Every Tree But One: Why Freedom Isn’t Free

Genesis 2:4-17

May 19, 2002 | Ray Pritchard

What is freedom? Ask the question of ten people and you will get at least ten different answers. One person says that freedom is the right to get drunk every weekend. Someone else says that freedom means doing whatever you want, whenever you want to do it. To another man freedom is sleeping with as many women as possible. And someone else says freedom means making money, living the good life, and having a blast while you do it.

What is freedom? Is it really about money, sex and power? Lots of people seem to think so. They say that freedom is the right to do what you want. But that concept of freedom is dead wrong. Freedom is not the right to do what you want; it’s the power to do what you ought. And that power comes only from God. William Cowper said, “He is the freeman whom the truth makes free, and all are slaves beside.”

The world declares that man can be successful without God. The Bible says that without God, life isn’t worth living. The man of the world pushes God to the side and builds his castles in the sand. The Bible reminds us that sandcastles don’t last very long because the tide comes in sooner or later and washes them all away.

Restless World, Restless People

The world says, “It takes a man to make a man.” The Bible says, “It takes God to make a man.” Can anyone truly be free? Yes, those whom the Son sets free are free indeed. And everyone else is a slave whether they know it or not. They are slaves to their own passions, to the prevailing cultural trends, and slaves to their own unfulfilled desires. Some are enslaved to money and will do anything—anything!—to have more of it. Some are slaves to sexual passion and they will indulge every wild fantasy. Millions are slaves to fashion or popularity or the search for power and prestige and worldly fame. Many are desperate for a meaningful relationship and will trade anything for the barest possibility of a lasting human connection. St. Augustine famously said that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. And that explains so much that happens around us. The world is filled with restless people who chase after things they can never find, and if they find them, they are not satisfied.

Genesis 2 reveals to us the secret of true freedom. We were made for God and without him we will not, we cannot, find happiness, fulfillment, and true freedom. Our text is all about Adam but God is the actor. He formed man, placed him in the garden, gave him his orders, and also gave him one important warning. Soon he will give him a wife. Later he will judge the two of them for their sin. So who is this story about? It’s Adam on one level; on a deeper level, it’s all about God. He is in complete charge here. Nothing happens outside his control.

Two Creation Stories?

Before we jump into the text, I should note one objection that is sometimes offered by liberal critics of the Bible. They allege Genesis 1-2 contains two different creation stories and that these two stories contradict each other. This attack on the Bible is over 100 years old and is still popular today. The answer is really quite simple. There are indeed two creation stories and they don’t contradict each other at all. The difference can be explained this way. Genesis 1 gives us a “wide-angle” view of creation. We start with “in the beginning” and we end up seven days later with the universe perfectly formed. Genesis 2 gives us a “telephoto” view of the events of Day 6 when Adam and Eve were created. Think of Genesis 1 as the panorama and Genesis 2 as the close-up view and you’ll have it just right. Moses narrows the focus from creation in general to just one man—Adam—because he wants to show us the beginning of the human race. In chapter 3 we will trace the entrance of sin, and in chapter 4 the beginnings of human civilization. So in essence Moses is doing what any good storyteller does. He lays out the big picture and then he begins to concentrate on the central details of the unfolding drama.

With that we turn now to the story of Adam’s creation by the hand of God.

I. Adam’s Creation

“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens—and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground—the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:4-7).

These verses are one long sentence in Hebrew. The focus has narrowed to one spot on planet earth and to just one man—Adam.

Evidently the climactic conditions were radically different before Adam and Eve sinned against God. When the Bible says that “no shrub” and “no plant” had yet appeared, it evidently refers to cultivated plants that required personal care in order to bring them to harvest. Instead of rain, a gentle mist rose from the ground and watered the entire earth.

Verse 7 is critically important to all that follows. God formed Adam from the dust of the earth as a potter takes a piece of clay and shapes it on the wheel. The Talmud says that God took dirt from the four corners of the earth so that wherever man goes, he can say, “I’m from here.” The picture of God shaping the first man is tender, personal, and very intimate. God scooped up some dust and began to shape it. Soon there is the outline of a head, the torso, two arms, and two legs. Then the eyes appear, the nose, the lips, and the ears. Each finger is lovingly shaped by the Creator, and every detail of his body is sculpted by the Almighty. Soon the work is finished. Adam lies on the ground, made from the dust, every feature complete. But he is lifeless.

The Hebrew word for man is adam and the Hebrew word for ground is adamah. It is as if God said, “He will be called Earthling because he is taken from the earth.” We were made from the dust and to the dust we will one day return. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the little boy who asked his mother if it was true that we come from dust and will return to dust. “Yes, sweetheart, it’s true,” she told him. “Mom, I just looked under my bed and saw a pile of dust. I think it’s a man but I can’t tell if he’s coming or going.”

This week I read an article that describes how much the human body would be worth if you broke it down into its constituent elements. To start with, our bodies are 65% water. But then you add in the trace amounts of iron, phosphorus, sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, chlorine, and all the rest. When you figure it up at today’s market prices, the total comes to about $4.50. Think about that. You’re worth a five-dollar bill with fifty cents to spare.

That’s all we are. Water and dirt. Dust in the wind.


Dirt-Man. That’s who you are. Look in the mirror and say this while you are combing your hair tomorrow morning: “Look at me. I’m Dirt-Man.” You are a Son of the Dust.

There is a more somber way to approach the subject. Have you ever been around a human body after it has died and before it has been embalmed? It’s not a pretty sight. Did you know that decomposition sets in the very moment life leaves the body? That’s why we take dead bodies to the funeral home immediately. Once life is gone, the body starts returning to the earth from which it came.

Dirt-Man. Son of the Dust. That’s all you are. And that’s why Psalm 103:14 says that God “knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” We would do well to remember that in our dealings with each other. No one is made out of super-dust. We’re all made from the same hunk of dirt. We should not be surprised when we act like clods. That’s all we were in the first place.

So here is Adam—the first Dirt-Man. He can’t stand or move or talk or sing or feel or think or remember. He can’t do anything because he’s not alive yet. God bends over and carefully, tenderly, breathes into his nostrils the “breath of life.” Adam opens his eyes for the first time, looks around, stands up, and beholds the world God has made for him. He gets his body from the earth; his life comes from God.

There is a lesson here for all of us. Your value does not lie in your body or in the things you do with your body. Your value comes from the life God gave you. Apart from the “breath of life,” you wouldn’t survive even one more second. If God should remove his hand from you, you would cease to exist and your body would quickly return to the dust. We like to boast of what we have done and accomplished. We brag of our achievements as if we were immortal. But what is your life? It is a vapor that appears for a moment and then vanishes away (cf. James 4:14). We are here today and gone tomorrow. The life we have comes from God and he can take it back any time he wishes.

II. Adam’s Location

“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates” (Genesis 2:8-14).

It is clear from these verses that the “Garden of Eden” is a real place that once existed on the earth. Even though we don’t know the exact location (evidently it was destroyed in the flood of Noah’s day), we know that it was somewhere east of Israel, which would place it in ancient Mesopotamia, including the region we today call the “fertile crescent.” That includes much of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Kuwait. The word “Eden” means something like “beautiful plain.” Evidently it was a vast area in which God planted a garden in one particular part. To be accurate we should probably speak of the Garden “in” Eden rather than the Garden “of” Eden.

The text is also clear about the incredible natural beauty and fertility of the garden. It was a lush region filled with fruit trees of every variety. A mighty river flowed out of the garden and divided into four smaller rivers—two are unknown to us (the Pishon and the Gihon), and two still exist—the Tigris and the Euphrates. In the garden there was beauty, peace and perfect harmony between the plants, the animals and God. It is a picture of earthly perfection. No disease, no pain, no suffering, no death.

Please understand—because this point is crucial to all that follows—there was nothing wrong with the garden as God created it. Adam was placed in a perfect environment. It’s not as if it’s a good garden but they still needed to get a few bugs worked out. God placed Adam in paradise and then gave him a choice. If we’re not happy with what happens next, don’t blame God. He created the world and gave us paradise. We’re the ones who turned it into a garbage dump.

From the Ghetto to Enron

And this forever puts to rest the popular notion that a bad environment causes crime and if we could just clean up the slums, people would stop doing drugs and stop killing each other and stop robbing the local 7-11. That’s foolish because it supposes that the basic problem of life is what is on the outside, so just improve our surroundings and we’ll act nicer. Would that it were true. Genesis 2 conclusively disproves that notion. Here’s a man with no sin nature who is placed in a perfect environment, and still he chooses to sin. The problem we all face isn’t out there somewhere, the problem is deep inside every human heart. We sin because we are sinners. We kill because we harbor murderous rage and envy, malice and selfish desires. We rob and steal and rape because something has gone wrong inside us. Until that “something” is fixed, changing our scenery will never change our basic nature.

You can take some rich people, send them to Harvard Business School, give them important jobs, and pay them hundreds of millions of dollars. What do you get? Enron!

It’s not the environment, which is why painting the ghettos will never, in and of itself, change society. Please don’t misunderstand. I am truly in favor of those who have much helping those who have little. And we ought to be concerned about the fact that most of the people in the world live in conditions far worse than we do. It is good and right and biblical to show compassion on the needy. But do not be deceived into thinking that sin is merely an “environmental” problem. It’s not. Sin ultimately is a problem of the human heart. Until we solve the sin problem, crime will be with us even if we all have six-figure salaries, big homes, three-car garages, and lifetime memberships at the local country club.

Adam had no reason to complain against God. He has everything he needs and soon he will have a wife perfectly suited to him as a friend, lover and helpmate. The only thing God requires is his obedience. All the fruit of all the trees—every tree but one—belongs to him. How could he throw it all away?

Remember this when your life is messed up: God didn’t mess it up. You did. God offered you paradise and you said, “No thanks!” Now you wonder why you are in the wilderness. It was your own foolish choices.

III. Adam’s Probation

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’” (Genesis 2:15-17).

Having placed Adam in the garden, he gives him three commands:

1) Cultivate it.

2) Guard it.

3) Don’t Eat from One Tree.

Adam was given the responsibility to cultivate the garden by planting crops. This is the beginning of agriculture on the earth. And it teaches us that work is part of God’s plan for all of us. Work is not part of the curse; the toil and sweat and struggle that we feel, that’s part of the curse (see Genesis 3:17-19), but even in paradise, Adam was given a job to do. He was the “Senior Vice-President” answering only to the CEO of the Universe. God never appointed anyone to sit around all day doing nothing. Work is good and noble and part of what it means to be fully human. That’s why when we are out of work, we feel abnormal and out of place and slightly unsure of ourselves. That’s perfectly normal. God created us with a natural desire to use our gifts to make the world a better place.

Then God said, “Eat from any tree. Eat from all of them except one particular tree—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” In considering this command, we must see it in the proper context. Let’s suppose there were 25,000 trees in the garden. If so, the command really means this: “Adam, I have given you 24,999 trees to enjoy. You can eat a pear, an apple, an orange or a grapefruit. If you want a fruit cocktail, you can have it. Would you like some peach cobbler? It’s all yours. How about some fresh coconut milk? Just climb the tree, pick one, and drink till you are full. Maybe you’d like one of those fancy fruit pizzas. Go ahead. Indulge yourself. Eat from any of the trees or from all of the trees. Eat as much as you like whenever you like. It’s all yours. But remember this. There is one tree you must avoid. If you eat the fruit of that tree, you will certainly die.”

God is Not a Cosmic Killjoy

That’s not a hard command to understand or obey, is it? And it’s not exactly restrictive. The odds are that Adam would have taken years to sample all the trees that were available to him. The possibilities were endless. The point is important because sometimes unbelievers act like God is a cosmic killjoy, looking for every opportunity to squeeze the joy out of life. But in this case, God’s prohibition is a sign of his love. Let’s suppose a mother says to her young child, “Sweetheart, don’t drink that poison. If you do, you’ll die.” Is that being unfair or unkind? No, the commandment is given in love. If she loves her child, she will warn him. If she doesn’t warn him of potential danger, she doesn’t really love him. It’s the same way with the Lord. He warns us not to cramp our style but to save us from needless suffering.

I imagine Adam listened carefully and perhaps even nodded gravely when he heard the warning. He probably even agreed with the Lord that it would be foolish to eat from the one forbidden tree when there were so many others available to him. And you know the rest of the story. The serpent entered, tempted Eve, she was deceived, she ate, she gave the fruit to Adam, he ate, and rebellion became a way of life for the human race. It’s almost as if God walked away and as soon as he was out of sight, Adam rushed to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and started gorging himself on the forbidden fruit.

It’s almost as if he couldn’t wait. After all, the very first time he is tempted, he gives in without even putting up a fight. And ever since then we’ve all been born with a hankering for that same forbidden fruit. We’re born craving the fruit that leads to death. We eat it and eat it and can’t seem to get enough of it. And that’s why the world is so messed up. We demanded our freedom. When we got it, it killed us.

By eating the fruit, Adam was saying to God, “I don’t need you to tell me what to do. I’m smart enough to handle life on my own.” His act of rebellion was a Declaration of Independence against the God of the universe. When Adam ate the fruit, he said, “God, you don’t matter. I’m the center of my own universe.” The serpent still says, “Go ahead, it’s okay. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do. If you like it, take it. If you don’t like it, forget it. Don’t let your parents or your friends or your boss or anyone else—not even God!—tell you what to do.”

So the warning from God means this: “Live in obedience to me and you will be blessed. Ignore me and life won’t work right and eventually you will die.” There is one way and only one way to be happy and fulfilled: Live under God’s control. Stop doing your own thing. Put down your weapons. Stop fighting your Creator. Until we submit, we will never be happy. He sets before us a banquet—all of life—and says, “Enjoy what I have given you. Only do not attempt to live without me. You won’t make it. You can’t. Don’t think you can survive without me.” He offers life—but we must take it on his terms.

And that leads to some very personal questions for each one of us. How long will we insist on having our own way? Are we still fighting against the God who made us? Have we stopped trying to be little gods? Are we ready to bow before him or must the fight go on a little longer? Have we crowned Jesus as Savior and Lord of our lives? Are we willing to live on God’s terms or do we still think we can make up our own rules?

Craig Kozlowski

Let me share one brief story and then we’re done. Last Saturday morning I was the speaker for the Moody Church Men’s Ministry breakfast. When I arrived at the restaurant at 7:30 a.m., I put on my nametag and walked into the room. About 40 men had gathered for the meeting. As I looked around, I realized I didn’t see anyone I knew. Then a man walked up to greet me. He was about my size and height and his face seemed vaguely familiar. I noticed that he was walking with a cane, which I presumed was from some sort of injury, probably while playing sports. When I looked at his nametag, I knew who he was. Craig Kozlowski and his wife Marion had attended Calvary in the early 90s for about a year or so. Later they moved to the far western suburbs and a few years ago they moved to downtown Chicago, which is when they started attending Moody Church. I hadn’t seen Craig for several years but I remembered his story. He came to Calvary because Marion talked him into it. She had been raised by missionary parents, had drifted from the Lord, and upon recommitting her life to Christ, had started attending Calvary. In early July 1991 she finally talked Craig into coming with her. That Sunday I was preaching on the words of Christ from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). I explained that the phrase comes from the Greek word tetelestai, which means “paid in full.” When Christ died in our place, he fully paid the price for our sin so that there is nothing else that needs to be done and nothing we can do to add to the value of his death on our behalf. Because Christ paid our debt, we are saved simply by trusting in his work on our behalf. Although he had gone to church for many years, Craig had never heard that message before. That day changed his life forever. He trusted Christ as his Lord and Savior. A year or so later I got a letter from him telling me that he had purchased a boat and named it Tetelestai. He even sent me a picture of the boat with the name in big letters on the back. Whenever people asked about the strange name, he shared his testimony with them. Craig reminded me when I saw him that it was the sermon on “It is finished” that God used to bring him to Christ.

So I asked him why he was walking with a cane. “I’ve got terminal cancer,” he replied. A few months ago the doctors discovered an aggressive form of prostate cancer that has spread to his spine and is now moving throughout his body. He is only 51 years old. He said matter-of-factly, “I’ve got less than a year.”

A Win-Win Situation

You can learn a lot from a man who knows he is about to die. Craig told me that when he heard the news, at that very moment the peace of God flooded his soul and he knew he would be all right no matter what happened. “Are you afraid to die?” “No, I’m not afraid to die. I know where I’m going.” He said it with the calm assurance of a man who knows the Lord. Later he added, “This is a win-win situation for me. I get to enjoy my family and my friends for a few more months and I then I get to see Jesus in person. I spend a lot of time now thinking what that will be like. I can’t imagine how wonderful heaven will be.” When Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Church, joined us at the table, he looked at Craig and said, “This man proves the gospel is true.” He heard the message, he believed in Jesus, and now he’s not afraid to die.

“I’m not afraid to die. I know where I’m going.”

O Dirt-Man, can you say that? Son of the Dust, do you know where you are going? Did you think you were going to live forever? Did you think you were never going to die?

How wrong you are. From the dust you came, to the dust you shall return. What will happen to you then?

Our only hope is in the Lord. How weak we are without him. Let every person who reads these words resolve in your heart to come to Jesus. Run to the Cross! Lay all your sins on Jesus. Trust in Jesus for your salvation.

The hymn “O Worship the King” has a verse that seems fitting at this point:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,

In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;

Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,

Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.

From the dust we come; to the dust we shall return. But through Jesus we can live forever. May God help us to trust in him and find salvation that takes us from the dust of earth to the glory of heaven.

Our Father, how much we need the truth of your Word to teach us our true condition. Without you we are but little clumps of dirt. Forgive us for thinking we were ever anything else. Truly we are here today, gone tomorrow, and after that, so quickly are we forgotten. Thank you for Jesus who came that we might have life and have it abundantly. Lord Jesus, we crown you King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?