When God explained the consequences that would fall upon Adam and Eve if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he allowed the possibility. They were told not to eat and advised of the results, but they still had the “ability” to do so. After their expulsion from the Garden, God did not permit even the possibility of their eating from the tree of life. Genesis 3:24 says, “He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” Kissling says, “This at first seems like another judgment, and in some senses it is. But in reality, this, too, is an act of grace. Not wanting humanity to be forever stuck in never-ending alienation with him, with each other, and with creation, the expulsion from the garden and the denial of access to eternal life prevents humanity being trapped.”[1]

Butler suggests that one of the reasons for their expulsion from the Garden and access to the tree of life “…is a merciful one in that it would be awful for a man to live forever in his sinful condition. As Barnhouse says, ‘The only thing that makes this life bearable is the fact that it will end.’ A principle in this reason reminds us that sin kills. It does not give life. ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23).”[2] John Bunyon, the author of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ seems to suggest that the angel with the flaming sword was essential because Adam didn’t want to leave the garden and would have returned if allowed to. Adam tried to save himself. Coming back to God’s residence, he could take of the tree of life and save himself.  By barring the way into the presence of God, He made it clear that there was nothing in man’s power with which he could redeem himself. Bunyon writes, “Adam was loth to forsake the garden, loth to forsake his doing of something; but God sets a shaking sword against him, a sword to keep that way.”[3]

According to Walton, “The cherubim are supernatural creatures who, referred to over ninety times in the Old Testament, usually function as guardians of God’s presence. From guarding the tree of life to the ornamental representation over the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant to the accompaniment of the chariot/throne in Ezekiel’s visions, cherubim are always closely associated with the person or property of deity.”[4] The angel turns his flaming sword every way that’s necessary to prevent human access to the presence of God and the tree of life. Their banishment is complete. Helm describes it thus, “Adam and Eve are alone. Their souls are adrift. Their skies, so recently clear and blue, are now dark. The light has been taken from them. And thus, we come to Genesis’ explanation for our own sense of aloneness in the world. This is why we feel alone. It is because we have become disconnected from God.”[5] In his “Paradise Lost” with unbridled passion, Milton speaks for Adam and says, “O unexpected stroke, worse than death! Must I thus leave Thee, Paradise? Thus leave Thee, native soil? these happy walks and shades.… How shall I part, and whither wander down Into a lower world.… How shall we breathe in other air less pure…?”15

[1] Kissling, Paul J. 2004–. Genesis. The College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.

[2] Butler, John G. 2008. Analytical Bible Expositor: Genesis. Clinton, IA: LBC Publications.

[3] Bunyan, John. 2006. An Exposition of the First Ten Chapters of Genesis. Vol. 2. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Walton, John H. 2001. Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Helm, David R., and Jon M. Dennis. 2001. The Genesis Factor: Probing Life’s Big Questions. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

15 John Milton, “Paradise Lost,” in The Complete Poems of John Milton, Harvard Classics (New York: P. F. Collier, 1937), pp. 325–326.