Today we begin something new, exploring tov, the Hebrew word for good. You may have heard it in "Mazel tov" which means good luck. This little word is so much more than just good. To say that God is "good", is somewhat of an understatement. He is tov. #morethangood
This word appears many times in the first few chapters of Genesis. It is an explosive word that is the standard of good, the substance of good, from the source of good, and links to the idea that things that are tov have within them the seed - or potential - to multiply and make more tov.
[Genesis 1:11-13 Genesis 2:8-10]
Eden is full of tov. A garden planted on a mountain (Ezek 28:13-16) with a river flowing from it, full of plants and trees. Adam, (ha-adam - "the human” ) and Eve, (chavva - "mother of life") are placed in the garden to rule and reign, to increase and multiply, just like the plants and trees. In fact, there is a lot of imagery in the Bible that compares people to trees. (Ps 1:3, Ps 92:12-14)
CREATION IS TOV BECAUSE GOD IS TOV
In the garden, we are introduced to two trees, that represent a choice. (Genesis 2:15-17)
The first is the Tree of Life, which is in the middle of the garden and is a picture of God's presence. It is less about a magic apple to eat and live forever, and more about an ongoing sustaining presence - communion with God, the divine creator. Later, the tabernacle and temple link to this. In the middle, the Holy of Holies, where God's presence is. Around it, garden like wood carvings (1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32, 35; 7:18-20). The temple on a mountain facing east. Adam's role, to work and to keep the garden, is the same language used for the priestly function to keep the temple. (Num. 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 18:5-6; 1 Chron. 23:32; Ezek. 44:14). Skip to the last chapter of the Bible, (Revelation 22:1-2), the throne of God in the middle, the Tree of Life is there, the river is there, it's Eden all over again.
The second is the Tree of knowledge of Good & Evil - or the tree of wisdom of good (tov) and bad (ra). Evil in English has no Ancient Hebrew equivalent, it's just ra - bad. So the idea is this is less about a philosophical right and wrong and more about the knowledge, wisdom, discernment of what is a good experience or a bad experience. Of what is functional and "dysfunctional". These words tov and ra are used together in a few places in the Bible, one in Jer 24 describing good and bad fruit, and another by Solomon (1 Kings 3) where he says "I am but a little child. I don't know how to rule these people or how to discern between tov and ra’ (See also Isa 7, Deut 1). The idea is an immaturity in wisdom - childlike. The point is this tree is not just about something morally right or wrong - but a knowledge (or wisdom) of the experience of badness.
Now, by reasoning, wisdom, knowledge, discernment would be needed by Adam and Eve to rule and reign, so then these two trees offer two pathways of how to learn wisdom, of how to learn tov and ra. The Tree of Life - God's way, The Tree of Knowledge - the shortcut way, that God warns against.
This is fascinating, perhaps unrelated, perhaps not? Peri-erga is the Greek for witchcraft (Acts 19:19) and it means "around the work" - a shortcut. I wonder if there is not something here about the strategy of the enemy to point toward a "shortcut" when God says otherwise.
We often blame God for putting a choice before us, but if he didn't that wouldn't be tov - so he does, because He is tov.
GOD GIVES PEOPLE A CHOICE BECAUSE HE IS TOV
In the very next chapter, we see that humans choose to covet wisdom at the expense of their relationship with God. Again the idea is less about a poisonous apple that kills, (by the way apples are not believed to be native to the Middle East, and the idea of the forbidden fruit being an apple seems to have come from Milton 1667 paradise lost - likely it was a fig or a grape), it's more about the coveting in the heart of man, and a choice to go against what God said. This act brings about a consequence of relational, spiritual, and physical death, and leads to great pain and evil and death in the world, which we live in today.
Note that it is not God that does the killing, but rather the consequence of the choice.
GOD WARNS OF THE CONSEQUENCES BECAUSE HE IS TOV
This sets up the plot conflict - how is God going to restore tov to His creation?
He starts a rescue mission with grace and mercy. Gen 3:15 is the protoevangelium - the first mention of the Gospel, that talks about a seed that will destroy the snake. It's an act of grace - mankind getting what is underserved. Gen 3:22-23 is an act of mercy, driving man away from the Tree of Life so that the state of death can have an end. Mercy: mankind not getting what is deserved.
GOD STARTS A RESCUE MISSION BECAUSE HE IS TOV
It all comes together in Jesus. The plant imagery, mountain and Gospel (good news) we see again in Isaiah 11:1, 52:7. Jesus arrives declaring the gospel - the message of tov. He goes about being and doing tov. He claims to be the temple, the place where heaven and earth meet (John 2:19). He says whoever believes in him will have eternal life (John 3:16). He claims to be the bread of life and talks about living water. His parables about the kingdom are all about seeds and growth. He says he is the vine, and his followers can only bear fruit if they abide in him. It's Eden imagery all over again.
God is planting a the new garden temple that will last for eternity, where he will live with his people….and Jesus is the seed…of the TREE OF LIFE. Yet, seeds must first die to bring life.
John 12:24 “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
And the way this seed dies is on a tree, on a mountain. He goes through the garden (Gethsemane), onto the mountain (Golgotha), and dies on a tree (the cross) (Gal 3:13)
The contrast and similarity to Eden is surely not accidental?
Then, the seed is raised to life, and offers salvation to anyone who will believe, a forgiveness of rebellion, He plants his Spirit in us to bring TOV into the world. His followers - connected to the true TREE OF LIFE, bear fruit (John 15:1-4) become the temple (1 Cor 3:16) and release living water (John 7:38).
We can only be tov because we are connected to the one who is tov.
God designed all creation and everything in it— including you and me and this church—for tov. We all lost this along the way. Jesus came to bring this back. Only though Jesus can we be restored into this relationship with God, and be transformed into the people that can rule and reign with God over His tov creation for eternity.
And, we have a choice: peri-erga, or God's way - the tree of life - Jesus.