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- Section III - The Fall
- The Fall
1. נחשׁ nachash “serpent; related: hiss,” Gesenius; “sting,” Mey. ערוּם 'ārûm “subtle, crafty, using craft for defence.”
7. תפר tāpar “sew, stitch, tack together.” חגורה chăgôrâh “girdle, not necessarily apron.”
This chapter continues the piece commenced at Genesis 2:4. The same combination of divine names is found here, except in the dialogue between the serpent and the woman, where God (אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym) alone is used. It is natural for the tempter to use only the more distant and abstract name of God. It narrates in simple terms the fall of man.
The serpent is here called a “beast of the field”; that is, neither a domesticated animal nor one of the smaller sorts. The Lord God had made it, and therefore it was a creature called into being on the same day with Adam. It is not the wisdom, but the wiliness of the serpent which is here noted. This animal is destitute of arms or legs by which to escape danger. It is therefore thrown back upon instinct, aided by a quick and glaring eye, and a rapid dart and recoil, to evade the stroke of violence, and watch and seize the unguarded moment for inflicting the deadly bite. Hence, the wily and insidious character of its instinct, which is noticed to account for the mode of attack here chosen, and the style of the conversation. The whole is so deeply designed, that the origin and progress of evil in the breast is as nearly as possible such as it might have been had there been no prompter. No startling proposal of disobedience is made, no advice, no persuasion to partake of the fruit is employed. The suggestion or assertion of the false only is plainly offered; and the bewildered mind is left to draw its own false inferences, and pursue its own misguided course. The tempter addresses the woman as the more susceptible and unguarded of the two creatures he would betray. He ventures upon a half-questioning, half-insinuating remark: “It is so, then, that God hath said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden.” This seems to be a feeler for some weak point, where the fidelity of the woman to her Maker might be shaken. It hints at something strange, if not unjust or unkind, on the part of God. “Why was any tree withheld?” he would insinuate.
The woman gives the natural and distinct answer of unaffected sincerity to this suggestion. The deviations from the strict letter of the law are nothing more than the free and earnest expressions of her feelings. The expression, “neither shall ye touch it,” merely implies that they were not to meddle with it, as a forbidden thing.
The serpent now makes a strong and bold assertion, denying the deadly efficacy of the tree, or the fatal consequence of partaking of it, and affirming that God was aware that on the eating of it their eyes would be opened, and they would be like himself in knowing good and evil.
Let us remember that this was the first falsehood the woman ever heard. Her mind was also infantile as yet, so far as experience was concerned. The opening mind is naturally inclined to believe the truth of every assertion, until it has learned by experience the falsehood of some. There was also in this falsehood what gives the power to deceive, a great deal of truth combined with the element of untruth. The tree was not physically fatal to life, and the eating of it really issued in a knowledge of good and evil. Nevertheless, the partaking of what was forbidden issued in the legal and actual privation of life. And it did not make them know good and evil altogether, as God knows it, but in an experimental sense, as the devil knows it. In point of knowledge, they became like God; in point of morality, like the tempter.
And the woman saw. - She saw the tree, no doubt, and that it was likely to look upon, with the eye of sense. But only with the eye of fancy, highly excited by the hints of the tempter, did she see that it was good for food, and to be desired to make one wise. Appetite, taste, and philosophy, or the love of wisdom, are the great motives in the human breast which fancy assumes this tree will gratify. Other trees please the taste and the sight. But this one has the pre-eminent charm of administering not only to the sense, but also to the reason.
It would be rash to suppose that we can analyze that lightning process of instinctive thought which then took place in the mind of the woman; and worse than rash, it would be wrong, to imagine that we can show the rationale of what in its fundamental point was a violation of right reason. But it is evident from this verse that she attached some credit to the bold statement of the serpent, that the eating of the fruit would be attended with the extraordinary result of making them, like God himself, acquainted with good and evil, especially as it did not contradict any assertion of Yahweh, God, and was countenanced by the name, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” It was evidently a new thought to her, that the knowledge of good and evil was to result from the eating of it. That God should know this, if a fact, was undeniable. Again, to know good and evil as the effect of partaking of it, implied that the consequence was not a cessation of existence, or of consciousness; for, if so, how could there be any knowledge? And, if death in her conception implied merely exclusion from the favor of God and the tree of life, might she not imagine that the new knowledge acquired, and the elevation to a new resemblance, or even equality to God himself in this respect, would be more than a compensation for such losses; especially as the disinterestedness of the divine motives had been at least called in question by the serpent? Here, no doubt, is a fine web of sophistry, woven by the excited fancy in an instant of time.
It is easy to say the knowledge of good and evil was not a physical effect of eating of the fruit; that the obtaining of this knowledge by partaking of it was an evil, and not a good in itself and in its consequences, as it was the origin of an evil conscience, which is in itself an unspeakable ill, and attended with the forfeiture of the divine favor, and of the tree of life, and with the endurance of all the positive misery which such a condition involves; and that the command of God was founded on the clearest right - that of creation - occasioned by the immediate necessity of defining the rights of man, and prompted by disinterested benevolence toward His intelligent creatures, whom He was framing for such intellectual and moral perfection, as was by them attainable. It is easy to cry out, How unreasonable was the conduct of the primeval pair! Let us not forget that any sin is unreasonable, unaccountable, essentially mysterious. In fact, if it were wholly reasonable, it would no longer be sin. Only a moment before, the woman had declared that God had said, “Of the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden, ye shall not eat.” Yet she now sees, and her head is so full of it that she can think of nothing else, that the tree is good for food and pleasant to the eyes, - as if there were no other good and pleasant trees in the garden, and, as she fancies, desirable to make one wise, like God; as if there were no other way to this wisdom but an unlawful one, and no other likeness to God but a stolen likeness - and therefore takes of the fruit and eats, and gives to her husband, and he eats! The present desire is without any necessity gratified by an act known to be wrong, at the risk of all the consequences of disobedience! Such is sin.
Their eyes were opened. - Certain immediate effects of the act are here stated. This cannot mean literally that they were blind up to this moment; for Adam, no doubt, saw the tree in the garden concerning which he received a command, the animals which he named, and the woman whom he recognized as bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. And of the woman it is affirmed that she saw that the tree possessed certain qualities, one of which at least was conspicuous to the eye.
It must therefore mean that a new aspect was presented by things on the commission of the first offence. As soon as the transgression is actually over, the sense of the wrongfulness of the act rushes on the mind. The displeasure of the great Being whose command has been disobeyed, the irretrievable loss which follows sin, the shame of being looked upon by the bystanders as a guilty thing, crowd upon the view. All nature, every single creature, seems now a witness of their guilt and shame, a condemning judge, an agent of the divine vengeance. Such is the knowledge of good and evil they have acquired by their fall from obedience - such is the opening of the eye which has requited their wrong-doing. What a different scene had once presented itself to the eyes of innocence! All had been friendly. All nature had bowed in willing obedience to the lords of the earth. Neither the sense nor the reality of danger had ever disturbed the tranquility of their pure minds.
They knew that they were naked. - This second effect results immediately from the consciousness of guilt. They now take notice that their guilty persons are exposed to view, and they shrink from the glance of every condemning eye. They imagine there is a witness of their guilt in every creature, and they conceive the abhorrence which it must produce in the spectator. In their infantile experience they endeavor to hide their persons, which they feel to be suffused all over with the blush of shame.
Accordingly, “they sewed the leaves of the fig,” which, we may suppose, they wrapped round them, and fastened with the girdles they had formed for this purpose. The leaves of the fig did not constitute the girdles, but the coverings which were fastened on with these. These leaves were intended to conceal their whole persons from observation. Job describes himself sewing sackcloth on his skin Job 16:15, and girding on sackcloth 1 Kings 20:32; Lamentations 2:10; Joel 1:8 is a familiar phrase in Scripture. The primitive sewing was some sort of tacking together, which is not more particularly described. Every operation of this sort has a rude beginning. The word “girdle” חגורה chăgôrâh) signifies what girds on the dress.
Here it becomes us to pause for a moment that we may mark what was the precise nature of the first transgression. It was plainly disobedience to an express and well-understood command of the Creator. It matters not what was the nature of the command, since it could not be other than right and pure. The more simple and easy the thing enjoined, the more blameworthy the act of disobedience. But what was the command? Simply to abstain from the fruit of a tree, which was designated the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death. We have seen already that this command arose from the necessity of immediate legislation, and took its shape as the only possible one in the circumstances of the case. The special attraction, however, which the forbidden tree presented, was not its excellence for the appetite or pleasantness to the eyes, since these were common to all the trees, but its supposed power of conferring moral knowledge on those who partook of it, and, according to the serpent’s explanation, making them like God in this important respect.
Hence, the real and obvious motive of the transgressor was the desire of knowledge and likeness to God. Whatever other lusts, therefore, may have afterwards come out in the nature of fallen man, it is plain that the lust after likeness to God in moral discernment was what originally brought forth sin in man. Sexual desire does not appear here at all. The appetite is excited by other trees as well as this. The desire of knowledge, and the ambition to be in some sense, divine, are alone special and prevalent as motives. Hence, it appears that God proved our first parents, not through any of the animal appetites, but through the higher propensities of their intellectual and moral nature. Though the occasion, therefore, may at first sight appear trivial, yet it becomes awfully momentous when we discover that the rectitude of God is impugned, his prerogative invaded, his command disregarded, his attribute of moral omniscience and all the imaginable advantages attendant thereupon grasped at with an eager and wilful hand. To disobey the command of God, imposed according to the dictates of pure reason, and with the authority of a Creator, from the vain desire of being like him, or independent of him, in knowledge, can never be anything but an offence of the deepest dye.
We are bound, moreover, to acknowledge and maintain, in the most explicit manner, the equity of the divine procedure in permitting the temptation of man. The only new thing here is the intervention of the tempter. It may be imagined that this deciever should have been kept away. But we must not speak with inconsiderate haste on a matter of such import. First. We know that God has not used forcible means to prevent the rise of moral evil among his intelligent creatures. We cannot with reason affirm that he should have done so; because, to put force on a voluntary act, and yet leave it voluntary, seems to reason a contradiction in terms, and, therefore, impossible; and unless an act be voluntary, it cannot have any moral character; and without voluntary action, we cannot have a moral agent. Second. We know that God does not immediately annihilate the evil-doer. Neither can we with reason that he ought to have done so; for, to lay an adequate penalty on sin, and then put the sinner out of existence, so that this penalty can never be exacted, seems to reason a moral inconsistency, and, therefore, impossible in a being of moral perfection.
Third. We know that God does not withdraw the evil-doer from all contact with other moral agents. Here, again, reason does not constrain us to pronounce that it is expedient so to do; for the innocent ought, and it is natural that they should, learn a holy abhorrence of sin, and a salutary dread of its penalty, from these waifs of society, rather than follow their pernicious example. The wrong-doers are not less under the control of God than if they were in the most impenetrable dungeon; while they are at the same time constant beacons to warn others from transgression. He leaves them to fill up the measure of their inequity, while the intelligent world are cognizant of their guilt, that they may acknowledge the justice of their punishment, and comprehend the infinite holiness of the judge of all the earth. Fourth. We know that God tries his moral creatures. Abraham, Job, and all his saints have to undergo their trial.
He suffered the Lord Jesus Christ, the second Adam, to be tempted. And we must not expect the first Adam to be exempted from the common ordeal. We can only be assured that his justice will not allow his moral creatures to be at any disadvantage in the trial. Accordingly, first, God himself in the first instance speaks to Adam, and gives him an explicit command not arbitrary in its conception, but arising out of the necessity of the case. And it is plain that Eve was perfectly aware that he had himself imposed this prohibition. Second. The tempter is not allowed to appear in his proper person to our first parents. The serpent only is seen or heard by them - a creature inferior to themselves, and infinitely beneath the God who made them, and condescended to communicate with them with the authority of a father. Third. The serpent neither threatens nor directly persuades; much less is he permitted to use any means of compulsion: he simply falsities. As the God of truth had spoken to them before, the false insinuation places them at no disadvantage.
Man has now come to the second step in morals - the practice. Thereby he has come to the knowledge of good and evil, not merely as an ideal, but as an actual thing. But he has attained this end, not by standing in, but by falling from, his integrity. If he had stood the test of this temptation, as he might have done, he would have come by the knowledge of good and evil equally well, but with a far different result. As he bore the image of God in his higher nature, he would have resembled him, not only in knowledge, thus honorably acquired by resisting temptation, but also in moral good, thus realized in his own act and will. As it is, he has gained some knowledge in an unlawful and disastrous way; but he has also taken in that moral evil, which is the image, not of God, but of the tempter, to whom he has yielded.
This result is rendered still more lamentable when we remember that these transgressors constituted the human race in its primeval source. In them, therefore, the race actually falls. In their sin the race is become morally corrupt. In their guilt the race is involved in guilt. Their character and doom descend to their latest posterity.
We have not yet noticed the circumstance of the serpent’s speaking, and of course speaking rationally. This seems to have awakened no attention in the tempted, and, so far as we see, to have exercised no influence on their conduct. In their inexperience, it is probable that they did not yet know what was wonderful, and what not; or, in preciser terms, what was supernatural, and what natural. But even if they had known enough to be surprised at the serpent speaking, it might have told in opposite ways upon their conclusions. On the one hand, Adam had seen and named the serpent, and found in it merely a mute, irrational animal, altogether unfit to be his companion, and therefore he might have been amazed to hear him speak, and, shall we say, led to suspect a prompter. But, on the other hand, we have no reason to suppose that Adam had any knowledge or suspicion of any creature but those which had been already brought before him, among which was the serpent. He could, therefore, have no surmise of any superior creature who might make use of the serpent for its own purposes. We question whether the thought could have struck his mind that the serpent had partaken of the forbidden fruit, and thereby attained to the marvellous elevation from brutality to reason and speech. But, if it had, it would have made a deep impression on his mind of the wonderful potency of the tree. These considerations apply with perhaps still greater force to Eve, who was first deceived.
But to us who have a more extensive experience of the course of nature, the speaking of a serpent cannot be regarded otherwise than as a preternatural occurrence. It indicates the presence of a power above the nature of the serpent, possessed, too, by a being of a malignant nature, and at enmity with God and truth; a spiritual being, who is able and has been permitted to make use of the organs of the serpent in some way for the purposes of temptation. But while for a wise and worthy end this alien from God’s home is permitted to test the moral character of man, he is not allowed to make any appearance or show any sign of his own presence to man. The serpent alone is visibly present; the temptation is conducted only through words uttered by bodily organs, and the tempted show no suspicion of any other tempter. Thus, in the disposal of a just Providence, man is brought into immediate contact only with an inferior creature, and therefore has a fair field in the season of trial. And if that creature is possessed by a being of superior intelligence, this is only displayed in such a manner as to exert no influence on man but that of suggestive argument and false assertion.
- XVI. The Judgment
15. שׁוּף shûp “bruise, wound.” τηρεῖν (=τερεῖν?) tērein ἐκτρίβειν ektribein Job 9:17, καταπατεῖν katapatein Psalms 139:11, συντρίβειν suntribein Romans 16:20.
16. תשׁוּקה teshûqâh “desire, inclination.” αποστροφή apostrofee, ἐπιστροφή epistrophē Song of Solomon 7:11.
20. חוּה chavâh Eve, “the living, life, life-place, or village.”
This passage contains the examination of the transgressors, Genesis 3:8-13; the sentence pronounced upon each, Genesis 3:14-19; and certain particulars following thereupon, Genesis 3:20-21.
The voice, we conceive, is the thunder of the approach of God and his call to Adam. The hiding is another token of the childlike simplicity of the parents of our race under the shame and fear of guilt. The question, “Where art thou?” implies that the Lord was aware of their endeavor to hide themselves from him.
Adam confesses that he was afraid of God, because he was naked. There is an instinctive hiding of his thoughts from God in this very speech. The nakedness is mentioned, but not the disobedience from which the sense of it arose. To the direct interrogatory of the Almighty, he confesses who made him acquainted with his nakedness and the fact of his having eaten of the forbidden fruit: “The woman” gave me of the tree, and “I did eat.”
The woman makes a similar confession and a similar indication of the source of her temptation. She has now found out that the serpent “beguiled her.” The result has not corresponded to the benefit she was led to anticipate.
There seems not to be any disingenuousness in either case. Sin does not take full possession of the will all at once. It is a slow poison. It has a growth. It requires time and frequent repetition to sink from a state of purity into a habit of inveterate sin. While it is insensibly gathering strength and subjugating the will, the original integrity of the moral nature manifests a long but fading vitality. The same line of things does not always occupy the attention. When the chain of events linked with the act of sin does not force the attention of the mind, and constrain the will to act a selfish part, another train of things comes before the mind, finds the will unaffected by personal considerations, and therefore ready to take its direction from the reason. Hence, the consciousness of a fallen soul has its lucid intervals, in which the conscience gives a verdict and guides the will. But these intervals become less frequent and less decisive as the entanglements of ever-multiplying sinful acts wind round the soul and aggravate its bondage and its blindness.
Here begins the judgment. Sentence is pronounced upon the serpent in the presence, no doubt, of the man and woman. The serpent is not examined, first, because it is a mute, unreasoning animal in itself, and therefore incapable of judicial examination, and it was the serpent only that was palpable to the senses of our first parents in the temptation; and, secondly, because the true tempter was not a new, but an old offender.
This sentence has a literal application to the serpent. The curse (Genesis 9:25, see the note) of the serpent lies in a more groveling nature than that of the other land animals. This appears in its going on its belly and eating the dust. Other animals have at least feet to elevate them above the dust; the serpent tribe does not have even feet. Other animals elevate the head in their natural position above the soil: the serpent lays its head naturally on the sod, and therefore may be said to eat the dust, as the wounded warrior bites the dust in death. The earthworm is probably included in the description here given of the serpent group. It goes upon its belly, and actually does eat the dust. Eating the dust, like feeding upon ashes, is an expression for signal defeat in every aim. The enmity, the mode of its display, and the issue are also singularly characteristic of the literal serpent.
It is the custom of Scripture jurisprudence to visit brute animals with certain judicial consequences of injuries they have been instrumental in doing to man, especially if this has arisen through the design or neglect of the owner, or other responsible agent Genesis 9:5; Exodus 21:28-36. In the present case the injury done was of a moral, not a physical nature. Hence, the penalty consists in a curse; that is, a state of greater degradation below man than the other land animals. The serpent in the extraordinary event here recorded exercised the powers of human speech and reasoning. And it is natural to suppose that these exhibitions of intelligence were accompanied with an attitude and a gesture above its natural rank in the scale of creation. The effect of the judicial sentence would be to remand it to its original groveling condition, and give rise to that enmity which was to end in its destruction by man.
However, since an evil spirit must have employed the serpent, since the animal whose organs and instincts were most adapted to its purpose, and has accordingly derived its name from it as presenting the animal type most analogous to its own spiritual nature, so the whole of this sentence has its higher application to the real tempter. “Upon thy belly shalt thou go.” This is expressive of the lowest stage of degradation to which a spiritual creature can be sunk. “Dust shalt thou eat.” This is indicative of disappointment in all the aims of being. “I will put enmity.” This is still more strictly applicable to the spiritual enemy of mankind. It intimates a hereditary feud between their respective races, which is to terminate, after some temporary suffering on the part of the woman’s seed, in the destruction of the serpent’s power against man. The spiritual agent in the temptation of man cannot have literally any seed. But the seed of the serpent is that portion of the human family that continues to be his moral offspring, and follows the first transgression without repentance or refuge in the mercy of God. The seed of the woman, on the other hand, must denote the remnant who are born from above, and hence, turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.
Let us now mark the lessons conveyed in the sentence of the serpent to our first parents, who were listening and looking on. First. The serpent is styled a mere brute animal. All, then, that seemed to indicate reason as inherent in its nature or acquired by some strange event in its history is thus at once contradicted. Second. It is declared to be lower than any of the other land animals; as being destitute of any members corresponding to feet or hands. Third. It is not interrogated as a rational and accountable being, but treated as a mere dumb brute. Fourth. It is degraded from the airs and attitudes which may have been assumed, when it was possessed by a serpent-like evil spirit, and falls back without a struggle to that place of debasement in the animal kingdom for which it was designed. Fifth. It is fated to be disappointed in its aims at usurpation. It shall bite the dust. Sixth. it is doomed to ultimate and utter defeat in its hostile assaults upon the seed of the woman.
All this must have made a deep impression on our first parents. But two things must have struck them with special force. First, it was now evident how vain and hollow were its pretensions to superior wisdom, and how miserably deluded they had been when they listened to its false insinuations. If, indeed, they had possessed maturity of reflection, and taken time to apply it, they would have been strangely bewildered with the whole scene, now that it was past. How the serpent, from the brute instinct it displayed to Adam when he named the animals, suddenly rose to the temporary exercise of reason and speech, and as suddenly relapsed into its former bestiality, is, to the mere observer of nature, an inexplicable phenomenon. But to Adam, who had as yet too limited an experience to distinguish between natural and preternatural events, and too little development of the reflective power to detect the inconsistency in the appearance of things, the sole object of attention was the shameless presumption of the serpent, and the overwhelming retribution which had fallen upon it; and, consequently, the deplorable folly and wickedness of having been misguided by its suggestions.
A second thing, however, was still more striking to the mind of man in the sentence of the serpent; namely, the enmity that was to be put between the serpent and the woman. Up to a certain point there had been concord and alliance between these two parties. But, on the very opening of the heavenly court, we learn that the friendly connection had been broken. For the woman said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” This expression indicates that the woman was no longer at one with the serpent. She was now sensible that its part had been that, not of friendship, but of guile, and therefore of the deepest and darkest hostility. When God, therefore, said, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman,” this revulsion of feeling on her part, in which Adam no doubt joined, was acknowledged and approved. Enmity with the enemy of God indicated a return to friendship with God, and presupposed incipient feelings of repentance toward him, and reviving confidence in his word. The perpetuation of this enmity is here affirmed, in regard not only to the woman, but to her seed. This prospect of seed, and of a godly seed, at enmity with evil, became a fountain of hope to our first parents, and confirmed every feeling of returning reverence for God which was beginning to spring up in their breast. The word heard from the mouth of God begat faith in their hearts, and we shall find that this faith was not slow to manifest itself in acts.
We cannot pass over this part of the sentence without noticing the expression, “the seed of the woman.” Does it not mean, in the first instance, the whole human race? Was not this race at enmity with the serpent? And though that part only of the seed of the woman which eventually shared in her present feelings could be said to be at enmity with the serpent spirit, yet, if all had gone well in Adam’s family, might not the whole race have been at enmity with the spirit of disobedience? Was not the avenue to mercy here hinted at as wide as the offer of any other time? And was not this universality of invitation at some time to have a response in the human family? Does not the language of the passage constrain us to look forward to the time when the great mass, or the whole of the human race then alive on the earth, will have actually turned from the power of Satan unto God? This could not be seen by Adam. But was it not the plain import of the language, that, unless there was some new revolt after the present reconciliation, the whole race would, even from this new beginning, be at enmity with the spirit of evil? Such was the dread lesson of experience with which Adam now entered upon the career of life, that it was to be expected he would warn his children against departing from the living God, with a clearness and earnestness which would be both understood and felt.
Still further, do we not pass from the general to the particular in the sentence, “He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel?” Is not the seed of the woman here individualized and matched in deadly conflict with the individual tempter? Does not this phraseology point to some pre-eminent descendant of the woman, who is, with the bruising of his lower nature in the encounter, to gain a signal and final victory over the adversary of man? There is some reason to believe from the expression, “I have gotten a man from the Lord” Genesis 4:1, that Eve herself had caught a glimpse of this meaning, though she applied it to the wrong party. The Vulgate also, in what was probably the genuine reading, “ipse” (he himself) points to the same meaning. The reading “ipsa” (she herself) is inconsistent with the gender of the Hebrew verb, and with that of the corresponding pronoun in the second clause (his), and is therefore clearly an error of the transcriber.
Lastly, the retributive character of the divine administration is remarkably illustrated in the phrase. The serpent, in a wily but dastardly spirit, makes the weaker sex the object of his attack. It is the seed of the woman especially that is to bruise his head. It is singular to find that this simple phrase, coming in naturally and incidentally in a sentence uttered four thousand years, and penned at least fifteen hundred years, before the Christian era, describes exactly and literally Him who was made of woman without the intervention of man, that He might destroy the works of the devil. This clause in the sentence of the tempter is the first dawn of hope for the human family after the fall. We cannot tell whether to admire more the simplicity of its terms, the breadth and comprehensiveness of its meaning, or the minuteness of its application to the far-distant event which it mainly contemplates.
The doom here pronounced upon the tempter must be regarded as special and secondary. It refers to the malignant attack upon man, and foretells what will be the issue of this attempt to spread disaffection among the intelligent creation. And it is pronounced without any examination of the offender, or investigation of his motives. If this had been the first offence against the majesty of heaven, we humbly conceive a solemn precognition of the case would have taken place, and a penalty would have been adjudicated adequate to the magnitude of the crime and analagous to the punishment of death in the case of man. The primary act of defiance and apostasy from the Creator must have been perpetrated without a tempter, and was, therefore, incomparably more heinous than the secondary act of yielding to temptation. Whether the presence of the tempter on earth intimates that it was the place of his abode in a state of innocence, or that he visited it because he had heard of the creation of man, or that he was there from some altogether different reason, is a vain and unprofitable inquiry.
The sentence of the woman Genesis 3:16 consists of three parts: the former two regard her as a mother, the last as a wife. Sorrow is to be multiplied in her pregnancy, and is also to accompany the bearing of children. This sorrow seems to extend to all the mother’s pains and anxieties concerning her offspring. With what solicitude she would long for a manifestation of right feeling toward the merciful God in her children, similar to what she had experienced in her own breast! What unutterable bitterness of spirit would she feel when the fruits of disobedience would discover themselves in her little ones, and in some of them, perhaps, gather strength from year to year!
The promise of children is implicitly given in these two clauses. It came out also incidentally in the sentence of the serpent. What a wonderful conception is here presented to the minds of the primeval pair! Even to ourselves at this day the subject of race is involved in a great deal of mystery. We have already noticed the unity of the race in its head. But the personality and responsibility of individuals involve great and perplexing difficulties. The descent of a soul from a soul is a secret too deep for our comprehension. The first man was potentially the race, and, so long as he stands alone, actually the whole race for the time. His acts, then, are those not merely of the individual, but of the race. If a single angel were to fall, he falls alone. If the last of a race were to fall, he would in like manner involve no other in his descent. But if the first of a race falls, before he has any offspring, the race has fallen. The guilt, the depravity, the penalty, all belong to the race. This is a great mystery. But it seems to follow inevitably from the constitution of a race, and it has clear evidences of its truth both in the facts and the doctrines of the Bible.
When we come to view the sin of our first parents in this light, it is seen to entail tremendous consequences to every individual of the race. The single transgression has involved the guilt, the depravity, and the death, not only of Adam, but of that whole race which was in him, and thus has changed the whole character and condition of mankind throughout all time.
In the instructions going before and coming after are found the means of training up these children for God. The woman has learned that God is not only a righteous judge, but a forbearing and merciful Father. This was enough for her at present. It enabled her to enter upon the journey of life with some gleams of hope amidst the sorrows of the family. And in the experience of life it is amazing what a large proportion of the agreeable is mingled with the troubles of our fallen race. The forbearance and goodness of God ought in all reason and conscience to lead us back to a better feeling toward him.
The third part of her sentence refers to her husband - “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” This is evidently a piece of that retributive justice which meets us constantly in the administration of God. The woman had taken the lead in the transgression. In the fallen state, she is to be subject to the will of her husband. “Desire” does not refer to sexual desire in particular. Genesis 4:7. It means, in general, “turn,” determination of the will. “The determination of thy will shall be yielded to thy husband, and, accordingly, he shall rule over thee.” The second clause, according to the parallel structure of the sentence, is a climax or emphatic reiteration of the first, and therefore serves to determine its meaning. Under fallen man, woman has been more or less a slave. In fact, under the rule of selfishness, the weaker must serve the stronger. Only a spiritual resurrection will restore her to her true place, as the help-meet for man.
The keyword in the sentence of the man is the “soil.” The curse (Genesis 9:25, see the note) of the soil is the desire of the fruit trees with which the garden was planted, and of that spontaneous growth which would have rendered the toil of man unnecessary. The rank growth of thorns and thistles was also a part of the curse which it occasioned to man when fallen. His sorrow was to arise from the labor and sweat with which he was to draw from the ground the means of subsistence. Instead of the spontaneous fruits of the garden, the herb of the field, which required diligent cultivation, was henceforth to constitute a principal part of his support. And he had the dreary prospect before him of returning at length to the ground whence he was taken. He had an element of dust in him, and this organic frame was eventually to work out its own decay, when apart from the tree of life.
It is to be observed that here is the first allusion to that death which was the essential part of the sentence pronounced on the fallen race. The reasons of this are obvious. The sentence of death on those who should eat of the forbidden fruit had been already pronounced, and was well known to our first parents. Death consisted in the privation of that life which lay in the light of the divine countenance, shining with approving love on an innocent child, and therefore was begun on the first act of disobedience, in the shame and fear of a guilty conscience. The few traits of earthly discomfort which the sentences disclose, are merely the workings of the death here spoken of in the present stage of our existence. And the execution of the sentence, which comes to view in the following passage, is the formal accomplishment of the warning given to the transgressor of the divine will.
In this narrative the language is so simple as to present no critical difficulty. And, on reviewing the passage, the first thing we have to observe is, that the event here recorded is a turning-point of transcendent import in the history of man. It is no less than turning from confidence in God to confidence in his creature when contradicting him, and, moreover, from obedience to his express and well-remembered command to obedience to the dictates of misguided self-interest. It is obvious that, to the moral character of the transaction, it is of no consequence who the third party was who dared to contradict and malign his Maker. The guilt of man consists simply in disobeying the sole command of his beneficent Creator. The only mitigating circumstance is the suggestion of evil by an external party. But the more insignificant the only ostensible source of temptation, the more inexcusable the guilt of man in giving way to it.
This act altered fundamentally the position and character of man. He thereby descended from innocence to guilt in point of law, and at the same time from holiness to sin in point of character. Tremendous was the change, and equally tremendous the consequence. Death is, like most scriptural terms, a pregnant word, and here to be understood in the full compass of its meaning. It is the privation, not of existence, as is often confusedly supposed, but of life, in all its plenitude of meaning. As life includes all the gratifications of which our human susceptibilities are capable, so death is the privation of all the sources of human enjoyment, and among them of the physical life itself, while the craving for ease and the sense of pain retain all their force in the spiritual part of our nature. These poignant emotions reach their highest pitch of intensity when they touch the conscience, the tenderest part of our being, and forebode the meeting of the soul, in its guilty state, with a just and holy God.
This event is real. The narrative expresses in its strongest terms its reality. The event is one of the two alternatives which must follow from the preceding statements concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and affords an explanation of their nature. It is no less essential to account for what follows. The problem of the history and condition of man can only be solved by this primeval fact. Conscience still remains an imperishable monument, on the one hand, of his having been formed after a perfect model; and, on the other, of his having fallen from his high estate. And all the facts of his history carry up his fall as far as the traditions of human memory reach.
And the narrative here is a literal record of the details of this great event. So far as regards God and man, the literality has never been questioned by those who acknowledge the event to be real. Some, however, have taken the serpent to be, not a literal, but a figurative serpent; not an animal, but a spiritual being. The great dragon, indeed, is identified with “the ancient serpent called the devil and Satan.” And hence we know that a being of a higher nature than the mere animal was present and active on this occasion. And this spiritual being was with great propriety called the serpent, both from its serpentine qualities and from choosing the serpent as the most suitable mask under which to tempt our first parents. But we cannot thence infer that a literal serpent was not employed in the temptation. The serpent is said to be “more subtle than any beast of the field.” First. The obvious meaning of this is, that it was itself a beast of the field.
Thus, Joseph, whom Israel loved “more than all his children,” was one of his children Genesis 37:8. He that was “higher than any of the people,” was himself one of the people 2 Samuel 9:2. Second. If the serpent be here figurative, and denote a spirit, the statement that it was subtle above all the beasts of the field is feeble and inadequate to the occasion. It is not so, that man is distinguished from the other animals. In much more forcible language ought the old serpent to be distinguished from the unreasoning brute. Third. We have seen a meetness in a being of flesh, and that not superior, or even equal to man, being permitted to be employed as the medium of temptation. Man was thereby put at no disadvantage. His senses were not confounded by a supersensible manifestation. His presence of mind was not disturbed by an unusual appearance. Fourth. The actions ascribed to the tempter agree with the literal serpent. Wounding the heel, creeping on the belly, and biting the dust, are suitable to a mere animal, and especially to the serpent. The only exception is the speaking, and, what is implied in this, the reasoning. These, however, do not disprove the presence of the literal serpent when accompanied with a plain statement of its presence. They only indicate, and that to more experienced observers than our first parents, the presence of a lurking spirit, expressing its thoughts by the organs of the serpent.
It may be thought strange that the presence of this higher being is not explicitly noticed by the sacred writer. But it is the manner of Scripture not to distinguish and explain all the realities which it relates, but to describe the obvious phenomena as they present themselves to the senses; especially when the scope of the narrative does not require more, and a future revelation or the exercise of a sanctified experience will in due time bring out their interpretation. Thus, the doings of the magicians in Egypt are not distinguished from those of Moses by any disparaging epithet Exodus 7:10-12. Only those of Moses are greater, and indicate thereby a higher power. The witch of Endor is consulted, and Samuel appears; but the narrative is not careful to distinguish then and there whether by the means of witchcraft or by the very power of God. It was not necessary for the moral training of our first parents at that early stage of their existence to know who the real tempter was. It would not have altered the essential nature of the temptation, of the sentence pronounced on any of the parties, or of the hopes held out to those who were beguiled.
This brings into view a system of analogy and mutual relation pervading the whole of Scripture as well as nature, according to which the lower order of things is a natural type of the higher, and the nearer of the more remote. This law displays itself in the history of creation, which, in the creative work of the six days, figures to our minds, and, as it were, lays out in the distance those other antecedent processes of creative power that have intervened since the first and absolute creation; in the nature of man, which presents on the surface the animal operations in wonderful harmony with the spiritual functions of his complex being; in the history of man, where the nearer in history, in prophecy, in space, in time, in quality, matter, life, vegetative and animate, shadow forth the more remote. All these examples of the scriptural method of standing on and starting from the near to the far are founded upon the simple fact that nature is a rational system of things, every part of which has its counterpart in every other. Hence, the history of one thing is, in a certain form, the history of all things of the same kind.
The serpent is of a crafty instinct, and finds, accordingly, its legitimate place at the lowest step of the animal system. Satan seeks the opportunity of tempting Adam, and, in the fitness of things, turns to the serpent as the ready medium of his assault upon human integrity. He was limited to such a medium. He was not permitted to have any contact with man, except through the senses and in the way of speech. He was also necessitated to have recourse to the serpent, as the only creature suited to his purpose.
The place of the serpent in the scale of animals was in keeping with the crookedness of its instinct. It was cursed above all cattle, since it was inferior to them in the lack of those limbs which serve for rising, moving, and holding; such as legs and arms. This meaning of cursed is familiar to Scripture. “Cursed is the ground for thy seed” Genesis 3:17. It needed the toil of man to repress thorns and thistles, and cultivate plants more useful and needful to man. “This people who knoweth not the law are cursed” John 7:49. This is a relative use of the word, by which a thing is said to be cursed in respect of its failing to serve a particular end. Hence, the serpent’s condition was a fit emblem of the spiritual serpent’s punishment for its evil doings regarding man.
Through the inscrutable wisdom of the Divine Providence, however, it was not necessary, or may not have been necessary, to change in the main the state of the natural serpent or the natural earth in order to carry out the ends of justice. The former symbolized in a very striking manner the helplessness and disappointment of the enemy of man. The latter exacted that labor of man which was the just consequence of his disobedience. This consequence would have been avoided if he had continued to be entitled to the tree of life, which could no doubt have been propagated beyond its original bounds. But a change in the moral relation of the heart toward God brings along with it in the unsearchable ways of divine wisdom a change as great in the bearing of the events of time on the destiny of man. While the heart is with God, all things work together for good to us. When the heart is estranged from him, all things as inevitably work together for evil, without any material alteration in the system of nature.
We may even ascend a step higher into the mysteries of providence; for a disobedient heart, that forms the undeserving object of the divine compassion, may be for a time the unconscious slave of a train of circumstances, which is working out its recovery from the curse as well as the power of sin through the teaching of the Divine Spirit. The series of events may be the same in which another is floating down the stream of perdition. But to the former these events are the turning points of a wondrous moral training, which is to end in reconciliation to God and restoration to his likeness.
A race, in like manner, that has fallen from communion with God, may be the subject of a purpose of mercy, which works out, in the providence of God, the return of some to his home and love, and the wandering of others away further and further into the darkness and misery of enmity with God.
And though this system of things is simple and uniform in the eyes of the only wise God, yet to human view parts of it appear only as special arrangements and retributions, exactly meeting the case of man and serving for his moral education. No doubt they are so. But they are also parts of a constant course of nature, pursued with undeviating regularity, yet ordered with such infallible wisdom as to accomplish at the same time both general and special ends. Hence, without any essential change in the serpent’s natural instincts, it serves for a striking monument of the defeat and destruction of the devil and his works. The ground, without any change in its inherent nature, but merely by the removal, it may be, of the tree of life, is cursed to man, as it demands that toil which is the mark of a fallen race.
The question of miracles, or special interpositions of the divine will and power which cross the laws of nature, is not now before us. By the very definition of miracles they transcend the laws of nature; that is, of that system of events which is known to us by observation. But it does not follow that they transcend a higher law of the divine plan, which may, partly by revelation and partly even by a deeper study of ourselves and things around us, be brought to light. By the investigations of geology we seem compelled to acknowledge a succession of creations at great intervals of time, as a law of the divine procedure on our globe. But, thousands of years before geology was conceived, one such creation, subsequent to the great primal act by which the universe was called into existence, was made known to us by divine revelation. And beside periodical miracle, we find recorded in the Book of Revelation a series of miracles, which were performed in pursuance of the divine purpose of grace toward the fallen race of man. These are certainly above nature, according to the largest view of it which has ever been current among our philosophers. But let us not therefore imagine that they are above reason or grace - above the resources and determinations of the divine mind and will concerning the development of the universe.
This verse and the next one record two very significant acts consequent upon the judgment: one on the part of Adam, and another on the part of God.
The man here no doubt refers to two expressions in the sentences he had heard pronounced on the serpent and the woman. “He,” the seed of the woman, “shall bruise thy head.” Here it is the woman who is to bear the seed. And this seed is to bruise the serpent’s head; that is, in some way to undo what had been done for the death of man, and so re-invest him with life. This life was therefore to come by the woman. Again, in the address of the judge to the woman he had heard the words, “Thou shalt bear children.” These children are the seed, among whom is to be the bruiser of the serpent’s head, and the author of “life”. And in an humbler, nearer sense, the woman is to be the mother of children, who are the living, and perpetuate the life of the race amid the ravages which death is daily committing on its individual members. These glimmerings of hope for the future make a deep impression upon the father of mankind. He perceives and believes that through the woman in some way is to come salvation for the race. He gives permanent expression to his hope in the significant name which he gives to his wife. Here we see to our unspeakable satisfaction the dawn of faith - a faith indicating a new beginning of spiritual life, and exercising a salutary influence on the will, faintly illuminating the dark bosom of our first parent. The mother of mankind has also come to a better mind. The high and holy Spirit has in mercy withdrawn the cloud of misconception from the minds of both, and faith in the Lord and repentance have sprung up in their new-born souls.
As Genesis 3:20 records an instance of humble, apprehending faith in the divine word, so here we have a manifest act of mercy on the part of God, indicating the pardon and acceptance of confessing, believing man, rejoicing in anticipation of that future victory over the serpent which was to be accomplished by the seed of the woman. This act is also suitable to the present circumstances of man, and at the same time strikingly significant of the higher blessings connected with restoration to the divine favor. He had discovered his nakedness, and God provides him with a suitable covering. He was to be exposed to the variations of climate, and here was a durable protection against the weather. But far more than this. He had become morally naked, destitute of that peace of conscience which is an impenetrable shield against the shame of being blamed and the fear of being punished; and the coats of skin were a faithful emblem and a manifest guarantee of those robes of righteousness which were hereafter to be provided for the penitent in default of that original righteousness which he had lost by transgression. And, finally, there is something remarkable in the material out of which the coats were made. They were most likely obtained by the death of animals; and as they do not appear yet to have been slain for food, some have been led to conjecture that they were offered in sacrifice - slain in prefiguration of that subsequent availing sacrifice which was to take away sin. It is the safer course, however, to leave the origin of sacrifice an open question. Scripture does not intimate that the skins were obtained in consequence of sacrifice; and apart from the presumption derived from these skins, it seems to trace the origin of sacrifice to the act of Habel recorded in the next chapter.
This leads us to a law, which we find frequently exhibited in Sacred Scripture, that some events are recorded without any connection or significance apparent on the surface of the narrative, while at the same time they betoken a greater amount of spiritual knowledge than we are accustomed to ascribe to the age in which they occurred. The bare fact which the writer states, being looked at with our eyes, may have no significance. But regarded, as it ought to be, with the eyes of the narrator, cognizant of all that he has to record up to his own time, it becomes pregnant with a new meaning, which would not otherwise have been discovered. Even this, however, may not exhaust the import of a passage contained in an inspired writing. To arrive at the full sense it may need to be contemplated with the eyes of the Holy Spirit, conscious of all that is to become matter of revelation to the end of time. It will then stand forth in all the comprehensiveness of meaning which its relation to the whole body of revealed truth imparts, and under the guise of an everyday matter-of-fact will convey some of the sublimest aspects of divine truth. Hence, the subsequent scripture, which is the language of the Holy Spirit, may aid us in penetrating the hidden meaning of an earlier part of revelation.
God is the Prime Mover in this matter. The mercy of God alone is the source of pardon, of the mode in which he may pardon and yet be just, and of the power by which the sinner may be led to accept it with penitence and gratitude. In the brevity of the narrative the results only are noted; namely, the intimation and the earnest of pardon on the side of God, and the feelings and doings of faith and repentance on the side of the parents of mankind. What indications God may have given by the impressive figure of sacrifice or otherwise of the penalty being paid by another for the sinner, as a necessary condition of forgiveness, we are not here informed, simply because those for whom a written record was necessary would learn it more fully at a subsequent stage of the narrative. This suggests two remarks important for interpretation: First. This document is written by one who omits many things done and said to primeval man, because they are unnecessary for those for whom he writes, or because the principles they involve will come forward in a more distinct form in a future part of his work.
This practice speaks for Moses being not the mere collector, but the composer of the documents contained in Genesis, out of such preexistent materials as may have come to his hand or his mind. Second. We are not to import into the narrative a doctrine or institution in all the development it may have received at the latest period of revelation. This would be contrary to the manner in which God was accustomed to teach man. That concrete form of a great principle, which comported with the infantile state of the early mind, is first presented. The germ planted in the opening, fertile mind, springs forth and grows. The revelations and institutions of God grow with it in compass and grandeur. The germ was truth suited for babes; the full-grown tree is only the same truth expanded in the advancing development of people and things. They equally err who stretch the past to the measure of the present, and who judge either the past or the future by the standard of the present. Well-meaning but inconsiderate critics have gone to both extremes.
- XVII. The Execution
24. כרוּב kerûb ברך in Aramaic: “carve, plow”; Persian: “grip, grasp.” This word occurs about eighty-seven times in the Hebrew scriptures; in sixty of which it refers to carved or embroidered figures; in twenty-two to the living being in the vision of Ezekiel Ezekiel 10:0; in two figuratively to the king of Tyre Ezekiel 28:14, Ezekiel 28:16; in two to a being on which the Lord is poetically described as riding 2 Samuel 22:11; Psalms 18:11; and in the present passage unequivocally to real and well-known beings. The root is not otherwise extant in Hebrew proper. But from the class of actions to which it refers, and from a review of the statements of Scripture concerning these creatures, we are led to the following conclusions:
First. The cherubim are real creatures, and not mere symbols. In the narrative of the fall they are introduced as real into the scenes of reality. Their existence is assumed as known; for God is said to place or station the cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden. The representation of a cherub too in vision, as part of a symbolic figure, implies a corresponding reality Ezekiel 10:14. A symbol itself points to a reality.
Second. They are afterward described as “living creatures,” especially in the visions of Ezekiel Ezekiel 1:10. This seems to arise, not from their standing at the highest stage of life, which the term does not denote, but from the members of the various animals, which enter into their variously-described figure. Among these appear the faces of the man, the lion, the ox, and the eagle, of which a cherubic form had one, two or four Exodus 25:20; Ezekiel 41:18; Ezekiel 1:16. They had, besides, wings, in number two or four Exodus 25:20; 1 Kings 6:27; Ezekiel 1:6. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides Ezekiel 1:8; Ezekiel 10:8. Ezekiel also describes their feet as being straight, and having the sole like that of a calf. They sometimes appear too with their bodies, hands, wings, and even accompanying wheels full of eyes Ezekiel 1:18; Ezekiel 10:12. The variety in the figuration of the cherubim is owing to the variety of aspects in which they stand, and of offices or services they have to perform in the varying posture of affairs. This figuration is evidently symbolic. For the real being has not a varying number or order of its constituent parts in the same stage of its existence, though it may be readily represented by a diversity of symbols, according to the diversity of the circumstances in which it appears, and of operations it has to perform. The figuration is merely intended to shadow forth its nature and office in sensible forms to those who have not entered the spiritual world.
Third. The cherubim are intelligent beings. This is indicated by their form, movement, and conduct. In their visible appearance the human form predominates: “They had the likeness of a man” Ezekiel 1:5. The human face is in front, and has therefore the principal place. The “hands of a man” determine the erect posture, and therefore the human form of the body. The parts of other animal forms are only accessory, and serve to mark the possession of qualities which are not prominent in man. The lion indicates the active and destructive powers; the ox, the patient and productive; the eagle denotes rapid motion, with which the wings coincide, and quick sight with which the many eyes accord; and the man signifies reason, which rationalizes all these otherwise physical qualities.
The four faces indicate powers of observation that sweep the whole horizon. The straight feet, with soles like those of a calf, mark an elasticity of step appertaining only to beings unaffected by the force of gravitation. Their motion, “straight forward,” combined with the four faces, and the wheel within a wheel going according to its quarters, points to a capacity of moving in any direction without turning by the mere impulse of the will. The intelligence of their conduct will appear from the nature of the duties they have to discharge.
Fourth. Their special office seems to be “intellectual and potential” rather than moral. They have to do with the physical more than the moral aspect of being. Hence, they stand related, on the one side, to God, as אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym, “the Everlasting, the God of omnipotence;” and, on the other, to the universe of created things, in its material, animal, and intellectual departments, and to the general administration of the divine will in this comprehensive sphere. The radical meanings of the terms “carve, plow, grasp,” point to the potential. The hand symbolizes intelligent agency. The multiplicity of eyes denotes many-sided intelligence. The number four is evidently normal and characteristic. It marks their relation to the cosmos - universe of system of created things.
Fifth. Their place of ministry is about the throne, and in the presence of the Almighty. Accordingly, where he manifests himself in a stated place, and with all the solemnity of a court, there they generally appear.
Sixth. Their special functions correspond with these indications of their nature and place. They are stationed at the east of the garden of Eden, where God had condescended to walk with man before his fall, and where he still lingers on earth to hold communion with man, for the purpose of mercy, and their business is to keep the way of the tree of life. They are figured in the most holy place, which was appropriated to the divine presence, and constructed after the pattern seen in the mount. They stand on the mercy-seat, where God sits to rule his people, and they look down with intelligent wonder on the mysteries of redemption. In the vision of the likeness of the glory of God vouchsafed to Ezekiel, they appear under the expanse on which rests the throne of God, and beside the wheels which move as they move. And when God is represented as in movement for the execution of his judgments, the physical elements and the spiritual essences are alike described as the vehicles of his irresistible progress Psalms 18:11. All these movements are mysteries to us, while we are in a world of sense. We cannot comprehend the relation of the spiritual and the physical. But of this we may be assured, that material things are at bottom centers of multiform forces, or fixed springs of power, to which the Everlasting Potentate has given a local habitation and a name, and therefore cognate with spiritual beings of free power, and consequently manageable by them.
Seventh. The cherubim seem to be officially distinct from angels or messengers who go upon special errands to a distance from the presence-chamber of the Almighty. It is possible that they are also to be distinguished in function from the seraphim and the living beings of the Apocalypse, who like them appear among the attendants in the court of heaven.
Here we enter upon the record of the steps taken to carry into effect the forfeiture of life by man, consequent upon his willful transgression of the divine command.
As one of us. - This is another indication of the plurality in unity which is evidently inherent in the Eternal Spirit. It is still more significant than the expression of concert in the creation of man, as it cannot be explained by anything short of a personal distinction.
Behold, the man is become as one of us to know good and evil. - We are now prepared to understand the nature of the two trees which were in the midst of the garden. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil effected a change, not in the physical constitution of man, but in his mental experience - in his knowledge of good and evil. There do not appear to have been any seeds of death - any poisonous or malignant power in the tree. “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and likely to the eyes,” as well as a tree to be desired to make one wise. Neither does it appear that the virtue of making wise on the particular point of moral distinctions lay in the digestion of its fruit when received into the stomach. The natural effect of food is on the body, not on the understanding. The moral effect lay rather in the conduct of man in regard to the tree, as a thing prohibited. The result of his conduct, whether in the way of obedience or disobedience to the divine command, was to be the knowledge of good and evil. If man had obeyed, he would have come to this knowledge in a legitimate way. For he would have perceived that distrust of God and disobedience to his will, as they were externally presented to his view in the suggestions of the tempter, were evil; and that confidence and obedience, internally experienced in himself in defiance of such suggestions, were good. And this was the germ of the knowledge of good and evil. But, by disregarding the express injunction of his Maker with respect to this tree, he attained to the knowledge of good and evil in an unlawful and fatal way. He learned immediately that he himself was the guilty party, whereas, before, he was free from guilt; and thus became aware, in his own person and to his own condemnation, of good and evil, as distinct and opposite qualities.
This view of the tree is in accordance with all the intimations of Scripture. First. The terms in which it is prohibited are, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat; for in the day thou eatest of it, die surely shalt thou.” Here it is important to mark the consequence which is pointed out as flowing from the eating of it. It is not, Thou shalt know good and evil by any physical virtue of the tree, a process by which knowledge comes not at all; but, “Thou shalt surely die.” Now, this is not any physical result of the fruit being received into the system, since man did not die for centuries after, but a penal result, in fact, the awful sanction of that divine command by which man’s probation was to be accomplished. Second. The points brought out by the serpent are to the same effect. He suggests that God had not given permission to eat of every tree of the garden.
There was some reserve. This reserve is an injury to man, which he makes out by denying that death is the consequence of eating of the tree reserved, and asserting that special benefits, such as the opening of the eyes, and being as God in knowing good and evil, would follow. In both of these statements there is equivocation. Death is not indeed the natural, but it is the legal consequence of disobedience. The eyes of them both were opened, and they became like God in knowing good and evil; but, in both instances, to their own shame and confusion, instead of their glory and honor. They saw that they were “naked,” and they were “ashamed” and “afraid.” They knew good and evil; but they knew the evil to be present with them, and the good to have departed from them. Third. The interview of God with the culprits is also in keeping with the same view. The question to the man is, “Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee not to eat?” Mark the tenor of this question. It is not, Hast thou eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? but, “of which I commanded thee not to eat;” by which it is indicated that, not the physical character of the tree, but the moral character of the action, is the point of the interrogatory.
The tree, then, was the ordained occasion of man’s becoming as God in knowing good and evil. He had now reached the second, or experimental lesson in morals. When God gave him the theoretical lesson in the command, he expected that the practical one would follow. He now says, “Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” In the style of his word he notes the result, without marking the disobedience of man as the means. This is understood from the circumstances. Man is therefore guilty, and the law must be vindicated.
Hence, it is added, “Lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever.” This sentence is completed by an act, not a word, as we shall see in the next verse. Measures must be taken to prevent his access to this tree, now that he has incurred the penalty of death.
From this sentence it follows that the tree of life must have had some virtue by which the human frame was to be kept free from the decrepitude of age, or the decay that terminates in death. Its name, the tree of life, accords with this conclusion. Only on such a ground could exclusion from it be made the penalty of disobedience, and the occasion of death. Thus, also may we meet and answer all the difficulties which physiology presents to the immortality of unfallen man. We have it on record that there was an herbal virtue in paradise capable of counteracting the effects of the wear and tear of the animal frame. This confirms our account of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Death, which, it is to be remembered, is, to a moral and responsible being, in a comprehensive sense, exclusion from the blessings of conscious existence, and pre-eminently from that of the divine complacence, was not the physical effect of its fruit being eaten, but the penal consequence of a forbidden act. And this consequence is brought about by a special judicial process, recorded in the next verse:
The two trees stand related to one another in a way that touches the very center of man’s moral being. “Do this and live” is the fundamental dictum of the moral law. Its implied counterpart is, “If thou do it not, thou shalt die.” The act of disobedience is evidently decisive for the whole conduct, character, and relation to God. It therefore necessarily forfeits that life which consists in the favor of God and all consequent blessings. The two trees correspond with the condition and the benefit in this essential covenant of law. The one is the test of man’s obedience, or disobedience; the other, the benefit which is retained by obedience and lost by disobedience. Man fails in obedience, and loses the blessing. Hence, forth both the legal and the beneficial parts of the covenant must come from a higher source to all that are saved. Christ bestows both the one and the other by his obedience and by his Spirit. In the old form of the covenant of grace, the Passover typifies the one, and circumcision the other; in the new, the Lord’s Supper and baptism have a similar import. These all, from first to last, betoken the two essential parts of salvation, redemption, and regeneration. This is a clear example of the unity and constancy which prevail in the works of God.
It is evident that the idea of immortality is familiar to the early chapters of Genesis. The primeval command itself implies it. Mortality, moreover, applies to the נפשׁ nephesh, the organic living body; not to the particles of matter in that body, nor to the חיים נשׁמת nı̂shmat chayı̂ym, “breath of life” which came from God. It means not annihilation, but dissolution. Still further, the first part of death is exclusion from the tree of life, which takes place on the very day of disobedience. This indicates its nature. It is not annihilation of the spiritual essence, which does not in fact take place, but the withdrawal from it of the blessings and enjoyments in communion with God of which it is capable. And, lastly, the whole tenor of the narrative is, that death is a penalty for transgression; whereas annihilation is not a penalty, but a release from the doom of perdition. Accordingly, the tempter is not annihilated, but left to bear his doom; and so man’s existence is perpetuated under partial privation - the emblem and earnest of that death which consists in the total privation of life. Death is, no doubt, in its primary meaning, the dissolution of the living body. But even in the execution of the primeval sentence it begins to expand into that compass of meaning which all the great primitives of the scriptural language sooner or later express. Earth, sky, good, evil, life, and death are striking specimens of this elasticity of signification. Hence, we perceive that the germs of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul lie even in these primeval documents. And more we could not expect, unless we were to concentrate the whole fullness of revelation on this subject into its opening pages.
In consequence of man’s disobedience the tree of life is withdrawn from the reach of man as a forfeited boon, and the dissolution of the present life allowed to take place according to the laws of nature, still remaining in force in regard to other animated beings; aided, indeed, and accelerated in their operation, by the sinful abuse of human passions. And thus the expression, “in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt die,” receives its simple application. It is a conditional sentence, pronounced antecedently as a warning to the responsible party. On the very day of transgression it becomes legally valid against him, and the first step toward its regular execution in the ordinary course of things is taken. This step is his exclusion from the tree of life. This is effected by sending man out of the garden into the common, to until the soil whence he was taken.
So he drove out the man. - This expresses the banishment of man from the garden as a judicial act. While he is left to the fruits of his labor for the means of subsistence until his return to the dust, his access to the source of perpetual life and vigor is effectually barred by a guard stationed east of the garden, where was no doubt its only entrance, consisting of the cherubim and the flame of a sword waving in all directions. The flaming sword is the visible form of the sword of justice, repelling the transgressors from the seat and source of happiness and life. The cherubim, who are here mentioned as well-known objects, whose figure does not require description, are the ministers of the divine presence and judgment - of his presence which was not entirely withdrawn from man; and of his judgment, by which he was excluded from the garden of delight.
There is unspeakable mercy here in every respect for the erring race. This present life in the flesh was now tainted with sin, and impregnated with the seeds of the curse, about to spring forth into an awful growth of moral and physical evil. It is not worth preserving for itself. It is not in any way desirable that such a dark confusion of life and death in one nature should be perpetuated. Hence, there is mercy as well as judgment in the exclusion of man from that tree which could have only continued the carnal, earthly, sensual and even devilish state of his being. Let it remain for a season, until it be seen whether the seed of spiritual life will come to birth and growth, and then let death come and put a final end to the old man.
Still further, God does not annihilate the garden or its tree of life. Annihilation does not seem to be his way. It is not the way of that omniscient One who sees the end from the beginning, of that infinite Wisdom that can devise and create a self-working, self-adjusting universe of things and events. On the other hand, he sets his cherubim to keep the way of the tree of life. This paradise, then, and its tree of life are in safe keeping. They are in reserve for those who will become entitled to them after an intervening period of trial and victory, and they will reappear in all their pristine glory and in all their beautiful adaptedness to the high-born and new-born perfection of man. The slough of that serpent nature which has been infused into man will fall off, at least from the chosen number who take refuge in the mercy of God; and in all the freshness and freedom of a heaven-born nature will they enter into all the originally congenial enjoyments that were shadowed forth in their pristine bloom in that first scene of human bliss.
We have now gone over the prelude to the history of man. It consists of three distinct events: the absolute creation of the heavens and the earth, contained in one verse; the last creation, in which man himself came into being, embracing the remainder of the first chapter; and the history of the first pair to the fall, recorded in the second and third chapters. The first two fall into one, and reveal the invisible everlasting Elohim coming forth out of the depths of his inscrutable eternity, and manifesting himself to man in the new character of Yahweh, the author and perpetuator of a universe of being, and pre-eminently of man, a type and specimen of the rational order of beings. Whenever moral agents come into existence, and wherever they come into contact, there must be law, covenant, or compact. Hence, the command is laid upon man as the essential prerequisite to his moral deportment; and Yahweh appears further as the vindicator of law, the keeper of covenant, the performer of promise.
Man, being instructed by him in the fundamental principle of all law, namely, the right of the Creator over the creature, and the independence of each creature in relation to every other, takes the first step in moral conduct. But it is a false one, violating this first law of nature and of God in both its parts. “Thus, by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.” Hence, the prospect of man’s future history is clouded, and it cannot be darker than it afterward turns out to be. But still it is tinged even in its early dawn with some rays of heavenly hope. The Lord God has held out signals of mercy to the tempted and fallen pair. The woman and the man have not been slow to acknowledge this, and to show symptoms of returning faith and repentance. And though they have been shut out of the garden, yet that region of bliss and its tree of life are not swept out of existence, but, in the boundless mercy of God, reserved in safe keeping for those who shall become heirs of glory, honor, and immortality.
Let it be observed that we here stand on the broad ground of our common humanity. From this wide circumference Scripture never recedes. Even when it recounts the fortunes of a single individual, family, or nation, its eye and its interest extend to the whole race; and it only dwells on the narrower circle of men and things as the potential spring of nascent, growing, and eternal life and blessing to the whole race. Let us endeavor to do justice to this ancient record, in the calm and constant grandeur and catholicity of its revelations concerning the ways of God with man.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Genesis 3". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26