The Tree of Life
“Out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden” (2:9).- Genesis 2:1–16; 3:22–24
Genesis 1–3 and its account of creation and the fall lays the foundation for the entire history of redemption, so we should not be surprised to see many of the themes introduced in these chapters recur again and again. The Tree of Life introduced in 2:9 is one such theme that is developed throughout the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New.
Before we look at the Tree of Life in particular, we should note some of the ways the Bible understands trees in general. Trees are often used in Scripture as symbols of life, particularly life that is considered full. The fruitfulness of righteous people, for example, is likened to a tree filled with life (Prov. 11:30), and the fullness of life and honor is also associated with righteousness (21:21). Moreover, the Old Testament also uses trees as metaphors for the life that God gives, especially since trees remain perpetually green in the arid climate of the Middle East and thus, in a certain sense, “eternally alive” (Jer. 17:7–8).
Given these realities, it is easy to see why the Lord chose to supply life to His people by means of the Tree of Life while they lived in the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:9). Apparently, immortality was the gift to anyone who regularly ate the fruit of the tree (3:22) and, as one commentator notes, the Tree of Life was also an early means of sacramental communication between God and His people. The tree was a physical means of conducting a spiritual transaction, the very essence of a sacrament. As long as Adam and Eve ate of the tree they had life, and they had access to the tree because before sin they were in a right relationship with God. While they trusted His wisdom and obeyed His command not to eat of the forbidden fruit, our first parents could eat freely of the tree that gives life (2:16–17; 3:22–24). Their trust in God’s promises, signified by their eating of the proper tree and not the forbidden fruit, maintained their place in Eden and consequently, their life of blessedness.
Of course, we know that Adam and Eve failed and they and their descendants were barred from eating the Tree of Life (3:24). Cut off from the Lord’s presence and His life-giving tree, their deed plunged all of us into darkness and death, and all people have been trying since that day to find their way back to Eden.
Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden was awful indeed, yet God’s grace was evident even in this punishment. For the Lord’s people, death is a release from the evils of this world, as eternal life in a fallen creation would also mean eternal pain. Death will be finally defeated when Christ returns, but until then even the horror of death is, paradoxically, a gracious gift to the Christian. While death is not in itself good, God does use it to free His people from further pain.
Passages for Further Study