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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 3

Verses 4-24

Paradise and the Fall

In this famous passage we possess a wealth of moral and spiritual teaching regarding God and man. The intention of the writer is evidently to give an answer to the question: How did sin and misery find their way into the world? As is natural among Orientals he put his reply into narrative form; and though it is generally accepted that the details are to be interpreted symbolically rather than literally, yet they are in marvellous agreement with the real facts of human nature and experience. Adam is the representative of the human race. The story of his temptation, fall, and consequent forfeiture of Paradise shadows forth some of the greatest mysteries of the human lot—the strangely mingled glory and shame of man, his freedom of action, the war between the law in his members and the law of his mind. It thus comes to have a universal significance and shows each man, as in a mirror, his own experience. When he reads this narrative, his conscience says to him, like a prophet of God: ’Thou art the man; the story is told of thee 1’ In Genesis 2 the nature of man is unfolded. It has two sides, a higher and a lower; on the one hand, he is connected with the material world, as made of dust of the earth: on the other hand, he is related to God, who breathes into his nostrils the breath of life. He stands above the animal creation by his endowments of reason, discrimination, and language; he gives names to the beasts. The ideal relationship of the sexes appears in the creation of woman from the side of man, and his delight in finding in her an adequate companion and helper. Special emphasis is laid upon the moral and spiritual aspects of human nature. Man is created with the faculty of holding free and trustful communion with God, and with the power of exercising freedom of choice. It is chiefly in virtue of these high prerogatives that he can be said to be created in the image of God. Liberty of choice, however, or free will, is a perilous gift. It may be used either rightly or wrongly, and so there arises the possibility of temptation, of sin, of a ’fall’: see on Genesis 2:14. Genesis 3 shows how man misuses his freedom. He is tempted by a mysterious power of evil, and falls before the temptation. Immediately the direst results ensue, both for his inward and outward condition. ’The fruit of man’s first disobedience’ is seen at once in his consciousness of guilt, his interrupted communion with God, his miserable state, and even the altered condition of the world in which he dwells. Yet God does not abandon him. He continues His care over him, and comforts him with the promise of final victory over the power of evil. See on Genesis 3:15 for the significance of this passage in the light of Christianity.

It is to be expected that, in externals at least, the Bible narrative should resemble the traditions of other Oriental peoples. Accordingly we find, as in the case of the Creation and Flood narratives, that certain parallels to the Paradise story existed among the ancient Babylonians. This, and the further fact that Eden is placed in the vicinity of the Euphrates, have been taken to suggest that the Hebrews brought the original tradition with them from their home in the plains of Babylonia. The Bible narrative, however, differs from all others in its worthy conception of the divine nature, its freedom from polytheistic and heathen associations, and its embodiment of such profound religious truths as stamp it with the mark of inspiration.

The passage (Genesis 2:4 to Genesis 3:24) now under consideration begins with a second account of the Creation forming an introduction to the story of man’s temptation and fall. Some scholars regard this account as simply complementary to that given in Genesis 1. They maintain that it is not a separate story of the Creation, but a continuation of the former, with special reference to man’s position in the universe. There are strong reasons, however, for regarding Genesis 2:4-25 as a narrative independent of 1- Genesis 2:4. (a) The primeval chaos, the creation of man and woman, vegetation and animals, are described, but there are striking differences in the two accounts, (b) The Creator is no longer called ’God’ (Elohim) but ’The Lord Gord’ (Jehovah Elohim), a fact which first suggested that the Pentateuch was compiled from different sources, and gave its name ’Jehovistic’ to the continuous Primitive document of which this passage forms the commencement. (c) The writer speaks of the universe and its Author in different terms to those of Genesis 1. God is regarded as intimately concerning Himself with men rather than in His transcendental power; and this concern of His is expressed in terms which are properly applicable to the only living persons we directly know, viz. men. This anthropomorphism runs through the whole of the Paradise story (cp. Genesis 2:7-8, Genesis 2:19, Genesis 2:21,; Genesis 3:8). (d) The lordship of man over creation is expressed, not by setting him up as the goal to which all tended (cp. Genesis 1:26.), but by representing him as the first created, before plants or herbs (Genesis 2:4-8), the being for whom the animals were afterwards made, and finally woman as a fitting mate, (e) The formal, orderly style of Genesis 1, which characterises the Priestly document, is exchanged here for the imaginative, poetical style which marks the Primitive (cp. Genesis 2:8-9, Genesis 2:15, Genesis 2:19, Genesis 3:1-6, Genesis 3:7-8). (f) Finally, if the two accounts of Creation had been originally the work of one writer, he would surely have explained that he was describing the same event from different standpoints, giving reasons for so doing. But he does not, and it is reasonable to conclude from all the variations which have been pointed out, that we possess two accounts of the Creation and of the origin of man upon earth, drawn from different sources.

4b;–7. Render, ’In the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth; and no herb of the field had yet sprung up.. the Lord God formed man,’ etc. Genesis 2:5-6, from ’For the Lord God,’ thus form a parenthesis.

4. The Lord God] Where Lord is thus printed in capitals in the English Bible it stands for the Heb. JHVH, the sacred divine name which was probably pronounced ’Yahweh.’ In later times the word was considered to be too sacred to be uttered; the title Adonai (i.e. My Lord) was substituted in reading, and thus the true pronunciation was lost. Hebrew was originally written without vowel-signs; when these were added to the MS text, the vowels of the name as read (Adonai) were attached to the consonants JHVH, and thus the artificial form ’Jehovah’ was produced, which has come into common Christian use. See on Exodus 3:13 for the significance of the word, which means perhaps ’The Self-existent’ (or ’Self-unfolding’). Yahweh (Jehovah) is the proper name of the God of Israel rather than a title, and as such was used by other nations who regarded Jehovah as the tribal God of the Jews (cp. Isaiah 36:20); the name also occurs on the Moabite stone set up by Mesha (2 Kings 3:4). The American revisers have substituted ’Jehovah’ for ’the Lord’ throughout the OT. In Genesis 2, 3 Jehovah is joined with Elohim (’the Lord God’). The latter name was probably added by the editor who combined the narratives in order to show that the Jehovah of this section (the God of Israel) is the same as the Elohim (the Creator of the world) of the previous one. The earth and the heavens] RV ’earth and heaven.’ Note the difference in the order from that in Genesis 1:1. The centre of interest in this chapter is man on the earth.

6. Mist] The kindred word in the Assyrian language denotes the annual inundation of the Euphrates; see on Genesis 2:8 and on Genesis 3:7.

7. Man] Heb. adam as in Genesis 1. AV renders the word as a proper name frequently in Genesis 2-4; RV gives ’man’ throughout except Genesis 3:17; Genesis 4:25. Ground] Heb. adamah. A connexion is thus suggested between the two words, but the derivation of Adam is uncertain. Formed man of the dust of the ground] The lowly origin of man, and his derivation on the physical side from the lower elements of creation, are here implied. To ’become a living soul’ means no more than to possess the principle of life possessed by the animals; cp. Genesis 2:19, where the Heb. for ’living creature’ is the same as for ’living soul’ here. But it is not said of the animals that God breathed into their nostrils the breath of life, only of man: this implies that man stands in a special relation to God, and may be taken as referring to the gift of those spiritual faculties by which he holds communion with God, and possesses a ’likeness’ to Him; see on Genesis 1:26.

8. A garden] LXX renders by ’Paradeisos’ (a Persian word meaning ’a park’), hence the English ’Paradise.’ Eastward] i.e. of Palestine, such as Babylonia would be. Eden] The Heb. word eden means ’delight,’ but there is a Babylonian word edinu, meaning ’plain,’ and there may be a reference to the great plain in Babylonia between the Tigris and the Euphrates. In the southern portion of this plain an ancient hymn placed a garden of the gods wherein ’a dark vine grew.. its appearance as lapis lazuli.’

9. Every tree] The garden was planted with trees, like a king’s pleasure park. The trees are specially mentioned, partly because they were to provide man’s food, and partly because attention is directed to two of them for a particular reason. As life was to be sustained by them, so immortality was to be received through the fruit of the tree of life, and knowledge of good and evil with death in the end were the possible consequences of eating of the forbidden tree. The garden was divinely planted, and the trees bad miraculous powers of good and evil. The tree of life] The Egyptians believed that in the blissful fields of Alu in the other world grew the tree of life, which the stars gave to the departed that they might live for ever; cp. also Revelation 22:2.

10-14. There are many theories regarding these rivers. Perhaps the most likely is that the ancients, with their very limited notions of geography, regarded the four great rivers known to them, Euphrates, Tigris, Indus (Pishon) and Nile (Gihon), as having a common source in some large lake in Eden. Cush will then be Ethiopia. It is possible, however, that the main river stands for the Persian Gulf, which was anciently called ’The Salt River,’ and the four heads were four streams connected with it, viz. (1) the Euphrates; (2) the Hiddekel, which the Persians called the Tigra, and Greeks the Tigris; (3) the Gihon, which is said to ’compass’ the land of Cush, the country of the Kashshu in W. Elam, and which may therefore be the Kerkha, which once ran with the Euphrates and Tigris into the Persian Gulf; and (4) the Pishon, which has not been identified. Havilah] the sandy region of N. Arabia, and thus not far from the other localities. Bdellium] an odoriferous transparent gum. Onyx] RM ’beryl.’ Genesis 2:10-14 are regarded by many as a later addition to the narrative.

15. Dress] i.e. cultivate. Keep] i.e. protect (from the beasts).

17. Knowledge of good and evil] i.e. moral consciousness issuing in moral judgment; the power to distinguish between good and evil, not in act only but in consequence as well. This faculty is necessary, in order that man may reach moral maturity. The narrative implies that it would have come gradually to man, through the teaching of God, and without the loss of his own uprightness. It is a faculty which is developed from within, not conferred from without. By discipline and self-control man gains character and moral strength, or the knowledge of good and evil, and the power to discriminate between them. Hence ’the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ is forbidden to man, not given to him like that of the others. It can impart the knowledge of good and evil at once, without a prolonged process of discipline or education; but the attainment of it in this summary way is made an act of disobedience, perhaps to assist man’s moral development by affording a test of his self-control. Man’s freedom of choice, however, makes it possible for him to disobey, and so come to the required knowledge by a wrong way; for the knowledge of good and evil is bought dearly by doing ill.

Shalt surely die] Man, it is implied, was created mortal, but had the privilege of attaining immortality by means of the tree of life. But by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil man forfeited his liberty to eat of the tree of life (see Genesis 3:22-24). This implies that the physical is the consequence of the moral death. ’Some of the older expositors observe that the troubles and sufferings to which man became liable through sin, are nothing else than disturbances of life, the beginning of death’ (D.).*

18-25. Now the other animals and woman are formed. The order of Creation is not the same as in Genesis 1:24-27.

18. Help meet] This is not one word but two, the former being the noun and the latter the qualifying adjective on which the main emphasis lies. Man might have many helps; the vegetable and animal creation might minister to his welfare and comfort. But though these are ’helps,’ they are not ’meet,’ i.e. suitable for him. Only a creature like himself can be an adequate companion; and so woman is formed: see Genesis 2:20.

19. The giving of a name implies a power of discrimination and reflection not possessed by the lower animals. Even proper names in the Scriptures are usually significant and descriptive of some quality supposed to be possessed by the person who bears it. Cp. e.g. the importance attached to the ’name’ by which God is known: see on Exodus 3:13.

21. The symbolical account of the creation of woman teaches the close relationship of the sexes, and the dependence of woman on man.

23. This is now] Render, ’This time it is bone of my bones,’ etc. It is Adam’s cry of delight at finding a congenial, sympathising companion, after failing to find one among the animals (Genesis 2:20). She shall be called Woman] The similarity of the English words ’man,’ ’woman’ (wife-man) is also found in the Hebrew Ish, Ishshah.

24. The creation of one man and one woman in the ideally perfect state of Eden implies that monogamy is the ideal of the married life. Polygamy and divorce were later accommodations to man’s ’hardness of heart.’ But ’from the beginning’ (i.e. in the original purpose of the Creator) ’it was not so’ (Matthew 19:4, Matthew 19:8).

25. See on Exodus 3:7.

Verses 1-24

The Temptation and the Fall of Man

This chapter describes how ’by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin’ (Romans 5:12). Although there is here no ambitious attempt to search out the origin of evil in the universe, the biblical account of the Fall pierces the depth of the human heart, and brings out the genesis of sin in man. The description, as already said, is true to life and experience.

There is no certain Babylonian counterpart to the biblical narrative of the Fall.

1. The serpent] The writer here sets himself to answer the question how evil came into the heart of man, who was created pure. His answer is that it came from without; it did not originate with man. And herein lies the hope of victory. The wrong approaches us from outside ourselves, and is not the native product of our own heart. There are present in our world beings and objects which, consciously or unintentionally, draw us towards that which is wrong; channels of sense, intellect, aspirations by which we may be touched The narrative tells us that man was tempted by some evil power, whose personality remains in the background. But this power must have made use of a medium, which could not have been another human being, seeing there were as yet only Adam and Eve. That it was an animal was therefore a natural assumption. On two grounds the writer was left to fix upon the serpent as the medium of the temptation. One was the natural habits of the creature, its stealthy movements, its deadly venom, and the instinctive feeling of repulsion which the very sight of it provokes. These things are all suggestive of the insidious approach and fatal power of temptation. The other was the fact that already the serpent in older mythologies was associated with the powers of darkness. In Babylonian belief Tiamat, the power of darkness and chaos, and the opponent of the god of light, was represented as a gigantic dragon, also known as Rahab and Leviathan (Job 9:13; RV Job 26:12; RV Psalms 74:13-14; Psalms 89:10; Isaiah 27:1; Amos 9:3); while to the Persians the serpent was the emblem of AngraMainyu, the hostile god. In later times, when the power of evil was more definitely personified by the Israelites as Satan, the serpent remained as the symbol under which he was popularly conceived. See e.g. Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2.

*A. von Dillmann, the greatest of all commentators on Genesis.

There can be no doubt that our author intended to teach that an actual serpent was the tempter. As one of our deepest thinkers puts it: ’There was an animal nature in Eve to which the animal nature in an inferior animal could speak.’ We who have been taught that ’our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places,’ are almost irresistibly led to think of the serpent as a mere agent of him that is called the Devil and Satan (Revelation 12:9); but we shall miss something of the instructiveness of the narrative if we do not, in the first instance, take the simple view originally intended. St. Paul, we must remember, adhered to it: ’The serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness’ (2 Corinthians 11:3).

And he said] An ancient Jewish legend represents all the animals as having had the gift of speech, and using one language, until the day when Adam was expelled from Eden.

The woman] She is first addressed, as an easier prey to temptation (cp. 1 Timothy 2:14). Observe that the serpent exaggerates the prohibition, and suggests that it is an undue curtailment of liberty. Sin usually begins as a revolt against authority.

2, 3. The woman denies that the prohibition extends to every tree. It applies only to one, and its object is man’s own safety. She also adds that the danger is such that they are forbidden even to touch the tree. Evil is to be kept at arm’s length.

4. The serpent grows bolder on seeing that the woman is willing to argue the matter, and now flatly denies the truth of the divine warning. It. is due not to a solicitude for man’s safety, but to an ulterior motive, the envy or jealousy of God. The serpent avers that the threatened penalty will not be exacted, that God has selfishly kept out of their sight a great boon which men may gain; that He is unwilling to see them rise too high. So the serpent sows discord between man and his Maker, by misrepresenting God’s character.

5. As gods] RV ’as God.’ It probably means here, as divine beings, like the angels. Cp. Genesis 3:22.

6. ’Our great security against sin consists in our being shocked at it. Eve gazed and reflected when she should have fled’ (Newman). Here we see the physical basis of temptation, the lust of the flesh, which ’when it hath conceived bringeth forth sin’ (James 1:15). She gave also unto her husband] It is not in malice, but with a sincere view to his advantage, that she persuades the man to eat of the fruit.

7. They knew that they were naked] The serpent’s promise (Genesis 3:5) is fulfilled, but not in the way expected. ’To the pure all things are pure’ (cp. Genesis 2:25), but the act of sin is immediately followed by the sense of guilty shame. ’To innocence, standing in undisturbed union with God, everything natural is good and pure (Genesis 2:25). So soon as, however, by the act of disobedience, the bond of union with God is broken, and the sensuous nature of man has released itself from the dominion of the spirit which rests in God, it stands there naked and bare and calls forth in its possessor inevitably the feeling of weakness, unworthiness and impurity’ (D.). The first result of disobedience is the awakening of conscience. ’They lost Eden and they gained a conscience’ (Newman). The whole story of the Fall is a parable of every sinner’s experience. In every temptation there are an exciting cause without and an answering inclination within: every act of submission to temptation is a choice exercised by the will: and the result of sin is an uneasy conscience and a haunting sense of shame. Aprons] RM ’girdles.’ There is a Jewish legend to the effect that at the moment of the Fall the leaves dropped off all the trees but the fig.

8-13. Conscience is a witness-bearer to God. Accordingly the accusing voice of conscience is followed by that of God in judgment.

8. On the anthropomorphism of this v. see intro. to Genesis 2:4 to Genesis 3:24. Cool of the day] lit. ’in the evening breeze,’ i.e. in the evening when the heat of the day is tempered with a cool breeze, enabling Orientals to walk abroad; cp. Genesis 24:63; Song of Solomon 2:17. Adam] RV ’the man’: see on Genesis 2:7. Hid themselves] Hitherto they have been able to meet God in trustful simplicity: now conscious guilt moves them to hide from His presence. But the attempt is vain.

10. The man’s answer shows that a change has come over him. He was not wont to be afraid of God.

11. The question does not imply that God does not already know what has occurred. But He compels the man to make a full confession.

12. Instead of frankly confessing his sins, the man lays the blame upon the woman. Observe also that he even tries to lay part at least of the blame upon God Himself (whom Thou gavest to be with me). This is a most life-like touch in the picture of the moral state which sin produces.

13. The woman in turn blames the serpent. Man is always inclined to blame the outward incitement to sin, rather than the inward inclination.

14-19. The Judgment.

14. The serpent, being the tempter and prime mover in the transgression, is judged first. It would appear that the writer conceived of the serpent as originally walking on feet. Its crawling in the dust, and taking dust into its mouth with its food (cp. Isaiah 65:25; Micah 7:17 and the figurative expression ’to lick the dust,’ Psalms 72:9; Isaiah 49:23) are marks of its degradation.

15. Nature’s social union is also broken. The serpent race is an object of abhorrence, even though many kinds of serpents possess a remarkable beauty and grace. The curse, however, goes beyond this. There is a mingling of the literal and the allegorical in the sentence. The serpent, as representing the spirit of revolt from God, will continue to be the tempter of man. Man and the power of evil will be at constant feud. It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel] cp. Romans 16:20. While each will hurt the other, it is here implied that man will have the best of the serpent in the end. The seed of the woman means the human race as sprung from her. But in the course of history it becomes more and more evident that mankind is unable of itself to gain the complete victory over evil. This has been achieved by One alone, in whom this word of hope has been fulfilled. It is, therefore, with justice that Christians read in this promise the Protevangelium, or first proclamation of the Good Tidings of the final victory over sin. It is in Christ that the seed of the woman crushes the serpent.

16. The woman is now judged. Her doom is pain, chiefly the pain of child-bearing, and a position of subjection to and dependence on man. There is abundant evidence in human nature of the close connexion of sin and suffering, though our Lord warns us against uncharitably arguing back from the fact of suffering to previous sin, in special instances, and in the case of others. See e.g. Luke 13:1-5; John 9:1-3, and cp. the whole argument of the book of Job. In the case of child-bearing, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the pain and danger connected with it have been increased by the accumulated wrongdoing of mankind. Among the lower animals the process of birth is much easier.

17. The judgment on the man. Work had already been appointed as the duty of men (Genesis 2:15). But it was not laborious. The change from innocence to sin is marked by the change of order from the keeping of the garden to the tilling of the ground (Genesis 3:23). Henceforth work is to be done under adverse conditions. The connexion between the sin of man and the productiveness of the earth is not so easily traced, but the conditions of labour are undoubtedly made harder by the evils and inequalities of human society due to man’s sin and selfishness.

19. Till thou return unto the ground] The story does not assume that man was created physically immortal. But the inevitable certainty of death is now seen to increase the sadness of his earthly lot. It is sin which gives death its sting (1 Corinthians 15:56); and though the Redemption of Christ has not abolished physical death, yet it gives victory over death, by removing the guilt and fear that make it so appalling and hopeless: cp. Hebrews 2:14, Hebrews 2:15.

20. Eve] Heb. Havvah, ’life.’

21. God does not cease to care for man, even though he has rebelled against Him: cp. Matthew 5:45.

22-24. Now that man has used his power of free-will to disobey God and become alienated from Him, a perpetuation of his sinful life would have been a curse rather than a blessing. Physical immortality which, according to the writer, he might have gained by eating of the tree of life, is therefore denied to him. But the blessing forfeited ’by one man’s offence’ is restored ’by the obedience of one’ (Romans 5:12-21). In Christian thought Adam is ’a figure of Him that was to come.’ Adam and Christ are the originators of two different streams of humanity; and as those descended from Adam by physical generation inherit the consequences of his disobedience, in virtue of an undoubted law or principle of heredity, or of the solidarity of the human race, so those regenerated in spirit through Christ enjoy the fruit of His perfect obedience, and have a right to the tree of life. ’As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’

24. Cherubims] RV ’the Cherubim’ (plur. of ’Cherub’). These mystic beings are mentioned as attendants of God in various passages of the OT. (Psalms 18:10; Ezekiel 1, 10). Here they appear as the guardians of God’s abode: cp.

Ezekiel 28:13-17, also on Exodus 25:18; Exodus 32:4. When the Psalmist says that ’Jehovah rode upon a cherub and did fly,’ he is obviously describing a thunderstorm with its swift storm-clouds; and when he goes on to speak of the ’brightness before Him,’ he suggests a connexion between the flaming sword of this v. and the lightningflash.

To keep the way of the tree of life] Man, it would appear, had not yet eaten of the tree of life, not having felt the need of it. But now, when his knowledge of evil has brought him the fear of death, and he has realised the value of this tree, he is prevented even from approaching it. The tree of life, however, though denied to man on this side the grave, will be found by those who overcome in the conflict with evil, in the midst of the Paradise of God (Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2).

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Genesis 3". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.