And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
This is the second command given by God. The first (Gen 1:28) was the one where God commanded the man and woman to grow and multiply on the face of the earth and to exercise responsible dominion over other living creatures.
However the order given by God in these verses is of a very different nature. Apparently, it may appear that this is a ban on food and nothing more. But if we recall, the trees of the Eden’s garden are “very special”. They are not real trees because they represent a capacity that must remain outside the human’s reach. The tree of life represents eternity; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the opportunity to do everything, without limits and censorship. These are two capabilities clearly outside the human’s reach.
It is surprising that God orders not to eat the tree of life, while categorically forbids humans to eat the other one. Why? The answer will come later in the story. Now we can just say that the capabilities that the trees would donate to those who eat of their fruits are closely interlinked.
The wording of the order not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is apodictic and peremptory: “thou shalt not eat of it”. It looks a lot like the formulation of some of the Ten Commandments (cf. Exodus 20). It is the first and fundamental law given by God. It embodies the notion of the essence of all true evil: the “transgression”.
To transgress means “cross” the forbidden borders. When God tells the man not to eat of the fruit, it not simply gives an order, but he indicates clearly an impossibility: “to do everything without limits and without censorship, to whatever men and women want”.
In short, God reminds man of his nature: a fragile being, a creature in need of everything, especially of God. Eating the tree means to take the place of God, because you are able to do everything. You don’t need of him, you are a god!
God also says what would be the consequence of transgression: death. A result that is well emphasized by the author. In fact, it says “thou shalt surely die” and not simply “thou shalt die”. In Hebrew there is a reinforcement that gives emphasis to the command: “you’ll die, no doubt about it”!
No need to say that, instead, the man will not die at all! Indeed, we know that Adam will live much longer and will have its descendants (cf. Genesis 5). It means then that God tells lies to man, as the serpent will say to the woman? (Cf. Genesis 3).
If the tree about which we’ve been speaking is not a plant, but it symbolizes the inability of man to do everything by itself, then even death is probably not the physical one. It would represent not the end of the life, but the “exposure to deadly risks”. The verification of the accuracy of what I am saying will come later in the third chapter of Genesis.