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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Genesis 3



Verse 1


(1) Now the serpent.—Literally, And. The Hebrew language, however, is very poor in particles, and the intended contrast would be made plainer by rendering “Now they were both naked (arumim) . . . but the serpent was subtil (arum), more than every beast of the field.” This quality of the serpent was in itself innocent, and even admirable, and accordingly the LXX. translate prudent; but it was made use of by the tempter to deceive Eve; for, it has been remarked, she would not be surprised on finding herself spoken to by so sagacious a creature. If this be so, it follows that Eve must have dwelt in Paradise long enough to have learnt something of the habits of the animals around her, though she had never studied them so earnestly as Adam, not having felt that want of a companion which had made even his state of happiness so dull.

And he said unto the woman.—The leading point of the narrative is that the temptation came upon man from without, and through the woman. Such questions, therefore, as whether it were a real serpent or Satan under a serpent-like form, whether it spake with a real voice, and whether the narrative describes a literal occurrence or is allegorical, are better left unanswered. God has given us the account of man’s temptation and fall, and the entry of sin into the world, in this actual form; and the more reverent course is to draw from the narrative the lessons it was evidently intended to teach us, and not enter upon too curious speculations. We are dealing with records of a vast and hoar antiquity, given to man when he was in a state of great simplicity, and with his intellect only partly developed, and we cannot expect to find them as easy to understand as the pages of modern history.

Yea, hath God said . . .?—There is a tone of surprise in these words, as if the tempter could not bring himself to believe that such a command had been given. Can it really be true, he asks, that Elohim has subjected you to such a prohibition? How unworthy and wrong of Him! Neither the serpent nor the woman use the title—common throughout this section—of Jehovah-Elohim, a sure sign that there was a thoughtful purpose in giving this appellation to the Deity. It is the impersonal God of creation to whom the tempter refers, and the woman follows his guidance, forgetting that it was Jehovah, the loving personal Being in covenant with them, who had really given them the command.

Verse 5

(5) Ye shall be as gods.—Rather, as God, as Elohim himself, in the particular quality of knowing good and evil. It was a high bait which the tempter offered; and Eve, who at first had answered rightly, and who as yet knew nothing of falsehood, dallied with the temptation, and was lost. But we must not comment too severely upon her conduct. It was no mean desire which led her astray: she longed for more know ledge and greater perfection; she wished even to rise above the level of her nature; but the means she used were in violation of God’s command, and so she fell. And, as usual, the tempter kept the promise to the ear. Eve knew good and evil, but only by feeling evil within herself. It was by moral degradation, and not by intellectual insight, that her ambitious wish was fulfilled.

Verse 6

(6) And when the woman saw . . . she took.—Heb., And the woman saw . . . and she took, &c. In this, the original form of the narrative, we see the progress of the temptation detailed in a far more lively manner than in our version. With awakened desire the woman gazes upon the tree. The fruit appears inviting to the eye, and possibly was really good for food. The whole aspect of the tree was beautiful; and, besides, there was the promise held out to her that it possessed the mysterious faculty of developing her intellectual powers. To this combined influence of her senses without and her ambition within she was unable to offer that resistance which would have been possible only by a living faith in the spoken word of God. She eats, therefore, and gives to her husband—so called here for the first time—and he eats with her. The demeanour of Adam throughout is extraordinary. It is the woman who is tempted—not as though Adam was not present, as Milton supposes, for she has not to seek him—but he shares with her at once the gathered fruit. Rather, she is pictured to us as more quick and observant, more open to impressions, more curious and full of longings than the man, whose passive behaviour is as striking as the woman’s eagerness and excitability.

Verse 7

(7) The eyes of them both were opened.—This consciousness of guilt came upon them as soon as they had broken God’s commandment by eating of the forbidden fruit; and it is evident from the narrative that they ate together; for otherwise Eve would have been guilty of leading Adam into sin after her understanding had been enlightened to perceive the consequences of her act. But manifestly her deed was not without his cognisance and approval, and he had shared, in his own way, her ambition of attaining to the God like. But how miserably was this proud desire dis appointed! Their increased knowledge brought only shame. Their minds were awakened and enlarged, but the price they paid for it was their innocence and peace.

They sewed fig leaves together.—There is no reason for supposing that the leaves were those of the pisang (Musa paradisiaca), which grow ten feet long. Everywhere else the word signifies the common fig-tree (Ficus carica), one of the earliest plants subjected to man’s use. More remarkable is the word sewed. The Syriac translator felt the difficulty of supposing Eve acquainted with the art of needlework, and renders it, “they stuck leaves together.” But the word certainly implies something more elaborate than this. Probably some time elapsed between their sin and its punishment; and thus there was not merely that first hasty covering of themselves which has made commentators look about for a leaf large enough to encircle their bodies, but respite sufficient to allow of something more careful and ingenious; and Eve may have used her first advance in intellect for the adornment of her person. During this delay they would have time for reflection, and begin to understand the nature of the change that had taken place in their condition.

Aprons.—More correctly, girdles.

Verse 8

(8) And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden.—The matter-of-fact school of commentators understand by this that there was a thunderstorm, and the guilty pair hearing for the first time the uproar of nature, hid themselves in terror, and interpreted the mighty peals as meaning their condemnation. Really it is in admirable keeping with the whole narrative; and Jehovah appears here as the owner of the Paradise, and as taking in it His daily exercise; for the verb is in the reflexive conjugation, and means “walking for pleasure.” The time is “the cool (literally, the wind) of the day,” the hour in a hot climate when the evening breeze sets in, and men, rising from their noontide slumber, go forth for labour or recreation. In this description the primary lesson is that hitherto man had lived in close communication with God. His intellect was undeveloped; his mental powers still slumbered; but nevertheless there was a deep spiritual sympathy between him and his Maker. It is the nobler side of Adam’s relationship to God before the fall.

Hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God.—This does not imply a visible appearance, for the whole narrative is anthropomorphic. The Fathers, however, saw in these descriptions the proof of a previous incarnation of the Divine Son (see Note on Genesis 12:7). Next, we find in their conduct an attempt to escape from the further result of sin. The first result was shame, from which man endeavoured to free himself by covering his person; the second was fear, and this man would cure by departing still farther from God. But the voice of Jehovah reaches him, and with rebuke and punishment gives also healing and hope.

Verse 8-9


And they heard the voice of the Lord God Walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto the man, and said unto him, Where art thou?—Genesis 3:8-9.

If this is veritable history, it is also parable. It is the record of the first fear, the first blush, the first self-concealment. So common are all these experiences to-day, that it is difficult to conceive the time of innocence and assurance when they did not exist. Yet man, made in the image of God, enjoyed unclouded communion with his Creator. There was no withdrawal of light on the part of God, and there were no mists of doubt exhaled from earth to obscure its clear shining. God talked with man. Adam delighted in the voice of God. But in the evil hour of temptation all this was changed. Disobedience unclothed the conscience. Its garment of innocence was lost, and they knew that they were naked. The spiritual condition which their sin had produced was symbolized in the physical. They mistook the sign for the substance. The fig-leaf aprons were their first vain effort. But this was not enough. The approach of God convinced them of its insufficiency, and so they sought shelter among the trees of the garden. But even here God followed them with mingled words of justice and of love. This is the fountain-head of all earth’s woes. This is the little cloud of sins which has overspread the heavens with the darkness of despair, and threatens now the storm of wrath. This is the beginning of that great necessity, which, foreseen, had already in the council of eternity drawn forth the pitying love of God, and had already secured the acceptance and condescension of the Son of God, as the second Adam of the race.

Nearly all the most eminent Biblical scholars are now agreed that the clue to the meaning of this third chapter of Genesis is to be found by regarding it as an allegory or parable rather than as an historical document in the modern sense of the term. Even a scholar so cautious and conservative as Dean Church says in one of his books, “Adam stands for us all—for all living souls who from generation to generation receive and hand on the breath of human life.” The author of what Archbishop Temple has called “the allegory of the garden of Eden” is both a poet and a prophet. As a poet he has created an ideal conception of the typical natural man. As a prophet he spells out for us, in language coloured by Eastern imagery, the drama of a great crisis in the history of mankind. Look at the story of what is called (though not in the Bible) the “fall of Adam,” superficially, and you may regard it as a legend, such as those of Hercules and Prometheus. Look at it deeply and seriously, and you see in it the inspired work of a master mind, gifted with profound spiritual insight, who sees the greatness of man even in ruin, who knows what sin means, and what fruit it bears. It is not the voice of a chronicler of past events that is heard here. It is the voice of a preacher who speaks to the soul in image and parable. It is for the sake of the spiritual truth wrapped up in it that the story is told.1 [Note: J. W. Shepard.]

The text brings before us three great fundamental facts—

I. Man is made for Fellowship with God—“They heard the voice (or sound, i.e. steps) of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”

II. Sin breaks the Fellowship—“The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.”

III. God seeks to restore it—“And the Lord God called unto the man, and said unto him, Where art thou?”


The Fellowship

1. What is Fellowship?

Real religion stands or falls with the belief in a personal God, and in realizing the need of communion with Him. When once we destroy, or tamper with, the conviction that we are living, or should be living, in spiritual contact with a Divine Being who has revealed Himself to us in His Son, worship ceases to have any real meaning. We may not be able to certify or interpret to others this contact with God. But the deepest of truths is that God is not far from any one of us, and it is the Divine Spirit within us that seeks and strives for communication with our Heavenly Father.

Speak to Him thou for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet—

Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.

God made us to speak to Him, not only in formal prayers on stated occasions, but in the silent language of meditation, and in the effort implied in maintaining our belief in His presence and nearness to us. It is a sure sign of something being wrong with us if we shrink from this great thought, and take refuge in any view of life that tends to hide from us the solemn mystery of standing before the living God.

Lift to the firmament your eye,

Thither God’s path pursue;

His glory, boundless as the sky,

O’erwhelms the wondering view.

The forests in His strength rejoice;

Hark! how on th’ evening breeze,

As once of old, the Lord God’s voice

Is heard among the trees.1 [Note: J. Montgomery.]

2. How may it be enjoyed?

There are two ways especially in which the fellowship between God and man may be enjoyed.

(1) By meditation in the quiet of the evening.—God was heard walking in the garden “in the cool of the day.” It may be that the phrase means no more than the evening breeze. God comes to us all more or less distinctly in the evening—it is a time for leisure, rest, reflection, and worship. After the toil and tumult of the day it is a period of hush and quiet, and amid the stillness we can hear God’s voice borne on the wind.

Morn is the time to act, noon to endure;

But oh! if thou wouldst keep thy spirit pure,

Turn from the beaten path by worldlings trod,

Go forth at eventide, in heart to walk with God.

It is only in the cool of the day that I can hear Thy footsteps, O my God. Thou art ever walking in the garden. Thy presence is abroad everywhere and always; but it is not everywhere or always that I can hear Thee passing by. The burden and heat of the day are too strong for me. The struggles of life excite me, the ambitions of life perturb me, the glitter of life dazzles me; it is all thunder and earthquake and fire. But when I myself am still, I catch Thy still small voice, and then I know that Thou art God. Thy peace can only speak to my peacefulness, Thy rest can only be audible to my calm; the harmony of Thy tread cannot be heard by the discord of my soul. Therefore, betimes I would be alone with Thee, away from the heat and the battle. I would feel the cool breath of Thy Spirit, that I may be refreshed once more for the strife. I would be fanned by the breezes of heaven, that I may resume the dusty road and the dolorous way. Not to avoid them do I come to Thee, but that I may be able more perfectly to bear them. Let me hear Thy voice in the garden in the cool of the day.1 [Note: George Matheson.]

This life hath hours that hold

The soul above itself, as at a show

A child, upon a loving arm and bold

Uplifted safe, upon the crowd below

Smiles down serene,—I speak to them that know

This thing whereof I speak, that none can guess,

That none can paint,—what marks hath Blessedness,

What characters whereby it may be told?

Such hours with things that never can grow old

Are shrined. One eve, ’mid autumns far away,

I walked along beside a river; grey

And pale was earth, the heavens were grey and pale,

As if the dying year and dying day

Sobbed out their lives together, wreaths of mist

Stole down the hills to shroud them while they kissed

Each other sadly; yet behind this veil

Of drearness and decay my soul did build,

To music of its own, a temple filled

With worshippers beloved that hither drew

In silence; then I thirsted not to hear

The voice of any friend, nor wished for dear

Companion’s hand firm clasped in mine; I knew,

Had such been with me, they had been less near,2 [Note: Dora Greenwell.]

(2) In corporate worship.—When one joins a group of worshippers, one enters to take one’s part in the ordered response of the Church universal to the outgoing of the heart of God; one enters a region where heaven dips down to earth, while earth lifts up “blind hands” to heaven; one is at the meeting-place of the two orders, the temporal and the eternal; one is standing with one’s fellows before the rending veil. And there are other gains to be got from corporate worship. There is outlook. There is “the restfulness of its wide horizons.” The daily work of most of us is done within a very narrow sphere of interest and enterprise. In the fellowship of the Church we have a unique opportunity of emerging from these limitations. No man can enter into the fullest liberty if he is alone with nature and the God of nature. An essential element in the vision of far horizons is the presence of a body of aspirant life. It is “with all saints,” not with nature, that we comprehend the love of God. It is where two or three are gathered together to search into His name, that He is in the midst. And another gain to be obtained from corporate worship is quiet of spirit. Who has not known perplexities drop away, who has not seen problems solved, in the contemplation and experience of the fellowship of the Church? Moods that have distressed us have been dispelled by merely seeing them reflected in the experience of fellow-worshippers, whether of our own or of other ages. Controversies which have vexed us have been settled in the light of the broad, plain moralities of the Gospel. Exaggerations of view have been checked by the thought of the manifold variety of catholic Christian experience. Forgotten factors in difficult questions have come to light as we have learned to look at life from the point of view of God’s residence in the collective body of His redeemed. We have repeated the Psalmist’s experience: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I.”

Wandering thro’ the city

My heart was sick and sore;

Full of a feverish longing

I entered an old church door.

Dark were the aisles and gloomy:

Type of my troubled breast.

Mournful and sad I paced there,

Eager to be at rest.

Sudden the sunshine lighted

The arches with golden stream,

Chasing the darksome shadows

With brightly-glancing beam.

A chord pealed forth from the organ

Tender, and soft, and sweet:

Trembling along the pavement

Like the tread of the angels’ feet.

The light as a voice from Heaven,

Bid all my care to cease;

The chord, as a song of Seraphs,

Whispered of God’s own peace.1 [Note: John A. Jennings.]


The Separation

The first sin of Scripture is in some sort the type of all our sins. They grow out of a common root. In the language of morals, they are a revolt against the pressure of rules and obligations felt to be in conflict with passion or personal desires. In the language of the Bible, they spring from a state of rebellion against God and the order established by Him.

The author of the record of Genesis shows us in poetic imagery the inward as well as the outward consequences of any deliberate act of rebellion. All sin, until with repentance comes pardon, alters the relations between the creature and the Creator. An estranging cloud comes between the soul and God. And this means bitter shame, haunting fear—the shame of degradation, the fear of death. That concealing cloud cannot be conjured away by any human arts. So long as reconciliation is barred by impenitence and unbelief, the cloud will be there. This permanent fact of man’s spiritual nature is portrayed in the words, “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.”

The heavens above are clear

In splendour of the sapphire, cold as steel,

No warm soft cloud floats over them, no tear

Will fall on earth to tell us if they feel;

But ere the pitiless day

Dies into evening grey,

Along the western line

Rises a fiery sign

That doth the glowing sky incarnadine.1 [Note: Dora Greenwell.]

i. How does the loss of God’s fellowship show itself?

1. In a sense of Shame.—The first feeling of the man and his wife was an indistinct sense of shame, a desire to hide themselves from one another and from all the world. “Their eyes, both of them, were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” Until then they had been like little children, not knowing shame, because they knew not sin; but from that day forward they and their posterity had to carry both sin and shame about with them wherever they went.

My colleague at the City Temple told me of a young fellow whom a friend of his tried to save, and in the end succeeded, I am glad to say. This poor lad was an adopted son; he seems to have inherited a weak nature, or if he did not inherit one—for I do not think there is so very much in heredity, after all—at any rate, loose habits, unworthy behaviour, evil company, engendered in him a course of action, and created a character in itself evil. He robbed his adoptive parents, and fled from home. When he was found and brought back almost to the doorstep he refused to enter. “Why? Are you afraid to face them?” The answer was, “I cannot look them in the eye.”2 [Note: R. J. Campbell.]

2. In Fear.—In no way does the tragedy of Eden come out with more picturesque realism than in these hiding figures fleeing from the face of the God against whom they have sinned. But yesterday the presence of God was their chief delight. It made the flowers more beautiful; it added to the fragrance of the blossoming trees; it gave more exquisite harmony to the singing of the birds; it was the perfection of their delight and their joy. Fear was not in all their thoughts, and they gazed rapturously into the countenance of their Heavenly Father as a child gazes with unspeakable confidence and trust into the eyes of its mother. But now there is nothing they dread so much as the face of God. And we watch them as they hasten into the thickest part of the garden and vainly try to hide themselves from the eye of their Creator.

A child knows at once what it is to love God; but you must force its understanding into an unnatural course to teach it that God is a Person to be afraid of. That terror of God, which cannot spring out of holiness and innocence, comes of itself, however, without teaching or forcing, with sin.1 [Note: J. H. Blunt.]

One of the first results of sin is to awaken the conscience and make it an accuser and pursuer. All great literature abounds in illustrations of this theme. No man deals with it with more wisdom and fidelity than Shakespeare. We have all had on our lips at one time or other those words of Hamlet in which he declares that “Conscience does make cowards of us all.” And in the tragedy of “King Richard iii.” Shakespeare makes a wicked man say of his conscience, “I’ll not meddle with it: it is a dangerous thing: it makes a man a coward: a man cannot steal, but it accuseth him; he cannot swear, but it checks him” (Act i. scene iv.).

Spurgeon tells of an Englishman who was so constantly in debt and so frequently arrested by the bailiffs that on one occasion, when going by a fence, the sleeve of his coat catching on a nail, he turned round and said, obeying the instinctive fear of his heart, “I don‘t owe you anything, sir.” He thought the picket was a bailiff.2 [Note: L. A. Banks.]

3. In Excuses.—All our worst sins are marked by a certain recklessness of consequences. “Never mind what may come of it all,” we say to ourselves, “let us brave the worst.” And when the consequences do come—as come they must, sooner or later—we throw the blame on things or persons other than ourselves. Someone’s subtlety beguiled us into thinking that rebellion against the moral order would be a glorious gain. Or else we cry out against society or our inherited temperament as responsible for our misdoings. We complain dolefully of the demoralizing tendencies of modern life. It is no fault of ours, we say, if we, too, drift with the stream, and reach out our hands to secure the delights of the passing hour. So, in our blindness and infatuation, we excuse ourselves. And our eyes are opened when we learn in sorrow and suffering that one sinful act may spread its contaminating fibres through the whole of our life.

The literature of imagination—much of the fiction of our time and some of its poetry—is skilful in painting the wicked thing, until it appears gay and brilliant and free. There are philosophies and theologies which apologize for it, and teach us to view it almost as a necessity for our fuller life, or as a halting-place in the march of the soul to what is higher and holier. Society has a hundred affectations and excuses that hide its foulness, as Greek assassins concealed their death-bringing daggers under the greenery of myrtle leaves. It is a fall upward, we are told, and not a fall downward. On the Amazon a famous naturalist discovered a spider which spread itself out as a flower; but the insects lighting on it found destruction instead of sweetness and honey. Our sin is our sin, evil, poisonous, fatal, although it transmutes itself into an angel of goodness.1 [Note: A. Smellie.]

4. By Hiding.—“The man and his wife hid themselves.” Is not this hiding among the trees of the garden a symbolical representation of what sinners have been doing ever since?—have they not all been endeavouring to escape from God, and to lead a separated and independent life? They have been fleeing from the Divine presence, and hiding themselves amid any trees that would keep that presence far enough away.

Professor Phelps tells of a burglar who rifled an unoccupied dwelling by the seaside. He ransacked the rooms, and heaped his plunder in the parlour. There were evidences that here he sat down to rest. On a bracket in the corner stood a marble bust of Guido’s Ecce Homo—Christ crowned with thorns. The guilty man had taken it in his hands and examined it—it bore the marks of his fingers—but he replaced it with its face turned to the wall, as if he would not have even the sightless eyes of the marble Saviour look upon his deeds of infamy.2 [Note: E. Morgan.]

ii. They hid themselves

The attempt to hide oneself may be made in different ways.

1. One way is by careless living, by such levity as that of the Athenians who scoffed at St. Paul when he spoke to them of the resurrection of the dead. Men who are devoured by a foolish appetite for the last new thing, the last word of science and philosophy, have ceased to care for truth, and have become worshippers of idols. To such, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ must remain for ever an unknown God. They have forfeited the power of seeing the Invisible, and of worshipping in spirit and in truth. There was no Church at Athens. There never can be a Church, in the real sense, composed of men and women who make of a merely intellectual interest in science and literature, in the burning questions of the day, an excuse for shirking the serious aspects of life and the spiritual facts that lie at the foundation of religion. “Let not God speak with us, lest we die.” This reluctance to hear the deeper chords struck, this desire to run away from the deeper thoughts and experiences that pierce the conscience and trouble the mind, is deeply embedded in human nature. The dearest wish of many among us is to be let alone; to be allowed to live our lives out to the end in a sort of enchanted garden, where no voice from the deeps may reach us, and we may catch no glimpse of the Cherubim and the flaming sword.

“How now, Sir John!” quoth I: “what, man! be o’ good cheer.” So a’ cried out, “God, God, God!” three or four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid him a’ should not think of God. I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet. So a’ bade me lay more clothes on his feet.1 [Note: Mrs. Quickly in Henry v., Act ii. sc. iii. 1. 17.]

2. Another way of hiding from God is the refusal to listen to the voice of conscience when it condemns us, the ingrained habit of slipping away from reminders of duties neglected and obligations left unfulfilled, so finely delineated by George Eliot in the character of Tito Melema. Wherever sincerity is, the quality of perfect openness and clearness of soul, the word of Christ will reach and penetrate the heart. To hear the voice of God calling us with joy and gladness we must be clear from vice, clear from self-indulgence and self-satisfaction. It is our sins, and nothing else, that separate us from Him; our sins, too, that make us shun those who are to us a sort of embodied conscience. “I was obliged to get away from him as fast as I could,” said a notorious profligate of the saintly Fénelon, “else he would have made me pious.” Here speaks the “natural man,” the Adam whose blood runs in our veins. Which of us does not blush to think how often we have shunned the company of the wise and the good because their moral purity shamed us?

I can think of no more telling instance of the evasion of spiritual influence than one that is to be found in the incomparable pages of the great master of Greek philosophic thought. Twenty-three centuries ago there was no more brilliant figure in Athenian society than Alcibiades, soldier, statesman, and leader of fashion—the most daring, the most versatile, the most unprincipled of men. Well, Plato has put him, as it were, into the confessional. And this is what he represents him as saying of the effect produced on his mind by the character and teaching of Socrates. After bearing his personal witness to the strange and almost magical power over the heart of the words of the great Athenian master, he goes on to say, “No one would imagine that I could ever feel shame before any one, but before him I do stand rebuked. For when I hear him my heart throbs, and tears gush from my eyes. For he compels me to confess that, in intriguing for place and power, I am neglecting my real self, and all is ill within me. I cannot deny that I ought to do what he bids me, but I go away, and other influences prevail over me. Therefore, I shut my ears and run away from him like a slave, and whenever I see him shame takes possession of me. So I am in a strait betwixt two. Often I feel that I should be glad if he were no longer in the land of the living. Yet, if anything should happen to him, I know full well that I should be the more deeply grieved.”1 [Note: J. W. Shepard.]

3. A third way of attempting to hide from God—and it is perhaps the most evasive of all—is by flattering ourselves that we are seeking His face. Even religion may be so perverted as to become a deadening influence when we identify it with opinions, or party views, or zeal for dogma, or external things like ceremonies, or forms of worship, or matters of Church order and discipline. How many among us live and move in these surface questions, while shrinking from the deeper problems of what we are to think of God, and how we are to school ourselves to learn what is His will, and how we are to do it. Yes, it is quite as easy to hide from God among the pillars of the sanctuary as among the trees of the garden. Multiplied services, religious discussion, the manifold business of religious societies, may usurp the place of religious worship, and the care for these things may leave scanty room for the inward communing of the soul with God. Experience seems to show that the use of inferior ways of calling forth religious earnestness tends to make us indisposed to centre our faith on God’s own revelation of Himself in His Son.

iii. They hid themselves amongst the Trees of the Garden

Adam and his wife hid themselves amongst the trees of the garden. What are the trees one hides among?

1. One of the trees behind which we hide ourselves is the tree of Knowledge. “Ye shall be as gods,” said Satan, “knowing.” That “knowledge puffeth up” was known to Satan before it was stated by Paul. Knowledge is the fruit of the tree that stood in the very midst of the garden; but knowledge is accompanied by its shadow in the shape of a consciousness of knowledge; and consciousness of knowledge is on the negative side of know-nothing. One single electric light extinguishes the stars, and the shining of the low-lying moon snuffs out all the constellations of the firmament. The garden of the Lord grows up at length into such prodigality of leaf and flower as to conceal the Lord of the garden.

2. Another tree behind which the face of the Lord becomes hidden from us is that of Wealth. The tree of wealth, like the tree of knowledge, has its best rooting in the soil of paradise. We should no sooner think of speaking a disparaging word of money than we should of knowledge. But as knowledge becomes conscious of itself and so loses consciousness of God, so wealth is absorbed in itself and forgets God. The sun lifts the mist that befogs the sun. It is not easy to become very learned without getting lost in the world of our own erudition. It is not easy to become very rich without becoming lost in the world of our acquisition.

3. Another tree in God’s garden is the tree of Respectability. More evidently, perhaps, than either of the others, it is the outcome of heavenly soil. The Gospel has always displayed a surpassing power in diffusing ideals of excellent behaviour, in grappling with the coarser lusts of men, and taming them into habits of regularity and propriety. At the same time, when a man, by the impact of the truth, or by the pressure of sentiment, or by the fear of consequences, but without having been vitally renewed, has had just enough outward effect produced upon him to start in him an incipient and callow sense of goodness, such a man is of the very toughest material with which the Gospel has to contend. Such a little streak of conscious excellence when exposed to the convicting truth of God’s Word, or power of God’s Spirit, like a glittering rod pushed up into the electricity will convey off in silent serenity the most terrific bolt out of the sky that can be hurled against it. Dread respectability more than original sin.

In the ancient orderly places, with a blank and orderly mind,

We sit in our green walled gardens and our corn and oil increase;

Sunset nor dawn can wake us, for the face of the heavens is kind;

We light our taper at even and call our comfort peace.

Peaceful our clear horizon, calm as our sheltered days

Are the lilied meadows we dwell in, the decent highways we tread.

Duly we make our offerings, but we know not the God we praise,

For He is the God of the living, but we, His children, are dead.

I will arise and get me beyond this country of dreams,

Where all is ancient and ordered and hoar with the frost of years,

To the land where loftier mountains cradle their wilder streams,

And the fruitful earth is blessed with more bountiful smiles and tears,—

There in the home of the lightnings, where the fear of the Lord is set free,

Where the thunderous midnights fade to the turquoise magic of morn,

The days of man are a vapour, blown from a shoreless sea,

A little cloud before sunrise, a cry in the void forlorn—

I am weary of men and cities and the Service of little things,

Where the flamelike glories of life are shrunk to a candle’s ray.

Smite me, my God, with Thy presence, blind my eyes with Thy wings,

In the heart of Thy virgin earth show me Thy secret way!1 [Note: John Buchan.]


The Reconciliation

1. The first step towards reconciliation is taken, not by the creature, but by the Creator. It is not man who first seeks God and cries out, “O my Maker, my Father, where art Thou?” but it is the great God and Father who tenderly inquires after His erring child. Christ’s words, “Ye did not choose me, but I chose you,” have an immediate reference to His followers, but they have also a general application to the race. Bede compares Christ’s priority in choosing His disciples to God’s priority in loving us. “We love, because he first loved us.” Our love is a response to the appeal of His infinite, unmerited, and spontaneous love. He first loved us. When He made man, He did not leave him as a manufacturer might an article, without any concern respecting the future. Archbishop Trench says,” The clockmaker makes his clock and leaves it; the shipbuilder builds and launches the ship, which others navigate; but the world is no curious piece of mechanism which its Maker constructs and then dismisses from His hands.” “And the Lord God called unto the man, and said unto him, Where art thou?”

I have not sought Thee, I have not found Thee,

I have not thirsted for Thee:

And now cold billows of death surround me,

Buffeting billows of death astound me,—

Wilt Thou look upon, wilt Thou see

Thy perishing me?

Yea, I have sought thee, yea, I have found thee,

Yea, I have thirsted for thee,

Yea, long ago with love’s bands I bound thee:

Now the Everlasting Arms surround thee,—

Through death’s darkness I look and see

And clasp thee to Me.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]

2. What does God’s question contain? The question is, Where art thou?

(1) It contains the suggestion that the man is lost. Until we have lost a thing we need not inquire about it; but when God said, “Where art thou?” it was the voice of a shepherd inquiring for his lost sheep; or better still, the cry of a loving parent asking for his child that has run away from him, “Where art thou?”

(2) It contains also the promise of mercy. It shows that God intended to have mercy upon man, or else He would have let him remain lost, and would not have said, “Where art thou?” Men do not inquire for what they do not value. There was a gospel sermon in those three divine words as they penetrated the dense parts of the thicket, and reached the tingling ears of the fugitives—“Where art thou?” Thy God is not willing to lose thee; He is come forth to seek thee, just as by and by He means to come forth in the person of His Son, not only to seek but to save that which now is lost.

3. And what is the effect of God’s question?

(1) It rouses men to a sense of their sinfulness. Sin stultifies the conscience, it drugs the mind, so that after sin man is not capable of understanding his danger as he would have been without it. Sin is a poison which kills conscience painlessly by mortification. Men die by sin, as men die when frozen to death upon the Alps—they die in a sleep. One of the first works of grace in a man is to put aside this sleep, to startle him from his lethargy, to make him open his eyes and discover his danger.

One of the holiest of the Church’s saints, St. Bernard, was in the habit of constantly warning himself by the solemn query, “Bernarde, ad quid venisti?” “Bernard, for what purpose art thou here?”1 [Note: E. Morgan.]

(2) It brings repentance and confession. The question was meant to convince of sin, and so to lead to a confession. Had Adam’s heart been in a right state, he would have made a full confession of his sinfulness. It is easier to make a man start in his sleep than to make him rise and burn the loathsome bed on which he slumbered; and this is what the sinner must do, and what he will do if God be at work with him. He will wake up and find himself lost; conviction will give him the consciousness that he has destroyed himself, and then he will hate the sins he loved before, flee from his false refuges, and seek to find a lasting salvation where alone it can be found—in the blood of Christ.

When Fletcher was a boy he lived in Switzerland, near the mighty mountains. He used to like to go out, when he was only seven years old, by himself, in the beautiful valleys and mountains, and think about God. He used to think that the mountains were like those where Elijah was. He had several brothers and sisters, and one day he was very cross, and quarrelled with them. When he went to bed he was told how very wrong it was. John did not say anything. When in bed, of course he could not sleep, and he did a very wise thing. He jumped out of bed, and he knelt down and asked God to forgive him. And Fletcher said, after he was a man, “Oh, that was a happy night! and that was the first time I ever tasted sweet peace.”1 [Note: James Vaughan.]

(3) But above everything else, and indeed as including everything else, it calls forth a response to God’s love. “Where art thou?” is no doubt the question of the righteous Judge from whose wrathful eye no leafy tree can shadow. Adam must not imagine that his sin is a light matter in the estimation of Him who claims unqualified obedience. But it is at the same time the voice of the compassionate Father, who Himself goes forth in search of the lost one who has strayed from Him, and whose heart is no less penetrated with the misery into which His child has flung himself than with the guilt of his palpable error. It is, above all, the voice of the compassionate Saviour, who has it already in His heart to guide the sinner through the darker depths of judgment to the glorious heights of an eternal salvation. “Where art thou?” It is the first word of God’s advent to the world, His salutation of peace before the utterance of the alarming prophecy, “I will put enmity”—a word which at the same time may be called the free act of eternal compassion, and whence still, after centuries, the echo recalls to us this comforting assurance, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”

The venerable Dr. Harry Rainy—in his old age, a picturesque and familiar figure in the streets of Glasgow with his Highland plaid, his snow-white hair and his furrowed face—died loved and honoured. In his last years he had a beautiful gentleness of spirit, and, regarding this, his son, Principal Rainy, in one of his delightful hours of reminiscence, told me an incident which, though it has a sacred privacy about it, I shall venture to repeat. Old Professor Rainy had one night a strange dream. He dreamt that he was holding converse with some August Personage, and gradually it became clear that This was none other than the Holy Spirit of God. The Divine Spirit seemed to be speaking of the means which would make His human auditor a holy man. God had used mercy and also discipline and yet it all had been insufficient. “The only thing,” so the Transcendent Speaker seemed to say, “is that you should be brought to realize more clearly how much God loves you.” And from that time—“you may make of it what you will,” said the Principal—his father had a peace and joy he never had before.1 [Note: P. C. Simpson, The Life of Principal Rainy, i. 305.]


Banks (L. A.), The World’s Childhood, 300, 312.

Blunt (J. H.), in Miscellaneous Sermons (edited by Lee), 93.

Brandt (J. L.), Soul Saving, 157.

Collyer (R.), Nature and Life, 153.

Evans (D. T.), in Sermons by Welshmen in English Pulpits, 28.

Greer (D. H.), From Things to God, 98.

Hanks (W. P.), The Eternal Witness, 98.

Hayman (H.), Sermons in Rugby School Chapel, 159.

Ingram (A. F. W.), The Call of the Father, 51.

Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year: Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, 139.

Kingsley (C.), The Gospel of the Pentateuch, 36.

Macmillan (H.), The Touch of God, 23.

Matheson (G.), Moments on the Mount, 1.

Morgan (E.), The Calls of God, 17.

Oosterzee (J. J. van), The Year of Salvation, i. 5.

Parkhurst (C. H.), Three Gates on a Side, 69.

Parks (L.), The Winning of the Soul, 51.

Raleigh (A.), Quiet Resting Places, 235.

Shepard (J. W.), Light and Life, 141.

Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 209.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vii. No. 412; l. No. 2900.

Tyng (S. H.), The People’s Pulpit, New Ser., ii. 167.

Vaughan (C. J.), in The World’s Great Sermons, vi. 69.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons to Children, 177.

Christian World Pulpit, lxviii. 277 (Campbell).

Contemporary Pulpit, 2nd Ser., i. 108 (Keble).

Verse 11

(11) Who told thee that thou wast naked?—Adam had given as his excuse that which was really the consequence of his sin; but by this question God awakens his conscience, and makes him feel that what he had described as a want or imperfection was really the result of his own act. And as long as a man feels sorrow only for the results of his actions there is no repentance, and no wish to return to the Divine presence. God, therefore, in order to win Adam back to better thoughts, carries his mind from the effect to the sin that had caused it.

Verse 12-13

(12, 13) She gave me . . . —There is again in Adam the same passiveness which we noticed on Genesis 3:6. He has little sense of responsibility, and no feeling that he had a duty towards Eve, and ought to have watched over her, and helped her when tempted. It is a mistake to suppose that he wished to shift the blame, first upon Eve, and then upon God, who had given her to him; rather, he recapitulates the history, as if, in his view, it was a matter of course that he should act as he had done (see on Genesis 3:20), and as if he had no sense that there was any blame whatever attaching to any one. His conscience still seems utterly unmoved. Far nobler is the woman’s answer. She acknowledges that she had been led astray, and, under the influence of the serpent’s deceit, had broken God’s commandment.

Verse 14-15

(14, 15) Unto the serpent.—As the serpent had tempted our first parents purposely and consciously in order to lead them into sin, he stood there without excuse, and received a threefold penalty. The outward form of the condemnation is made suitable to the shape which the tempter had assumed; but the true force and meaning, especially in the last and most intense portion of the sentence, belong, not to the animal, but to Satan himself. The serpent is but the type: diabolic agency the reality. First, therefore, the serpent is condemned to crawl. As he is pronounced to be “cursed above (or rather, among) all cattle”—that is, the tame animals subjected to man’s service—and also “among all beasts of the field”—that is, the wild animals, but a term not applicable to reptiles—it has been supposed that the serpent was originally erect and beautiful, and that Adam had even tamed serpents, and had them in his household. But such a transformation belongs to the region of fable, and the meaning is that henceforward the serpent’s crawling motion is to be to it a mark of disgrace, and to Satan a sign of meanness and contempt. He won the victory over our guileless first parents, and still he winds in and out among men, ever bringing degradation with him, and ever sinking with his victims into deeper abysses of shame and infamy. Yet, even so, perpetually he suffers defeat, and has, secondly, to “lick the dust,” because his mean devices lead, as in this place, only to the manifestation of God’s glory. In the Paradise Lost Milton has made Satan a hero, though fallen; really he is a despicable and mean-spirited foe, whose strength lies in man’s moral feebleness. Finally, there is perpetual enmity between the serpent and man. The adder in the path bites man’s heel, and is crushed beneath his tramp. It has been noticed that in spite of the beauty and gracefulness of many of the species, man’s loathing of them is innate; while in hot countries they are his great enemy, the deaths in India, for instance, from snake-bites being many times more than those caused by the carnivora.

Her seed . . . shall bruise thy head.—We have here the sum of the whole matter, and the rest of the Bible does but explain the nature of this struggle, the persons who wage it, and the manner and consequences of the victory. Here, too, we learn the end and purpose for which the narrative is cast in its present form. It pictures to us man in a close and loving relation, not to an abstract deity, but to a personal and covenant Jehovah. This Being with tender care plants for him a garden, gathers into it whatever is most rare and beautiful in vegetation, and, having given it to him for his home, even deigns at eventide to walk with him there. In the care of this garden He provides for Adam pleasant employment, and watches the development of his intellect with such interest as a father feels in the mental growth of his child. Day by day He brings new animals within his view; and when, after studying their habits, he gives them names, the Deity shares man’s tranquil enjoyment. And when he still feels a void, and needs a companion who can hold with him rational discourse, Jehovah elaborately fashions for him, out of his own self, a second being, whose presence satisfies all his longings. Meanwhile, in accordance with the universal law that hand in hand with free-will goes responsibility, an easy and simple trial is provided for man’s obedience. He fails, and henceforward he must wage a sterner conflict, and attain to victory only by effort and suffering. In this struggle man is finally to prevail, but not unscathed. And his triumph is to be gained not by mere human strength, but by the coming of One who is “the Woman’s Seed;” and round this promised Deliverer the rest of Scripture groups itself. Leave out these words, and all the inspired teaching which follows would be an ever-widening river without a fountain-head. But necessarily with the fall came the promise of restoration. Grace is no after-thought, but enters the world side by side with sin. Upon this foundation the rest of Holy Scripture is built, till revelation at last reaches its corner-stone in Christ. The outward form of the narrative affords endless subjects for curious discussion; its inner meaning and true object being to lay the broad basis of all future revealed truth.

As regards the reading of the Vulgate and some of the Fathers, ipsa conteret, “she shall bruise,” not only is the pronoun masculine in the Hebrew, but also the verb. This too is the case in the Syriac, in which language also verbs have genders. Most probably a critical edition of the Vulgate would restore even there ipse conteret, “he shall bruise.”

Like a large proportion of the words used in Genesis, the verb is rare, being found only twice elsewhere in Scripture. In Job 9:17 the meaning seems plainly to be to break, but in Psalms 139:11, where, however, J the reading is uncertain, the sense required is to cover or veil, though Dr. Kay translates overwhelm. Some versions in this place translate it observe; and the Vulgate gives two renderings, namely, “She shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt lie in ambush for (his or her) heel” (gender not marked—calcaneo ejus). The translation of the Authorised Version may be depended upon as correct, in spite of its not being altogether applicable to the attack of a natural serpent upon a wayfarer’s heel.

Verse 15

The Conflict of the Ages

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.—Genesis 3:15.

1. This passage is known as the Protevangelium or earliest Gospel. It has obtained this name because of the promise contained in the words, “It shall bruise thy head.” The meaning of the words in the original is a little uncertain, but if we take the translation of the Authorized and Revised Versions we have the metaphor of a man crushing a serpent with his foot and a serpent fastening its teeth in a man’s heel. The crushing of the head is more than the biting of the heel; and thus is found in the passage the good news of God that Christ will trample Satan under foot and gain a complete victory over him, although He Himself may be wounded in the struggle.

2. The merely literal explanation of the verse clearly does not exhaust its meaning. There is something more in the words than a declaration that the human race will always view with feelings of instinctive aversion the serpent race. There is something more than a prediction that mankind will be able to assert superiority over this reptile foe among the beasts of the field. We need not doubt that, whichever of the alternative renderings of the verb be preferred, the underlying thought is that of a spiritual conflict between the race of man and the influences of temptation, between humanity with its gift of choice and the Principle of Evil which ever suggests the satisfaction of the lower desires. But, in addition to this main thought, a twofold encouragement is given to nerve man for the fray. He is endowed with capacities enabling him, if he will use them, to inflict a deadly blow upon the adversary. He stands erect, he is made in the image of God. Furthermore, the promise of ultimate victory is assured to him. How it is to be effected is not explained in the context. Both Jewish and Christian interpretation have given to the promise the significance of a Messianic prediction. From the time of Irenæus (170 a.d.) “the seed of the woman” has been understood in the Christian Church as an allusion to a personal Messiah. Calvin, followed by the majority of the Reformers, explained the words in a more general sense, regarding “the seed of the woman “as the descendants of the first woman, but yet as those from among whom, according to the flesh, the Messiah should come.

3. The most prominent note in the passage is not that of final victory but of the long-continued struggle. Christ will gain the victory and the victory will be ours in Him; but before that, there is the conflict with the serpent which every man is expected to take his part in. It is a conflict that is to be carried on throughout all the ages until Christ comes, and even after Christ has come and won the victory the conflict continues. Every man upon this earth must face temptation, and win his battle. The difference is that, whereas before Christ came all that man had to sustain him in the conflict was the promise of victory through a coming conqueror, in Christ the promise has been turned into a fact, and in order to gain the victory a man has now only to identify himself with Christ by faith.

4. The Protevangelium lays down a great ethical principle. There is to be a continual spiritual struggle between man and the manifold temptations by which he is beset. Evil promptings and suggestions are ever assailing the sons of men; and they must be ever exerting themselves to repel them. It is of course true that the great and crowning defeat of man‘s spiritual adversary was accomplished by Him who was in a special sense the “seed “of the woman, the representative of humanity, who overcame once and for all the power of the Evil One. But the terms of the verse are perfectly general; and it must not be interpreted so as to exclude those minor, though in their own sphere not less real, triumphs by which in all ages individuals have resisted the suggestions of sin and proved themselves superior to the power of evil. It is a prolonged and continuous conflict which the verse contemplates, though one in which the law and aim of humanity is to be to resist, and if possible to slay, the serpent which symbolizes the power of temptation.

“I have a theory,” says Hubert Bland in his volume of essays entitled, With the Eyes of a Man—“I have a theory that the nation which shortens its weapons wins its battles.” I am not clear as to how that theory would work out in the sphere of lower warfare; although even there the practice of long range artillery must be pressed home at the point of the bayonet if victory is to be secured. But in the sphere of the higher warfare it is certainly true; if you want to win you must shorten your weapons; you must look your enemy in the white of his eyes; you must come to close grips with him.1 [Note: E. W. Lewis.]

And evermore we sought the fight, but still

Some pale enchantment clouded all our will,

So that we faltered; even when the foe

Lay, at our sudden onset, crushed and low,

As a flame dies, so passed our wrath away—

And fatal to us was the battle-day.

Yet we went willingly, for in our ears

With shrill reiteration, the blind years

Taunted us with our dreams—our dreams more vain

Than on bare hills the fruitless fall of rain;

Vain as the unaccomplished buds of spring

Which fade and fall, and know no blossoming.

Wherefore we, being weary of the days

Which dumbly passed and left no word of praise,

And ever as the good years waned to less,

Growing more weary of life’s barrenness,

Strove with those dreams which bound our spirits fast,

Lest even death should prove a dream at last.

So evermore we fought—and always fell;

Yet was there no man strong enough to quell

Our passionate, sad life of love and hate;

Tireless were we and foes insatiate.

Though one should slay us—weaponless and dim

We bade our dreams ride forth and conquer him.2 [Note: Margaret Sackville.]

The subject, then, is the struggle of man with temptation. It is represented as a conflict between the seed of the woman, for every man must take his part in it, and the seed of the serpent, for the struggle will be according to the circumstances of our own time and our own life. Let us look first at the origin of this conflict, next at the progress of it, and then at the end of it.


The Origin of the Conflict

i. Its Beginning

1. Creation of Men and Angels.—God made three different orders of creatures. The first we call Angels; the second Men; and the third includes the lower animals and all other created things. He created them all for obedience. But with a difference. The third order—the lower animals and all other lower things, whether living or dead—He created for obedience pure and simple; but angels and men He created for obedience through love. The beasts obey because they have no choice. The sun rises and sets with unvarying regularity, and we use it to point the moral of punctual obedience.

It never comes a wink too soon,

Nor brings too long a day.

But it has no credit for that. It simply cannot help it. It was made to obey, and it has no choice but unwavering obedience. Angels and men were made for obedience also, but not for mechanical obedience. They were made to obey through love. The sun was made to do God’s bidding; angels and men were made to love the Lord with all their heart. Now love implies choice. There must be freedom. I cannot love if I cannot do else but love. I cannot love unless I am also free to hate. There must be freedom of choice. So angels and men were left free to choose good or evil, and it is recorded that some angels and all men chose evil.

2. Fall of Angels and of Men.—The fall of the angels is not fully related in Scripture, since it does not concern us to know its circumstances. We do not even know for certain what was the cause of it. Shakespeare makes Wolsey say—

Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition:

By that sin fell the angels.

And we have accepted that view of it. But whatever was the cause, we know that some of the angels chose the evil and fell. Man chose the evil and fell also. The story of his Choice and Fall is told in this third chapter of Genesis. And the first point to notice about it is that it was brought about through the temptation of one of the fallen angels. The narrative in Genesis speaks of the serpent. And throughout the narrative the language is accommodated to the beast. But he would be a dull interpreter who saw no more in this story than an old serpent myth. We interpret Scripture by itself. And it is certain that in later Scripture it is freely recognized that the author of Eve’s temptation was Satan, the first of the fallen angels. What does that mean? It means that when an angel falls, he falls more utterly than man. No one tempted the angels to their fall. They deliberately chose the evil of themselves. And so their fall was into evil—evil absolute. Henceforth the fallen angels are only evil in will and in purpose. And their work is to do evil continually. So the prince of the fallen angels comes, and, out of the evil that is in him, tempts man to his ruin.

3. Redemption of Men, not of Angels.—Thus both angels and men have fallen, but the difference in their fall is very great. First, men have not fallen into evil absolutely like the angels. Their moral darkness is still pierced with some rays of light. And, secondly, men may be redeemed from their evil; the fallen angels may not. For there is an organic unity among men. There is a human nature. And when men fall they fall together—it is man that falls, not men. There is no angel nature; for, are we not told that “they neither marry nor are given in marriage?” Each of the fallen angels fell by himself alone. Deliberately he chose the evil for himself. So, when he fell, he fell never to rise again. Robert Burns may say—

Auld Nickie-ben,

O wad ye tak a thought an’ men’!

Ye aiblins might—I dinna ken—

Still hae a stake:

I’m wae to think upo’ yon den,

Ev’n for your sake!

But it is a purely human sentiment. There is no warrant for such expectation or possibility in Scripture. The warrant is very plainly all the other way. But man falls that he may rise again. For there is a solidarity in man. One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. And if One will but come and take this human nature on Him, enter this flesh of sin and condemn sin in the flesh, then will the way be open to man to return to the love and obedience of his God. And He has come. And when He came “he took not hold of angels; but he took hold of the seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16).

ii. Its Meaning

Thus the great conflict began. Tempted by Satan, man fell, but not utterly or irrecoverably. He will henceforth keep up a continuous warfare with Satan. There will be enmity between Adam and Satan, and between their seed, from generation to generation, till One shall come to win the victory for man.

1. There is a gospel in the very strife itself. For to begin no battle is to leave the victory with the Serpent. To open no world-wide conflict is to leave the world to the Prince of the world. To put no enmity between the seed of the Serpent and the seed of the Woman is to see no difference at last between them.

When you send your boy to college or into the world, you do not ask for him a wholly easy life, no obstacles, a cordial, kindly reception from everybody. You do not expect to see him free from anxious doubts and troublesome experiences of soul, and cruel jarrings of his life against the institutions and the men whom he finds in the world. It would be very strange if they did not come to him if he is genuinely good and pure. “Marvel not,” said Jesus Christ to His disciples, “if the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.”1 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]

2. The enmity between man and sin has been the great impressive truth of human history. Mankind has never been reconciled with sin, never come to have such an understanding with it that the race everywhere has settled down and made up its mind to being wicked, and asked nothing better, and been at peace. That is the greatest fact by far, the deepest fact, the most pervasive fact, in all the world. Conscience, the restlessness that comes of self-reproach, the discontent that will not let the world be at peace with wrong-doing—it runs everywhere. No book of the remotest times, no country of the moat isolated seas, no man of strongest character, no crisis of history so exceptional, but that in them all you find man out of peace because he is in sin, unable to reconcile himself with living wrong—the enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. It is the great fact of human existence.

Hercules, the fabled deliverer of Greece, always wore on head and Shoulders the skin of a lion killed in his first adventure, which Ruskin thus interprets: “Every man’s Nemean lion lies in wait for him somewhere It is the first ugly and strong enemy that rises against us, all future victory depending on victory over that. Kill it; and through all the rest of life, what once was dreadful is your armour, and you are clothed with that conquest for every other, and helmed with its crest of fortitude for evermore. Alas, we have most of us to walk bareheaded.”1 [Note: Ruskin, Queen of the Air, § 173.]

3. And is it not a blessed fact? Think how different it would all have been if this fact had not been true from the beginning, if man had been able to settle comfortably into sin and be content. Men read it as a curse, this first declaration of God in Genesis, after the Fall. Is it not rather a blessing? Man had met Satan. Then God said, “Since you have met him, the only thing which I can now do for you, the only salvation that I can give you, is that you never shall have peace with one another. You may submit to serve him, but the instinct of rebellion shall never die out in your heart.” It was the only salvation left. It is the only salvation left now when a man has begun to sin, that God should perpetually forbid him to be at peace in sinning. It is what has saved earth from becoming hell long ago—this blessed decree of God that, however man and sin might live together, there should always be enmity between them, they should be natural foes for ever. No man has ever yet been bold enough, even in any mad dream of poetry, to picture the reconciliation of the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, man’s perfect satisfaction in sin, as the consummation and perfect close of human history.

There is an Indian fable that a swan came down to the shore one day, where a crane was feeding. This bird had never seen a swan before, and asked him where he came from. “I came from heaven,” said the swan. Said the crane, “I never heard of such a place. Where is it?” “Far away; far better than this place,” said the swan. The old crane listened to the swan, and at last said, “Are there snails there?” The swan drew itself up with indignation. “Well,” said the crane, “you can have your heaven then. I want snails.”1 [Note: L. A. Banks, The King’s Stewards, 281.]

There is an awful possibility of giving over prayer, or coming to think that the Lord’s ear is heavy that He cannot hear, and His arm shortened that He cannot save. There is a terrible significance in this passage, which we quote from a recent book: “Old Mr. Westfield, a preacher of the Independent persuasion in a certain Yorkshire town, was discoursing one Sunday with his utmost eloquence on the power of prayer. He suddenly stopped, passed his hands slowly over his head—a favourite gesture—and said in dazed tones: ‘I do not know, my friends, whether you ever tried praying; for my part, I gave it up long ago as a bad job.’ The poor old gentleman never preached again. They spoke of the strange seizure that he had in the pulpit, and very cheerfully and kindly contributed to the pension which the authorities of the chapel allowed him. I knew him five-and-twenty years ago—a gentle old man addicted to botany, who talked of anything but spiritual experiences. I have often wondered with what sudden flash of insight he looked into his own soul that day, and saw himself bowing down silent before an empty shrine.”2 [Note: W. R. Nicoll, The Garden of Nuts, 224.]

In the great Church of the Capuchins at Rome there is a famous picture, by Guido Reni, of the Archangel Michael triumphing over the Evil One. The picture represents the Archangel clad in bright armour and holding in his hand a drawn sword, with one foot planted upon the head of Satan, who in the form of a dragon or serpent grovels and writhes beneath him. A sense of victory, not unmingled with defiance, shines on the Archangel’s face; while Satan’s every feature is distorted with suffering and hatred. And as we look at the picture, we can hardly fail to see in it the image, the representation, so often depicted, so earnestly longed for, of the final victory of good over evil. What, however, to many at any rate, gives to this picture a peculiar interest is the famous criticism passed upon it in a well-known modern work of fiction, Hawthorne’s Transfiguration. The Archangel—so it is there objected—has come out of the contest far too easily. His appearance and attitude give no idea of the death-struggle which always takes place before vice can be overcome by virtue. His sword should have been streaming with blood; his armour dented and crushed; he should not have been placing his foot delicately upon his frustrate foe, but pressing it down hard as if his very life depended upon the result.1 [Note: G. Milligan.]

O bird that fights the heavens, and is blown beyond the shore,

Would you leave your flight and danger for a cage, to fight no more?

No more the cold of winter, or the hunger of the snow,

Nor the winds that blow you backward from the path you wish to go?

Would you leave your world of passion for a home that knows no riot?

Would I change my vagrant longings for a heart more full of quiet?

No!—for all its dangers, there is joy in danger too:

On, bird, and fight your tempests, and this nomad heart with you.2 [Note: Dora Sigerson Shorter.]


The History of the Conflict

It is a conflict which every man must enter. If any man refuses to engage in the struggle, he declares himself to be no man. The gospel that is in the words, “It shall bruise thy head,” does not take away from any man the necessity of entering into this affray and facing this foe. The gospel gives the assurance of victory; it does not prevent the strife. It is impossible, therefore, to write the history of the conflict fully. All that can be done is, under the guidance of the Old Testament, to select outstanding events in it.

1. Eve seemed to think that it was to be a short struggle. When her first-born came she said, “I have gotten a man from the Lord.” But Cain grew up to manhood, and Abel his brother; “and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” The hoped-for victor is man’s first murderer.

2. Lamech thought he had found the Deliverer. “This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.” And he called his son’s name Noah. Now in the conflict Satan has so steadily won that it is needful to sweep man from off the face of the earth, and make, as it were, a new start. But Noah cannot save his brethren. He barely escapes with his own family. And the flood is only past when even Noah himself has suffered from the bite of the Serpent.

3. Men have got a new start, however. Will they cope with Satan now? Not so. Steadily again Satan wins. And the earth grows so corrupt that God chooses one man and takes him out of the surrounding abomination, to keep him apart and train him and his family for Himself and His great purpose. That man is Abraham. Not that God now leaves the rest of the human race to the unresisted will of Satan. In no place, and at no time, has God left Himself without witness. Or, as another apostle more personally puts it, He kept coming amongst men in the Person of the Word, and whenever any one was found willing to follow the Light, power was given to him to become a child of God. This choice of Abraham and his family is a new departure, that through him and his seed all the families of the earth may be blessed. Is this new departure successful? Does the family of Abraham now gain the victory over Satan, and gain it always? No; not even for themselves; still less for the rest of mankind. As the same evangelist has it, “He came unto his own and his own received him not.” But God’s purpose is not in vain, nor even thwarted for a moment. Man will be redeemed, and the redemption is delayed only that it may be to love and new obedience, the will to choose being still left free.

4. And now we can trace the gradual closing of the promise on a single Person. “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you.” “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” “The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple.” “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” Meanwhile, the world is suffering more and more from the low cunning and bite of the serpent. Read that terrible yet true description of the morals of men which St. Paul gives us in his Epistle to the Romans. Read also the scathing exposure in the Gospels of the irreligiousness of the religion of Israel, the hypocrisy and greed of the leaders and rulers of the people. Satan seems to have gained the victory along the whole line.

It is the strength of the base element that is so dreadful in the serpent; it is the very omnipotence of the earth.… Watch it, when it moves slowly, with calm will and equal way—no contraction, no extension; one soundless, causeless march of sequent rings, and spectral procession of spotted dust. Startle it;—the winding stream will become a twisted arrow, the wave of poisoned life will lash through the grass like a cast lance. It scarcely breathes with its one lung; it is passive to the sun and shade, and is cold or hot like a stone; yet it can outclimb the monkey, outswim the fish, outleap the zebra, outwrestle the athlete, and crush the tiger. It is a divine hieroglyph of the demoniac power of the earth—of the entire earthly nature. As the bird is the clothed power of the air, so this is the clothed power of the dust; as the bird the symbol of the spirit of life, so this of the grasp and sting of death.1 [Note: Ruskin, Queen of the Air, § 68.]

When in my shadowy hours I pierce the hidden heart of hopes and fears,

They change into immortal joys or end in immemorial tears.

Moytura’s battle still endures and in this human heart of mine

The golden sun powers with the might of demon darkness intertwine.

I think that every teardrop shed still flows from Balor’s eye of doom,

And gazing on his ageless grief my heart is filled with ageless gloom:

I close my ever-weary eyes and in my bitter spirit brood

And am at one in vast despair with all the demon multitude.

But in the lightning flash of hope I feel the sun-god’s fiery sling

Has smote the horror in the heart where clouds of demon glooms take wing,

I shake my heavy fears aside and seize the flaming sword of will

I am of Dana’s race divine and know I am immortal still.2 [Note: A. E., The Divine Vision, 76.]


The End of the Conflict

The victor comes in Jesus of Nazareth. “On the morrow John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Jesus of Nazareth has come as man’s representative and redeemer to atone for the sins of the world. But first, He is Jesus of Nazareth. He is a man. Before He begins His work of atonement, before He takes upon Him the redemption of the world, He must fight His own man’s battle. To every man upon this earth that battle comes. It comes to Jesus also. Therefore before the public ministry begins, before He begins to heal the sick or raise the dead or preach the gospel to the poor, “the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil”

i. His Temptation as a Man

This is the place of the Temptation in the Wilderness. Jesus is a man, and He must face the foe whom every man has to face. He must fight the battle which every man has to fight. And He must win. If He does not win, how can He atone for the sins of the world? If as a man He does not win His own man’s battle, why, then, He has His own sins to reckon with, and how can He even come forward as the Redeemer of the race? Jesus must fight and Jesus must win, just as we all have to fight, but not one of us has won. That is the place of the Temptation. And that is why the Temptation in the Wilderness is recorded. It is every man’s Temptation. It may be spread over our life; it could not have been spread over the life of Jesus, otherwise He could not have begun His atonement till His life was at an end; but it is the same temptation that comes to every man. It is the temptation that came to Eve. Point for point the temptations of Eve and the temptations of Jesus correspond. Eve’s temptations were three; so were the temptations of Jesus. Eve’s temptations assailed the body, the mind, and the spirit; so did the temptations of Jesus.

1. The First Temptation.—The first temptation was a bodily temptation. She “saw that the tree was good for food.” “If thou art the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.” There is the difference, certainly, that Eve was not hungry, while Jesus was. The sin of Eve was the greater that she sinned not through the cravings of hunger, but merely through the longing for forbidden, or it might be daintier, food. But though the temptation was more intense for Jesus, it did not differ from Eve’s essentially. It was the desire for food. It was the longing to satisfy a bodily appetite. And it does not matter how imperious that appetite may be, it is not to be satisfied unlawfully. Eve saw that she had the opportunity of satisfying it, Jesus saw that He had the power. Eve was tempted to satisfy it by using an opportunity which God had not given her, Jesus by using a power which had been given Him for another purpose. It does not matter essentially whether it is to avoid starvation or merely for greater luxury, we sin with Eve if we seize an opportunity or take advantage of our position to do that for our body or outward estate which God has commanded us not to do.

2. The Second Temptation.—The second temptation was to the mind. “And that it was a delight to the eyes”—thus the temptation came to Eve. He “showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time”—thus it came to Jesus. Now the temptation to the mind does not come to every one. It does not come to those who are absorbed in the things of the body. The three temptations came to Eve because Eve is typical of the whole human race. And the three temptations came to Jesus, because He is typical also, and because He resisted them all. The temptation to the mind is higher; it is a nobler temptation than the temptation to the body. There are those to whom the fragrance or beauty of the apple makes irresistible appeal, who would never be driven to do wrong merely in order to have it to eat. It is a subtler temptation also. We are willing to starve that we may hear good music or give ourselves a scientific education. And we cannot perceive that we are falling before a temptation. But music or science may be pursued for purely selfish ends. In their pursuit, too, some nearer duty may be neglected. And the fall is often obvious enough: a doubtful companionship, such as music sometimes introduces us to; or a denial of God such as science sometimes leads us to.

But the temptation to Jesus was nobler, we do not doubt, and more subtle than the temptation to the mind has ever been to any other man. He saw the kingdoms of the world at a glance, and the glory of them. He was offered them as His own. Now, He desired to have the kingdoms of the world as His own. All the difference seemed to be that the Devil offered them at once without the agony of winning them—the agony to Him or to us. He was offered them without the agony to Himself. Some think that He did not know yet what that agony was. He did not know that He was to be despised and rejected of men. He did not know that He was to lose the sense of the Father’s well-pleasing. He did not know what the Garden was to be or what the Cross. They say so. But how can they tell? One thing is sure. He knew enough to make this a keen temptation.

But He was also offered the kingdoms of the world without the agony to us. That temptation was yet more terrible. For when the Cross was past, the agony to us was but beginning. And He felt our agony more keenly than He felt His own. What a long-drawn agony it has been. Two thousand years of woe! and still the redemption is not complete. To be offered the homage of the human heart, to be offered its love—such love as it would have been where there was no choice left—to end the poverty and the sickness and the blindness and the leprosy and the death, not by an occasional laying on of the hands in a Galilean village, but in one world-embracing word of healing; to end the sin without waiting for the slow movements of conscience and the slow dawnings of faith—it was a sore temptation. But it must not be. To deliver from the consequence of sin without the sorrow for it, to accept the homage of the heart of man without its free choice of love, is to leave the Serpent master still. The world is very fair to look upon as He sees it in a moment of time from that mountain-top; but it cannot be His until He has suffered for it, and until it has suffered with Him.

3. The Third Temptation.—The third temptation was a temptation to the spirit. Eve saw “that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” Jesus was invited to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, trusting in God and in the promise that no harm should befall Him. The “wisdom” which Eve was promised was spiritual wisdom. It was the wisdom of God. “Ye shall be as gods,” said the Serpent, “knowing good and evil.” And this wisdom became hers when she had eaten. “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” It was such wisdom as God has. And God is a Spirit. It was spiritual wisdom. Man is both spiritual and material As a spiritual being he has certain spiritual experiences. But as long as the spirit is in touch with the body its experiences are limited in their range. God is a Spirit, and His experience knows no bounds. When man attempts to pass the bounds of human experience and enter the experience of God, he sins.

Eve was so tempted and fell. Jesus also was so tempted, but He resisted the temptation. As God He can throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple with impunity, just as He can walk upon the water. And the Devil reminds Him that He is God. But this is His temptation as a man. As a man He cannot, as a man He has no right, to tempt God by casting Himself down. To Eve and to Jesus it was the temptation to an enlargement of experience beyond that which is given to man. And it lay, as it always does, in the direction of the knowledge of evil. There are those who, like Eve, still enter into evil not from the mere love of evil or the mere spirit of rebellion, but in order to taste that which they have not tasted yet. They wish to know “what it is like.” There are men and women who can trace their drunkard’s lifelong misery to this very source.

To Eve the sharpness of the temptation lay in the promise of larger spiritual experiences. Let us not say it was a vulgar curiosity. The promise was that she would be as God, that she would know what God knows. Perhaps she even felt that it would bring her into closer sympathy with God, the sympathy of a larger common experience. To Jesus this also was the sharpness of the temptation. He was God, but He was being tempted as a man. It was not merely, as in the first temptation, that He was invited to use His power as Redeemer for His own human advantage. It was that He was invited to enter into the experience of God, to enter into the fulness of knowledge which belongs to God, to prove Himself, and to feel in perfect sympathy with the whole range of experience of the Father. It seemed like trust: it would have been presumption. We sometimes enter into temptation saying that we will trust God to deliver us. No one ever yet entered into temptation, unsent by God, and came forth scathless.

Let us not undervalue the blessing which would come to us if Jesus Christ were simply one of us, setting forth with marvellous vividness the universal conflict of the world, the perpetual strife of man with evil. Surely that strife becomes a different thing for each of us, when out of our own little skirmish in some corner of the field, we look up and see the Man of men doing just the same work on the hilltop where the battle rages thickest. The schoolboy tempted to tell a lie, the man fighting with his lusts, the soldier struggling with cowardice, the statesman with corruption, the poor creature fettered by the thousand little pin-pricks of a hostile world—they all find the dignity of their several battles asserted, find that they are not unnatural, but natural, find that they are not in themselves wicked but glorious, when they see that the Highest, entering into their lot, manifested the eternal enmity between the seed of the serpent and our common humanity at its fiercest and bitterest.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]

When gathering clouds around I view,

And days are dark and friends are few,

On Him I lean, who not in vain

Experienced every human pain;

He sees my wants, allays my fears,

And counts and treasures up my tears.

If aught should tempt my soul to stray

From heavenly wisdom’s narrow way;

To fly the good I would pursue,

Or do the sin I would not do;

Still He, who felt temptation’s power,

Shall guard me in that dangerous hour.

If wounded love my bosom swell,

Deceived by those I prized too well;

He shall His pitying aid bestow,

Who felt on earth severer woe;

At once betrayed, denied, or fled,

By those who shared His daily bread.

If vexing thoughts within me rise,

And, sore dismayed, my spirit dies;

Still He, who once vouchsafed to bear

The sickening anguish of despair,

Shall sweetly soothe, shall gently dry,

The throbbing heart, the streaming eye.

When sorrowing o’er some stone I bend,

Which covers what was once a friend,

And from his voice, his hand, his smile,

Divides me for a little while;

Thou, Saviour, mark’st the tears I shed,

For Thou didst weep o’er Lazarus dead!

And O! when I have safely past

Through every conflict but the last;

Still, still unchanging, watch beside

My painful bed, for Thou hast died!

Then point to realms of cloudless day,

And wipe the latest tear away.1 [Note: Robert Grant.]

ii. His Work of Redemption

Jesus was tempted of the Devil and resisted all the temptations. What it cost Him we cannot tell. We know it cost Him much. Angels came and ministered unto Him. He needed their ministrations. But He won His battle. No one could convict Him of sin. He is ready now to be the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.

1. His Works.—When He begins His work of Redemption He can use His powers as the Son of God. The Devil’s temptation, “If thou art the Son of God,” is a temptation no longer. He begins His works of wonder. He heals the sick; He preaches the gospel to the poor; He accepts the cup and drinks it; He cries, “It is finished.”

2. Son of Man.—While the Temptation in the Wilderness was the temptation of a man, the atonement for sin was the atonement of the Son of Man, man’s representative; the atonement of the race in Him. This is the essential thing in the Cross. He took hold of our nature; in our nature He suffered and died. Our nature suffered and died in Him. This is the essential thing, that He made the atonement as Man, that man made the atonement when He made it. After the Temptation in the Wilderness the Devil left Him for a season. When he came back he did not come back to a man. He came back to the race of man, represented and gathered into one in Christ. He came back not to seek to throw one human being as he had thrown so many human beings before. He came to fight for his kingdom and his power.

3. Victory.—It did seem as if the Devil had won this time. As the fight closed in, Jesus Himself said, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.” The Devil had the whole world on his side in the struggle. The religious leaders were especially active. And the end came—death and darkness. It did seem as if the Devil had won this time, and this was the greater battle to win. But “except a corn of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth alone.” Without death Jesus was sinless. In death He gathered many to His sinlessness. Death and the Devil got hold of Him but lost their hold of us. It was the Devil’s greatest triumph. It was his greatest defeat.

4. Faith in the Victor.—One thing remains. We must accept Him. The kingdom of heaven is open, but it is open to all believers. He could not have this fair world without the agony; we cannot have Him without it. For it is love that is wanted. Nothing is wanted but love. It is the love of the heart that makes Paradise. And love must be free. There is no compulsion. Sin must be felt and repented of; a Saviour must be seen and made welcome. By faith we must become one with Him as He has become one with us.

Every earnest man grows to two strong convictions: one, of the victory to which a life may come; the other of the obstacles and wounds which it must surely encounter in coming there. Alas for him who gains only one of these convictions! Alas for him who learns only confidence in the result, and never catches sight of all that must come in between—the pains and blows and disappointments! How many times he will sink down and lose his hope! How many times some wayside cross will seem to be the end of everything to him! Alas also for him who only feels the wounds and sees no victory ahead! How often life will seem to him not worth the living! There are multitudes of men of this last sort; men with too much seriousness and perception to say that the world is easy, too clear-sighted not to see its obstacles, too pure not to be wounded and offended by its wickedness, but with no faith large enough to look beyond and see the end; men with the wounded heel that hinders and disables them, but with no strength to set the wounded foot upon the head of the serpent and to claim their triumph.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]

I do not doubt that many of you noted, as I did, the description given in the newspaper dispatches of the visit of Theodore Roosevelt to the tomb of Napoleon, and you perhaps noted how he took up the sword which the great warrior carried in the battle of Austerlitz, and waved it about his head and examined its edge, and held it aloft, seeming in the meantime to be profoundly impressed. And we may well imagine and believe that the hero of San Juan Hill was stirred in every drop of his soldierly blood as he stood on that historic spot with that famous sword gripped in his right hand. But if we could gather together all the famous swords kept in all the capitals of the world, in memory of princes and warriors and heroes who have carried them on historic battlefields, they would be insignificant in comparison to that “sword of the Spirit,” of which Paul speaks in his letter to the Ephesians—a sword by which millions of humble men and women, and even boys and girls, have put to flight the alien armies of hell and maintained their integrity against odds as the faithful children of God.2 [Note: L. A. Banks, The World’s Childhood, 344.]

The far winds brought me tidings of him—one

Who fought alone, a champion unafraid,

Hurt in the desperate warring, faint, fordone;

I loved him, and I prayed.

The far winds told the turning of the strife;

Into his deeds there crept a strange new fire.

Unconquerable, the glory of his life

Fulfilled my soul’s desire.

God knows what mighty bond invisible

Gave my dream power, wrought answer to my prayer;

God knows in what far world our souls shall tell

Of triumph that we share.

I war alone; I shall not see his face,

But I shall strive more gladly in the sun,

More bravely in the shadow, for this grace:

“He fought his fight, and won.”


Arnold (T.), Sermons, vi. 9.

Arnot (W.), The Anchor of the Soul, 68.

Banks (L. A.), The King’s Stewards, 274.

Banks (L. A.), The World’s Childhood, 337, 350.

Barron (D.), Rays of Messiah’s Glory, 255.

Brooks (P.), Seeking Life, 277.

Brooks (P.), Twenty Sermons, 93.

Campbell (R. J.), Thursday Mornings at the City Temple, 30.

Gibson (J. M.), The Ages before Moses, 98.

Glover (R.), By the Waters of Babylon, 218.

Hall (C. R.), Advent to Whitsun-Day, 90.

How (W. W.), Plain Words, ii. 64.

Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, i. 9.

Leathes (S.), Truth and Life, 14.

Macgregor (W. M.), Some of God’s Ministries, 11.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Genesis.

Milligan (G.), in Great Texts of the Old Testament, 267.

Nicoll (W. R.), The Garden of Nuts, 221.

Parker (J.), Studies in Texts, vi. 156.

Pressensé (E. de), The Redeemer, 1.

Robinson (S.), Discourses of Redemption, 57.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxii. No. 1326.

Steere (E.), Notes of Sermons, No. 24.

Vaughan (C. J.), Christ the Light of the World, 112.

Vaughan (C. J.), Family Prayer and Sermon Book, i. 148.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), xi. No. 873.

Winterbotham (R.), Sermons and Expositions, 8.

Young (D. T.), The Enthusiasm of God, 79.

Christian World Pulpit, xxix. 154 (Leathes).

Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd Ser., i. 110 (Leathes).

Verse 16

(16) Unto the woman he said.—The woman is not cursed as the serpent was, but punished as next in guilt; and the retribution is twofold. First, God greatly multiplies “her sorrow and her conception,” that is, her sorrow generally, but especially in connection with pregnancy, when with anguish and peril of life she wins the joy of bringing a man into the world. But also “thy desire shall be to thy husband.” In the sin she had been the prime actor, and the man had yielded her too ready an obedience. Henceforward she was to live in subjection to him; yet not unhappy, because her inferiority was to be tempered by a natural longing for the married state and by love towards her master.—Among the heathen the punishment was made very bitter by the degradation to which woman was reduced; among the Jews the wife, though she never sank so low, was nevertheless purchased of her father, was liable to divorce at the husband’s will, and was treated as in all respects his inferior. In Christ the whole penalty, as St. Paul teaches, has been abrogated (Galatians 3:28), and the Christian woman is no more inferior to the man than is the Gentile to the Jew, or the bondman to the free.

Verse 17-18

(17, 18) Unto Adam (without the article, and therefore a proper name) he said.—Lange thoughtfully remarks that while the woman was punished by the entrance of sorrow into the small subjective world of her womanly calling, man is punished by the derangement of the great objective world over which he was to have dominion. Instead of protecting his wife and shielding her from evil, he had passively followed her lead in disobeying God’s command; and therefore “the ground,” the adâmâh out of which Adam had been formed, instead of being as heretofore his friend and willing subject, becomes unfruitful, and must be forced by toil and labour to yield its produce. Left to itself, it will no longer bring forth choice trees laden with generous fruit, such as Adam found in the garden, but the natural tendency will be to degenerate, till “thorns” only “and thistles” usurp the ground. Even after his struggle with untoward nature man wins for himself no paradisiacal banquet, but must “eat the herb of the field” (Job 30:4); and the end of this weary struggle is decay and death. In the renewed earth the golden age of paradise will return, and the tendency of nature will no longer be to decay and degeneration, but to the substitution unceasingly of the nobler and the more beautiful in the place of that which was worthless and mean (Isaiah 55:13).

Verse 19

(19) Dust thou art . . . —It appears from this that death was man’s normal condition. A spiritual being is eternal by its own constitution, but the argument by which Bishop Butler proves the soul to be immortal equally proves the mortality of the body. Death, he says, is the division of a compound substance into its component parts; but as the soul is a simple substance, and incapable of division, it is per se incapable of death (Analogy, Part 1, Genesis 1). The body of Adam, composed of particles of earth, was capable of division, and our first parents in Paradise were assured of an unending existence by a special gift, typified by the tree of life. But now this gift was withdrawn, and henceforward the sweat of man’s brow was in itself proof that he was returning to his earth: for it told of exhaustion and waste. Even now labour is a blessing only when it is moderate, as when Adam kept a garden that spontaneously brought forth flowers and fruit. In excess it wears out the body and benumbs the soul, and by the pressure of earthly cares leaves neither time nor the wish for any such pursuits as are worthy of a being endowed with thought and reason and a soul.

Verse 20

(20) Adam called his wife’s name Eve.—Heb., Chavvah; in Greek, Zoë. It has been debated whether this name is a substantive, Life (LXX.), or a participle, Life-producer (Symm). Adam’s condition was now one of death, but his wife thereby attained a higher value in his sight. Through her alone could human life be continued, and the “woman’s seed” be obtained who was to raise up man from his fall. While, then, woman’s punishment consists in the multiplication of her “sorrow and conception,” she becomes thereby only more precious to man; and while “her desire is to her husband,” Adam turns from his own punishment to look upon her with more tender love. He has no word for her of reproach, and we thus see that the common interpretation of Genesis 3:12 is more than doubtful. Adam throws no blame either on Eve or on his Maker, because he does not feel himself to blame. He rather means, “How could I err in following one so noble, and in whom I recognise Thy best and choicest gift?” And with this agrees Genesis 3:6, where Adam partakes of the fruit without hesitation or thought of resistance. And so here he turns to her and calls her Chavvah, his life, his compensation for his loss, and the antidote for the sentence of death.

Verse 21

(21) Coats of skins.—Animals, therefore, were killed even in Paradise; nor is it certain that man’s diet was until the flood entirely vegetarian (see Note on Genesis 1:29). Until sin entered the world no sacrifices could have been offered; and if, therefore, these were the skins of animals offered in sacrifice, as many suppose, Adam must in some way, immediately after the fall, have been taught that without shedding of blood is no remission of sin, but that God will accept a vicarious sacrifice. This is perhaps the most tenable view; and if, with Knobel, we see in this arrival at the idea of sacrifice a rapid development in Adam of thought and intellect, yet it may not have been entirely spontaneous, but the effect of divinely-inspired convictions rising up within his soul. It shows also that the innocence of our first parents was gone. In his happy state Adam had studied the animals, and tamed them and made them his friends; now a sense of guilt urges him to inflict upon them pain and suffering and death. But in the first sacrifice was laid the foundation of the whole Mosaical dispensation, as in Genesis 3:15 that of the Gospel. Moreover, from sacrificial worship there was alleviation for man’s bodily wants, and he went forth equipped with raiment suited for the harder lot that awaited him outside the garden; and, better far, there was peace for his soul, and the thought—even if still but faint and dim—of the possibility for him of an atonement.

Verse 22

(22) As one of us.—See Note on Genesis 1:26. By the fall man had sunk morally, but grown mentally. He had asserted his independence, had exercised the right of choosing for himself, and had attained to a knowledge without which his endowment of free-will would have remained in abeyance. There is something painful and humiliating in the idea of Chrysostom and other Fathers that the Deity was speaking ironically, or even with insult (Augustine). All those qualities which constitute man’s likeness to God—free-will, self-dependence, the exercise of reason and of choice—had been developed by the fall, and Adam was now a very different being from what he had been in the days of his simple innocency.

Lest he put forth his hand.—Adam had exercised the power of marring God’s work, and if an unending physical life were added to the gift of freewill now in revolt against God, his condition and that of mankind would become most miserable. Man is still to attain to immortality, but it must now be through struggle, sorrow, penitence, faith, and death. Hence a paradise is no fit home for him. The Divine mercy, therefore, commands Adam to quit it, in order that he may live under conditions better suited for his moral and spiritual good.

Verse 23

(23) To till the ground.—This is the same word as that rendered “dress” in Genesis 2:15. Adam’s task is the same, but the conditions are altered.

Verse 24

(24) So he drove out the man.—This implies displeasure and compulsion. Adam departed unwillingly from his happy home, and with the consciousness that he had incurred the Divine anger. It was the consequence of his sin, and was a punishment, even if necessary for his good under the changed circumstances produced by his disobedience. On the duration of Adam’s stay in Paradise, see Excursus at end of this book.

He placed.—Literally, caused to dwell. The return to Paradise was closed for ever.

At the east of the garden of Eden.—Adam still had his habitation in the land of Eden, and probably in the immediate neighbourhood of Paradise. (Comp. Genesis 4:16.)

Cherubims.—The cherub was a symbolical figure, representing strength and majesty. The ordinary derivation, from a root signifying to carve, grave, and especially to plough, compared with Exodus 25:20, suggests that the cherubim were winged bulls, probably with human heads, like those brought from Nineveh. We must not confound them with the four living creatures of Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 1:5), which are the “beasts” of the Revelation of St. John. The office of the cherub here is to guard the Paradise, lest man should try to force an entrance back; and so too the office of the cherubs upon the mercy-seat was to protect it, lest any one should impiously approach it, except the high-priest on the Day of Atonement. The four living creatures of the Apocalypse have a far different office and signification.


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Genesis 3:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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Monday, May 25th, 2020
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