In the beginning God planted beautiful, fruit-bearing trees meant to be enjoyed. Sadly, one of the trees became deadly to mankind, namely, the ominous tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God issued a stern warning to stay away from that particular tree (Genesis 2:16-17):
“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’”
We know how the story goes. The fruit of that tree was consumed anyway introducing death to creation. 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 pursuing knowledge equals evil. There is a vast array of knowledge to be gained – not the least of which is getting to know people. Some English Bible translations employ the verb “know” when it comes to intimate relations between a man and a woman (Genesis 4:1):
“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have gotten a man from the Lord.’”* (*21st Century King James Version)
Children are born as a result of Adam “knowing” his wife. Another prominent example of knowledge pursuit in the Bible is King Solomon’s desire for wisdom and understanding. At the onset of his reign he asked God for discernment to govern the nation of Israel wisely and the Lord gladly granted his wish.
So apparently, there is good knowledge and bad knowledge. The opening chapter of the book of Proverbs, largely authored by King Solomon, says to this effect (Proverbs 1:7):
“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge.”* (*New Living Translation)
Fear of the Lord puts God in the middle of all aspects of life. We love Him, we walk with Him and we explore with Him. God will reveal things unknown to us. I believe that all great scientific discoveries are based on divine revelation. Although knowledge in itself does not kill us, attempting to know better than the Lord unfortunately does.
In the book of Deuteronomy the prophet Moses talks about the death penalty, specifically execution on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:22-23):
“If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”
The fact that God initiated a law to ensure proper treatment for people on death row shows that He cares for criminals and intends to protect their rights. Paying last respects to an executed person by providing a grave is an act of decency. But there is more.
I believe the Law of Moses requesting to remove a dead body from the tree was also written in anticipation of Jesus’s execution. Approximately 1400 years later the Son of God was killed, His hands and feet nailed to a wooden beam. A law-abiding Jewish citizen, Joseph of Arimathea made sure that the Lord was taken off the cross and placed into his tomb. Jesus emerged from there three days later – resurrected from the dead. He would become the one and only antidote to death, saving God’s creation from corruption. Jesus turned a tree of death, the cross, into a tree of life.
Metaphorically speaking we are like trees and if our roots dig deep to get to know the Lord we turn into the tree as described in chapter 22 of John’s book of Revelation. Growing on both sides of the river, we bear fruit in and out of season and our leaves are used to bring healing to the world – which is what God’s peacemakers are called to do.