Genesis 2:17

but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.

וּמֵעֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע–לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ  כִּי, בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְךָ מִמֶּנּוּ–מוֹת תָּמוּת

Here is the meat of the command, though the permission in v. 1:16 was ample and abundant. This is the prohibition whose violation started it all.

Structurally it is a beautiful example of the prominence device of fronting, both this verse and v. 16. The complement of the verb, in both cases a prepositional phrase with min “from” is brought forward from its unmarked position to begin the clause.

  • 16: from all-X eat (emphatic).
  • 17 but from Y negative eat.

The word (or proclitic) rendered “but” is the multipurpose we, which is typically glossed “and,” but in this case is plainly adversive, “but.” Both complements, as I mention, are fronted to establish contrast. All these can be eaten, however, this one may not be.

He calls it “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” We are not told how this works. We are not even told what it does. The only information we have on its function–apart from it being lethal if eaten–comes from the serpent in 3:5, possibly a distortion of the truth. It is said to give the ability, as God has, to distinguish good from evil. This ability has been clearly seen over and over in God’s seeing that His creation was good in chapter 1. Interestingly, evil has not been mentioned until the first reference to the tree in v. 9. Seeing that these things were good does in a way imply the opposite is possible. Darkness too may be symbolic of evil, though it is not something evil in itself.

“You shall not eat” is a strong injunction. It is the same form as the negative commandments of the decalogue. There is a way of simply saying “don’t eat.” This is more formal, stronger, more authoritarian even.

The penalty is death. This is another emphatic construction of the infinitive absolute and the finite verb. A major question here is what Adam knew about death–of any kind. Was there death of any kind on the earth. We have to factor in Romans 5:12-14:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

I’m just going to leave it as a question here. The reader certainly knew what death was, and evil.

Another point to consider is “in the day.” This is the same idiom, beyom, as we have seen before that means “when.” This doesn’t mean it cannot refer to that particular day. This will clue us into what kind of death is ultimately meant. But remember, that this is a prophecy given by God. While we may know His words, we may not ultimately know how He means them until they are fulfilled.

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Genesis 2:16

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,

 וַיְצַו יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים עַל-הָאָדָם לֵאמֹר  מִכֹּל עֵץ-הַגָּן אָכֹל תֹּאכֵל

Something happens with this verse. God speaks directly to the man for the first time. We did see the blessing spoken to man, both male and female in 1:28, but at this point in chapter 2, Eve has not been created yet. Man consists of one man, as is evident from the singular verb in the command.

God’s first recorded words to man are a command. The verb is tsava, the root of mitzvah, “commandment,” (as in Bar Mitzvah).

By the way “saying” here functions like quotation marks, introducing direct speech.

In this verse we have only the first part of the command, the important exception, which seems to be the main point of the command, comes in v. 17. Here God tells him that “from any tree of the garden” he may eat. The verbal construction here is infinitive construct plus finite verb, giving an intensification to the meaning. It seems mainly to intensify the affirmation of the imperfect form, which here is giving permission. So: “you certainly may eat…” Or as we see in the next verse, when the imperfect is prediction, the infinitive absolute strengthens this assertion: “you will surely die.”

Genesis 2:15

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

וַיִּקַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן-עֵדֶן לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ

The narrative thread now resumes with a restatement of an event that was in progress when the author went into the descriptive parenthesis. So he picks up where he left off in v. 8:

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. The verbs are different, however. YHWH God “took” (laqah) the man, a very common verb, but among other uses, later God would “take” Enoch (5:24). Then he “put” him, which is the hiphil of yanah, “to rest.” So it means “cause to rest” in the sense of “set down”  This is not the word “rest” in 2:2-3 of God resting on the seventh day. But the related verb nuh is used of that same rest in Ex. 20:11. This word is also the one which the text will later use to describe Israel’s settlement in the land, and also peace from enemies. So God picks him up and puts him down, but with the intent to settle him in his designated dwelling place.

The reason for putting him there is expressed by two infinitives: first to “work” it (‘abad), which is sometimes “serve” or else “tend.” This is the verb in v. 8 where it says “there was no man to work the ground.” Now there is. The second infinitive from shamar, “to keep.” This word can mean “keep” in a variety of ways. Here it means to “take care of.” This is what Cain uses to say “am I my brother’s keeper.”

So he has resumed what he was saying in v. 8, the man has been place in the garden. Next he will build on v. 9, his earlier mention of the two trees in the center of the garden. Vv. 16-17 will tell of God’s command regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:14

And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

 וְשֵׁם הַנָּהָר הַשְּׁלִישִׁי חִדֶּקֶל הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ קִדְמַת אַשּׁוּר וְהַנָּהָר הָרְבִיעִי הוּא פְרָת

The final verse of the descriptive section covers two rivers. In contrast to the first and second rivers, these two are very well known and positively identified. The third river named is the Tigris (hideqel). It has a small bit of information, “the one which goes east of Assyria (asshur). Indeed the Akkadian kingdom had the Tigrus along the eastern edge.

Finally, the text tells us the fourth river is the Euphrates (perat).

Genesis 2:13

The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush.

 וְשֵׁם-הַנָּהָר הַשֵּׁנִי גִּיחוֹן–הוּא הַסּוֹבֵב, אֵת כָּל-אֶרֶץ כּוּשׁ

This verse is very similar to the first part of v. 11, but shorter. Here there is no reference to natural resources as in vv. 11-12. For some reason, the mention of each successive river is shorter than the one before it.

The text uses an ordinal: “second” (sheni), whereas v. 11 used the cardinal “one.” Also the word “river” (nahar) is here, where it was omitted in v. 11, or rather “head” from v. 10 was understood, as a reference to a river, presumably a tributary.

Otherwise the words are the same except for the proper nouns. The river is Gihon and the land is called “Cush.” Several identifications have been proposed. “Cush” is the usual designation for Ethiopia. Other possibilities are that the Gihon is Karkhen (or Karkheh) which flows through the Khuzestan (land of the Khuzi) province of Iran.

Another possiblity is the Amu Darya which flows through the Hindu Kush. An older name for this river in Arabic in Jayhun. In Farsi it is Zhihon.

Genesis 2:12

And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.

וּזְהַב הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא טוֹב שָׁם הַבְּדֹלַח וְאֶבֶן הַשֹּׁהַם

“And the gold of that land is good.” Not the bad kind, I guess. V. 12 continues the brief description of the Pishon river, wherever that was. One interesting note is another tail/head linkage, at the intraparagraph level: “where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good.” Clearly the author is continuing the same topic. Almost too obvious to state. We saw the same structure between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2. “God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void…” As we pointed out this strongly indicates identity of referrent between the first and second instances of the noun. So that suggestions that the second should be understood as “land,” i.e. a particular geopolitical area within the “earth” is extremely unlikely.

By the way, I should have mentioned yesterday, that here we have the first unambiguous use of ‘erets in that sense, “land,” a geopolitical area. It is signaled as such by being in construct with the name of the land: ‘erets hahavilah, “the land of Havilah.” In verse 12 the same is specified through a demonstrative pronoun: ha’erets hahi’, “that land.” I think this underscores the point that with polysemy of nouns, the reader is clued in one way or another to the particular sense of the noun. I would be hard put to see any previous instances of ‘erets with this more restricted sense in our study to this point.

After expressing approval of the quality of the gold of that region, the author mentions two other items: bdellium and onyx. Now why these two particular items, I cannot say. I think I’d have gone with gold, frankinsense and myrrh. In fact we’re not too far off from this, two out of three, anyway:

Bdellium is a fragrant gum resin that is similar to myrrh. In Num. 11:7 we are told that manna was similar in color to bdellium. That’s it for Bible references.

Onyx is a type of banded chalcedony, a semi-precious stone.

 

Genesis 2:11

The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.

שֵׁם הָאֶחָד פִּישׁוֹן–הוּא הַסֹּבֵב אֵת כָּל-אֶרֶץ הַחֲוִילָה אֲשֶׁר-שָׁם הַזָּהָב

We are in a descriptive section. It is an odd thing. Interrupts the action of the narrative. We have to take it as strategic, and though parenthetical to the story, important in its own way. I will just suggest that part of what it does is emphasize God’s provision of natural resources, water, land, even gold and precious stones. The garden lay in a limited area, but as man “filled” the earth, they would push out the limits of this garden. With this four-fold river system, the way is paved for this expansion.

The author gives us the names (shem) of the four rivers. This verse concerns the “first.” Interestingly, we again have the cardinal number “one” ‘ehad, in the first instance, followed by ordinals in each other case. So we have (1) ‘ehad (2) sheni (3) shelishi (4) rebi’i, similar to the sequence of days in chapter 1. Possibly the cardinal is doing service for the ordinal in this verse. Or else it simply means “the one (river).” It does not contain the word river, however, though the second, third, and fourth instances do. This may be because in the immediate context, the term used was “head.”

They all have the article, necessarily, since they were referred to, four heads in the previous verse. Anyway, with “name” it couldn’t be otherwise. In the Hebrew construct structure (X of Y) both nouns are either definite or both are indefinite. Can’t say “the X or a Y” or “an X or the Y.”

How to identify the Pishon river is a matter of some debate. Josephus said the Ganges. Rashi, the Nile. Several other theories have arisen in modern times.

This river is said to “circle” or possibly “wind around” (sebab) the land of Havilah. So where is Havilah? This appears to be associated with the Arabian Peninsula. There is quite a bit of speculation out there, which can be googled. It’s interesting to me, but not that much what I am doing here.

The verse ends in a relative clause, the relative ‘asher plus the adverb sham “there.” So its something like “which there is gold there.” Or better ‘asher+sham simply means “where.”

Interesting that the author mentions gold. Certainly something Moses would know about, where gold was mined in the area around Egypt. But talking about natural resources, gold has been sought after, but how practical would it be for Adam and Eve? Water, yes, but gold? Well, it’s an interesting substance, non-corroding, pure, gleaming, attractive. Makes you wonder what kind of world was in contingency for an obedient mankind. If that was ever even a possiblity.