Trees are special to God. In the beginning of time the Garden of Eden was littered with them. (Genesis 1:11): “Then God said, “Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit.” Trees were planted and placed strategically in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9): “The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground – trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
So, in the beginning God planted beautiful, fruit-bearing trees meant to be enjoyed. Sadly, one of the trees became deadly to Adam and Eve, namely, the ominous tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God issued a warning regarding this particular tree (Genesis 2:16): “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden – except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” We know how the story goes. The fruit of that tree was consumed, which ultimately brought death. Thus it gained the bad reputation of a tree bearing the fruit of death.
Let’s pause here for a minute and think about what this tree stands for. Obviously it does not mean that knowledge equals evil. There is a vast array of knowledge to be gained – not the least of which is getting to know people. Some Bible translations use the verb “know” when it comes to intimate relations between a man and a woman. We read in the beginning of chapter four in the book of Genesis: “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have gotten a man from the Lord.” Intimate knowledge between a man and a woman bears the fruit of life. Another example is King Solomon’s pursuit of wisdom and understanding, eager to learn and gain knowledge in political affairs. Desiring to govern the nation of Israel wisely He asked for God’s help, and God gladly granted his wish.
So apparently, there’s good knowledge and there’s bad knowledge. The opening chapter of the book of Proverbs, largely authored by King Salomon, says to this effect (Proverbs 1:7): “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge.” Although knowledge in itself does not bring about death, attempting to know better than the Lord unfortunately does. Fear of the Lord is putting the Lord into the equation of all aspects of life. The mystical trees of the Bible show a great potential in both directions. There is the tree of life bringing world healing. There is the tree of death bringing world disaster.
In the book of Deuteronomy Moses is talking about the death penalty. The gruesome details of this law address death by execution on a tree. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23): “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.”
Putting out a law on capital punishment does not necessarily mean that God endorses it. Here it simply shows that God cares for criminals and intends to protect their rights. Paying last respects to the hanged person by providing a grave is an act of decency. But there’s more.
The law of removing a dead body from the tree was written in preparation of the execution of God’s Son. Jesus was killed on a wooden beam. After His death Jesus was taken off the cross and placed into a grave where He emerged three days later – the first to come back from the dead. He would become the one and only antidote to death and save the entire creation from corruption. A tree which once became an instrument of death – through Jesus now becomes an instrument of life. This is probably no coincidence. God has a habit of turning a hopeless cause into something good. Encountering seemingly hopeless situations of our own we need to remember that even today God still works in mysterious ways.