Failure and Rebellion
In Genesis 1 and 2 God had been the primary actor and it was his voice that was heard consistently. God spoke in order to bring things into being and events to pass. Towards the end of Genesis 2, man is drawn more towards the centre of the stage so that he is called to act by tilling and guarding the garden, he speaks in naming the animals, he names his helper as woman and he sings a love song about her. Where God speaks to bring things into being, Adam speaks in order to evaluate, define and reflect back on what has come to pass.
In Genesis 3:1, a third voice is introduced. We are meant to notice at this stage that God’s voice is absent from the first section of this chapter. For the first time, the voice we can rely upon for truth and goodness falls silent. The third voice is that of the serpent. In Genesis 1, God had given humanity dominion over the creatures, in chapter 2, Adam had exercised that authority in naming and classifying them. Now, however it is one of the creatures who takes centre stage and speaks, exercising authority and claiming to be the source of truth.
Of particular literary note for Israelites hearing the account through the voice of Moses in the context of the Law is that serpents are classified as unclean creatures. Furthermore, there is a further dynamic at work in that serpents and dragons are associated with pagan idolatry opposed to God and with the enemies of God’s people. This is significant because it signals that an attack against God’s people and place is under way.
It is often assumed that Adam is absent at the point of temptation and so some have suggested that we see a full reversal of the headship order suggested in the New Testament so that the creature exercises authority over the woman who then exercises authority over the man. There are I think two problems here. First of all, whilst I’m committed to a complementarian understanding of marriage and eldership, Genesis 1 is clear that men and women together exercise dominion over creatures so that we should be wary of a rigid hierarchy of
God à Man àWoman àCreature
Secondly, the crucial verse here is v6 where the woman gives fruit to the man “who was with her.” It seems that Adam was present for the whole encounter although passive and silent so that the woman is left to do the talking. Given that man’s creation responsibilities as well as including rule over the creatures require him to provide and to protect (to till and to keep/guard) and this is the first serious assault on Eden, we see the man and woman failing and falling at the first hurdle.
The serpent’s temptation is the offer of autonomy. Adam and Eve are invited to determine for themselves the goodness of the fruit, its suitability for food, the desirability of its offer and the truth of God’s Word. Where previously they had been dependent upon and readily accepted God’s revelation, they now are given the opportunity to make their own judgement.
Shame and Blame
The effect of the eating of the fruit is that their eyes are opened and the man and the woman know that they are naked. This very rarely seems to cause much discussion among people but what exactly does this awareness of nakedness mean. We know that physically they were naked because they later attempt to make clothes and then God makes clothes from animal skins for them. However, they would have been aware of this as factual reality. So, it is not that they suddenly realise they haven’t got clothes on in the style of the Emperor who believed he was wearing innovative new clothes. Rather, it is an alertness to being exposed and this seems to be particularly with reference to their relationship with God, that somehow they now need some form of protection or covering towards him. As Peter Williams observes:
“Why did Adam and Eve hide from God? Was it because, as Adam says, “I was naked”? Yes it was that, but not essentially because of the nakedness itself, but because the nakedness symbolised their consciousness of guilt.”
Of course their attempts to make clothes and covering were pretty ineffective and futile, you cannot do a lot with leaves, even large ones like fig leaves and it would all be rather uncomfortable. So when Adam and Eve hear God coming they resort to hiding among the trees. Not that that would be anymore effective!
This helps us to consider exactly what it was that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil offered. It was not knowledge so that they could know what was good and what was evil. They already knew that the creation was good and that disobeying God was evil. The Tree rather offered them the experience of the consequences of evil so that through that experience they knew God from evil. They now knew what it meant to know guilt, shame and fear.
Notice that the Lord comes looking for the man and woman. Here we see something of God’s persistent character throughout scripture, it is God who comes down and seeks out the lost. The incarnation is therefore no surprise, nor should we be surprised to hear Jesus illustrating this with stories about a shepherd seeking his lost sheep, a woman searching for her lost coin and a father looking out for his lost son.
The man’s response when God challenges him is to seek to shift blame onto the woman. Remember, he had been with the woman but had failed to intervene to help her in responding to the serpent. Notice too the distancing from her . In chapter 2:23 she is:
This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
There he recognises the one flesh nature of their relationship. The song expresses intimacy. Now he described her as: “The woman whom you gave to be with me.”
Judgement and Grace
God now pronounces judgement on the serpent, the woman and the man. Because we already know the penalty for disobedience to be death, it is not so much that God is handing out the sentence as explaining what it means. In other words, it is here in the next part of the passage that we find out what it means to die. The serpent is judged first, brought low and humbled so that it will become a dust eater, the link between dust and death should not be overlooked here. The serpent will find its life in the place of death and indeed we might suggest that it will feed off of death.
The first expression of death is seen here. A descendant of the woman, a human being, a man will be the one who crushes the serpent’s seed’s head. That the reference to the serpent striking at the woman’s seed’s heel is seen as prophesying the coming of Christ should highlight to us that even here at the point of grace, we are told that a death is the necessary consequence of sin.
Grace is something offered specifically to the human beings. It is not offered to the serpent who gets no right or reply. Grace is also highlighted in the way that it is the serpent and the earth that are cursed.
“It is significant that we are told that the serpent was cursed and the ground itself was cursed because of Adam’s sin but that Adam and Eve themselves, whilst they were judged, they were not cursed. This is because they could be restored and forgiven, but the serpent , or rather Satan who had possessed the serpent could never be restored and forgiven.”
The judgement on man and woman reflects their role in fulfilling God’s creation mandate and is about the removal of blessing so that death is associated with curse and the loss of blessing. The man and woman had been blessed and told to fill and subdue the earth. The woman will now experience pain, suffering and danger in childbirth so that whilst the command to fill the earth remains it is now not without significant obstacles.
The man meanwhile still has the responsibility to subdue creation, to till and to keep the land, to provide and protect. Now however, he too will find that this responsibility must be fulfilled through sweat, toil and suffering. The ground itself comes under the curse of death. Man’s whole life will be a struggle until one day the one who came from dust will return to dust.
We then see God’s further act of grace as he covers the man and woman’s shame and nakedness with animal furs. This might be seen as the first sacrifice in the Bible If nakedness primarily points to our inability to approach God and if God now responds by providing a sacrifice then this perhaps sheds further light on the Cain and Abel story.
The woman is given a further name as Eve, “the mother of all living.” This reminds us that she still carries her responsibilities within the creation mandate. It speaks against the suggestion that women are permanently tarnished because of the Fall. There is hope because in the midst of death, the woman will bring forth life and indeed through her future descendent, death reversing eternal life will come. The expression of hope here may well at least hint towards redemption.
Finally, God acts to remove Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and to banish them from access to the Tree of Life. This is another aspect of death,
“In Israelite worship, true life was experienced when one went to the sanctuary. There God was present. There he gave life. But to be expelled from the camp as lepers were, was to enter the realm of death. Those unfortunates had to behave like mourners with their clothes torn and their hair dishevelled.”
There is no way back to the tree and to the hope of immortality that way. Instead, they are pushed onwards to fulfil their mandate of filling and subduing the planet. Hope and life will come by looking forward not back The serpent’s defeat will come in another future garden, not this one.
- Shame and Guilt
- Exile and banishment
- Physical mortality
Genesis 3 closes with the arrival of curse and death but not with the departure of hope and grace.
 See Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 72-73.
 Peter Williams, From Eden to Egypt, 30.
 Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 76.
 Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 78.
 Williams, Eden to Egypt, 33.
 Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 74.