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By Stephen Green (originally published in Christian Voice: March 2005)
It is well said that every Christian doctrine finds its source in the book of Genesis, and that is as true of the grace of God as it is of atoning sacrifice of our Lord. For a generation brought up to believe that the first time the grace of God appears in the world, or at least in the Bible, is at John 1:17, it is a bit of a shock to find the grace of God as early as the third chapter of Genesis. Yes, of course God had dealt graciously to the man He made earlier, but that was before the Fall. To read how God's grace was poured out while Adam and Eve were still sinners is a great blessing. But I am going too fast already.
Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
God never said that. Satan, personified as a serpent, begins with both a negation and a distortion of God's word. God did not say not to eat of the fruit, He said they could eat of the fruit of every tree, except one. Adam and Eve could even eat of the fruit of the tree of life. God told them not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to protect them. Satan cleverly plants a seed of doubt.
2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
Now the woman is at it. She betrays a desire for the fruit of the tree of knowledge by her failure to report God faithfully. God never said "neither shall ye touch it." Did Adam say that to her, or did she make it up herself? Possibly Eve had known the temptation of the tree earlier, and had put the additional prohibition in place to guard herself. All the same, it is a common fault with men and women to believe and say that God has said more than He has, and it plays straight into Satan's hands. That is why it is so important to read the Bible and find out for ourselves what God has said.
4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
There is no intellectual defence to this complete gainsaying of God's word. Satan just comes out with it, knowing that Eve has never heard a lie before. In this idyll of innocence he advances no reasoned argument as to why "ye shall not surely die." Nor could he without giving away the fact that although they will not actually die there and then, they will die all the same because they will no longer be able to eat of the tree of life. Satan goes on to slander God's motives and imply that He is keeping something valuable from them:
5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Wouldn't it be good to be like 'elohiym', and take the power to know good and evil for yourself? Satan's suggestion is seductive. Adam and Eve will not have to rely on the external source of God to let them know good and evil, they can decide it for themselves. They can be righteous in their own eyes, and self-dependent. They will owe nothing to God. They will be their own gods. Here is the original sin, which will resurface in the time of Lamech, at the tower of Babel, in Sodom and at every other rebellious time through human history culminating in the Age of Enlightenment and all that followed. We know what Adam and Eve did not, that turning your back on God as lawgiver does not bring freedom and enlightenment, it brings enslavement and darkness.
6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
There is heavy sarcasm from Moses, inspired to record these events, in "a tree to be desired to make one wise" in the light of all the Biblical statements that wisdom begins with the fear of God. So Eve ate first, and she gave to her husband and he joined in. Adam, intended to be the head of the household, followed Eve into sin. It is interesting that Satan targeted Eve rather than Adam. Eve was deceived, and it is undeniable that she transgressed in that (1 Tim 2:14). Adam, on the other hand, was just rebellious. He was the one who was told face to face by God what not to eat. He should have told Eve to leave the forbidden fruit alone. But he didn't. Adam gave up his God-given position of leadership and allowed himself to be dominated by his wife. Male weakness and female dominance are just as much aspects of the Fall as sin in general. That switching of roles set a precedent which God could not (and in His judgment would not) allow to stand.
7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
There was no shame before sin entered the world, and nothing to be ashamed of. (Gen 2:25) There was no sin, no lust (there is a difference between lust and the God-given desire of a man and wife for each other), and not even any lustful thought. Naturists believe they can return by the idyll of Eden by casting off their clothes, but that puts the cart of shame before the horse of sin. The odd thing is that Adam and Eve were married and should feel no shame at being naked in front of each other. Are we being told here that some degree of modesty is valid between husband and wife? Or is it that they were they afraid that someone else would show up? As it happens, they knew God would come to see them. Or is nakedness being used here as a metaphor for the stripping away of all pretence when we stand before God for His judgment?
Whatever the explanation, Adam and Eve knew immediately that they had sinned and they were aware of their nakedness. We know from v10 that they knew that God would find them naked. So what was their reaction? Did they call on God in heartfelt repentance to forgive them and save their blushes? Not at all. They ran away and tried to cover their own sin. The word 'atonement' means 'covering', and Adam and Eve attempted to atone for their own sin. Men have been trying to atone for their own sin ever since. They have been forever trying to do good deeds to cancel their bad deeds. Hindus do it, for their 'karma.' Muslims do it, unsure of forgiveness. Celebrities do it, raising money for charity so they will be well thought of in the world despite their drunken, drug-fuelled sexual excess.
It didn't work in the Garden of Eden and it doesn't work now. Only God can cover our sin, and anything else is just, to coin a rather appropriate phrase in the circumstances, a fig leaf.
8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
9 And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
The Hebrew word translated 'cool' is ruach. It literally means 'wind' which is why it comes to mean 'spirit' by extension. It is a lovely figure of the gentle evening breeze following the heat of the day. In that relaxing part of the day when Adam and Eve should have been resting from their daily labours, for, after all, they were to till the ground, they were in fear of being found out for their sin. How foolish it is to think we can hide from God or deny God. God was looking for Adam and Eve, not in anger, but in gentleness as before. He was not raising his voice, He was just as He was before. It was Adam and Eve who had changed. Note that Adam does not confess his sin, only the consequence of it. There are many who know no conviction of sin, having their God-given conscience seared by continual wickedness. They care nothing for God or do not allow themselves to admit there could be a God. They can no more hide from God than could Adam and Eve.
Equally, others know of God but believe their sin is so bad that God could never forgive it. Perhaps they do not know of Jesus. Perhaps they do know but think they have committed the unforgivable sin, which, it can be argued, has not been committed since Jesus walked the earth. Adam believed in God, and he hid himself. How many people hide like Adam from God because of sin, knowing their nakedness before Him, convicted of sin but sadly not knowing His grace and power of forgiveness? God desires to forgive us, because, as is revealed here, He desires fellowship with us. God, although omnipresent, had come down to walk and talk with Adam and Eve and to share in what they had been doing. God wanted to be with Adam and Eve. It was they who broke the relationship and their descendants have been breaking it ever since.
11 And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
12 And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
So now the buck-passing starts. How human that is, since the Fall. We hate to take responsibility for our own actions. We love there to be someone else to blame. For Adam, it is the woman's fault. She gave him the fruit. Incidentally, the idea that the fruit was an apple possibly arises from the similarity of the Latin words malam (apple) and malum (evil). Not only is the woman at fault, but Adam says God Himself is at fault because He gave Adam the woman to be with him in the first place. When we look at Adam's defence of his actions from the outside, the way he blames Eve and blames God appears ludicrous. "You did it yourself," we cry. We just need to be careful we do not do the same thing ourselves.
13 And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
Eve does better. She has a stronger personality than Adam. She does not blame God. She puts her hand up to her sin and advances mitigating circumstances for her actions. She knows now that the serpent was never to be trusted and that she was tricked and taken for an innocent fool. It has turned out far different from how she imagined. The idea of sin was attractive. The result was a let-down. All the same, in common with Adam, she is more defiant than repentant.
14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
God does not trouble Himself to ask the serpent what he has done. He knows full well what Satan was up to and is not prepared to enter into discussion with him. Nor should we. "The Lord rebuke thee" (Jude 1:9) is enough to say to Satan.
15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
God is now moving in judgment, but the judgment is more complicated than it appears, quite apart from the allegory of salvation in Christ in "it shall bruise thy (Satan's) head". Parts of it, the pain of childbirth, the danger from parts of the animal kingdom and the curse of the ground, are consequences of the Fall and the sin it introduced into the world, which means the whole of creation is groaning (Romans 8:22). Other parts are putting things right which had gone wrong. Some believe that the judgment on Eve ("thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee") is a new departure, and that before the Fall, men and women were in full equality. Such a view cannot stand with Gen 1:26 and Gen 2:18 & 23, nor with the fact that God called Adam to account before Eve.
The fall set the serpent above the woman, the woman over the man, and the man over God. That turned creation upside down and could not stand. God was intended to be above man, the man above the woman, and the whole human race in dominion over the animals. By the second part of the judgment on the serpent, and the second part of the judgment on Eve, God put things back as they should be. Sin, of course, intrudes now, with the result that some men abuse the authority they have over their wives and some women reject their supporting role and want to take charge.
After the fall, not only is creation groaning, not only is the animal world dangerous to us, not only is sin in our nature from the womb, but even plant life has turned against us. Man was intended to work and till the ground, but as a joy, not as a battle with pest, weed and disease. Finally, in contravention of Satan's assertion, Adam and Even will die, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
20 And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.
The word for Eve in Hebrew is Chav'vah which means 'life' or 'life-giver.' That does not mean Hebrew was the original language. Words are translated to keep the meaning as thoughts are conveyed from one language to another. Adam looked at his wife and knew she would bring life into the world. It is a precious gift, the gift of life, and the name 'Eve' also conveys the idea that God does things in partnership with man. God could create every human being out of the dust, as He did Adam, but He chooses to involve us in His creative purpose.
21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
The fig-leaves, the covering of vegetation which Adam and Eve sewed together to make their aprons, could never cover their sin and shame. Something else was needed, and that was a sacrifice. God Himself made coats of skins and clothed the sinful Adam and Eve. The Hebrew word for 'skin' really does mean an animal skin, and an animal skin comes from a slain animal. The fig leaves failed; only God could cover them and that only by the shedding of blood. God Himself had sacrificed an animal to cover the sin of Adam of Eve. What a subtle and beautiful prophecy of the animal sacrifices of Israel, which in turn prophesied the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which itself put an end to the ceremonial law of animal sacrifices. This third chapter of the Bible not only prophecies the ministry of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, but shows that there is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood. There was never any 'Plan B' with God. He knew Adam and Eve would fall and He knew what He would do all the way to the cross and beyond to restore the broken bond of fellowship between Himself and mankind, and that it would involve His Son taking on Himself the penalty for our sin.
Here also is the grace of God. There is not even a statement in the text that Adam and Eve were repentant. We might hope they were, but it is not said. The fact that God Himself was prepared to cover their sin in the face of such terrible rebellion speaks volumes about His lovingkindness. The Lord did not have to cover Adam and Eve and there is not even a hint of their repentance. That He did so is an example of His grace, which may be defined as an unmerited, charitable act of mercy.
So the first time in the Bible when we read of a specific act of God's grace is not in the New Testament after all. In the third chapter of the book of Genesis we are reading about the grace of God, which some of us thought only began in the New Testament with Jesus. Incredibly though, here also is Jesus, not just because He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and was as much with Adam and Eve as was God the Father, but also because God Himself was atoning for the sin of Adam and Eve in the coats He made.
22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
The enormity of the possibility just hangs in the air; the sentence is not even finished. By the sin of wanting to be like God man had lost all right to the eternal life embodied in the tree of life.
23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
Or the Hebrew can mean “to guard” the way to the tree of life. "Jesus saith unto him: 'I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me'" (John 14:6) We must count ourselves blessed to know the true way of the tree of life, and determined to share the good news of Jesus with all we meet.