Originally published in Creation 4, no 3 (October 1981): 35-39.
It is very true that familiarity breeds contempt. Who is not familiar with the story of man’s first sin?
Through colloquial expressions, jokes, literary allusions, and art, the story of Adam and Eve has been woven into the background of our culture. It has become trite, familiar and has lost all sacred connotation because the view of the origin of man behind that story is now rejected in favour of the evolutionary hypothesis—so much so, that today the real story of Adam and Eve is little known.
We seldom stop to inquire into the true depth and meaning of the familiar.
We seldom stop to inquire into the true depth and meaning of the familiar. It is readily acknowledged that there are some parts of the Bible that we find harder to believe than others. It took me many years as a Christian before I came to accept the literal truth of the Creation of man and woman. Therefore I do not wish to present it as something that you already believe. In one sense you should, and yet I cannot condemn you without condemning myself. It was the realization that this story alone gave explanation for man’s present condition, which led to my realization of its truth.
Man had been placed in the garden by God, and given a task (to tend it and to keep it)—and a prohibition—(“Of the tree that is in the midst of the garden you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it, dying you shall die.” Gen. 2:17). Man was created to rule over the animals. He was created male and female—and the record tells of the perfect unity of that pair—Adam said, “This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” And they were naked and without shame. So these are two members of the cast, the man and the woman. The other two figures are a serpent and a tree.
The Bible was written as a textbook for man—and like any textbook it does not expect the student to understand everything in the first few chapters. There are many questions left unanswered which are taken up at later times. The fact that a serpent speaks is exceedingly strange for the Bible is not Aesop’s Fables.
The Bible makes a very conscious distinction between man and animals. In the previous chapter it explained that Adam gave names to the animals. (Clearly the animals could not do that themselves!) A speaking serpent is incongruous against the background of the Creation account. Speaking animals would seem to belong to paganism which has no concept of creation. Yet it is only later that we learn that the serpent was an instrument of another power. In Genesis 3 all that is not immediately relevant is omitted. All we are told is that the character of the animal made it a particularly well-adapted instrument for the power that used it, and we learn that it was created by God a beast of the field. That is very important for there was an order of authority in the creation. That order was: man ruling over beast; man ruling over the creation.
Satan planned to interrupt that order—to take the lowliest of the beasts and make that beast rule over man. He wanted man to listen and to follow the lowliest of the beasts rather than for man to obey and follow God. He approached the woman first to induce her to lead her husband astray, and thus further disrupt the natural authority of man over woman.
The remaining character is the tree. The Bible does not make the sharp distinction between abstract theoretical knowledge and practical experience that we tend to make. To know good and evil means to know both something about it, and to know it in practical experience. The name of the tree is appropriate to its function for if man rejects the temptation then he shall know good and evil in the actual experience of having chosen good and rejected evil. The contrast between the two will be clear to him. If on the other hand, he rejects the good and chooses the evil, then in bitter experience he shall know good and evil.
It may seem strange that God placed such temptation before man, but it is not wrong of God to provide an opportunity for man to demonstrate his obedience and thus receive greater blessing. God later tested Abraham to offer his son Isaac, and gave him greater blessing as reward for his obedience. However, Satan’s motive was very different. It was not wrong for man to listen to the temptation—nor was it sin to be tempted. Sin was the yielding to temptation.
Satan’s strategy was to create doubt in the mind of the woman as to God’s generosity. The woman should have rejected the speaking serpent as incongruous with the created order. Perhaps Satan’s question seemed innocent enough in itself, but it placed the emphasis on the negative. Instead of stressing the generosity of God in giving so many fruits to man, it raised the question as to why God should not allow them every fruit.
There is only apparent logic to the implied attack upon God’s goodness. It is a bit like the ludicrous man who has a modern double-story house and two cars but is bitter against God because he does not earn enough money to buy a yacht. The serpent follows up the doubt that he raised, by an open attack in the next question. “God’s word is not true. You shall not die. God is motivated purely by jealousy. He wants to keep you from the best.” Now we must acknowledge an element of truth in something Satan says. To know good and evil in the actual experience of always rejecting evil and choosing good is surely an attribute of God. Yet as the statement is put, Satan’s words are a lie. He is a liar from the beginning. Adam and Eve would not be like God, for they would know the misery of having rejected good, and chosen evil.
Satan tempts them to be like God in that they shall be their own authority. He tempts them to reject God as the highest authority and to place their authority above God’s. And so arising from doubts as to God’s goodness and generosity; from disbelief in God’s word which said sin would bring death; from a desire to displace God as the highest authority and obey their own fancies rather than God—sin came. The woman ate and gave to the man who also ate.
The sequel was hardly what Satan had led them to expect. Instead of the glory of being gods, there was the shame of nakedness. Martin Luther penetrated with great insight into what happened. He said that sin is a reversal of the created order. It changed things; it turned things upside down. Man’s greatest glory became his greatest shame. Whereas before there had been a perfect unity between the man and the woman, the wall of shame came down. Fear and isolation intruded in their relationship with each other—and in their relationship with God. They had doubted the goodness and the veracity of God. Now instead of loving Him, they could only fear Him.
God proceeds to question them—“Adam, where art thou?” (Gen. 3:9). He asks this, not because He does not know what has happened, but as we often do with children, to bring forth a consciousness and admission of guilt. But Adam has not yet reached that stage and tries to shift the blame. “It’s the woman’s fault. It is the fault of the woman that you gave to me. It’s your fault for giving her to me.” Here is a clear evidence that the unity between the man and the woman has been broken. The man stands apart from the woman and tries to throw blame on to her. In turn, the woman throws the blame onto the serpent. The sorry and familiar cycle has begun. Blame-shifting and recrimination have entered human life.
Then come God’s curses. These curses afflict man and woman in the center of their lives. Adam’s task was to have been king of this creation—to rule over the ground—but the ground will no longer accept his rule. It revolts against him. It brings forth thorns and thistles until man finally loses the unequal battle. He returns to the dust of the grave and the dust then rules over man. Instead of joy, man’s work shall be hard, wearisome toil. It shall be in his work that man will find his greatest frustrations. The king has fallen and his kingdom is in a state of anarchy and revolt.
That is true for us today as it was for the first man and woman then. We have merely succeeded in diminishing the physical toil involved in our labour, at the cost of multiplying the mental and emotional agony.
The role of the woman was directed chiefly towards child-bearing. This was to become for her a cause of sorrow and pain. It was to be in the family that the woman would know her greatest pain and frustration.
What has convinced me of the truth of this passage is the fact that it alone gives an explanation of man’s present condition. If you want a good laugh, read some of the evolutionary explanations of why man knows shame and wears clothes. Only by the greatest use of the speculative imagination can it be connected with the survival of the fittest.
Why has man always insisted on working himself to death? In all the big corporations today men can be seen who could be quite comfortably supported on less taxing jobs yet who insist on killing themselves at their jobs.
If human life is dominated by the survival instinct, how is this to be explained? The curse of God propels every man into a frustrating existence that must end in death.
The curses of God also contain promise of His blessing.
Praise God—all is not black! The curses of God also contain promise of His blessing. Though Satan’s plan was to upset the order of creation, that plan is thwarted. God confirms the lowly position of the serpent—he is humbled to the dust. God confirms the rule of the man over the woman—and in speaking to the serpent gives to man great hope. “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between her seed and your seed” (Gen. 3:15). The woman had fallen because she listened with confident trust to the serpent. That can happen no more. To protect man God placed enmity between the woman and the serpent. Something far more profound than women’s fear of snakes is dealt with here. The serpent is functioning as Satan’s representative and we come to see as we read the scriptures that there are men included amongst those who follow the serpent, who are the seed of the serpent. This division, this enmity cuts into the human race and divides mankind. Between those who stem from the woman and are true sons of Eve and those who follow the serpent and his master, there is a fixed enmity.
Out of the seed of the woman shall come One who shall crush the head of the serpent and be Himself wounded in the action. The figure is that of a man who kills a snake by bruising and crushing its head and bruises his own heel in the action. It is a figure, yet it points to the fact that out of this seed shall come one who shall destroy the evil that the serpent brought. There is in that act on the cross the hope for an end to this misery, pain and frustration that the serpent helped to bring into the world. The remainder of the Old Testament is written around the hope of this seed, tracing the line that shall produce the seed. From Adam to Seth, to Noah, to Shem, to Eber the father of the Eberites (or as we know them, the Hebrews), to Terah, and on through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, on to Boaz, Obed, Jesse, David, on down through David’s line to Zerubbabel—always following the line of descent—waiting for the Promised Seed.
Find out how you can know for certain that you will spend eternity with God in heaven when you die.
At first sight it seems insignificant that Adam gave his wife a certain name—rather out of place in this section, but I think it is very much in context. It shows that for Adam it is already important that the woman be a mother, for already he is looking for the One who shall come
One other little detail that enlivens the gloom! God took skins and covered the man and the woman. He did not leave them in the shame and misery their sin had caused. Immediately, He acted to lessen the effects of sin.
Consider the two facts: that God takes action to remove the consequences of man’s sin, and that a descendant of the woman is to come who shall defeat the serpent; and you can practically write the Old Testament.
For us who know that the Promised Messiah, Jesus, has come, how amazing it is to look back and see the beginnings of the drama. The story of man’s fall into sin is strange beyond belief and yet so believable—such an adequate explanation.