A few years ago, I wrote a couple of posts with some for-fun speculation about what the fruit in the Garden might have been. (Apple and Not an Apple) Recently, the question came up again in a class for which I was working this semester, and one of the students really had me thinking.
He suggested maybe the fruit was a fig.
Now, I have to admit that three years ago when I was first writing about this idea, I hadn't thought much about the lesser-known fruits, the kind of fruits they don't sell in the very limited produce section of my local grocery store. And the student who suggested that this fruit might be a fig did not really have any reason or rationale for suggesting such. But I was instantly struck with a couple of ideas about it.
What I love about the idea of the fig is that it's extremely unexpected, which is just the very sort of thing that God might do.
When I was growing up, we planted a small apple tree out in our backyard. I remember being excited about having our own apples to eat, and I couldn't wait to see the fruit start to ripen on that tree. But for the first few years, nothing. Not one apple grew on that tree. And I remember being told again and again that the tree just wasn't big enough, that it had to grow a little bit more before it would be mature enough to produce some fruit. When it finally did, they were the smallest, most inedible looking apples I'd ever seen in my whole life. By the time the apples were just about getting big enough to eat, we moved out of that house, and after investing so much in that apple tree, I never got to have one single apple off of it.
And I think that's what we think about when we're talking about Eden, about the Garden, and about the tree. We're thinking about a tree that's grown to be this massive thing, this giant, towering, glowing tree in the middle of a fruitful garden, large pieces of fruit just dangling off of it, beautiful and ripe for the taking. As if there must be something special about this tree, if it's big and majestic enough to contain all knowledge of all good and evil.
But the fig...
See, the fig grows on a smaller tree. At least, it can. In fact, the fig is a popular "planter tree" - people keep them in planters in their homes or offices, tend them in small spaces, and still eat their fruit. The fig tree doesn't have to be giant and majestic to bear good fruit; it just has to be well-nurtured.
So when the student suggested that maybe the fruit was a fig, I started thinking about what this might look like in the Garden. I thought about this lush Eden we always envision, this amazing green Garden with every sort of grass and bush and flower and tree imaginable. I thought about Adam and Eve walking around picking apples off these amazing giant trees, pears and oranges, too. I thought about them picking grapes and berries off of the vines. I thought about them walking with God in the cool of the day, and then God looking at them and saying, "Whatever you do, do not eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden."
And I imagined their curiosity getting the best of them, their wondering what was so special about this tree in the middle of the garden. I thought about them coming around the trunk of a mighty cedar and peering into the forbidden zone...and seeing this tiny little fig tree with these odd-shaped little dark fruits hanging off of it.
Not the giant branches of the apple tree. Not the full green bush of the vines. Not the bright, vibrant colors of the other fruits - red apples, orange oranges, pink strawberries, purple and green grapes, yellow pears. No. Just dull, brown, boring figs on a tiny little tree.
This is the knowledge of good and evil? This is the forbidden fruit?
It's just the kind of thing God would do, don't you think? It's just the kind of unexpected, hilarious, amazing thing that God would do. All the knowledge of the universe tucked into this tiny, unassuming fruit on this tiny, unassuming tree - a tree that maybe Adam and Eve would never have noticed if God hadn't brought it up. A tree that was easily overshadowed by all the other trees in the Garden. A tree that you'd think there was absolutely nothing special about except God had said that there is, and you have no reason to doubt Him.
And there's one other thing that makes me like this idea of a forbidden fig. For that, you'll have to wait until tomorrow.