Access to the Tree of Life: Genesis 2

We all desperately need access to a tree of life. Without access to a tree that provides life we are doomed to die eternally. As humans, we were not created immortal, though the first humans did enjoy a type of eternal life at one time. Eternal life, that is to say, God’s gift of life, was what we were originally meant to enjoy. But due to unbelief in what the LORD said was good for them, our first parents were barred access to the tree of life. It was a death sentence for the human race. How do we regain access to the tree?


When God breathed the breath of life into Adam, he became a living soul, but not an eternally living soul. Eternal life was not an inherent human quality. Only God is immortal (1 Tim. 6:16). Eternal life was a gift from God given to our first parents by way of access to the tree of life. They were free to eat from any tree—including the tree of life—except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.[1]

 “In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Gen. 2:9b

In response to the failure of our parents to trust and obey the LORD’s word that He alone knew what was good for them and what was evil for them, they experienced a death sentence. God’s earlier announcement to them came true.

“You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for when you eat from it, you will surely die (מֹ֥ות תָּמֽוּת; mot tamut).” Gen. 2:17

 Adam and Eve on Death Row

But it seems as though the first couple did not die, at least, not for a very long time.[2] The death sentence was delayed. They lived on death row as exiles from God’s presence for many years. They died in exile. How are we to understand this delay? What was it that caused their death eventually?

The phrase, “you will surely die” can help us clear up the confusion. It is used elsewhere by Moses to describe a death sentence.

“Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death (mot tamut).” Exod. 31:14

“Anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death (mot tamut).” Lev. 24:16

The announcement spoken by God in Genesis and by Moses in Exodus and Leviticus is a pronouncement of a death sentence. So, now we can understand that Adam and Eve received a death sentence.

 Carrying out the Death Sentence

In the Leviticus passage, the death sentence was carried out by stoning. But Adam and Eve were not stoned, though it might be argued that—due to unbelief—they were high on the drug of their own views of what constituted good.

The death sentence imposed on our first parents was carried out by expulsion from God’s presence in the garden, thus denying them access to the tree of life.

Without free access to the fruit growing on the tree of life, the process of death, inherent in their bodies, continued unabated. No fruit, no life. It was a very slow process. But without free access to fruits of the tree which sustained life, death was inevitable, albeit slow in coming.

“After he drove the man out, he placed on the east[3] side of the Garden cherubim[4] and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” Gen. 3:24

There is No Shangri-La

Eternal life, then, was not an inherent quality enjoyed by human beings. They were still humans, dependent upon the gracious gift of life through access to the tree of life. Without that access to life, humans are born and live but inevitably they die. Outside of God’s presence, we are wanderers and exiles, looking for life and a home. This is why the operative question of the Bible is,

“LORD, who may dwell in your tent? Who can live on your holy mountain?” Ps. 15:1

“Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?” Ps. 24:3

There is no such thing as a Shangri-La.[5]

Trace the Pattern

Like all other topics in Genesis, access to a tree that offers life is programmatic. Access and denial to the tree in Genesis 2-3 is the first episode of many that form a pattern in Scripture, both in Israel’s Bible and in the New Testament. It’s a pattern you can trace all the way though Scripture.

Dying for a Tree of Life

The key is to locate the right leader, Adam’s replacement, who can give us access to a future tree of life and thus overcome our vulnerability to death. We require a qualified leader who—like Old Testament leaders[6]--can take us successfully through the water barriers, and who—like Old Testament leaders—can lead us to the top of the right mountain;[7] and there on that mountain, we can enjoy gracious access to another orchard, another tree of life. Then we will no longer be exiles and wanderers, waiting on death row.

We need another gift of a tree. We are dying for another tree of life.[8]

John provides us with a brief glimpse of this tree:[9]

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Rev. 2:7

This is just the beginning of the pattern that is unfolded through Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. The story of finding access to a tree of life is sustained with multiple clues in Israel’s Bible, in the Gospels, the Epistles, and in John’s unveiling of Jesus in the Revelation. Locate the clues and the pattern emerges.

 We Are All on Death Row

We are not immortal. We are all wanderers and exiles from God’s presence without access to the tree of life. We are all on death row. We all need access to a tree of life. But there is hope. Scripture is the story of God providing access to another tree of life.

Join us as we trace this pattern of trees offering life through the pages of Scripture.




[1] Genesis 2:16-17.

[2] Genesis 5:5.

[3] East is far more than a mere geographical detail. In Genesis, east is the direction of the city of Babylon and the tower of Babel and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. East means away from God’s presence. What is more, the return to the Promised Land by Abram is in a westward direction and to the city of Peace (Salem; Gen 14:17-20).

[4] The cherubim indicate God’s presence. Cherubim were embroidered on the tabernacle’s curtains and stand guard over the Ark in the Holy of Holies. The tabernacle, like Eden, is the place of God’s presence and can only be entered from the east, the direction of the sunrise.

[5] A fictional land of peace and perpetual youth; it was the setting for the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by the English author James Hilton. But, despite the fictitious status of this land of perpectual youth, many people still believe in its existence. What this fictitious land lacked was a tree of life. Sorry, Mr. Hilton, but no cigar.

[6] Such as Noah, Moses, and Joshua.

[7] Eden was a mountain as Israel’s Scripture explicitly indicates.

[8] The pattern of future trees and mountains can be located by certain clues. One clue is to track the presence of the cherubim that guarded access to the tree of life. In the Sinai Covenant, the Torah within the Ark of the Covenant is guarded by cherubim (Exod 25:10-22). The tabernacle itself is a mountain inverted, with a tree and three sections, just as Mount Sinai had three sections. There are multiple parallels between the Garden located in Eden and the Tabernacle. One example of many is the Menorah configured as a seven-branched tree, suggestive of Eden’s fruit trees. In fact, the Garden located in Eden is the first Holy of Holies.

[9] Trees are major actors in Genesis andthe rest of Scripture. Trees depict our continuing relationship to God in the ups and downsof life in Eden’s Paradise. To begin with, trees were signs of God’s bountiful provision to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-2. But, alas, the tree became the place where the serpent incited unbelief toward God in Genesis 3. Finally, and predictably, the trees became the hiding place where Adam and Eve sought refuge from God due to their guilt (Gen 3). And, of course, as has been said already, our parents’ punishment is denial of access to the tree of life. See also Deut 21:22-23 and Gal 3:13. Trees are major actors in the redemptive story.