And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:9).
A few verses later, he writes,
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 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 (2:16, 17).
When the serpent engages Eve in dialogue, he says,
You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (3:5).
After partaking of the forbidden fruit, the Lord pronounces,
Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil (3:22).
In what sense did the man become like God knowing good and evil? It may very well be that in determining for themselves what was good for them, they became like God. God forbid Adam to partake of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So, it would be evil for them to partake of it. And, yet, he did. He determined for himself that something God prescribed as “evil” was “good.”
This is one of the problems the Lord had with the children of Israel. In Isaiah’s day he said,
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isa. 5:20).
The Lord’s complaint against Israel in the days of Malachi is found in a slogan of the people:
Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord and he delights in them (Malachi 2:17).
What is evil?
From the passages cited above, did you notice that the term is usually juxtaposed with the word “good”? Let’s start with defining “good.” A definition for “good” that has served me is that something is “good” when it functions according to the purpose for which it is created. A good car gets me from point “A” to point “B” without breaking down. A good steak knife cuts meat well. On the other hand, if a car breaks down getting me from point “A” to point “B”, then it is a bad car. A steak knife that does not cut meat is a bad steak knife.
The word translated “evil” in the Old Testament occurs 347 times. It is translated with a variety of terms: displeasing, bad, ferocious, sad, ugly, misery, trouble, dreadful. The variety of words used to translate the Hebrew word is important know, because not every instance is to what we might refer to as moral evil, but rather calamity.
The writer of Hebrews, comparing the Word of God to milk and solid food, writes, “but solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14). This posed a problem for the children of Israel. Their senses were not exercised to distinguish good from evil (Isa 5:20; Malachi 2:17).
Do you see any evidence of such confusion today? To what do you attribute the confusion?