And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat:…
I. When we use the word covenant to describe a revelation, which sounds more like a bare command, we mean to imply that this earliest transaction between God and man is marked by the same characteristics which we can trace throughout God's later dispensations; that it does not rest the claim of obedience on the naked prerogative of unquestionable power, but connects it with the offer of an explicit alternative for the decision of freewill; accompanied by the promise of a blessing for obedience, and by the threat of punishment for disobedience. We thus bring it into direct comparison with the general tenor of God's later covenants: "Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse." "See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil." A covenant, then, stands by its very nature between two other conceptions, each of which falls short of the full import of God's dealings with man. It is more than a mere ordinance, or a mere command, such as might have been imposed without reason, and enforced without reward. On the other hand, it is more than that expression of God's law which He wrote on man's heart in his very creation, and the traces of which we retain in the authority of conscience.
II. We have next to ask the meaning of the precept which that covenant contained; a precept which sometimes seems so strange and arbitrary: which some interpretations, indeed, describe as really strange and arbitrary; namely, that while freely indulged in every other earthly blessing, man was forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What is the right interpretation of those words? The following seems to be the meaning of Scripture in its disclosures on this earliest covenant. When man had been created after the image of God, there were two of the Divine attributes, his admission to which was limited by positive laws. These higher endowments were Immortality and Knowledge. To these the two trees which were planted in the midst of the garden bore a certain correspondence; that of life he might use, that of knowledge be might not. To have enjoyed free access to both from the beginning would have raised him above the rank which was suited to a being who was as yet so utterly untried. Therefore the one fruit was unconditionally forbidden, while the other fruit was conditionally allowed. When man disobeyed, and tasted of the prohibited tree of knowledge, the command was readjusted to meet the case of his sin. The tree of knowledge had now been tasted: the tree of life was therefore withdrawn.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: