Digging in Deeper: Genesis 2:16-17

“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.’”‬‬ (CSB – Read the chapter)

This morning we wrestled a bit with the question of why God would have put a tree in the garden of Eden and then immediately told us not to eat from it. I let you in then on a secret about that question: The most honest answer is, “I don’t know.” But, I don’t know isn’t very satisfying and I did promise you two answers.

So, to be sure I don’t leave you hanging, let’s try for that “company approved” answer. God designed us for relationship. Specifically, He designed us to be in a freely loving relationship with Himself. In the beginning He wanted a relationship with us (a fact which hasn’t change a bit, by the way).

Now, relationships are built on a lot of different things. They’re built on mutual trust and respect. They are built on affection and care. They are rooted in shared plans and hopes and dreams. But there’s something else important about relationships that we don’t often think about. Relationships are built on boundaries. All relationships have boundaries. You can’t have a relationship without boundaries. Like a nation (which is just a relationship shared among a whole lot of people), if there are no boundaries, a meaningful relationship cannot exist. You may not have all the boundaries of all your relationships clearly defined, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. You and the other person both know when they’ve been transgressed, because when that happens the relationship is broken or even ended. 

Consider what is perhaps the chief example of this in our world: marriage. Marriage is a relationship with very clearly defined boundaries, boundaries which are put in place intentionally at the altar when we vow this and that to each other. Those vows are about defining the boundaries of the relationship. Now, marriage is a bit of a special case since it is a covenantal relationship which is one that remains in place even when its boundaries have been crossed, but the point for now is that it clearly has boundaries.

Well, when God had created us and put us in the Garden, He had not yet defined for us what the boundaries for our relationship with Him would be. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil took care of that. We don’t know anything about the tree and that much really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it set a boundary for our relationship. We could obey Him or not obey Him.

Because He was (and is) God and we are not, the nature of our relationship was always going to be one of obedience. He commands us and we obey Him. Because of His character—His love, His justice, and His holiness—His commands are always for our good, which should eliminate our fears that His commands will somehow hamper our lives. That idea is just part of the first lie of the serpent.

What this means is that our best life will always be found in a relationship with Him. Nowhere else will we find such hope and peace and joy and love and purpose. Indeed, if we had found it somewhere else consistently, we wouldn’t still be looking so hard for it.

Here’s the truth: God wants to be in a relationship with you. He wants you in a relationship with Him. It’s what He created you for. You were created for a relationship with God; the same God who created and sustains the whole universe. When you have that, you’ll have all you need for a full life. 

The only way to have that, though, is to remain within the boundaries. It is to commit to a life of faithful obedience that brings life. It isn’t always easy, but it is always good. It is always full. It is always life. And you were made to live.

2 thoughts on “Digging in Deeper: Genesis 2:16-17

  1. George Gantz

    Jonathon – Thanks! A wonderful post. The reference to marriage as a “covenental relationship that remains in place even when boundaries are crossed” brought up a few thoughts. As I recall, do we not also have a covenental relationship with God? And my understanding is that even when we transgress the covenant, he does not – he loves us no matter what! Yet that love includes having us experience the consequences if we break the covenant. He cannot and does not save us if we do not love him.

    I would also offer this thought – for us to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is, in essence, taking on moral authority for ourselves rather than respecting that authority as coming from God. This is a very bad mistake and it has terrible consequences – one of which is the loss of innocence – we are no longer comfortable walking freely (without covering) in the Garden of Eden. We are banished because we broke the covenant – not because God “throws us out.”


    • pastorjwaits

      Thanks for that, George. I’m glad this hit home for you. I agree heartily on both points. God’s relationship is a covenantal one because of Christ and His death and resurrection. That’s what Jesus said to the disciples in the Last Supper: His spilled blood at the cross is what signed and sealed a new covenant of eternal life between God and us for all those willing to enter into it. And though He loves us even when we don’t love Him (“while we were still sinners Christ died for us”), as I said, if we are not willing to live within the boundaries of a relationship with Him, we don’t get to experience its benefits.

      And, it is true that our banishment from the Garden of Eden, although certainly a punishment, was also God honoring the freedom He gave us. We chose to separate ourselves from Him and He honored that separation. He still does this today. If we don’t choose to receive His love through Christ and enter into that covenantal relationship, but remain separated from Him, He will eventually–and with a heavy heart–honor our desire permanently. What a hard truth that underscores the need to share the Gospel and the plead with people, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, to be reconciled with Him.

      Thanks, as always, for your thoughts! I hope you and Wenda are well.


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