ate with His servants. He dined with Avraham, and He walked and talked in the Garden of Eden to have fellowship with Adam. Unfortunately, Adam failed where Avraham later succeeded.
The Tree of Knowledge’s fruit was tasty, being “good for food” (Gen. 3:6). However, no one may eat from the Tree of Knowledge unless first possessing “knowledge of good and evil”. Based on the Scriptures, YHVH was the only one who was able to eat from both the Tree of Knowledge AND the Tree of Life concurrently. When broadcasting how mankind became like God -“knowing good and evil” – God knew Adam might also become like Him by eating from the Tree of Life, and thus regain immortality (see Gen 3:22). However, as Genesis 2:16-17 clearly shows, Man was never forbidden to eat from the Tree of Life! Adam had possessed eternal life before he lost it; it was a gift of God (isn’t it interesting that eternal life has always been a gift of God?)! However, as YHVH possesses both eternal life and the knowledge of good and evil, He alone could eat from both trees at the same time.
The Tree of Knowledge’s sweet fruit wasn’t meant to entrap Adam – it was for YHVH to eat while He fellowshipped with Adam Man-to-man. I believe YHVH expected Adam to offer Him the sweet fruit in the same way Avraham offered YHVH a fatted calf. This is evidenced by YHVH’s question after Adam fell, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) It’s as if God was saying, ‘you used to run to greet me, where are you today?’ However, Adam didn’t run to YHVH that day – His eyes were opened to evil, and mankind would forever run the opposite direction, with the evil inclination of his heart.♦