Studies in Genesis 2
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV)
God’s first recorded words to Adam were not those of a friend or acquaintance. Nor were they the words of a father to a child. His words were of a God, who owns all He has created, to a created being to whom He has giving authority over part of His creation. “Command” means to give a charge, or a commission, an assignment, a boundary. God spoke to “the man” (adam) setting the wide parameters of what he could eat, not where he could go or what he could do. Adam’s natural inclination is to work, taking care of the creation under his God ordained authority. Part of his work is to grow more fruit-bearing trees. He couldn’t possibly eat all of the food growing on these trees. Adam could eat anything he wanted from any tree except one tree.
God does not treat Adam like all of the other creatures He has created. He speaks to him face to face. “Saying”, in its various forms, means to speak one’s heart, to show intention and promise, to be told, to answer. This is not casual conversation. Yet, God’s words are not mysterious to Adam either. God spoke clearly. Adam understood completely.
God makes a promise in His command. We think of God’s promises as positive, yet He recognizes the propensity of the negative in those created in His image. His intent is to train those who are His to restrain and control the negative they will encounter in themselves, not to suppress the negative. Ultimately, He wants those who have an intimate relationship with Him to know the difference between good and evil and have the freedom to always choose the good. This is true freedom.
His words are not a threat but a statement of fact. This is not a covenant. A covenant is an agreement between two where the greater blesses the lesser, guaranteeing a promised outcome when certain criteria is met. God promises an outcome for disobedience but not for obedience. God’s expectation is for obedience from Adam, not disobedience. He did not create Adam for disobedience but for relationship. God’s omniscience gives Him the foreknowledge that Adam will disobey but this does not mean God created Adam for disobedience.
Adam, like everyone, must grow in his intimate knowledge and intellectual understanding of God. But he had an advantage we cannot ignore. He saw God. Before the fall, Adam was sinless and able to come into, or be in, God’s complete presence. God spoke to Adam face to face. God enjoyed His creation and was intimate with Adam, who was created in His image for relationship and intimacy. Adam enjoyed God. Growing and maturing is not limited to his natural surroundings but to the spiritual realm in which God dwelt. Adam could see there was more than the physical world every time he was in God’s presence. Thus to “eat, eat” shows more than physical food and nourishment just as “die, die” implies more than physical death. There is a spiritual second death just as there is a spiritual food, and by implication, life. Eating from the tree of life brought a second life just as eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as an act of outright rebellion brought spiritual death. God was training Adam to live.