In the opening pages of the Bible, God creates a garden, and right in the center is the tree of life. God gives humans living breath, and with this tree he offers eternal life. In contrast to this gift stands the tree of knowing good and bad, and eating from it, God warns, causes death. The two trees provide a Biblical theme, which poses a vital question to humanity: Will we rely on God for wisdom and eternal life, or will we defy God’s warnings and define life by our own understanding?
Today’s news is full of people claiming that they know what is good and bad. Of course, there is a strong temptation to come up with our own assessments as well. But when we do, it leads to shame, fear, broken relationships, and ultimately death. In this week’s Bible study, we’ll explore what it takes to avoid the false trees of life and live into what’s real.
How did this video expand your view of the tree of life?
In the opening pages of the Bible, humanity is portrayed as God’s royal partner, his divine image. God orders a sacred space where heaven and earth are one, and then he makes eternal life available to humans by means of a tree. While many throughout history have imagined the tree of life as a magical tree that imparts eternal life, the biblical story paints a bigger picture. Sacred trees that offer divine life were a major theme in the religious art of ancient Egypt and Babylon. But in the garden of Eden, the tree is located at the center of the sacred space, the “holy of holies” of this heaven and earth place (Genesis 2:9).
The fact that the tree of life is in the middle of the sacred space means that the life it offers is not inherent to the tree, but a divine gift that comes through the tree. The tree of life imparts God’s own life, and to be near it and eat from it is to be near to God and to ingest his own life power and presence. Or, in the words of Genesis 3:22, “to take and eat and live forever.” But sadly, humanity is exiled from this tree because of their foolish quest for divine wisdom, and so they find themselves outside the garden in a realm of mortality and grief, longing to return.
For the family of Abraham, this divine human meeting place was recovered in Israel’s tabernacle and temple. These structures housed holy places, a hot-spot of God’s presence where a new humanity met with God in a heaven and earth space (Exodus 25:22). These rooms were designed with a tree-like lampstand at the center (Exodus 25:31-40) and with trees all around (1 Kings 6:29). It was a renewed Eden, but sadly, the family of Abraham replays the Eden story, as they try to recreate their own version of the tree of life. Think of the many “high places” where Israel worships other gods at the foot of sacred trees (Deuteronomy 12:2; 1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 16:4). Eventually, God allows these sacred spaces to be destroyed and lets the Israelites be exiled from their home (2 Kings 24-25). This entire story is the context for understanding the arrival of Jesus and his message about the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven.
Proverbs is a letter from a wise father to his son. He speaks of the life-giving power of God’s wisdom and compares it to the tree of life, warning of the dangers of proudly ignoring godly wisdom. (Note: Throughout Proverbs, God’s wisdom is personified as a woman, so that’s what “she” and “her” refer to in vv. 13-18.)
With all the good news that God’s wisdom holds, why do you think it’s so hard to follow it? Why do we so often choose to live by our own limited understanding?
Compare verse 7 with Genesis 3:2-7. What do you observe? How can our eyes be deceived when defining good and bad?
Consider a time in life when you followed God’s wisdom even though it defied your own understanding (see verses 5-8). What was that like?
Picture yourself resting under the tree of life, basking in God’s wisdom. Pray and ask God to fill you with his wisdom, so you can be a tree of life for others (you can also check out Proverbs 15:4).
Jesus said that God’s heavenly presence was arriving on earth through him and his mission. And he often likened this to a huge tree, growing and spreading in surprising ways (Matthew 13:31-32). Jesus even claimed to be a tree of life, a vine that offers God’s life to the world (John 15). But in a sad inversion, the leaders of Abraham’s family kill Jesus on what they think is a tree of death. But because of God’s love, which is stronger than human evil, God transformed the cross into a tree of life. Whoever eats from this new tree of life, by trusting and following Jesus (John 6:41-58), will discover the gift of God’s eternal life.
This is why the story of the Bible concludes with a renewed creation, a garden-city with a new tree of life at its center (Revelation 22:1-2), which is also the throne of God and the risen Jesus (Revelation 21:22). The whole story of the Bible can be told as a story about trees. Humans reject the tree of life and hang Jesus on a tree of death, but that tree becomes a new tree of life that sprouts into a renewed creation, restoring God’s plan for humanity.