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Genesis 2:8-17

Context

2:8 The Lord God planted an orchard 1  in the east, 2  in Eden; 3  and there he placed the man he had formed. 4  2:9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow from the soil, 5  every tree that was pleasing to look at 6  and good for food. (Now 7  the tree of life 8  and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil 9  were in the middle of the orchard.)

2:10 Now 10  a river flows 11  from Eden 12  to

water the orchard, and from there it divides 13  into four headstreams. 14  2:11 The name of the first is Pishon; it runs through 15  the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 2:12 (The gold of that land is pure; 16  pearls 17  and lapis lazuli 18  are also there). 2:13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it runs through 19  the entire land of Cush. 20  2:14 The name of the third river is Tigris; it runs along the east side of Assyria. 21  The fourth river is the Euphrates.

2:15 The Lord God took the man and placed 22  him in the orchard in 23  Eden to care for it and to maintain it. 24  2:16 Then the Lord God commanded 25  the man, “You may freely eat 26  fruit 27  from every tree of the orchard, 2:17 but 28  you must not eat 29  from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when 30  you eat from it you will surely die.” 31 

1 tn Traditionally “garden,” but the subsequent description of this “garden” makes it clear that it is an orchard of fruit trees.

sn The Lord God planted an orchard. Nothing is said of how the creation of this orchard took place. A harmonization with chap. 1 might lead to the conclusion that it was by decree, prior to the creation of human life. But the narrative sequence here in chap. 2 suggests the creation of the garden followed the creation of the man. Note also the past perfect use of the perfect in the relative clause in the following verse.

2 tn Heb “from the east” or “off east.”

sn One would assume this is east from the perspective of the land of Israel, particularly since the rivers in the area are identified as the rivers in those eastern regions.

3 sn The name Eden (עֵדֶן, ’eden) means “pleasure” in Hebrew.

4 tn The perfect verbal form here requires the past perfect translation since it describes an event that preceded the event described in the main clause.

5 tn Heb “ground,” referring to the fertile soil.

6 tn Heb “desirable of sight [or “appearance”].” The phrase describes the kinds of trees that are visually pleasing and yield fruit that is desirable to the appetite.

7 tn The verse ends with a disjunctive clause providing a parenthetical bit of information about the existence of two special trees in the garden.

8 tn In light of Gen 3:22, the construction “tree of life” should be interpreted to mean a tree that produces life-giving fruit (objective genitive) rather than a living tree (attributive genitive). See E. O. James, The Tree of Life (SHR); and R. Marcus, “The Tree of Life in Proverbs,” JBL 62 (1943): 117-20.

9 tn The expression “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” must be interpreted to mean that the tree would produce fruit which, when eaten, gives special knowledge of “good and evil.” Scholars debate what this phrase means here. For a survey of opinions, see G. J. Wenham, Genesis (WBC), 1:62-64. One view is that “good” refers to that which enhances, promotes, and produces life, while “evil” refers to anything that hinders, interrupts or destroys life. So eating from this tree would change human nature – people would be able to alter life for better (in their thinking) or for worse. See D. J. A. Clines, “The Tree of Knowledge and the Law of Yahweh,” VT 24 (1974): 8-14; and I. Engnell, “‘Knowledge’ and ‘Life’ in the Creation Story,” Wisdom in Israel and in the Ancient Near East [VTSup], 103-19. Another view understands the “knowledge of good and evil” as the capacity to discern between moral good and evil. The following context suggests the tree’s fruit gives one wisdom (see the phrase “capable of making one wise” in 3:6, as well as the note there on the word “wise”), which certainly includes the capacity to discern between good and evil. Such wisdom is characteristic of divine beings, as the serpent’s promise implies (3:5) and as 3:22 makes clear. (Note, however, that this capacity does not include the ability to do what is right.) God prohibits man from eating of the tree. The prohibition becomes a test to see if man will be satisfied with his role and place, or if he will try to ascend to the divine level. There will be a time for man to possess moral discernment/wisdom, as God reveals and imparts it to him, but it is not something to be grasped at in an effort to become “a god.” In fact, the command to be obedient was the first lesson in moral discernment/wisdom. God was essentially saying: “Here is lesson one – respect my authority and commands. Disobey me and you will die.” When man disobeys, he decides he does not want to acquire moral wisdom God’s way, but instead tries to rise immediately to the divine level. Once man has acquired such divine wisdom by eating the tree’s fruit (3:22), he must be banned from the garden so that he will not be able to achieve his goal of being godlike and thus live forever, a divine characteristic (3:24). Ironically, man now has the capacity to discern good from evil (3:22), but he is morally corrupted and rebellious and will not consistently choose what is right.

10 tn The disjunctive clause (note the construction conjunction + subject + predicate) introduces an entire paragraph about the richness of the region in the east.

11 tn The Hebrew active participle may be translated here as indicating past durative action, “was flowing,” or as a present durative, “flows.” Since this river was the source of the rivers mentioned in vv. 11-14, which appear to describe a situation contemporary with the narrator, it is preferable to translate the participle in v. 10 with the present tense. This suggests that Eden and its orchard still existed in the narrator’s time. According to ancient Jewish tradition, Enoch was taken to the Garden of Eden, where his presence insulated the garden from the destructive waters of Noah’s flood. See Jub. 4:23-24.

12 sn Eden is portrayed here as a source of life-giving rivers (that is, perennial streams). This is no surprise because its orchard is where the tree of life is located. Eden is a source of life, but tragically its orchard is no longer accessible to humankind. The river flowing out of Eden is a tantalizing reminder of this. God continues to provide life-giving water to sustain physical existence on the earth, but immortality has been lost.

13 tn The imperfect verb form has the same nuance as the preceding participle. (If the participle is taken as past durative, then the imperfect would be translated “was dividing.”)

14 tn Or “branches”; Heb “heads.” Cf. NEB “streams”; NASB “rivers.”

15 tn Heb “it is that which goes around.”

16 tn Heb “good.”

17 tn The Hebrew term translated “pearls” may be a reference to resin (cf. NIV “aromatic resin”) or another precious stone (cf. NEB, NASB, NRSV “bdellium”).

18 tn Or “onyx.”

19 tn Heb “it is that which goes around.”

20 sn Cush. In the Bible the Hebrew word כּוּשׁ (kush, “Kush”) often refers to Ethiopia (so KJV, CEV), but here it must refer to a region in Mesopotamia, the area of the later Cassite dynasty of Babylon. See Gen 10:8 as well as E. A. Speiser, Genesis (AB), 20.

21 tn Heb “Asshur” (so NEB, NIV).

22 tn The Hebrew verb נוּחַ (nuakh, translated here as “placed”) is a different verb than the one used in 2:8.

23 tn Traditionally translated “the Garden of Eden,” the context makes it clear that the garden (or orchard) was in Eden (making “Eden” a genitive of location).

24 tn Heb “to work it and to keep it.”

sn Note that man’s task is to care for and maintain the trees of the orchard. Not until after the fall, when he is condemned to cultivate the soil, does this task change.

25 sn This is the first time in the Bible that the verb tsavah (צָוָה, “to command”) appears. Whatever the man had to do in the garden, the main focus of the narrative is on keeping God’s commandments. God created humans with the capacity to obey him and then tested them with commands.

26 tn The imperfect verb form probably carries the nuance of permission (“you may eat”) since the man is not being commanded to eat from every tree. The accompanying infinitive absolute adds emphasis: “you may freely eat,” or “you may eat to your heart’s content.”

27 tn The word “fruit” is not in the Hebrew text, but is implied as the direct object of the verb “eat.” Presumably the only part of the tree the man would eat would be its fruit (cf. 3:2).

28 tn The disjunctive clause here indicates contrast: “but from the tree of the knowledge….”

29 tn The negated imperfect verb form indicates prohibition, “you must not eat.”

30 tn Or “in the very day, as soon as.” If one understands the expression to have this more precise meaning, then the following narrative presents a problem, for the man does not die physically as soon as he eats from the tree. In this case one may argue that spiritual death is in view. If physical death is in view here, there are two options to explain the following narrative: (1) The following phrase “You will surely die” concerns mortality which ultimately results in death (a natural paraphrase would be, “You will become mortal”), or (2) God mercifully gave man a reprieve, allowing him to live longer than he deserved.

31 tn Heb “dying you will die.” The imperfect verb form here has the nuance of the specific future because it is introduced with the temporal clause, “when you eat…you will die.” That certainty is underscored with the infinitive absolute, “you will surely die.”

sn The Hebrew text (“dying you will die”) does not refer to two aspects of death (“dying spiritually, you will then die physically”). The construction simply emphasizes the certainty of death, however it is defined. Death is essentially separation. To die physically means separation from the land of the living, but not extinction. To die spiritually means to be separated from God. Both occur with sin, although the physical alienation is more gradual than instant, and the spiritual is immediate, although the effects of it continue the separation.



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