So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way…
You remember the old legend of Greek mythology, of one to whom, when he had pleased the gods, they said: "Ask what you will, and we will give it." And he said," Give me immortality." They did so, and he lived on and on, and could not die. He had immortality, but it was immortality with mortal woes. How wretched was his lot! How wearily did he go along his way of weakness and distress! How he prayed for the revoking of the favour that was only a curse! The woes of man are such that the only immortal who can bear them must be God. It is therefore God's infinite pity and tenderness, that when man had taken of the tree of knowledge, he is forbidden the tree of life. The very form of the words is striking. It is an unfinished sentence. God says, "Behold, the man is become as one of Us, to know good and evil, and now, lest he should put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever —" The sentence is unfinished. God did not conclude the awful hypothesis. Man had sinned, and were he now to put out his hand and take of the tree of life and live forever — the eternal. One drops a veil on that dread scene of sorrow into which the immortal sinner would be plunged. It is not only judgment that puts the tree of life beyond man's reach; it is an act of pitifulness, an act of divinest grace. The punishment of sin further involved the labour of reducing the earth by tillage and toil expended upon it to supply man's need. "He sent him forth from the garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken." He had been put into the garden to keep it. Now he is set to till the earth. Is there not here also a gracious mitigation of man's suffering? We find ever the traces of mercy blended with the righteous indignation of the offended law. The cloud has always its silver lining. Suppose God had not only permitted the gift of immortality to remain with man after his sin, but had left him also without toil. Suppose everything had been ready to his hand, and he needed only to put out his hand and take the fruit of the garden, the fruit of the tree! No labour! no death! A world of sin, a world of immortality, and a world without work. Can you conceive of a more awful judgment than that? Labour is the mitigation of our woe. Labour is in many cases the cure of the evil. Work will often wean you from sorrow, which comes from sin. Work, good wholesome toil — the hand, the brain — will heal the wounds that sin has made. It was not in wrath, but in pity; it was not with wrath but with grace, that God sent forth the man to till the ground whence he came God finally pronounces the sentence that the way of the tree of life was to be kept by a flaming sword. Man was not willing to go. We will not leave our Eden unless we are driven forth. God had to drive man out of the garden which he had spoiled, and then keep the way to the tree of life by the flaming sword and the burning cherubim. Now, it suggests in the first place that the man had the desire to return upon his past. If man had not wanted to remain in Eden, he would not have been driven out at all. If he had not wanted to return, it would not have been kept by the cherubim. Man always seeks again his past. We always are returning to it. How we dwell in the reminiscences of life! How we look back upon childhood's days with a certain longing! Who has not, again and again, called up in memory's affection those who were with us in the years that have departed? Who is there that would not recall the past? "If I could only begin life again! If I could only have back those hours I wasted — those childhood's impressions I allowed to vanish! When I was a child, how tender the heart — how quick the conscience — how pure the life! Oh! give it back to me. Let me inherit the Eden from which I have been driven!" My friends, it is vain. Eden is closed. The cherubim are at the gate; them is always the flaming sword to keep the way of the tree of life. Old friendships! Who would not return to these? Friends we have lost, whose hearts we have broken — whom we neglected — whom we injuriously treated — who would not give his right hand to get them back again, that we might undo the wrong we did, that we might increase the little service we had rendered? It is impossible! The cherubim are keeping the gate: you cannot go back. Oh! the lost opportunities of life! Who has used every chance? Who, even in the things of time and sense, has always been watchful? That golden hour in life, you only had it once. You had it then, you lost it then. The time of the flood, the prosperous breeze, the chance that was given you; it is gone. You look back with regret. The cherubim keep the gate; you cannot go back. The wasted lives. The injury that cannot be undone. It may be you wrecked forever the peace of some soul, and in the wreck destroyed your own. Oh! to have had the day before that fatal hour! Oh! to be able to pause again before that false step! It is done! it is done! and the tree of life is guarded by the flaming sword of the cherubim. And this is so, not only with the individual, but with the entire race. All men look back. It is a poor nation that has no history. It is a very savage tribe that has no tradition. The men who have forgotten the golden age are scarcely worthy of the name. All nations recall it. The poets sing of it, and the philosophers meditate upon it, and all mankind look back upon it, and still remember the Eden that was lost. When Adam and Eve went out, they went out with unwilling steps, and ever gazing at the vanished paradise. Man's life is a reminiscence. Man's life is a longing regret. And it illustrates also the impossibility of return. If that past be so delightful, let us go back to it. Let us be to friends whom we have lost, what we were once to them. No, never! The cherubim are there. What were these cherubim? I do not know. There are many orders of being in the service of God; but whatever they were, they stand between the departing man and woman, and forever bar the way of their return. And whatever were the cherubim, the poet is right, that between us and the past there stands ourselves, our "former selves." For what is it that really stands between us and the past, towards which we would move if it were possible? What but ourselves? It needs no angel from heaven, no flaming sword to bar the way. We are our own barriers. It is ourselves who stop the way to the tree of life. It is our deed. We lost the chance, we threw away our opportunity, we sacrificed innocence, we destroyed the soul of our friend, and well-nigh have destroyed our own —Our former selves, wielding a two-edged sword.Is that all? Are we come to this? Is the promise to the woman, is the voice of the serpent, is the word to Adam, is the command to labour, all to be gathered up in this, and is this the end? Combine the longings for return, combine the obstacles that lie between man and his past, but surely with these we may blend the ever-recurring tone of the story. Does it not point to another gospel? Is there no restoration of life in the future? Is God, who has given to man original life, is He to be stayed in His purpose by human sin? He may have closed the way back to Eden, because there is another way which shall be opened, He may have said to Adam, "No step backward to the Eden thou hast lost," because every step forward, perpetually forward, would bring him round again to that Eden into which he would enter. Ah, yes! We must go forward; backward thou canst not go. Go forward. Is time lost? Time is still ours; and though the past has vanished, and though the present is slipping from our grasp, the future is our own. That we still possess. You cannot go back, says God. You have lost innocence; you cannot be innocent again. But, better than innocent, you can be sanctified. Is life lost? Has it wholly perished? Yes, wholly. But life lies beyond. The moment we were born we began to die, and the first cry of the child is but the prelude to the groan with which the man shall pass away. But he dies only to live in the nobler life; there alone, in that great future, shall the restoration be. Eden is closed behind you, but all the world and all the heaven lie before you. Here is the gospel — the gospel of the barred tree of life, the guarded Eden, barred and guarded that we may seek the eternal life, the Eden that our God has given.
(L. D. Bevan, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.