Dec. 31, 2014 (Revised May 10, 2021)

The Tree of Life

Last summer I began a series of essays which were published over some months on this site. Those essays were my thoughts regards the fall of man as depicted in chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis. My study to understand Scripture is an ongoing, evolving effort, a pursuit to know God, His Christ and to understand God's plan regards His creation and our part and purpose in it. Pursuit of that understanding can take one to some interesting places.

We frequently forget, or seldom focus on the fact, that Scripture was written by Hebrews from a Hebrew perspective born of a Hebrew culture. That fact alone can at times make understanding the Scriptures just a bit uncertain for a gentile born and raised outside of that Hebrew/Jewish culture. Simply put, many of us gentiles are just not Jewish enough to readily understand some of what is presented in scripture, lacking understanding of Hebrew customs, traditions, idioms, ways of thinking and, I am sure, even more.

One example is my bewilderment of Adam’s non-action in partaking of the Tree of Life in the Garden. In Part Two on the essays of The Fall of Man. I asked why didn’t Adam immediately eat from the tree of life when it was free for him to do so from the very start? At that time, however, I didn’t fully understand what the tree of life represented - from a Hebrew/Jewish perspective.

Since first writing about the Fall of Man, I have learned that Jewish tradition identifies the tree of life with the Torah. (Of course, for some that might be old news, but for me, it was a revelation.) In fact, the prayer that is recited when the Torah is placed back into the ark in a Synagogue after being read is called, “It is a Tree of Life.” It goes thus:

“It is a tree of life (the Torah) to those who take hold of it, and those who support it are praiseworthy. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace. Bring us back Lord to You, and we shall come, renew our day as of old.”

Moreover, when praising God’s wisdom, the writer of Proverbs 3:18 writes:

“She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.”

What Jews call the Torah we call the 1st five books of the bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. (The Torah can also encompass the whole of the Old Testament, in fact, what Jews know as the Tanakh.) Of course, what Jews call the Torah we Christians call the Word. Moreover, Jewish tradition holds that the Torah existed with God before Creation. We as Christian gentiles can relate to that: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

As Jews equate the Torah with the Tree of Life, we can equate the Word (the Scriptures) with the Tree of Life. And, of course, whereas we identify the Word as Jesus, presumably, we can equate the Tree of Life, the Torah and all the Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, with Jesus, as well. Thus, before the Word was personified in the person of Jesus, the Word of God was made manifest through the Tree of Life and later, verbalized in the Torah. And, as history marched on, the Word was further revealed through the Prophets, the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.) and the New Testament. But, the most amazing reality is the Jesus Christ, or as our Jewish brethren know him, Yesuha Messiah, IS the Torah, IS the Word, and thus, IS the Tree of Life. That fact alone, puts a different spin on things as I understand them.

So, once again, as it is written in Genesis, God placed in the midst of the garden two trees, one, the tree of life, which Adam was fully free to partake of, and, two, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which Adam was prohibited from. But the question still remains, why did Adam not eat from the tree of life? In fact, why did Adam take no action at all! He showed no interest in either tree, the tree of life nor the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As was pointed out in the essays on the Fall of Man, Adam did not deliberately or knowingly eat from the tree of the knowledge of good or evil. His transgression was not the result of a willful, deliberate action on his part; it was the result of his wife being deceived and she giving him the forbidden fruit with both unaware of what was happening.

So, why did Adam appear to ignore both trees in the midst of the garden? Why did Adam, as it appears, modify God's commandment when he passed it on to his wife, being vague as to which tree was prohibited and adding to the commandment that even touching the forbidden tree would bring death?

I will address that seemingly odd "inaction" in a future commentary. But for now, let us contemplate the apparent connection between the Torah and Jesus; Jesus himself being the eternal personification of the Torah -- The Living Word of God!

Mark Johnson

Lay Leader NSUMC