The Bible Project

The Tree of Knowing Good & Bad - Wisdom E2

Episode Summary

Welcome to part 2 in our series on reading the books of wisdom literature in the Bible.

Episode Notes

In part 1 (0-19:15), Tim and Jon quickly review the last episode. Tim says the entire scriptural
canon is to be viewed as “wisdom literature,” but the books that specifically pertain to Solomon,
Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job are considered to be the classic wisdom
books.
Then they dive into examining the trees in the garden of Eden. Specifically the “Tree of the
Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Tim notes that the Hebrew word radoesn’t necessarily imply “evil;” it only means “bad.” Tim shares some other examples of the Hebrew word ra in the Bible.
Good/Bad condition or quality:
Jeremiah 24:1-2
the Lord showed me two baskets of figs placed in front of the temple of the Lord. One basket
had very tov figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very ra’ figs, so ra’ they could
not be eaten.
Proverbs 25:19
a ra’ tooth and an unsteady foot, is confidence in a faithless man in time of trouble.
Pleasant/unpleasant, beneficial/harmful:
1 Kings 5:4
But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no enemy or ra’.
Judges 16:25
It so happened when they were tov of heart, that they said, “Call for Samson, that he may
amuse us.” So they called for Samson from the prison, and he entertained them. And they made
him stand between the pillars.
Ecclesiastes: 2:16-17
For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both
have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die! So I hated life, because the work that
is done under the sun was ra’ to me.
Tim’s point is that to use the English word “evil” loads in too many ideas about moral issues
between good and evil. Because of this, a more accurate translation would be “the tree of the
knowledge of good and bad.”
In part 2 (19:15-30:00), Tim notes that Adam and Eve are depicted as being in their moral
infancy in the garden. They don’t know what is right and wrong. They need God to teach them
how to be wise and how to choose what is right from wrong. Here are some other passages that
use the Hebrew phrase “tov and ra’” or “good and bad” to illustrate this moral infancy in the
Bible.
“Knowing tov and ra’” is a sign of maturity. The phrase appears elsewhere to describe children:
Deuteronomy 1:39
“...your little ones... and your sons, who today do not know good or evil, shall enter there, and I
will give it to them and they shall possess it.
1 Kings 3:7-9
“Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am

but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. So give Your servant a heart that
listens, to judge Your people, to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this
great people of Yours?”
Isaiah 7:15-16
“[Immanuel] will eat curds and honey at the time He knows to refuse evil and choose good. For
before the boy will know to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread
will be forsaken.
The narrative in Genesis 1-2 has shown that God knows what is “pleasant/beneficial,” and he
will provide tov (the woman) when something is not tov (man being alone), that is, ra’. So the
tree represents a choice: Will they live with God, allowing him to know/define tov and ra’?
Presumably they need this knowledge as they mature, but the question is who will teach it to
them? Will they learn from watching God’s knowledge at work?
Adam and Eve are portrayed as “children.” The tree of knowing tov and ra’ represents two
options or modes for how to know and experience tov and ra’: Will they “take” this knowledge for
themselves, so that they “become like elohim,” knowing what is tov and ra’? Or instead, will they
allow God to teach them wisdom? The gift of God to the man and woman became the means of
the downfall. Instead of waiting for God to teach them “knowing good and bad,” they chose to
take it for themselves, in their own time and way.
Genesis 3:6
When the woman saw that the tree [of knowing good and bad] was good for food, and that it
was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise (Heb. śekel), she
took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
“Wisdom” = śekel (להשכיל:(
“śekel refers to a kind of wisdom. Its core meaning is “insight,” the ability to grasp the meanings
or implications of a situation or message. Śekel is consequently discernment or prudence, the
ability to understand practical matters and interpersonal relations and make beneficial decisions.
It later comes to include intellectual understanding and unusual expertise.” (Michael V. Fox,
Proverbs 1–9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 18A, Anchor Yale
Bible [New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008], 36.)
In part 3 (30:00-39:45), Tim and Jon discuss the fallout of Adam and Eve’s decision to eat from
the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. When God holds “trial” with Adam and Eve, their
response is to “fear” Yahweh, but in a way that drive them away from him.
Genesis 3:8-10
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man
and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the
sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”
Then they blame each other: man and woman, united in their rebellion and divided by the
fallout.
Genesis 3:16
“Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.”
This is the opposite of the ideal vision in Genesis 1:26-28 where man and woman rule together.
The two are no longer one, but rather two, trying to gain leverage over one another.
In part 4 (39:45-end), the guys discuss how God acts mercifully after Adam and Eve eat of the
tree. Tim then starts to look forward to the stories of Solomon and how it hyperlinks back to the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

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Show Resources:
Michael V. Fox, Proverbs 1–9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol.
18A, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 36.

Show Music:
• Defender Instrumental
• The Size of Sin by Beautiful Eulogy
• Come Alive by Beautiful Eulogy
• The Size of Grace by Beautiful Eulogy

Show Produced by:
Dan Gummel, Jon Collins

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