HOW IT ALL BEGAN...
The following are slightly revised versions of some articles from my 1985 document called "Love Your Neighbor As Yourself" which has been widely circulated ever since. In order to fully understand the points which follow, you'll need to also read the first nine chapters of Genesis while you are reading this commentary.
Have you ever wondered:
a. What is the meaning and significance of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" and the "tree of life" in chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis?
b. What was Jesus Christ talking about when He said that "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away"? (Matthew 24: 35)
c. What did Jesus mean when He said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword"? (Matthew 10: 34, see also verses 35-39)
d. What did Jesus mean when He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"? (John 14: 6)
e. What did Jesus mean when He referred to Himself as a source of "living water"? (John 4: 10)
f. What was Jesus talking about when He told His disciples that they were the "salt of the earth"? (Matthew 5: 13)
These questions are not addressing mere "theological fringe issues"; they are addressing the basics, the very heart of what eventually became the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian religions. (Although I will frequently refer to the teachings of Jesus Christ, these points apply to the Jewish and Islamic faiths as well.) In order to understand and appreciate God's answers to the above questions, we must go back to the beginning. The book of Genesis shows how it all began.
The authors of the first nine chapters of Genesis deliberately worded those chapters (and subsequent chapters) to have at least two levels of interpretation.
a. The first level is the "worldly" interpretation whereby the words are interpreted as literally as possible. This may have been done because the authors discovered that unless they made their points in a way that at least appeared to conform with the popular myths of their day, their observations would not "get published" (a problem that really hasn't changed that much over all these centuries). It is ironic that some of the "fundamentalist" denominations of Christianity view their belief in this first level of interpretation as proof that they represent the "true faith." What they are actually doing is making some very unrealistic assumptions about the nature of truth and about the ability of humans to perceive truth.
b. The second level of interpretation recognizes that these stories were deliberately written to be prophetic parables which specifically address the nature of truth and the problems in human relations which are created by the inherent limitations in human abilities to perceive truth. They were designed to teach the importance of following God's two most fundamental commandments and can only be understood correctly if they are viewed relative to those two commandments (as opposed to viewing them from a "literal" standpoint). Jesus Christ's statement that "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Matthew 24: 35) and St. John's entire Book of Revelation show that the Jesus Christ recognized and taught this prophetic parable interpretation of these stories in Genesis. This is commonly referred to throughout the Bible as "opening their eyes" to the true meaning of the scriptures (Acts 26: 18). Only those who have seriously attempted to follow both of God's two most fundamental commandments are likely to acquire the types of experience needed to fully understand and appreciate the points which those authors were really trying to make.
THE CREATION PARABLE:
1. The authors of Genesis were people who looked at concepts, looked at the results of those concepts, and evaluated those results relative to the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. They were very much concerned with human perceptions. The first chapter of Genesis established the basic symbology scheme and sequence of distinctions which were used by subsequent authors (throughout the rest of the Bible) as the basis for much of the symbolism used in their own prophetic parables. Time and time again throughout the rest of the Bible, servants of God used such symbolic parables to show how humans tend to "screw things up" (badly) when they don't follow God's commandment to love their neighbors as themselves.
2. My explanation of the symbology used in the first chapter of Genesis may appear to you to be "far out" at first. But when you see how the subsequent authors used that symbology to teach God's principles of truth and love, you'll be profoundly impressed (and you'll thank God that they did, because what they taught is highly relevant to today's world situation). Keep in mind that they didn't have television to watch in the evenings, so they had plenty of time to intellectually entertain themselves by discussing their uses of symbology with others, thereby perfecting their parables for teaching purposes. Also keep in mind that the principles which they are addressing are rather abstract and are thus difficult to teach in any other way.
The following describes how those ancient authors first learned to perceive God:
3. Genesis 1: 1-5 (the first day): "Heaven" represents mankind's perceptions of God and "earth" represents mankind's shared perceptions of popular truths (other spirits). The "waters" represent personal experiences or observations of reality. The "light" represents God's truth and guidance which one perceives when one seeks the truth relative to the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. The "darkness" represents an ignorance or conceptual lack of guidance from God (the absence of God's light). The "earth" (mankind's perceptions of popular truths) was without form and enveloped in darkness until the Spirit of God (the popular concept or spirit perceived by following God's principles of truth and love) moved upon the "face" (point of view) of the "waters" (mankind's observations of reality), at which time they realized that there was a significant difference between perceptions that were "of God" and perceptions that were not "of God." So God, through these servants of God, named these two categories of perceptions Day and Night. The evenings and the mornings represent "gray areas" or transitions from one to the other.
4. Genesis 1: 6-8 (the second day): Well, these servants of God found that this categorization was still too abstract to be of much practical use, so God guided them to recognize a "firmament" called "Heaven" which divided the "waters upper" (observations of reality perceived according to God's standards) from the "waters under" (observations of reality perceived without God's guidance).
5. Genesis 1: 9-13 (the third day): That still didn't work very well, so God guided them to make another distinction, this time between the "waters under" and the "dry land." The "dry land" was called "earth" and represented mankind's perceptions of truths or concepts which were not "of-God" but which had become so popular that they were accepted as being "true" without any further evaluation. The "waters under" that remained after making that distinction were then named the "Seas." From this "earth" God guided them to recognize that these "earthly" popular truths tended to cause new distinctions (blades of grass) and trees of knowledge to grow in people's minds. These "trees" represent systems of knowledge which grow through the use of fundamental assumptions. When nurtured by the "waters" of man's observations of reality, such fundamental assumptions produce conclusions ("fruits") which in turn become assumptions which lead to further conclusions, etc. In this way, "knowledge" tends to grow like trees. They also observed that the "fruits" (results) of these systems of knowledge were often used to encourage others to believe in those trees of knowledge.
6. Genesis 1: 14-19 (the fourth day): Now they were getting somewhere, but they that found the guidance "of God" which they were providing was being confused by similar, but less Godly guidance from others. They also began to realize that there were times when it was hopelessly impossible to expect people to follow God's commandment to love their neighbors as themselves. So God guided them to create some more distinctions which they really didn't want to make, but had to make for practical reasons. They were guided to impose a tribal restriction on their definition of neighbor, so that their guidance relative to the commandment to love their neighbors as themselves could be practiced more purely within those limits. This very bright but somewhat limited guidance was named the "Sun." As far as they were concerned, even though their guidance was now somewhat limited, it was still quite sufficient to serve as an example for others outside of their immediate definition of neighbor (i.e. to "rule the day" by creating enough guiding light for everybody to follow). They recognized that their religious competitors who were outside of their definition of neighbor were also providing some guidance which was "of God", but that their guidance had even more restrictions on their definition of neighbor and was less bright for other reasons as well. This guidance provided by other religions was named the "Moon." It "ruled the night", because it provided some Godly guidance but was not sufficient to eliminate the darkness of ignorance. They also realized that there were others out there who occasionally made some brilliant observations on specific topics which they recognized as being "of God." These were named "stars" which, although brilliant, were still not sufficient to eliminate darkness in general. These sources or light were placed in the firmament called "Heaven" (mankind's perceptions of God) as if they were holes in the roof of a tent which allowed the "waters upper" (observations of reality relative to the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself) to come through and nourish the "earth" (i.e. to influence mankind's perceptions of popular truths).
7. Genesis 1: 20-23 (the fifth day): Now they had a workable conceptual framework, or so they thought. But alas! They began to observe some other things that seemed rather startling. Some of these concepts that they were observing seemed to take on "a life of their own" and move about hither and thither. They wouldn't stand still (rooted to the earth) so that they could be easily dealt with relative to God's guidance. So these "mobile spirits" were given names after the animals in nature that they resembled in order to facilitate their ability to identify them wherever they appeared. (We use a similar conceptual approach when we say that the stock market is "bullish" or "bearish"). The most famous (and most subtle) of these animal-like spirits was an ancient "serpent" of a concept that was later referred to as Satan. These mobile spirits had a way of reproducing themselves in other people's minds, so likening them to animals seemed quite appropriate. This may have been what led them to decide to create a parable to convey their observations in a way that resembled some of the other popular myths of their day (so that they could get it "published" by the Scribes) and yet still be used as a valuable teaching aid regarding human nature.
8. Genesis 1: 24-31 (the sixth day): To complete this parable, they had to explain how God created man (and woman) and how God gave man dominion over all of these spirits. Unlike these animal-like spirits (popular concepts), the guidance they received from God indicated that man's spirit was an image of God's spirit in the sense that, like God, man could recognize and evaluate spirits. This was really quite a profound intellectual achievement. At this point, they envisioned both the spirit of man and these animal-like spirits as deriving their intellectual nourishment (meat) from "eating" (believing in) the "fruits" of those trees of knowledge and the "seeds" of those grass-like distinctions. All this may sound terribly complicated at this point, but as you will see, this conceptual framework leads to some very powerful insights on how to help solve human relation problems in general.
9. Genesis 2: 1-3 (the seventh day): We can thank God and the authors of the creation parable for this "day of rest", because otherwise we might all be working seven days a week. The implication here is that God has done His work and "set the stage", so now it is up to mankind play out the rest of the story. Notice that there is no nightfall to signify the end of this seventh day.
THE GARDEN OF EDEN PARABLE
1. Evidently, this parable was written subsequently by another servant of God who found from experience that a lot more needed to be said about God's relationship with man. As in chapter 1, the author of this parable modeled it after some of the popular myths of his day for its "literal" interpretation, but he worded it very carefully to make a series of important points which were not provided in those myths. This continuation of the creation parable was designed to be a prophetic parable as well as a teaching aid. By looking at concepts, looking at the results of those concepts, and evaluating those concepts and results relative to the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, this author recognized (over 3,000 years ago) that by following his own concepts and values rather than God's guidance, mankind would eventually destroy himself as a species! So the Garden of Eden parable is actually a prophetic warning to our generation. We have the technology in place right now to do that. Unless we heed these prophetic warnings, we probably WILL destroy ourselves as a species. This and numerous other prophetic parables in the Bible not only predict what will happen, they explain WHY those things will happen.
2. In the prophetic parable interpretation of Genesis 2 through 5, Adam represents mankind, and Eve represents that portion of mankind that in today's terminology would be referred to as "the church." Even today, Eve is sometimes referred to as "Adam's rib", a symbolism used in Daniel 7: 5 to represent some of the broken-up (apostate) denominations of the church.
3. The "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" represents mankind's ability to look at concepts, look at the results of those concepts, and evaluate both the concepts and results according to some kind of criteria which leads them to subsequently categorize those concepts and results as being either "good" or "evil." This is the intellectual ability that most significantly separates the human species from all of the other species of living things on this planet. It is the ability that enables us to be "like God", if we so choose. However, God warned mankind that if they ate of the fruit of that tree (i.e. if they believed in and put their faith in what they learned by using that conceptual tool), mankind would:
a. First of all "die" with respect to the light of God's guidance,
b. Eventually become "logically" led by their own man-made concepts (and idolatry) to devise a means for destroying themselves as a species on this planet,
c. And then proceed to do just that!
As far as the creation story is concerned, we are still in the twilight of the seventh day. Why will this happen?
4. The early church (Eve) was the first to recognize and use of this conceptual tool that led to a "knowledge of good and evil." The church then taught the use of this conceptual tool to the rest of mankind (Adam). When they learned about it, they were so astounded at the power of this conceptual tool, that to them it seemed like the "scales fell from their eyes." Unfortunately, each individual and each group of individuals tended to use a DIFFERENT set of criteria when they evaluated concepts and the results of concepts for their categorization of what is "good" and what is "evil", and that led to anarchy and war. Mankind and the church found themselves to be standing "naked" when their conduct was viewed according to God's criteria of truth and love, so what did they do then? They attempted to hide from God. As a matter of fact, that response is one which true servants of God often encounter--some of the best known leaders of the Christian Church today are STILL attempting to hide from God! However, in those days mankind and the church had no practical alternative but to impose some restrictions on their definition of neighbor when seeking to follow the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. God fashioned them some "clothes out of animal skins" (tribal restrictions imposed on the definition of "neighbor") and sent them out of the "garden of Eden" (a harmonious relationship with God) to till an "earth" (mankind's perceptions of popular truths) that was cursed to produce hatreds and violence due to the unlimited number of different criteria that would be used by people to define the difference between what is "good" and what is "evil."
5. That was the origin of what has become known in today's world as the concept of "national sovereignty." Initially it was created by God (through servants of God) to permit people to follow the commandment to love their neighbors as themselves within a definition of neighbor that was restricted for practical reasons. However, as the Old Testament documents so well, when the Jews limited their definition of neighbor to other Jews only, that solved some problems, but it also led to devastating results--sometimes for their non-Jew neighbors, and sometimes for the Jews themselves. Over the centuries, various servants of God have succeeded in either eliminating or reducing the popularity of many of the restrictions which were being imposed on the definition of neighbor (slavery, race, etc.), but one distinction that still remains (nationality) has become the basis for the creation of bloodiest conceptual idol ever created by man! People all over the world are worshipping it, and killing people for it, and sacrificing their own lives for it--a concept that has nearly all of the attributes of Satan--the concept of national sovereignty.
6. Consider the situation in Afghanistan in the mid 1980s. Was God happy (as some people were) to see thousands of Afghanistan rebels being killed by the Soviets? No! Was God happy (as some other people were) to see thousands of Soviets being killed by the Afghanistan rebels? No! Those people were fighting and killing each other, because they had different criteria for defining what is "good" and what is "evil" relative to different definitions of what "Afghanistan national sovereignty" should be.
7. Getting on with the story, once outside of the garden of Eden, Eve (the church) produced Cain and Abel. Cain represents what we would call in today's terminology "secular society." Abel represents one or more persons who were faithfully following God's principles of truth and love, at least within the confines of their assumed restrictions on the definition of "neighbor." The fruits of Abel's efforts were succeeding fairly well, when viewed according to God's standards, but the efforts of Cain to "till the earth" with all kinds of different criteria for evaluating "good" and "evil" only created problems and was not rewarded by God. Cain found Abel's teachings to be embarrassing (which is often the case with true servants of God), so he murdered Abel. But the earth (mankind's perceptions of popular truths) swallowed (believed) Abel's teachings and cried out for revenge (another typical earthly or "worldly" response). Notice in Genesis 4: 9 how Cain flatly lied to God when he said he didn't know where Abel was and how Cain reflected a view (according to his own less-than-Godly criteria) that men were not responsible for taking care of their brothers (he didn't even consider his own brother to be his neighbor). Don't such views sound familiar in today's world? Views of this nature are still being used to justify the worship of national sovereignty.
8. In spite of all this, God had mercy on Cain when Cain asked for it. The significance of the "mark" which God put on Cain's forehead is that God gave the authority for the political leadership of mankind to Cain and to the "secular" descendants of Cain (Genesis 4: 17). The "mark" represents a symbol of worldly authority (such as a crown). When political leaders are killed or attempts are made to kill political leaders, quite often far more than seven times as many people are killed in the resulting revenge. The communist rulers of the Soviet Union also paid dearly (millions of lives) for the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family, both before and during World War II, because that incident was effectively used to inspire wide-spread hatreds and resistance to the communist cause. In South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong paid dearly (millions of lives) for their policy of murdering local South Vietnamese political leaders and their families, because that policy of theirs was one of the major issues that inspired the United States to become militarily involved in that conflict. The Satanic "seeds" which they had sown produced Satanic "fruits" for them in return. The leaders of the Christian Church should be pointing such things out the people of the world!
9. Notice that Cain's attempt to "censor" Abel didn't work for very long. Abel was replaced by Seth. The Pharisees attempted to "censor" Jesus Christ by having Him crucified. And they succeeded--for about three days! Censorship is frequently used as a defense against Christ's double-edged sword of truth, but it is always just a matter of time before someone will finally break through and solve the problem. Ironically, some religious leaders in the past have advocated "book burning", "Beattles album burning", etc. to "serve God". True servants of God use "the light of Day" (not censorship) to solve problems.
THE GREAT FLOOD PARABLE
1. As time passed, mankind became so wicked by following their own criteria rather than God's criteria for evaluating man-made concepts that God could no longer stand it. He felt that the time had come to bring this "great experiment" to an end, but He found that there was one family which pleased Him, because they were doing a better job than most when it came to following God's criteria of truth and love. This was Noah's family. Symbolically, this family represents that portion of mankind that obeys God's commandments on "blind faith" (i.e. without actually understanding why they need to be obeyed). God told Noah to build an "ark", to gather pairs of each kind of animal, and to get into the ark (i.e. to put his faith in it). This is why Revelation 11: 19 refers to the covenant of God's two most fundamental commandments as an "ark." According to this parable, the human race and all of the animals on this planet would have been totally wiped out by the Great Flood, if Noah had failed to obey God's commandments or had failed to really put faith in that ark! When the flood waters came, that ark enabled them to rise above those waters (those were "waters upper" from the "windows" in Heaven which opened). God thereby cleansed the world of all those ungodly concepts and gave mankind a chance to start over again. This Great Flood parable is the origin of the Christian practice of baptism (I Peter 3: 21-22). Although this parable was likewise modeled after some of the popular myths of their day for its "literal" interpretation, it may really be reflecting an actual event where wide-spread bloodshed was cut short by a spiritual revival like the Second Coming of Christ, but which lasted for only one generation.
2. This parable is not only referring to the past, it is also a prophetic warning to our present generation of religious leaders, politicians, and news agencies. God promised that He would never again use a flood to destroy nearly all living beings, but His promise didn't mention anything about a nuclear war. God's subsequent promise that He will not permit the destruction of the entire human species is reassuring, but it is what can be referred to as a "100% safe prediction." If that prediction turns out to be wrong, there will be nobody left alive on earth to realize that it was wrong! (Besides, if a World War III brings an end to all living flesh on this planet, it won't be God's fault; it will be mankind doing it to themselves for the honor and glory of "national sovereignty.") The prophetic point of this part of the parable is that in order to get out of this mess that we have created, we will have to put our faith in the "ark of the covenant" (i.e. put our faith in the power and righteousness of God's two most fundamental commandments).
3. Unfortunately for mankind, even though Noah had formerly obeyed God's commandments (blindly), he did not eat of the fruits of the "tree of life", so he too eventually became apostate. He "tilled the earth" of mankind's perceptions of popular truths with some of his own criteria (rather than God's criteria) for evaluating concepts, and he become drunk with the results. When his son Ham saw that Noah was now "naked" and "asleep" from God's point of view, he told his two brothers Shem and Japheth. Shem and Japheth found a "robe" (some ungodly distinction or limitation that served as an excuse for not following God's principles of truth and love) and adorned Noah in it to make Noah appear to be Godly again. Notice that they were looking the other way while they did this, thereby not recognizing (or refusing to recognize) Noah's "nakedness." What did Noah do when he learned that Ham had recognized the ungodliness of his (Noah's) conduct? The drunken Noah cursed Ham's descendants (Canaan) and began to misrepresent God to Shem and Japheth. Notice also that he made the descendants of Ham (the church) slaves to the sinful restrictions on the definition of neighbor created by Shem and Japheth. Evidently, after "the flood", the servants of God represented as "Ham" attempted to follow the commandment to love their neighbors as themselves without restriction but were "overruled" by secular society. So in this parable, they pointed out that by cursing Canaan and misrepresenting God, Noah was in effect cursing all the rest of his own descendants as well, because he was planting ungodly "seeds" in their minds (such as the concept of slavery). The "fruits" from the "trees" that have grown from those ungodly "seeds" have been plaguing mankind ever since. Mankind had fallen again!
4. The "tree of life" referred to in the third chapter of Genesis and the 22nd chapter of St. John's Book of Revelation is a "tree of knowledge" which has been growing through the use of a "seed" (conceptual tool) that was planted in the "earth" of mankind's perceptions of popular truths by the authors of Genesis and which was perhaps most effectively made known to us today by Jesus Christ who summarized it as follows:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first
and great commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love
your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang
all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)
If you: a. Look at the concepts,
b. Look at the results,
c. Evaluate the concepts and the results relative to _both_ of these two commandments,
d. And follow that guidance,
then you will be helping to create the "tree of life" (the tree of knowledge about what God want's done in this world). These two commandments provide you with a conceptual "window" on reality that enables you to see the world as God sees it. The use of this conceptual "window" is referred to as seeking God's "face" in II Chronicles 7: 14 and to seeing God's "face" in Revelation 22: 4. (The translation into English would be more accurate if these verses used the expression "point of view" rather than "face.") The "tree of life" is a "living tree" (created by a "living God") in the sense that its branches (which originally produced Godly "fruits") may have to be "pruned" if they begin to start bearing ungodly "fruits" due to subsequent changes in conditions. Unlike most ideologies, the "tree of life" continually adapts to changing conditions as it grows. It recognizes the inherently relative nature of human abilities to perceive truth and provides Godly guidance accordingly. This is what the Bible is all about!
5. Now you know the meaning and significance of the two specifically identified "trees" in the garden of Eden. How do you get back into the garden of Eden to "eat of the fruit of the tree of life?" Basically, all you have to do is to stand right up and walk into that garden allowing that "flaming sword" mentioned in Genesis 3: 24 to purge the teachings of Satan out of our heart and mind. Outsiders fear that flaming sword (Christ's double-edged sword of truth) and try to hide from it. No matter how embarrassing it may be, insiders appreciate the work of that "flaming sword" for what it really is, an expression of God's love! (Revelation 3: 19)
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Last modified on Friday, May 03, 2002