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  What is the Flaming Sword that Guards the Way to the Tree of Life?

Genesis 3:24

One Sunday morning our Sunday School class was discussing the basics of the book of Genesis. Our teacher brought out that the Tree of Life was symbolic of the promise of eternal life that believers have in Jesus Christ. So it hit me…why would God guard the tree of life and who or what could it be that is guarding the way to Him (the Tree of Life)? 

All I could think of was that Satan is the only one that truly guards the way to Christ. Is he? Does God have him guarding the way to Christ? This is the topic of this paper. First, let's take a look at the verse in question. It comes from Genesis 3:22-24:

"And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life." 

There are a number of different ways to look at this passage and to head with this discussion. So in order to maintain the focus on the topic, I will only address the portions related to the Tree of Life and the Flaming Sword and what they might represent. I will attempt to approach these two areas from both a Biblical perspective as well as a secular perspective.

The Tree of Life
The first relevant issue revolves around whether or not the Tree of life represents our Lord Jesus Christ. First of all, lets look at where the term "Tree of Life" is used in the Bible. For simplicity, all Scripture references here will be from the NIV Bible as previously quoted. There are 11 uses of "Tree of Life" in this version. They are:
1. Genesis 2:9 "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."
2. Genesis 3:22 "And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."
3. Genesis 3:24 "After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life."
4. Proverbs 3:18 "She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed."
5. Proverbs 11:30 "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise."
6. Proverbs 13:12 "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life."
7. Proverbs 15:4 "The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit."
8. Revelation 2:7 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."
9. Revelation 22:2 "…On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations."
10. Revelation 22:14 "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city."
11. Revelation 22:19 "And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book."

So now lets look at them more closely. In the first three quotes, the reference is to an actual tree in the Garden of Eden that bore fruit that when eaten would give eternal life to the eater. 

I do not think most scholars would disagree that the Tree of Life represented here is referring to Christ. As scripture tells us, we can only have eternal life through Him. So if He is the only "Way, Truth and Life," then we must deduce that He is at least symbolically the Tree of Life.

There are a couple of interesting points in the first few chapters of Genesis that strike me as foundationally relevant to this study. First of all, in Genesis 1:29 it states that:  "Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food." 

So here is the interesting thing about this passage. Notice that God tells man that He gave man "every tree that has fruit," and that God foreknew that, "They will be yours for food." God knew that man would eat of both trees. While all will not eat of the Tree of Life, all are born with the fruit of the Tree of knowledge in them-sin.

Proverbs 3:18 
Next, in Proverbs 3:18, the passage sets wisdom equal to the Tree of Life. We find the same comparison in 1 Corinthians 1:20-24. It is written:  "God has made the wisdom of the world foolish. In the wisdom of God the world did not know God through its own wisdom. So God chose to use the message that sounds foolish to save those who believe… But Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God to those people God has called-Jews and Greeks." 

Again, it is easy to see that Proverb 3 is referring to the coming Messiah as it equates Him to being God's Wisdom and the Tree of Life-this Proverb helps to connect the dots for us.  Another passage related to wisdom can be found in 1 Corinthians 2:7.  "…we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." 

To me, this is another example that at least for a while, God kept this Tree of Life from us-this Wisdom-until the time was right. God again revealed to us that we could freely eat in the Garden when He gave us the choice to accept Christ or to continue to eat from the other tree (Satan).

Proverbs 11:30 
This passage states that, "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise." An entire book could be written on this one passage in the way that it relates to Christ and His believers. Here is a short and sweet version of the same idea from Scripture.  John 15:5 records Christ as saying, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit…

The other part of Proverbs 11 deals with winning lost souls. We also find a related passage in Ezekiel 34:4 where the Lord tells His "shepherds" that He is against them because they "…have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.

Also, in Matthew 15:24, Christ Himself says that, "…'I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.'" Since we are to grow more Christ-like, then this obviously applies to us as well. Again, this strengthens the tie-in with Christ and the Tree of Life.

Revelation 2:7 
The next few verses deal with the mention of the Tree of Life in the Book of Revelation. In this particular verse, the Lord reveals to John, "…To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."  Again, there can be little doubt here that the Lord is revealing to the members of the seven churches that they are in some serious trouble and facing His Righteous Judgment. There is obviously something that is standing in their way to the tree of life. It is the Flaming Sword. But what is it? Let's continue.

Revelation 22:14
This is yet still another powerful verse depicting our Lord as the symbolic Tree of Life. Here the Lord testifies, "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city." This solidifies the concept that He, Jesus Christ, is the Tree of Life. Something we will look at in the Flaming Sword section is the word 'gate' in the passage.

So to conclude this section, I think that there is little doubt from this shallow representative sampling of Biblical evidence that our Lord Jesus at least symbolically is the Tree of Life.

The Flaming Sword
Let's look again now at what the flaming sword was to do. The verse in Genesis 3:24 says that, "After he drove the man out, he placed…a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life."
On the surface, this verse seems self-explanatory and does not appear to require any deeper thought or consideration. But just for the mental and spiritual exercise, lets look closer anyway.

First of all, we need to look at the word used for "Sword" in the original Hebrew. This word is chereb from the root word charab.  The word charab can mean to "cut off and parch through a drought." It can also mean "to desolate, destroy and kill." The word chereb means basically a tool-usually a sharp edged one like a sword or knife, etc. - that has a destructive effect.

The next word that we can examine a little closer is from the flaming part of the sword. It can be defined in the original Hebrew as lahahh: "a supernatural weapon which could bring swift and deadly destruction." This word can also be defined as a fire, magic or enchantment that consumes, encircles or wraps up something.
Putting these two words together, you could create quite a few different graphic images of what was guarding the tree of life. When you look at it on the surface with all of the fire, death, destruction, etc., you kind of get the picture that someone would have to almost go through a living hell to get to the tree of life. 
Putting a combination of these two words together to describe the "Flaming Sword" you could easily come up with the following commentary as I did:

"Guarding every way to the Tree of Life--completely encircling it--is a supernatural being that makes use of powerful magic and enchantment to consume anything that tries to pass through the path it is guarding. It has the power and ability to slowly torture and punish or swiftly kill anyone within reach. Not only does it have the ability to deliver death but utter destruction." 

I don't know about you, but that really sounds like Satan to me. But hold on, there is more.
In that verse, we need to look at what the Flaming Sword is guarding. It is not guarding the Tree itself, the cherubim are. The flaming sword is guarding "…the way…" But let's back up first. Why do I say that the cherubim is guarding the Tree but the Sword is guarding the way.

I am going to rely heavily on one verse to clear this up and the symbolism contained in it. In Exodus 25, when God is giving the plans for the Ark, He orders Moses to build it with two cherubim that COVER God's Mercy Seat. Christ could also represent God's Mercy Seat and the cherubim could represent the ones that protected Him in the Garden.

Now, back to the way that the flaming sword is guarding. This word in the Hebrew can mean the course of life. This would make sense that Satan, this flaming sword, is trying to keep our lives from getting to the point of seeking the Tree of Life instead of the Tree of Knowledge. So this new information could be added to the previous Soldier of Christ Commentary to give us this:

"Guarding every way to the Tree of Life--completely encircling it--is a supernatural being that makes use of powerful magic and enchantment to consume anything that tries to pass through the path it is guarding. It has the power and ability to slowly torture and punish or swiftly kill anyone within reach. Not only does it have the ability to deliver death but utter destruction. This being seeks to do whatever he can to prevent the path of any man's life from leading to the Tree of Life-Jesus Christ our Savior. He wants no one to live for eternity in the Garden." 

Now we need to see if there is any corroborating evidence from the Bible to this claim that the devil is the Flaming Sword that is guarding the path and attempting to keep us from Christ.

1. Ezekiel 28:13
"You were in Eden, the garden of God…"
2. Ezekiel 28:14
"With an anointed cherub as guardian I placed you;" 
3. Zechariah 3:1-2
"Then he showed me Joshua, the high priest, standing in front of the LORD's angel. And Satan was standing by Joshua's right side to accuse him. 2 The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD says no to you, Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem says no to you! This man was like a burning stick pulled from the fire." (NCV) 
4. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." 
5. Ephesians 2: 1-2
"Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins. 2 You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God." 
6. Ephesians 6:16
"above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one." 
7. The phrase "an offering by fire" is used around 70 times in the Old Testament.
8. 1 Peter 1:7
"These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold-and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world." 
9. Revelation 3:18-19
"I advise you to buy gold from me-gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. And also buy white garments so you will not be shamed by your nakedness. And buy ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19 I am the one who corrects and disciplines everyone I love. Be diligent and turn from your indifference." 

The first verses listed above seems to clearly place Satan in the Garden in the beginning. It also says that he was with the anointed Cherub. In the Book of Genesis, from the above quoted verse, it stated that the only thing God placed around the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden was the cherubim and a flaming sword.
So it would only stand to reason that the devil himself had to be one of the things that surrounded it. Since the Ezekiel 28:14 says that he was placed with the cherubim, it only leaves one alternative-the fallen Lucifer was the flaming sword.

The third verse above from Zechariah 3, shows that the Lord refers to Joshua as a man (that) was like a burning stick pulled from the fire. This meant to me that Joshua had His faith tested by fire and the Lord honored him and snatched him out of the fire as a burning stick.

The fourth verse quoted comes from 2 Corinthians. In this verse, it relates to the lost as follows: the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. 

This ties in directly with the objective of the flaming sword-to keep others away from the Tree of Life (a.k.a. Christ.) Remember that the verse in Genesis 3:24 says that:  "After he drove the man out, he placed…a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life."

The key word in this verse for this point is Flashing. In the verse quoted above from II Corinthians, Paul wrote that the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.  We of course know that the god of this world is none other than Satan himself. So if we know he has blinded the minds of unbelievers, we can tie that directly in with Genesis 3:24 referring to the flaming sword as flashing back and forth-it is blinding those looking for the Tree of Life-Christ. 

The quoted verses from Ephesians 2 may not appear on the surface to be relevant to this particular subject, but they do offer corroborating evidence that Satan is in fact the deceiver of the lost.  

I believe that Ephesians 6:16 is a particularly interesting and enlightening verse that ties in well with this theory as to the identification of the devil as the flaming sword. Here Paul wrote:  "above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one." 

Here we have Paul saying ABOVE ALL…take your SHIELD OF FAITH…so that you will be able to QUENCH all the FIERY DARTS of the WICKED ONE.  Out of all of the analogies that Paul could have used, why did he choose fiery arrows? It is because it all fits right in with the evil one being the flaming sword.

In order for us to be successful in reaching the Tree of Life and live eternally in heaven, we must first develop our shield of faith to the point at which we are no longer afraid of the fiery attacks of the flaming sword-the evil one.

I think that it is only fitting that because man did not have faith in God's Word resulting in the original sin and the fall of all mankind, it now takes Re-born Faith to get us back in God's presence. We chose the hard road, and now we must walk it. 

I personally believe that the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil was more than just knowledge of good and evil in the literal sense, I think that it also meant that we would know all forms of good and all forms of evil. This list of evils would include things like death, pain, suffering, disease, depression, anger, doubt, hate, lust, war, greed, pride, etc. 

Our ancestors, Adam and Eve, could have eaten from any tree in the Garden including the Tree of Life, but they chose wrong. All too often, we may judge them as being at fault for all man kinds problems. We however, 6,000+ years later are no different. We know more now than they did, and we still partake of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil everyday-both sinners and Saints alike. 

There is plenty of symbolic references to this in the Old Testament, especially in the Torah. Over 70 times the phrase "an offering by fire" is used in the Law and rest of the Old Testament. This goes along with an classic euphemism that "if you play with fire you are going to get burned." 

The first man and woman played with fire, as has every man and woman since. That is why each and every one of us must battle and travel through the Flaming Sword to get back into the Garden of God and to partake of the Tree of Life.

This is confirmed in 1st Peter 1:7. The Apostle wrote, "These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold-and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world." 

It sound like this theory is right on the money doesn't it?! The flaming sword is where our trials come from. I have often wrestled with the idea of why God would want to test His people with fire before they could come back into fellowship with Him. Below is what came to me.

If you were going to spend eternity with someone, wouldn't you want to know that the person Really Loved You? Wouldn't you really want to know if that person was worthy of such a blessing? 

A very shallow analogy of this comes to me from my high school days. I knew guys that were average guys, but they had extremely fine girlfriends. The girlfriends were not dating the guys because of their affection and feelings towards the person, they were dating them because of possessions. 

Some girls dated guys for their cool cars; some dated guys for their money, and other girls dated guys for other ulterior motives (like homework, to make someone jealous, to rebel against parents, or just to simply hurt someone.) This analogy may not make sense until you figure out that many self titled "Christians" are only dating God for similar reasons. 

If they do not get what they pray for…bye bye God. If they come across troubled water…they question how God could do that to them and not how they could have brought it on themselves. Maybe they just want to pretend that they have a Get out of Hell Free Card so that they can live how they want. In other words, they are simply Christians by Convenience.

The last verses in this section comes from Revelation 3:18-19. Here the Lord revealed to John, "I advise you to buy gold from me-gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. And also buy white garments so you will not be shamed by your nakedness. And buy ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19 I am the one who corrects and disciplines everyone I love. Be diligent and turn from your indifference."
This spoke to me in three areas. First, if we are going to seek riches, let us seek them from Jesus. The riches He gives us is purification by fire. When we are heated by the fiery trials, all of our impurities rise to the top so we can scrape them off. How much easier and less painful would it be if we could just heat our bodies up so that all of the sickness and disease would rise to the surface of our body so it could be skimmed off instead of undergoing invasive surgery? Our true riches are stored up in Heaven where moths, rust and thieves cannot harm or take them. Purify us Lord!

Secondly, the white garment that we are to buy is our salvation and forgiveness of sins by Christ. His blood is all that can cleanse our filthiness. We are to buy it with our faith backed by our works and successful passage through the flames.

Finally, we are to seek His holy ointment for our eyes so that we may truly see what we lost with the entrance of sin into the world. Our spiritual eyes have been continually blinded since birth by the flaming sword. Only God's ointment can heal our eyes.

The Gate & Conclusion
The word gate is used in the specific passages below:
1. Genesis 22:17 "And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies" 
2. Psalm 119:20 "This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it." 
3. Matthew 7:13 ""Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it." 
4. Matthew 16:18 "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." 

Just as a quick overview, there is a way through the fiery flames that guards the way to the Tree of Life. However, it is a narrow gate and is hard to find. The trick is, that we need a guide that knows the way in. That guide is the Holy Spirit. He is the one that draws all men unto Christ.
God also reveals to Peter that the Church will be His method of breaking down the gates of Hell. The devil does not have a chance against a unified Church that has Christ as its Head. The gates of Hades shall not prevail.

The Church has been established inside the Garden of God and we are to crash through those fiery gates and bring others into the loving arms of Jesus. The lost people are on the outside of the Garden. Some are trying to get in-they are searching for that narrow gate. But if we as Christians are not willing to crash back through the gates of Hell to pull them out, what good are we? What if someone had not done the same for us?

  
 

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