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THEOLOGY > Sin > Man's Disobedience > God's Command 


Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
you shall not eat.
Gen. 2:17

God’s command was cogent and concise—there was nothing questionable in His statement; it was forthright and direct. Adam understood the command, for God had created him with an intellect and the capacity for communication with Him and with others of his kind (see: Intellectually Astute).

The command was neither expansive nor complex; it involved only one tree. All the other trees on the earth were available for man’s use (Gen. 1:2), but this one tree was inviolable. Man was simply not to eat from this particular tree. When God planted the Garden in Eden, He placed trees there that were “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (2:9). Bountiful provision was made for man, and man was told that from the rest of the trees of the Garden, he could “freely eat” (2:16). Of all the desirable trees in the Garden and on the earth, only one tree was forbidden.

Specifically, Genesis records that “Yahweh God commanded the man” (v. 16). Note the use of the word “man.” Did Adam alone receive the command, and then was it Adam’s responsibility to communicate the command from God to his wife? Is it concluding too much to affirm that here God is indirectly establishing His order for the race? Does the wording imply that the proper structure for the family is identical to the one that is presented throughout the rest of Scripture: man > woman > children? Does the wording imply the responsibility for leadership that belonged to Adam? Do the words involve the relationship that Adam had to the race by his identification with the race (see: The Principle of Identification and Representative)?

Additional support for the idea that the command was given only to Adam is found in the words of God to Adam after the sin: “And to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you: “You shall not of it,” cursed is the ground because of you’”(Gen. 3:17). God says: “I commanded you.” Should it be concluded that God is merely addressing Adam, or is more intended?

Is it understood that Eve was included in the command, therefore, the more correct interpretation is to conclude that Eve is incorporated in the word “man”? For instance, in Genesis 1:26 God says: “Let us make man . . . and let them”; it seems that in the word “man” is included in the “them.” “Man” in this context is to be understood in a generic sense; that is, a general meaning is to be attached to the word so that it includes both man and woman. Then in verse 27, we read: “God created man . . . He created him; male and female He created them.” Again, the word “man” includes “male and female” and “them.” Sometimes man refers to an individual man, while at other times the word refers to the race. From this perspective, therefore, when God commanded the “man,” He is commanding them both. Indirect support for this understanding is the fact that when God gave the Dominion Mandate (1:28), the text reads: “Then God blessed them, and God said to them . . .” If the Dominion Mandate (see: Dominion Mandate) was given to both, then surely this command regarding the tree was given to both.

Does God not have the prerogative to command man, to command man in any way He deems wise? Man is living in God’s world and enjoying God’s provision, not the reverse. Man is the creature, and God is the Creator; man is contingent, and God is Sovereign. From every perspective, the right to command belongs to God.

The basic issue is one of Sovereignty, the question of rule. Does God have the right to rule? Or does man have some sort of right or independence that is his to exercise, such that God is limited or thwarted in His designs? Are there any rights that belong to man, or is man at the total disposal of God. In other words, is man the clay, or is man the potter? Who has the right to rule; who has the power to rule—God or man? All of the Biblical Revelation (see: Revelation) has one consistent answer—the right to rule belongs to God and to God alone (see: Providence and God is Sovereign).

Throughout secular and sacred history, voices from philosophy and theology have attempted to defend man, to find a point where man is autonomous. It seems that some thinkers will go to any lengths to create for man rights that are his by virtue of him being man, rights that guarantee for man some sort of independence and freedom. If this is not predicated of man, then, according to these thinkers, man ceases to be man; for man to be man in the fullest and most complete sense, he must be capable of self-determination—this is his right. And it is fundamentally wrong for man not to have this so-called right. If self-determination is not attributed to man, then, according to this perspective, man is reduced to something less than man; he is dehumanized.

But this line of thought brings into question the right of God to do what He pleases with that which He has created, whether it is man, the planets, a single flower, or a lonely insect. Is God truly God; that is, does He have the right to rule, and does He indeed rule? It is not the “right” of man that must be defended, but the absolute unchanging right of God to do what He pleases with what He has made (Isa. 46:9-11), a sovereign right which is the consistent and unyielding testimony of Scripture (see: Scriptural Support for Sovereignty and Theistic Determinism).

God has the right to command man! This point must be embraced, or, rather, one must be embraced by this perspective. Without this foundational position, one will not be able to interpret the Scriptures properly. The starting point is God not man (see: Starting Point). God may grant the newly created man access to all the trees of the earth and yet restrict him from one tree—man must hear the command and obey.

Attached to the command was an equally succinct warning: “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). From the beginning man was confronted with the fact that there is a consequence for disobedience; death is associated with transgression. Adam was taught that life cannot be lived without accountability.

For those who question an end time judgment and subsequent eternal punishment, the discussion, or debate, must begin at this text in Genesis. For those who affirm that God will not send anyone to a place of torment, or that it is immoral for God to create a man and then torment that man, the dialogue must originate with this initial warning from God. And again, the heart of the issue involves God’s right to command and warn as He sees fit, and then judge those who do not heed His word.

Literally the text (“you shall surely die”) reads: “dying you will die.” What is the meaning of such a statement? Is it a redundant emphasis on the fact of death, or is there a double death that is intended?

The interpretation must be that “dying” speaks of spiritual death, and “you will die” speaks of physical death. The warning is that if you disobey then there will be an immediate consequence and then a delayed consequence; that is, there will be an initial death and a later death. At the point of sin there will be the spiritual death, and later there will be a physical death that is the inevitable conclusion of spiritual death—both deaths are the consequences of sin.

In this state that comes to be true of all men following the sin of Adam, man is physically alive but spiritually dead, with the corrupt spiritual state guaranteeing the ultimate demise of the physical body (see: Death).

This understanding is foundational for the teaching found in the rest of the Scriptures that associates sin and death, with immediate death and future death being the consequences of sin. All death, both spiritual and physical, is the result of sin; Paul declares: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

The problem of man is death,
and the need of man is life.
(see: Spiritual Life)

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