Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.Genesis 3:22-24
The expulsion from the Garden of Eden is rather interesting in its description and at first glance of the common English translation, we can easily misinterpret the judgement of God that is rendered in Genesis 3:22 as God’s fear of a rivalry from man due to mankind’s new “knowledge of good and evil.” (לָדַעַת טוֹב וָרָע) However, our understanding of this judgement hinges on our understanding of this idiomatic expression.
This word לָדַעַת (pronounced la-dach) is what is called an infinitive construct from the root יָדַע (“ya-dah”), that is often simply translated as “to know”. However, this word is used to express intimate, experiential knowledge and is the same word that will be used to describe the sexual union between the man and the woman, resulting in the birth of their children. Another semantic usage of the word is that of declaration, meaning that the phrase could just as easily be translated as “declaring what is good and evil”, a privilege that is reserved for God Himself as He alone has the authority to determine what is “good” and “evil.”
If you recall, all throughout creation, everything God had created He had declared it to be “good” and there was nothing He created that He declared to be “evil.” As evil is the polar moral opposite state of good, it would require a redefining of what He had created, in opposition to what He had declared. The supposed “wisdom” that is gained from eating of the tree was the enticement of pride to supplant God’s authority to declare what is and what is not “good” and to define what is and what is not “evil.”
Quite simply, good and evil are best defined in terms of obedience and disobedience to the will of the LORD God Adonai. As Creator, He alone has the authority to define good and evil. As Adam and Eve ate of the tree in disobedience, they came to intimately experience the difference between good and evil. At the same time, with this intimate experience came a taste of the power of deciding what is good and evil, along with the consequential shame associated with evil.
However, if you have the authority to redefine what is “evil”, then you ultimately eliminate the need for shame to drive one towards repentance. If we look at the world today, one can easily imagine the power of unchecked evil and the chaos and destruction that it causes. Imagine the chaos if mankind was immortal, with the ability to decide for himself what would and would not produce shame in the heart. Perhaps a look at the world today would give you but a glimpse of this possibility.
As such, in God’s divine wisdom and mercy He determined that it would not be wise to allow Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of Life, and thus becoming immortal and exponentially producing more chaos over time than what we have experienced throughout history by declaring for ourselves as individuals what is good and evil. Furthermore, the man and the woman would then be able to overcome the effect of sin by their own hand, without the need for God’s intervention – which He lovingly bestows with His grace and mercy and faithfulness to His word. In order to prevent the subversion of His word in which He declared that by their disobedience they would experience death, God is left with no choice but to prevent Adam and Eve from “taking from the tree of Life.”
So God drives out the man and woman from the paradise that He had created that was perfectly good, now tainted by the introduction of evil into the created order. As such, man who was first given the order to protect the Garden is driven out and the Garden must now be protected from mankind.
So Adam and Eve now travel east of Eden. The direction of “east” is almost always a symbolic representation of exile in the Old Testament. We see this as Adam and Eve are exiled out of Eden. After Cain murders his brother Abel, he travels further east of Eden [Genesis 4:16]. When the kingdoms of Israel and Judah are sent into exile, they are taken east to Assyria and Babylon. We see this same picture play out more subtly between Abraham and Lot as they quarrel over land, with Abraham taking the land toward Bethel (the “house of God” to the west) and Lot taking the land towards Ai (the “ruins” to the east) [Genesis 13:5-13]. The east is always represented as the metaphorical result of disobedience to God – exile from the promise and declaration of what is good.
The bottom line is quite simple: only the LORD God Adonai has the authority to determine what is “good” and what is “evil.” That is His exclusive, sovereign authority as Creator. In His infinite wisdom and mercy, He is faithful to His word, knowing that if man were to be immortal and able to declare for himself what is good and evil, our world would be in a far worse shape that it already is. Ever since, mankind has not only been at war with itself, but has been at enmity with God in the continual, cosmic struggle to define for himself what is good and evil in defiance to God. And the Father, in His infinite love and mercy continues to make a way for repentance in order to guard the way of Life and draw us to the tree of Calvary so that we might intimately know Him in all of His goodness.