THE FLAMING SWORD
By Chad Uecker
Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"-- therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every direction, to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24 (NAS)
These three verses near the beginning of the Bible lay out the entire redemptive plan of God for us as individuals and for all of mankind. At this point Adam and Eve had already partaken of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and this is God's response.
Many, have taken this passage to mean that God wanted to keep Adam and Eve from the Tree of Life, but that doesn't line up with the rest of scripture. The whole point of God's plan for humanity has been for us to partake of the Tree of Life (isn't that the whole point of the Gospel?). He even made it easy. He put the Tree of Life in the center of the Garden. He, then even hanged the Tree of Life on a tree of death for all men to see.
Notice that verse 22 gives the answer. God didn't send Adam and Eve out to keep them from the Tree of Life but to keep them from the Tree of Life in their current state. God couldn't let man in his fallen, carnal state eat from the Tree and live forever in his carnal condition. Notice, Adam and Eve never had a chance to eat from the Tree of Life after they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man cannot live forever in his fallen state. God won't allow it!
[ It is interesting, and I'll leave it to you to study out, that verse 22 is cut off. The Amplified Bible notes that God cut Himself off in mid-sentence, in mid-thought. God had more to say, more to tell, but the time hadn't yet come for the full revealing of what He was about to utter. ]
But, because of God's abounding mercy and grace, God gave the answer to Adam in verse 23 on how he could be restored and verse 24 gives Adam the tool needed.
Verse 23 states that because of Adam's current condition, God set him out to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. God is not talking about literal dirt. The word for ground in the above verse is adamah, from which Adam gets his name. Adam was to leave to deal with his now carnal flesh. The word cultivate used in verse 23 means to serve, to labor, to work, to serve God, to serve with Levitical service, to be worked, to be tilled, to make oneself a servant, to be led or enticed to serve, to cause to serve, to cause to labor.
This verse parallels the statement "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phillipians 2:12b). Adam was to leave the garden until his carnality had been worked out and dealt with. Now, how was Adam to do this? He couldn't do that for himself. It is only by the dealings of God, the work of the Holy Spirit that we are able to "work out our salvation" or "till our ground." God gave Adam the tool needed in the next verse.
To the east of the garden God stationed cherubim. First, east in scripture stands for the arising of God's Glory. It is the direction the tabernacle and temples (therefore us) are to face. The way back to the Tree of Life, the way to the arising of God's Glory back in Adam's life was guarded by cherubim. Now, some have taken this to mean that man can't get back to the Tree but as stated above that goes against the rest of scripture. The cherubim were there only to make sure that those who go to the Tree of Life go by the way of the tool that God gave to Adam; the tool that Adam could use to cultivate the ground. The tool was, and is, a "flaming sword which turned every direction" (like a tiller, to dig up earth).
"Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" - Ephesians 6:17 (NIV)
"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." - Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)
"His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." - Matthew 3:12 (NIV)
"But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap." - Malachi 3:2 (NIV)
"I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" - Luke 12:49 (NIV)
The flaming sword turning in every direction is there to divide the soul from the spirit, the carnal from the Spirit. The sword is there to judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart and burn up that which is carnal. The flaming sword is there to purify us and refine us, to transform us into His likeness (character) from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Adam's biggest mistake wasn't the fall. His biggest mistake was that, like most of modern Christendom, he saw the flaming sword and thought the cost too high and turned back. But there is no choice, if you want to eat from the Tree of Life, you must accept the baptism in fire. You must walk through the flaming sword that turns in every direction. God will not allow those who still have carnality to partake of the Tree of Life. He does not want you to live forever in a state of duality.
The flaming sword is also why religion still partakes of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; if you do good, do the right things, go to church, give good offerings, act good, you can earn you way to righteousness.
"All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away". - Isaiah 64:6 (NIV)
Religion goes to the Tree of Knowledge because it's way is unguarded; it is easy to get to. There is a cost to get to the Tree of Life; a flaming twisting sword that wants to slice the carnality and duality out of you. The Tree of Knowledge may be easier to get to but it only brings death; the Tree of Life will cost you your life but will grant you His eternal, overflowing life.
"but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." - Genesis 2:17 (NIV)
"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." - Matthew 16:25 (NIV)
Joel alludes to this flaming twisting sword in chapter 2 of his book. Joel is writing about a people in the end times when in verse three he says:
"A fire consumes before them, And behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, But a desolate wilderness behind them, And nothing at all escapes them." - Joel 2:3 (NAS)
This is a people who have stepped into the flaming sword and are passing through. The flames are before and behind them; they are in the midst of the flames. But, before them, past the flames, is the garden of Eden! Behind them: the wilderness. You, like Adam and like the Israelites, can look at the flames and decide that the price is too high to get into the promised land and spend your life in the wilderness. But, there is a people arising who, instead of looking at the flames, are looking at the prize and are stepping through the flames; realizing like Paul that this:
"momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison," - 2 Corinthians 4:17 (NAS)
The prize, the goal, partaking of the Tree of Life, becoming like Him, far exceeds the cost of the flaming sword. The two cannot even be compared! Lift up your eyes; look to Him for all else pales in comparison!
If you continue to read Joel 2 you can see what will happen to a people who are willing to "risk" the flames.
They run like mighty men; They climb the wall like soldiers; And they each march in line, Nor do they deviate from their paths. They do not crowd each other; They march everyone in his path. When they burst through the defenses, They do not break ranks. They rush on the city, They run on the wall; They climb into the houses, They enter through the windows like a thief. Before them the earth quakes, The heavens tremble, The sun and the moon grow dark, And the stars lose their brightness. And the LORD utters His voice before His army; Surely His camp is very great, For strong is he who carries out His word. The day of the LORD is indeed great and very awesome, And who can endure it? - Joel 2:7-11 (NAS)
They will come into corporate oneness. No bickering or backstabbing, no complaining that so-and-so got to be in the front ranks and I'm in the back. It is the body with every member in his or her place, performing his or her function. All of them with one goal and one vision; united together in and for a purpose. And the result: an unstoppable, undefeatable army. Walls cannot stop them! Walls of tradition, of religion, of earthly government, of humanism are no match for this army. The army merely bursts through the defenses and runs upon the walls. The walls are not only, not an obstacle, but the army uses them to hasten the plundering of the houses, people for the Kingdom.
All of creation trembles before this army. The sun, moon and stars (natural light) pales and grows dark before them. Why? Because the Lord's voice goes before them and His light (His Word) is in them!
Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. - Joel 2:12-13 (KJV)
Therefore, press into the Lord, the Consuming Fire (Hebrews 12:29). It is there that you, like Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, will be set free.
He [Nebuchadnezzar] said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." - Daniel 3:25 (NIV)
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" - Isaiah 6:6-8
It is in the fire, in the baptism of fire, that you are loosed, unbound and brought to freedom, brought to a place of boldness. You are no longer bound by the enemy, by sin, by the fear of man, by insecurity, by guilt, by your past or by the words, expectations and judgments of others, the world, or yourself. Also, notice that it was in the fire that the three Hebrews met Christ; they met Christ before His birth! Many today want an encounter with Jesus, but when the Lord calls them and they look at the cost instead of the reward, they give up. That is why Jesus told people to count the cost first (Luke 14:28). So, they wouldn't be one of those who quit only a few steps from the starting line.
Notice that cherubim is the plural of cherub. So, there are a number of angels stationed to the east of the garden but there is only one sword. The sword twists and turns by the working of the Holy Spirit. Only He can bring about the working, the tilling of your ground. Therefore, press into the invisible wielder of the flaming sword, the Holy Spirit. Let Him burn away your carnality that you can partake fully of the Tree of Life, still nestled in the midst of the garden of Eden, where God waits to walk with you in the cool of the day.