Time: The dawn of human history
Lesson Aim: To acknowledge that sin disrupts our relationship with God.
Elizabeth was folding sheets in the bedroom when Matthew, her six year old, came in looking as if he were ready for Halloween. His face and arms were covered with decorative swirls of blue and green marker ink. Wide–eyed, his mother asked, “What happened to you?”
Matthew blinked. “I was sleeping on the couch, and when I woke up, Caleb was drawing all over me with his markers!” Elizabeth shook her head. It would take at least an hour of intense scrubbing to get the marker off. And Caleb, her apparently overactive three-year-old, was going to get a talking-to.
Except something was wrong with Matthew’s story. Caleb, too, was covered with ink, including an intricate design on his back. That night, Matthew had his television privileges revoked for three days. He got a tough lesson in integrity and responsibility. Accepting responsibility for all our actions is one of life’s most difficult lessons.
Genesis 3 reveals that Adam and Eve decided to flaunt God’s will. And because of their willful disobedience, they experienced the pain of being separated from God. We can avoid this tragic outcome when we heed, rather than ignore, our rightful obligations.
I. The Advent of Sin: Genesis 3:8–13
A. The Lord’s Presence: v. 8
In Genesis 2, we are introduced to the single restriction that God imposed on Adam. The Creator allowed the man to eat freely fruit from every tree in the ancient Eden orchard (v. 16). The only exception was that God did not allow Adam to partake of the fruit growing on the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (v. 17).
This tree was God’s tool for testing the faith, loyalty, and obedience of the man. The Creator warned Adam that if he violated this injunction, he would “certainly die.” The latter refers both to the loss of physical life and spiritual separation from the Creator for all eternity.
Genesis 3 reveals how Adam and Eve failed the test, and what the consequences were of doing so. The backdrop for this moral and spiritual failure is the truth that God created the first human couple in His image (1:26–27). The concept of the divine image seems broad enough to include human reason, ethics, and dominion.
God gave humans the capacity and authority to govern creation as His ruling representatives. Their jurisdiction extended to the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and animals on the land (whether small or large, wild or domesticated).
The mandate for people to govern the world as benevolent vice-regents of the true and living God was a reflection of His image in them (Gen. 9:2; Ps. 8:5–8; Heb. 2:5–9). By ruling over the rest of creation in a responsible manner, people bore witness to the divine likeness placed within humanity. In addition, as they mediated God’s presence, they made His will a reality on earth.
Genesis 3 begins by drawing the readers’ attention to the “serpent” (v. 1). Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 identify the “ancient serpent” with “Satan” (Isa. 27:1; 2 Cor. 11:3, 14; 1 John 3:8). The underlying theological truth is that the devil either came in the guise of a snake or somehow supernaturally spoke through the creature. Put another way, the evil one used for conniving purposes a creature the Lord had created for good.
Indeed, the anti-God, satanic presence behind the serpent enabled it to be cleverer and more devious than rest of the wild animals inhabiting Eden (Gen. 3:1). This observation is accentuated by the wordplay between “naked” (2:25; Hebrew, ʿarummim) and “cunning” (3:1; Hebrew, ʿarum).
The tempter asked Eve whether it was really true that God forbid her and Adam from eating fruit growing on “any tree in the garden” (3:1). The snake’s tactic was to plant doubt in the woman’s mind by making God’s original statements in 2:16–17 seem more restrictive than He intended.
Amazingly, instead of either rebuking the tempter or fleeing from it, Eve indulged herself in extended conversation with the serpent. The woman countered that God permitted her and her husband to partake of the “fruit from the trees” (3:2) in the orchard.
Having said that, Eve noted there was one exception. She explained that God prohibited the couple from picking and eating the “fruit” (v. 3) growing on the “tree” located in the “middle” of the grove. The woman added that she and the man were not allowed to “touch” the tree’s fruit, for even this slight infraction would cause them to “die.”
Eve’s response to the serpent’s deceit indicates the woman did not have a clear understanding of God’s command. Specifically, the woman downplayed the abundance of the Creator’s allotment, overstated His restriction, and softened the intensity of the consequence. Already, the words of the evil one were having their intended, insidious effect.
In response, the serpent put forward a blatant lie, namely, that there would be no death penalty for disobeying God’s command (v. 4). The tempter claimed that the couple would become like God. Allegedly, when the woman and the man ate the forbidden fruit, they would dramatically increase their awareness, including knowing the difference between “good and evil” (v. 5).
In effect, the serpent attributed a sinister and selfish motive go the Lord, namely, that He did not want the first human pair to become divine like Him. Supposedly, God feared that if Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they would become His equals.
How temptation can lead to sin is depicted vividly in Eve’s thoughts and actions. She realized that the fruit was beneficial for “food” (v. 6), that it was attractive to look at, and that eating it could bring something desirable to her, namely, godlike “wisdom.”
Compare the above with 1 John 2:15–17 (personal translation), “Neither love the world nor whatever the world offers. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the depraved appetites of sinful people, the sensual desires of their eyes, and their bragging about what they have and do—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and everything people want in it are passing away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
It did not take long for the woman to reach for some of the forbidden fruit and eat it. Next, she gave a portion to her “husband” (Gen 3:6), who likely was with her throughout her conversation with the serpent. Evidently, it was not hard for Eve to convince Adam to consume the fruit.
Ironically, while this simple act gave the couple moral awareness, it was not what they anticipated. Instead of obtaining godly discernment, the man and the woman suddenly became conscious of their physical and spiritual nakedness. Also, they felt so ashamed that they made a pathetic attempt to cover themselves around their hips by stitching together “fig leaves” (v. 7).
Prior to their moral and spiritual fall, Adam and Eve most likely looked forward to their meetings with God. But the advent of sin changed all that. The Creator, of course, is aware of everything (Job 14:23; Pss. 33:13–15; 139:1–16; 147:5; Prov. 15:3; Jer. 16:17; Heb. 4:13). In this case, He knew immediately when the couple had eaten the forbidden fruit.
It was the “time of the evening breeze” (Gen. 3:8) when the pair heard the Lord “moving about” (literally, “walking”) among the trees in the orchard. At the “sound” of the Creator’s approach, the guilty couple became afraid, perhaps even terrified, and frantically searched for a place to hide.
B. The Lord’s Questions: vv. 9–13
When Adam and Eve sensed the Creator’s proximity, their response was the opposite of what He wants His spiritual children to do, namely, to hear and heed Him (Deut. 6:3). While the first human pair might try to hide from God’s sacred presence, they could not escape the accountability He required for their disobedience.
Due to the Lord’s love for and commitment to Adam and Eve, He had to find and disciple the first sinners. Even though God already knew where the husband and his wife were, it was for their benefit that He summoned them. Specifically, the Lord gave them an opportunity to confess voluntarily their sin.
The process began with the Creator rhetorically asking where Adam might be (Gen. 3:9). Implied in God’s question is why the man was hiding. After all, instead of pointing out his location, Adam offered his fear of being “naked” (v. 10) as the reason for trying to keep out of sight.
The Lord, with full knowledge of what had happened, asked the man how he had become self-conscious of his nakedness and whether he had eaten the forbidden fruit (v. 11). In this exchange, God was extending to Adam a chance to own up to his transgression, as well as to ask for divine mercy and forgiveness. Regrettably, the man chose to make flimsy excuses.
In particular, Adam blamed his wife for his own willful act of defiance. Moreover, in an indirect way, the man even blamed his Creator when Adam rashly asserted that the temptation to sin came from Eve, whom God had graciously presented to the man as his companion (v. 12). Adam’s lame attempt to make his wife responsible for his wrongdoing was a stark measure of how far he had morally fallen.
Next, the Lord gave Eve a chance to acknowledge her sin by asking why she had given her husband the forbidden fruit to eat. The woman responded by trying to point the finger at the serpent, whom Eve claimed had tricked her (v. 13).
When the first human pair sinned, they were alienated not just from God, but also from each other, especially as the two refused to take responsibility for their actions. They had been blinded by the serpent’s guileful promise, and in return they received shame and alienation. The close relationship Adam and Eve once enjoyed with the Creator was brought to a wretched end.
The trees mentioned in Genesis 1 through 3 mirror the changes that occurred in God’s relationship with the people He created. At first, the trees represented the Lord’s provision for Adam and Eve (1:29; 2:9). Additionally, the two special trees—one offering life and the second offering an awareness of moral right and wrong—signified the choice of life or death God offered the couple.
Adam and Eve could choose to obey their Creator and live in His holy presence, or they could seek forbidden knowledge (2:16–17). After the man and the woman decided to eat the banned fruit—along with experiencing the spiritual and physical death that resulted from doing so—they hid among the trees in the orchard (3:8). Consequently, the Lord blocked their way to the tree of life to prevent them from existing endlessly in a fallen human state (vv. 22, 24).
II. The Aftermath of Sin: Genesis 3:14–18
A. For the Serpent: vv. 14–15
All it took was a series of straightforward, rhetorical questions (appearing in Gen. 3:9–13) for God to uncover what had happened to bring about the state of sin and guilt in which Adam and Eve now existed. The Lord’s plan for dealing with the appalling circumstance was to pronouncement judgment on the serpent, the woman, and the man—in that order (vv. 14–19). The Creator also expelled the human couple from the Eden orchard.
These observations draw attention to the dual emphasis of the Hebrew verb rendered “cursed” (vv. 14, 17), namely, that of being punished by God and alienated from Him. The solemn utterances recorded in these verses do not describe all the effects of sin. In fact, everything in life continues to be twisted, corrupted, or diminished in some way by the effects of iniquity.
Moreover, despite the efforts of humankind, Scripture reveals that the imperfections of life cannot be remedied. Likewise, the deficiencies encountered in this world are impossible to quantify and overcome (Eccl. 1:15; 3:11, 14–15, 7:13; 8:16–17).
Regarding the serpent, Genesis 3:1 states that before the Fall, this creature was the most savvy and clever living being in the entire animal kingdom. After the Fall, the Lord decreed that because of the snake’s act of deception, it would be the most cursed creature among all the tamed and untamed animals on earth. The serpent would experience the humiliation of slithering on the ground and being forced to ingest dirt as it moved along (v. 14).
Rabbinic legend has traditionally interpreted this verse to mean that previously snakes had legs upon which they walked. Yet, the curse may simply indicate that the serpent’s mode of travel, along with its closeness to “dust,” would now symbolize Satan’s moral lowness and metaphysical ignominy (Pss. 44:25; 72:9; Isa. 49:23; 65:25; Mic. 7:17).
Because the snake tricked the woman, God would allow a perpetual state of hostility to exist between the serpent’s offspring (namely, those who followed its deviant ways; Rev 12:9; John 8:44; 1 John 3:8) and the woman’s offspring. One of her descendants would “crush” (Gen. 3:15) the “head” of the serpent, while the latter would attack the “heel” of this person.
Traditionally, in a view that is called the protoevangelium (Latin for “first good news”), Christian interpreters have taken the woman’s offspring to refer, in particular, to the Messiah. Accordingly, while Satan struck Jesus’ heel (figuratively speaking), He crushed the devil’s head when Jesus rose from the dead.
Colossians 2:15 reveals that the Son triumphed in His death over every power and authority that sets itself up against the triune God. The verse pictures ancient post-battle victory processions, when a conqueror returned home with his defeated enemies trailing behind, weakened and in chains. Moreover, Romans 16:20 discloses that Jesus’ victory over Satan would be finalized at the Second Advent.
B. For the Woman: v. 16
Concerning the woman, the Lord’s pronouncement of judgment had two parts. First, she would endure intensified physical “pain” (Gen. 3:16) and emotional distress in “childbearing.” Presumably, if Adam had not eaten the forbidden fruit, he and his wife would have raised a family in the garden. In that case, births would have caused the mother little discomfort. Yet, now, Adam’s wife, along with all mothers after her, would suffer increased labor pains.
The second part of the Creator’s judgment oracle is that the woman would seek to control her “husband,” while he would try to dominate her. Consequently, instead of the couple being united and harmonious in their marriage relationship (2:24), the two would be locked in an ongoing, futile struggle for power.
Some take 3:16 to mean that marriage would be distorted by sexual and power politics. Others think the verse means that while a woman would continue to desire her husband, she would now have to submit to his leadership in the family.
C. For the Man: v. 17
With respect to Adam, because he sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, God’s pronouncement of judgment would negatively affect Adam’s ability to obtain food from the ground to eat. From the start, life in the Eden orchard involved some form of work (Gen. 2:15), but it was much easier and more fruitful than labor would be in a fallen world.
Because the man followed the lead of his wife, the ground ceased to be as bounteous in its yield. For the rest of Adam’s life, “painful toil” (3:17) would accompany him as he tried to get the earth’s soil to produce enough food for him to feed his family.
Furthermore, despite the man’s efforts at planting, tilling, and harvesting, the ground would sprout “thorns and thistles” (v. 18). Even as Adam toiled in the field, he would “sweat” (v. 19) profusely, and this would be his fate until he died.
More generally, it was due to the Fall that the Lord held back Creation’s full potential to flourish and achieve its divinely intended goal. This is seen in the curse that God placed on the ground (Rom. 8:20–21).
Earlier on, the serpent asserted that by eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve could seize what the Lord denied them, namely, knowledge and immortality (Gen. 3:4–5). Now, as part of God’s judgment oracle, they would experience the same fate as the rest of earth’s creatures—death (v. 19).
Indeed, both humans and animals shared the same lifebreath and ended up in the grave (Gen. 2:7; 6:17; Job 34:14–15; Ps. 104:29–30; Eccl. 3:19). Moreover, every creature was made from the same minerals and chemicals of the ground, and in death that is where all of them would return (Eccl. 3:20; Pss. 49:12, 20; 103:14).
No living entity could escape this destiny. For Adam, Eve, and all their physical descendants, the sobering aftermath of the Fall was that physical and spiritual death became a permanent part of the human experience.
Genesis 3 is a historical account written in poetic prose. It also is about our first human ancestors and how they succumbed to temptation and sin. In many ways, Adam and Eve mirror us. For instance, they show how we, too, mar our relationship with God through countless forms of disobedience.
1. THE RESENTMENT OF RESTRAINTS. From the dawn of time, God has told us that there are limits to our knowledge, abilities, and plans. Only the Creator is without limits. Yet, the lesson of Genesis 3 is how we humans refuse to accept those limits.
2. THE RATIONALITY FOR REBELLION. The account of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit is also about us. We discover how attractive sin always appears. Also, the allure of doing only what we want is always backed by seemingly good reasons. Indeed, the voice of the evil one makes wrongdoing feel plausible and sensible.
3. THE RUPTURE OF RELATIONSHIPS. Separation from the Creator results from disobedience. In the case of Adam and Eve, they felt shame because of their transgressions, and they hid from God’s presence. Our refusal to obey always creates a problem in our relationship with God. Also, our society’s sense of alienation is part of the great separation from the Creator. It inevitably also causes a break in relationships with others and with all Creation.
4. THE REFUSAL OF RESPONSIBILITY. When the Lord confronted the man and the woman, they tried to shove personal responsibility off themselves. They made numerous excuses. Also, the finger-pointing indicated their unwillingness to own up to their sinful acts.
5. THE REASON FOR RESTORATION. The good news of Scripture is that God will not write us off. Our gracious Creator made garments for the cowering, shame-filled first human couple. Although they must have felt hurt and disappointed by their behavior, God nonetheless continued to provide for them. And today, through the Son, the Father continues to keep our eternal needs close to His heart. In short, He cares for us despite our rebellion.