Genesis 2:9 And out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Most people, churched or unchurched, think God put two trees in the middle of Eden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Some people just envision the tree of knowledge and ignore the presence of the tree of life. Both answers are incorrect.
A Short Grammar Lesson
Moses wrote Genesis in Hebrew. In case you’re unfamiliar with that language, let me tell you two important details you may not know.
- As you look around you, on what do you center your attention? Do you tend to focus on what’s available or on what’s off-limits?
- While you may at (least theoretically) believe that God is smarter than you are, do you ever think your choices are better than God’s choices? Can you think of a time when this has happened?
- Which “trees” do you have “in the center” of your life? Which nourish you? Do any of them rob you of life?
First, biblical Hebrew doesn’t waste words. When Moses writes “in the midst” he’s doing it on purpose to emphasize the focal point of the garden.
Second, the Hebrew punctuation of this verse connects the phrase in the midst of the garden to the tree of life and disconnects that phrase from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of knowledge was not in the middle of Eden but in a less prominent place. Adam and Eve may have had to take a walk to reach it. Not so for the tree of life – that tree was front and center. The Hebrew punctuation makes that clear.
The Importance of the Middle
We treat what’s important to us much the same way as did God: we make it easily noticed. The lead actor in a stageplay spends a lot of time center stage; the supporting cast is more often behind them or off to the side. A featured singer stands where they are clearly seen; perhaps under a spotlight; the backups usually stand further away from the audience. When we set a holiday table, we display the centerpiece in the middle of the table where everyone can easily see and enjoy it.
Displaying something in the center calls it to our attention. Things in the middle are meant to command our focus.
What did God put in the middle of Eden? He put the object He wanted to command Adam and Eve’s notice: the tree of life. Life is the centerpiece of God’s garden. Adam and Eve were to focus on life. (So are we.)
A Deadly (But Not Obvious) Danger
While God’s garden had many trees, Moses names only two of them: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Again Moses’ writing is deliberate. By naming only two trees, he both calls our attention to them and foreshadows the upcoming choice that Adam and Eve would soon face.
God differentiates the two trees by their location, not by their size or foliage or visual appeal. One is “in the middle” – the other is not.
God also differentiates the two trees by their impact – one would nourish; the other would kill. Highlighting this danger, God offers Adam what every good parent offers their child: discernment about what the child is not able to discern on their own. God makes the danger clear with His vivid warning in Genesis 2:16-17.
Would that Adam had kept both the tree of life and God’s warning in the center of their focus.
Explore Your Own Beliefs and Behaviors:
What’s in the Middle of Eden? (Not What You Think)
© Lynne Fox, 2018