In September 1995 I wrote three papers based on an exposition of the words “Good and Evil.” (P.Ts 66 – 68) At that time the subject was brought to our notice, (by the Lord I am sure,) to alert us to an area of understanding that was entirely new, most exciting, and quite devastating as to its impact on our thinking. It came as a shaft of light, and the whole concept has been mulled over, and worked this way and that ever since. In this present paper, nearly four years later, I should like to draw some threads together and present a more rounded treatment of the subject and its consequences to the whole of Christian thought, behaviour, and future hope. I feel strongly that to make a study of these words and their implication is of such foundational value and importance that the outcome could be little short of a spiritual earthquake. So let’s see what’s in store.
I can clearly remember that early autumn afternoon in 1995. The rest of the family were out. My wife and I were sitting in the garden enjoying the sun’s warmth and chatting about the first three chapters of Genesis. Rosalind posed the question. “I wonder what the Hebrew word for EVIL means?” I suddenly realised that I had never before looked in the Lexicon to find out. When I returned from the study I was full of excitement. “Gesenius refers to EVIL (RA) as A LOUD NOISE,” I said. We looked at each other and wondered where this thought was going to lead. “Does that mean that GOOD is the opposite, something SOFT perhaps?” asked my wife. So I went back to the study, there to find a variety of words that could define the Hebrew word TOV, and although ‘soft’ was not amongst them, the whole tenor of the word was certainly in that direction, as an OPPOSITE to the ‘loud noise’.
By this time our thinking was in top gear. We began to ask ourselves potent questions, like, “What d’you think Adam and Eve understood by the word RA when the Lord spoke about the Tree of the Knowledge of TOV and RA?” And, “If they had no knowledge of Evil, or what it meant, wouldn’t their curiosity have been aroused?” And, “What did they understand by the word ‘death’, when nothing had yet died?” Questions like this had never entered our minds before, but we sensed the Lord was causing us to walk along this new avenue of thought and receive His further light and understanding.
Before long we came to the conclusion that TOV and RA were both acceptable concepts initially. Even today there is a place for these early concepts of LOUD NOISE, and ‘SOTTO VOCE’. In a symphony one hears grand, even thunderously loud portions, followed by softer and more melodious passages. Yes, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the LOUD NOISE. After all, the Psalmist tells us to “Praise the Lord upon the LOUD CYMBALS.” (Psalm 150:5) But there was obviously something behind this which the Lord knew about, and which Adam and Eve were not aware of, and from reading the story in Genesis, the Lord certainly didn’t want them to know about it by eating the fruit of that tree. Surely the‘knowledge of TOV and RA’ was important to them, wasn’t it?
At this point we began a serious Bible study, and came across verses such as the following, which were a great help to our enquiry. The children of Israel had been banned from entering the land after the fiasco over the spies. Then in Deuteronomy 1:39 we read, “And your little ones, of whom you said, ‘They shall be a prey,’ and your children, who this day know neither good nor evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” The second reference is in the New Testament, in Hebrews 5:13-14, which reads as follows, “Everyone who partakes of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is but a baby; but solid food belongs to those who are mature, who on account of habit, have their senses exercised for distinguishing both good and evil.“
Because of this, we realised that “the knowledge of good and evil” was intended for mankind, and that it was a function ofMATURITY. It is now our considered understanding that if Adam and Eve had obeyed God by not eating the fruit, He would in due course have imparted to them this knowledge, that is, the distinction between RA and TOV that was vital to all human existence. However, it was God’s plan impart this knowledge Himself, as part of their on-going tuition. He desired to be their Teacher, as day by day He walked with them in the cool of the day. The maturity aspect shows us that Adam and Eve had been working that Garden for quite a long time, gradually growing in the knowledge of many things, under the hand of the Lord. A time would come when by experience they would be able to understand why TOV was to be the dominant factor, and RA the subordinate one. That sort of distinction requires growth to spiritual adulthood before it can be handled sensibly, with due appreciation of the dangers involved by allowing RA to get in the ascendancy. But the process was short-circuited by the intervention of the Serpent Cherub, a glorious being whom they knew from previous visits, but it never crossed their mind that he would come to deceive.
If the Hebrew word RA had conveyed the sense of LOUD to Adam and Eve, as the Lexicon tells us, then they would have seen it as an ‘acceptable’ facet of life. There wouldn’t have been anything ‘wrong’ latent in the word. (I have to beware saying ‘anything evil’, because that places a meaning on RA which was only subsequently attached to the word.) Hence the need for that maturity of experience. A simple analogy from the present time might help. We eat our savoury course first (the “salty” part) followed by the dessert, (the “sweet” part.) Both are acceptable, both enjoyed. But if we only ever had the “sweet” part of the meal, it would have a deleterious effect on our bodies. It’s not quite the same the other way round. We could exist more readily on the savoury part alone. But the point I’m trying to make is that the savoury, or salty, portion of dinner is that which keeps the sweet part in its right proportion. And the lesson Adam and Eve were supposed to learn was that TOV needed to be in charge of RA, otherwise RA would get out of hand. (The analogy is only a poor representation, but I’m aware that Jesus spoke about us being “the salt of the earth”. Furthermore, in September 1974 the Lord gave me the vision of the “sugar-ice duck” and afterwards said, They craved sugar and I gave them sugar, but it was not according to my heart.”)
When the Lord planted the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”, His purpose was to provide man with a LAW, and a PROHIBITION, to test his power of choice. It was not to prevent him from gaining this important distinction between RA and TOV. That distinction is most important. Although man was made ‘perfect’, (in the sense that he was sinless) he was by no means ‘mature’. As Oswald Chambers once remarked, “Innocence is not safe, it is just full of possibilities.” And so, because God had imparted the power of choice to His first human pair, He wanted to test them, to find out if they wouldchoose to obey Him, or rebel against Him.
It must be clearly understood that this Tree was NOT a “Tree of Knowledge”, as though knowledge per se is a bad thing, neither was the purpose of the Tree to prevent Adam from gaining the “knowledge of good and evil”, but purely a tree of choosing, a test of obedience. The awareness of “good and evil” would of course automatically come into existence if they disobeyed God. It couldn’t be otherwise. It came as a nasty shock. But from Satan’s point of view, he saw it as a “short cut” to knowledge he believed they ought to have received long before, but which God had wrongly withheld from them. He desired to enlist their support for his cause, the need to have everything blasted into the open instead of keeping essential virtues under cover. He didn’t agree “it is the glory of God to hide a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2)
I cannot emphasise this last point enough, because unless it is properly understood, the way is not open to know the deeper truths about RA and TOV. Let me put it this way. God created man in His own image. Therefore he was made with the gift of choice between obeying and disobeying God. And God wanted His man to be proof against the possibility of bad choosing. But in His foreknowledge, He knew that Adam and Eve would fail this test. It wasn’t that God was taken by surprise, and had to hurriedly make plans to rectify the situation. Indeed no! That view would be an odious indictment on the wisdom of the Godhead. Rather was it as Peter declared in 1 Peter 1:18-20 “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily wasforeordained before the foundation of the world, but manifest in these last times for you”.
[As an aside here, there is some controversy surrounding the words “foundation of the world”, which in Greek reads pro katabolhV kosmou (pro katabolees kosmou). Some say that it refers to the founding of the world, others to the disruption of the world, i.e. the fall, literally, “the throwing down of the cosmos.” This makes an interesting study in its own right. But I shall not deal with it here. It makes no difference to the argument set forth above, because whichever interpretation is adopted, the word pro means before, and therefore had to antedate the fall of man. Therefore Jesus, as the Lamb of God, was foreordained for our redemption, BEFORE man disobeyed and fell into sin.]
As a result of the fall, “the creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who has subjected the same in hope, because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:20-23) Some may raise an objection here, and ask why God should have subjected all the human race to vanity, to be born in sin, just because Adam made a wrong choice. Like Lancelot was given to sing in the musical, Camelot, “If I had been the partner of Eve, we’d be in Eden still!” But seriously, I would ask you to consider the following fact. History shows us that, up to the present time, it is possible that some 12,000,000,000 souls have been created by God and born into this world. Each one of these beings has been given the power of choice, and each one has used that faculty every day of their lives in matters great and small.
But if each one had also been given the Edenic conditions that Adam and Eve enjoyed, how many of them, statistically speaking, would have made the wrong choice? A very difficult question to answer. Shall we begin by saying that 50% would have fallen for the Serpent’s lie? Then perhaps 90% might have succumbed sooner of later, even if they rejected Satan’s initial foray. Obviously we cannot know, but that’s not the point. Even if just ONE had made the wrong choice, the Holy Lamb of God would have come into this world to die for his sins. That is the love of God for His creation. One person out of 12,000,000,000!!! That explains the rationale behind the “subjection to vanity” of the whole creation from Adam onwards. It must not be seen as an act of injustice. Whenever we, as human beings, are confronted by the possibility of seeming injustice in the Godhead, the right and proper thing to do is to reject the thought at once, stamp on it, and ask God for wisdom to understand the “why” behind it all.
Now we must turn our attention once again to these words RA and TOV, that were of such great importance in those first years of creation. What exactly does it mean to have the “knowledge of TOV and RA”? More to the point, the word “knowledge” here suggests rather the “distinction between” the two words, as though two systems were being presented to man, together with their interaction.
I suggested that BOTH these words were without corrupt import before the fall, and that both LOUD and SOFT were part of life. So what was it that caused the word RA to take on its present meaning of EVIL, as implied throughout the rest of Scripture? Let us first contemplate a word picture of RA, to ascertain the compass of what it might have suggested to Adam and Eve, and Satan, in the beginning. The following words make up this picture.
Loud, Noisy, Breaking, Crashing (as Niagara in full flood,) Robust, Energetic, Flamboyant, Displaying, Demonstrative, Expressive, Forthright, Brilliant, Unreserved, Exhibiting, Flourishing, Verbose.
None of these words is intrinsically EVIL, in the sense we ascribe to it today. And yet all of these words may be attributed to the Hebrew word RA in its BASIC meaning. So what about the word picture for TOV?
Good, Soft, Quiet, Gentle, Tender, Rippling (as a Mountain stream,) Kind, Mild, Shy, Humble, Meek, Retiring, Unobtrusive, Unassuming, Tender-hearted, Courteous, Chivalrous, Easily entreated, Employing economy of words.
By comparing and contrasting these two word pictures, an understanding can be built up, and the conclusion is of the utmost importance. Let’s see how Satan must have viewed them in the beginning. In our “Lucifer” papers, P.Ts 93-95, we showed how Satan’s position was that of the “Praise-master of Heaven” in the first instance. That is the meaning of the word Lucifer, HELEL in Hebrew, related to HALEL-U-JAH, which means “praise the Lord.” No doubt he would have experienced the thrill of the “loud crashing cymbals” and “high sounding praise” of the heavenly host. This was his job, and no doubt he did it well in those early years. But there was another part to his work, that of being “the anointed cherub who covers.”What did he cover? The answer is that he was required to cover God’s glory, that the hosts of heaven and earth would not be subjected to the full majesty and glory of their Creator God. As an example of this, we read of God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden, probably in form like themselves, a Man, a Superior Man, yes, but still as a Man. They could not have endured the full majesty of His august presence. It was the delight of God thus to “camouflage” Himself to enjoy fellowship with His own creation.
[As an aside for a moment; camouflage was a word which came to Rosalind one morning when she was talking to the Lord and it struck her like a shaft of light that camouflage is part of God’s own character. She suddenly saw that creation displayed both Tov and Ra. For example, the peahen is camouflaged and the peacock is flamboyant. We see this constantly amongst the animals. This understanding threw lots of light into our discussions. Maybe, in a sense, Adam was to be more the embodiment of RA, whilst Eve was to be more the expression of TOV. Could this be why Satan decided to attack Eve rather than Adam? If you read the account carefully, you will see that Adam was WITH HIS WIFE THROUGHOUT but seemingly only as a by-stander.]
Imagine Satan in this dual role of “covering cherub,” AND “praise-master.” One side of him enjoys the excitement of that which is LOUD, and the other side initially enjoys the “shyness” of his God, the one he is required to “cover”. But God had made this dichotomy to be the equivalent of Adam’s Tree of Knowledge. It is the method by which God used Satan’s circumstances to test his obedience. The music tended towards RA, whereas the “covering” tended towards TOV, and he was constantly confronted with these two aspects of life. I don’t believe he made a sudden choice. I suspect that in the process of time there was a yearning towards RA, and a withdrawing from TOV, instead of realising that there was, indeed HAD TO BE, a place for both in the created world. The tendency was such that it encouraged a questioning towards God’s insistence on presenting Himself in this “quiet” guise. And as time went on, the impression grew and grew until it formulated a more robust and determined attitude in his mind, that of DISAGREEING with God, and almost a DESPISING of His “shyness”. It only precipitated itself as direct transgression when he approached Adam and Eve, and deceived Eve with his questioning. Let’s see how James portrays the process in its outworking. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own unbridled-desire, and enticed. Then when this unbridled-desire has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.” (James 1:13-15)
I can imagine the Lord cautioning Satan along the way, knowing how his mind was working. I’m sure he would not have been left without any form of instruction, or admonition. But as James said, these mental tendencies have a habit of growing from small beginnings, and getting their teeth into you, until the desire is conceived, and once that happens, the process goes on to completion in the act of transgression, causing the fall, which the Bible calls sin.
[The Hebrew word CHATA, as also the Greek word HAMARTIA, means “fallenness“, although the word “sin” is consistently used in translation. Paul put it very clearly in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” More accurately, “For all are fallen, and come short of the glory of God.” The word “sinned” is not active in Greek, as though it represented man’s actions, but indicative of a state, hence my translation “are fallen.”]
There is a view amongst some expositors that Satan fell long before he entered the Garden of Eden that day. Those who espouse the Gap Theory have much to say on this point. But I have shown elsewhere that there is absolutely no credibility in the Gap Theory (i.e., of a moral collapse of an earlier race, and a consequent cataclysm) between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Paul refers to Adam as “the first man”, and I am content to accept his word as truth. Also, I am aware that God cursed the Serpent ON THE DAY when he caused the downfall of Adam and Eve, and NOT BEFORE. It is impossible to contemplate Satan, a fallen creature, approaching Eve and being able to deceive her in her pristine state. Satan was still in his “royal garb” that day. [|Please, not as a snake in the tree, as is so often depicted to the mockery of the world at large!] His “unbridled-desire” had “conceived” and now it was on the point of “bringing forth sin”, i.e. “fallenness“, as James so clearly spelled out.
There is also another theory presented by some expositors, which asks us to believe that EVIL as we know it today was already present before the fall, and ready to be used by God. I have recently read, to my utter astonishment, that some believe it was necessary for man to fall into sin, because otherwise he could never learn of the compassion and mercy of God. To this end, they say, Satan was created as a murderer and a liar, and the Tree of Knowledge planted in the Garden,specifically for the purpose of forcing man to fall into sin. I strongly repudiate this assertion. How can God create anything to be corrupt? When our young grandson heard us talking about this, he said, “If God created Satan to be a murderer, He would be breaking one of His own commandments.” Quite an observation for a boy of nine years. My wife said, “If God made Satan to do this dirty work, why did He curse him after carrying out His instructions?” And I will add another observation. When we receive our new bodies, and sin is put behind us for ever, will we never again be able to appreciate more of God’s compassion and mercy? Can such knowledge only be experienced and appreciated in a fallen state? No, no. no! All these thoughts are ungodly, and fall under the condemnation mentioned earlier. To suggest that evil resides in the Godhead is blasphemous and unthinkable. RA was NOT evil as we know it today. The meaning of RA and TOV has already been explained, as to the pristine force of these words
Returning now to the events in Eden on that climactic day, the Lord lost his “anointed cherub who covered” His glory. He who once held the supreme place among the heavenly host, and led their worship, was now demoted to a place in the lower heavens, and the Lord, by the use of clear figures of speech prophesied his future. “Eating dust” meant the “frustration and disappointment” of all his plans. God in His superior wisdom would frustrate every work of Satan, and even turn it round and use it for the training of his earthly human race. “Going on his belly” had no reference to him being a snake, but rather a figure of speech symbolising the lowness of his position, in utter contrast with his former exalted estate. The “bruising of head and heel” referred to the limited extent of his ability to hurt mankind,(i.e., their “heel”,) but the ultimate destruction of all his ungodly motives and actions emanating from his “head.”
Henceforth Satan brought about all the attributes we now understand in the word EVIL. Just as he, Satan, had fallen from his high estate, so also did the word RA fall from being the word picture listed above, to all manner of unacceptable traits.Hisutter belief in everything high and mighty, and the necessity for blasting into the open every achievement, and cravingadmiration, rather than encouraging a retiring attitude of humility, meant that he has striven to encourage mankind to envythose in higher estate than themselves, always to struggle to climb up higher, which induces jealousy amongst the “less-fortunate”, and pride, arrogance and contempt amongst the “more-fortunate”. And those who wish to put on “window dressing” to publicise themselves as better than they really are, we find the rise of hypocrisy. Furthermore, a competitive spirit is fostered, giving rise to activities like the Olympic Games, and all other sporting events where man’s athletic prowess may be applauded. But the only prizes awarded by God are those for “overcoming”, not other people, (which is the meaning of the word Nicolaitanes in Rev.2-3) but their own inherent weaknesses by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
Yes, Satan’s world is very competitive, and this promotes wars, disturbances, uprisings, tribal and national conflict,and all manner of ills. These are just a reflection of Satan’s mind, struggling with his own feelings of unfairness, and injustice at the hands of God for what happened to him in the Garden of Eden. The Lord said He would “put enmity between the woman and the Serpent, between her seed and his.” However, over the centuries and millennia since Eden, Satan has striven to eradicate that enmity, so that today we find some people either openly or subconsciously advocating the Devil’s RA-based mind rather than “knowing his devices” and hating them. However, the Lord has superior wisdom, and ultimately He will bring about that which was predicted through the Apostle Paul, and which we quoted above, namely, that “the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
What about the word picture for TOV? A casual glance will tell us that all the characteristics remain as they were, and indeed, generally speaking, man looks upon such qualities with pleasure, whether he be Christian, Jew, Moslem, Hindu, or any other creedal or ethnic group. And most worldly people admire such qualities, which therefore provide the fabric for man’s fictional writings. Most people like a satisfactory ending to their fictional reading, and apart from the minority who sadly have twisted minds, books HAVE to have a focus on GOOD overcoming EVIL to become a lasting addition to literature.
I read that in certain quarters there is an angle of belief, suggesting that man does not have a freewill to choose anything other than to commit sin! If this is so, then why is it that 99% of people applaud justice, honesty, courtesy and kindness, and hate cruelty, theft, murder, and other forms of wickedness? If we are “totally depraved” (to use their expression), how come that most people are still able to make good moral choices? One has only to read a couple of dozen novels, and see a couple of dozen films to see the force of what I have just said. Add to this the fact that throughout the Old Testament, God kept on placing choices before His people, and asking them to choose aright. “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live.” (Deut.30:19) And why is it that God condemns man’s reluctance to choose that which is good, when surrounded by the beauties of creation, all of which silently shout God’s eternal glory and Godhead? (Rom.1) Even amongst the majority of mankind, (i.e. those yet to believe in Jesus Christ to be saved,) there is a very marked understanding of the distinction between right and wrong, and a tendency towards justice and neighbourliness; to quote Sheridan, a “do-as-you-would-be-done-by” approach to life. [Please note, I am not doing away with the need for repentance in saying these things, but high-lighting the error of rejecting the powers of human choice.]
In the final outcome, the judgment may take an angle that is not in the least the popularly accepted one. We have seen that the word TOV has very definite connotations within its “word picture”, and in the Gospels Jesus uses distinctions between RA and TOV on many occasions. I wrote a paper entitled “In praise of little things” a while back (P.T. 61) in which I majored on this theme. . What does one yearn for in the Christian walk? To be seen, to be noticed, to do many great miracles and astound the world? Or on the other hand to be like the Master in resurrection, where He often appeared in “camouflage” and was not recognised until a certain point had been reached? One must cast the mind back to the Garden of Eden, and remember what it was like BEFORE the fall, and how the Lord walked with Adam and Eve. There is a place for much humility, unobtrusiveness, gentleness, even a “shy” approach to people who as yet haven’t had their eyes opened to eternal realities.
Here then is the final outcome of this paper. I said at the beginning that it would be something of a spiritual earthquake. Can it be seen as such? To have a deep and clarified knowledge of the distinction between Ra and Tov is one of the most important factors to be learned in life. When Satan’s original error of judgment is unveiled, we shall not any longer want to emulate his ways. When TOV stands out in all its glory, then we shall take great delight in everything that reflects the true character of our great and humble God. There will be occasions when the “pomp and circumstance” of life is right and proper, but to major on it, and believe that it is the final goal in believing in Jesus Christ, is only to court disaster, and the disapprobation of our Master when He returns. May this lesson be learned by us all. We may have our heads in the heavenlies, but our feet must remain firmly planted on the ground. Simplicity and servanthood, the attitude of the “little child” that Jesus encouraged, should become the prime goal of the Christian life, so that the occasions where the more forthright, and demonstrative, are necessary, may be kept within check, so that pride does not destroy all the good that God desires for His people. In the famous words of John Bunyan, (1628 – 1688) –
He that is down need fear no fall, he that is low no pride,
He that is humble ever shall have God to be his Guide.
And so, for the last four years our family has been tossing all these points about, this way and that, trying to imagine what it must have been like for Adam and Eve in the Garden. The Genesis account is so tantalisingly brief, and we could wish for more detail. But the Lord has allowed only so much, and then leaves us with the rest of the Bible as a restrainer, lest our thinking should pass beyond the bounds of revealed truth. It is by no means wrong to have questions, and a child-like curiosity. By such means truth may be imparted to the searching mind. We have found great joy and enlightenment in searching in depth, and would very much appreciate some further input from our readers. If you have time and inclination, please drop us a line, or an email. Thank you!