I have often had trouble understanding the meaning of this verse: 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.'” Is this saying that Adam truly became like God? Would he really live forever if he ate of the tree? Is God implying that His plan has been foiled and is making a strategic move?
Then, naturally, I always thought that this banishment was a matter of God’s grace. By removing Adam from the Garden, it would keep him from eating of the tree of life and physically living forever in a state of misery and sin. But this enlightening installation of a’Brakel gives a different insight on this verse, one that I am beginning to favor.
“Sixthly, this [the Covenant of Works] is also confirmed by the tree of life. Here two trees are contrasted with each other. Since the one symbolizes eternal death, why would the other one not symbolize eternal life? The name also indicates this, for it is expressly called the tree of life. What else can be deduced from this than that it was a sacrament, that is, a sign and seal of life? There is not the least indication that the meaning here is limited to corporal life, and thus we may not do so either. Moreover, if Adam lost corporal life, he at once also lost the spiritual life which e possessed. Therefore, by the word life we must understand both the corporal and spiritual life which he then possessed, as well as eternal felicity which generally is comprehended in the word ‘life,’ even tough the word ‘eternal’ is not added to it. ‘If thou wilt enter into life…’ (Mat. 19:17); ‘Narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life’ (Mat. 7:14). This is stated in many other texts as well. For this reason, after Adam had lost this life, the Lord no longer wanted him to be a partaker of this seal of eternal life By means of an angel, the Lord expelled him from Paradise, ‘… lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever’ (Gen. 3:22)
“When he had sinned by eating from the one tree, which he ad no right to do, God was not willing that he should also eat from the other tree. Would he have lived eternally if he nevertheless would have been able to gain access to this tree and have eaten from it? most certainly not, for there was no inherent power in this tree to restore the spiritual life and communion with God which had been lost. Adam certainly knew this. What could corporal life have benefited him without spiritual life? Neither was there any inherent power in the tree to nullify and rescind God’s threat, ‘Thou shalt surely die.’ Even if he were able to preserve his corporal life, Adam knew very well that he would not be able to do so. Why then did God say, ‘… and live forever’? My response is that this is a rebuking and reprimanding manner of speech, as is evident in that same verse, ‘Behold, the man is become as one of us’ (Gen. 3:22). It is as if God said, ‘Behold the man, who thought that by eating of the forbidden tree he could become as one of us. Behold, how he now resembles us!’ God said as it were, ‘how he has been deceived in his objective, for instead of becoming like one of us, he has become unlike us.’ This is also the manner of speech in the phrase, ‘and live forever,’ meaning, ‘for he would again be deceived in his objective and opinion, if he were to think that by eating of this tree he would live forever.’
“‘And live forever’ therefore refers to that which he would imagine, as if after having sinned this tree would continue to be a sacrament of life. God did not want him to abuse the sacrament since he had forfeited the matter itself, that is, eternal life. it was the Lord’s will that he would now turn away from the broken covenant of works, and, being lost in himself, would put all his hope in the seed of the woman, which was promised to him immediately after the fall.”