The general instruction to till and watch Eden is a place to pause and consider what that might mean in today’s experience of plenty. There is still enough food for all. Even as we over-till and close a blind eye to environmental degradation, might there be something more that needs saying in a hope of it being understood?
At this early stage of primal infancy or innocence or ignorance, what might strengthen what was meant by “till” and “watch”?
It is at this point (who knows how many Days down the pike) we hear of a tree unknown to the human who is not privy to some “center” of Eden. This one only knows that trees are good for food. There is no location given, simply a doctrine of “No!” to eat from one particular tree without a fence around it. Remember, every tree is “lovely to look at and good for food.”
A reader might understand how this tree is central to this story, but within the story, there is nothing to set this centrally located tree of good and not-good apart, until it is too late. A very lovely and sustaining tree becomes a threat to tilling-as-we-will and watching for our pleasure.
Translators tell us that the Hebrew here has an infinitive absolute—an infinitive followed by a conjugated form of the same verb. Its effect is to double down on the verb “to die” and sends us toward being “doomed to die.”
This is quite the setup that might have led Robert Frost to quip: “Lord, forgive all the little tricks I play on you, and I’ll forgive the great big one you played on me.”
There is opportunity here to reflect on the danger and limits of commands. At the very least we might recognize there are consequences for assuming what might be intended as fair-warning and ends up not being understood as significant. What would “die” mean to someone who has no experience of anything other than a new Eden.
Our erstwhile human has been breathed into action, surrounded by plenty, and given a limited purpose. Nowhere is there an awareness of no longer having breath, a notion of death.