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Bible Commentaries

Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Genesis 3

Verses 1-20

Genesis 3.1-3.20 .

The serpent is introduced to us without any explanation as to the power working in and through him. From verse Gen_3:1 we gather that he was amongst the beasts of the field that God had made, and that he was "more subtil," of a higher order of intelligence than any other, so that when energized by a higher power, speech was a possibility. The whole serpent tribe, as we know it today, is in a state of great degradation, as verse Gen_3:14 of our chapter would lead us to expect. As originally created it stood at the head of the animal world, which had been made subject to Adam.

As far as our chapter is concerned, then, it is just the serpent, the visible agent of the mischief, that is mentioned. So also, in 2Co_11:3 we read, "the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty." It is not until we reach the last book of the Bible that we get the clearest identification of the serpent with the unseen actor working through it. There twice over in almost identical words do we get, "that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan" ( Rev_12:9 ; Rev_20:2 ). He is the originator and instigator of that fearful thing, sin, which has invaded this fair creation. Let us mark how he did it.

His first move was to throw doubt on the Word of God. Very little as yet had been revealed, but on one point God had spoken clearly and decisively. The serpent questioned that revelation, distorting what God had said while he questioned it, so as to make his insinuation of doubt more plausible. Moreover he addressed himself, not to the man who was primarily responsible, but to the woman. Of the two links in the human chain she was the weaker, and the adversary struck just there.

In her reply the woman maintained that God had indeed spoken, but she fell into the error of adding to His words, for He had not said, "neither shall ye touch it." To add to His words is as mischievous a thing as subtracting from them. The more one realizes the overwhelming authority of the words of God the more careful one would be in quoting them. It looks as if that authority was already weakened in the woman's mind.

Having gained this initial advantage the serpent struck a far heavier blow, as recorded in verse Gen_3:4 . He boldly denied the word of God. God had plainly stated that if man disobeyed he would involve himself in ruin and death as an inevitable consequence. The serpent denied that any such consequence would follow.

Then he supported this denial by the audacious assertion that the real reason for the prohibition was that God knew that if man partook of the forbidden tree he would be immensely elevated he would have his eyes opened, knowing good and evil and becoming "as gods." Though he would not become the Lord God, yet he would become an independent being and an object of veneration himself. Thus he blackened the Divine character, representing God as desiring to prevent man being a possible rival to Himself, and to keep him from what was to his advantage. He practically asserted that deity in a modified form was a possibility for man.

Thus the way of disobedience was seductively dressed up as the illuminated highway to enlarged knowledge and vastly increased importance. In truth it proved to be a dark and depressing road to utter disaster. Knowledge of good and evil there would be, but without power to do the good or to avoid the evil. Whoever commits sin becomes the slave of sin, as our Lord said so emphatically in Joh_8:34 .

All this sheds much light upon our own times. We have the word of God in the Divine Writings the Holy Scriptures but as the centuries passed they became inoperative, because withheld from the people and buried in an unknown tongue. About four centuries ago they were unearthed, translated, circulated, and their light once again began to shine. Then about the middle of the eighteenth century the devil's counter-attack was formally launched, and the same tactics employed.

First, came the questioning of Divine revelation, the casting of doubt on the word of God in the so-called "higher criticism" of the Bible. Second, there came the denial of the ruin of man and of the fact that death is the wages of sin. The fact of death cannot of course be denied, but it can be regarded as a debt that we all pay to nature, so as to clear the way for men of a higher and yet higher character to be evolved. Third, came the bold assertion of deity of a sort - for man. Man is considered the most god-like being of which we have any certain knowledge. This deification of man will come to a head in the antichrist that is yet to be. The root of all this is seen in Genesis 3.0 .

The trap set by the serpent was cunningly devised. Verse Gen_3:6 shows that the fruit of the tree had its natural appeal to the flesh. It was "pleasant" or "a desire," to the eyes, and further the lie of the devil so presented it as to appeal to pride. The elements of the world, according to 1Jn_2:16 , were all present, and in their cumulative effect overwhelmed the woman. She acted independently of God and of her husband. She took and did eat the fruit. She gave to her husband, who wrongfully accepted her lead in the matter, and he too disobeyed.

This account of the fall, given to us by God, is often refused and even ridiculed. The awful evil that fills the earth cannot be denied, but to declare, they say, that it all sprang from Adam disobediently eating so small a thing as an apple is quite absurd. The absurdity however is on the part of those who think thus. The devil is far too astute to try inserting first the thick end of the wedge. Just as a railway train is only diverted from the main line to a branch over very fine points, so man slipped from the line of disobedience over what appeared on the surface to be a small thing. There was no shortage or want, urging to this disobedience. They were not hungry. It was just pure defiance of God's command, just that lawlessness which is sin, according to the correct translation of 1Jn_3:4 .

The man and his wife were now creatures fallen from their original estate, and the results of this fall begin to unroll themselves. First, in verse Gen_3:7 , we have the effect upon themselves. In innocence they had been happily free from self-consciousness, as we saw in the last verse of Genesis 2.0 . Now they were very self-conscious and ashamed, and stirred to feeble and ineffectual attempts to hide their shame. We say feeble, because everyone who knows the shape of a fig leaf must admit that any apron sewed from such must have been elaborate patchwork and easily destroyed. We say ineffectual, because verse Gen_3:10 shows that immediately Adam found himself in the presence of God he confessed himself as naked, just as though the fig leaf apron had never been made.

Second, we have that which verse Gen_3:8 emphasizes. Their relations with God were ruined. Gone was the happy footing that had existed for so short a time between a beneficent God and His innocent creature. Alienation had come in. The presence of the Lord God inspired them with fear and not pleasure. Their one idea was to hide themselves from Him, and for that purpose they would use the very trees of the garden, which had been given to them for their food and their pleasure. Thus the earthly and material blessings granted to them they turned into a curse.

Verses Gen_3:7 and 8 are full of gloom. A ray of light however appears in verse Gen_3:9 . The Lord God might instantly have discarded the guilty pair and consigned them to their doom. Instead of that He sought them out; a sure indication that He had designs for their ultimate blessing. His call was, "Where art thou?" In response to this Adam had to reveal his whereabouts, and by attempting to cover his nakedness he uncovered his sin.

What is man's position as a fallen sinner? Where is he, now that he has broken loose from the Divine control? This is the first question of the Old Testament, and the rest of it works out the answer in all its hideous detail, till we come to the closing chapter of Malachi, ending with the significant word, "curse." We open the New Testament and not without design do we find the first question on record to be "Where is He . . .?" ( Mat_2:2 ). We read on, to discover the glorious answer to this, and close the Revelation with Jesus as the coming One, the bright, morning Star, and meanwhile His grace resting as a benediction upon all His saints. The contrast is complete.

Having constituted Adam as the responsible head, the Lord God dealt directly with him, and challenged him as to his disobedience. Adam admitted it, and what he said in verse Gen_3:12 was true, but stated so as to cast the blame on Eve, and even in an indirect manner upon God Himself. "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me" led me into this disobedience; the inference being that if God had not presented Eve to him all would have been well. Man's deep-seated sinful instincts are at once revealed. If he cannot deny his guilt he will blame somebody else, and if possible blame God.

In turning to the woman the Lord God asked a second question as to what she had done. The first had raised the question of man's state; now the second challenges his acts. Eve admitted she had eaten of the tree but blamed the serpent. As with Adam so again here, what she said was true, for the serpent did beguile her, but her effort clearly was to shift the onus of the act from herself. In this connection Rom_2:15 is very illuminating, though we have to add that apart from the working of the Spirit of God in the conscience the invariable tendency of sinful men is to indulge in the "accusing" of others and the "excusing" of themselves. So it was at the outset, but the truth was now out, as to the man, and the woman, and the serpent.

This being so, the Lord God pronounced the judgment that was to fall upon the sinners, beginning with the serpent and working back to the man. The. serpent is recognized as the originator of the mischief; hence for him it is all judgment without a ray of light. The woman and the man were his victims; hence the only gleam is reserved for them.

The solemn words of verse Gen_3:14 apply entirely to the serpent as a creature which God had made. It is degraded from the highest to the lowest place in the scale of creation. The opening words of verse Gen_3:15 apply in the same way. The average man, if he espies a serpent, has only one thought to kill it! The second part of the verse has in view however the great spiritual foe, who was operating through the serpent.

He has a "seed;" that is, progeny who are of his order in a spiritual sense, and they with him are in deadly enmity and opposition to the "Seed" of the woman. In the mention of this "Seed," we have the first intimation of the great Deliverer, the Christ, who was one day to come.

The first prediction of the Christ, then, came from the Lord God Himself and was entrusted to no human lips. It is, we may say, the germinal thought out of which every subsequent prophecy sprang, and it contains at least four very striking features.

Firstly, all through the realms of creation, from man downwards, seed appertains to the male and not the female. Hence the seed of the woman is not according to nature as we know it. It is something outside that which had just been constituted and points forward to a new creation. The Lord Jesus was born of a virgin and here we have the first intimation of that fact, which is a vital one. No taint of the fall attached to Him. He was not merely innocent, as was Adam at the start. He was holy.

Secondly, this announcement of the Seed of the woman was given before any "seed," or race of Adam had appeared or even been mentioned. That seed only appears at the start of Genesis 4.0 , and a sorry start it is. Adam is recognized in Scripture as the first man and the head of the race that sprang from him through the woman. Christ is the Second Man and the Leader of God's chosen race. But the Second Man was always first in the thought of God, and evidence of this we find here.

Thirdly, the conflict between the two seeds is to end in the complete victory of the woman's Seed. He is to "bruise," or "crush" the serpent's head, the head being the seat of its life and intelligence. The bright gleam of hope, given at the very moment of the entrance of sin, contained then not only the announcement of the coming of a Deliverer a Man of another order but also of His full victory over the author of the disaster, reducing him to eternal impotence. How much our first parents understood of this is another matter. But there the announcement stood right from the outset.

Fourthly, it was intimated that this overwhelming victory should cost some suffering to the Victor. The serpent in the process of the conflict should bruise His heel. In walking, the heel is the first part of the foot to come into contact with the earth. The figure of speech is a telling one, for it was when He first touched the earth in His holy Manhood that the Victor suffered. He was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death that death that was instigated by the craft of Satan.

Having dealt with the serpent the Lord God turned to the woman. A twofold judgment fell upon her; the result in God's government of her sin. Childbirth was to become a time of sorrow and suffering for her, and she was more definitely made subject to the rule of her husband. There has been much scheming in our day to get rid of both these things, but nothing can really abolish them.

Then Adam came up for judgment, and the governmental effects of his sin are more clearly seen. He had hearkened to the voice of his wife instead of hearkening to what God had said, and now he must face the fruits of it. The ground is cursed for his sake. He must earn his livelihood from it with sweat and sorrow until death should overtake him, when his body should return to the dust out of which it was taken. Nothing is said here as to his soul and spirit, for it is the governmental rather than the eternal consequences that are in view. There is an equal amount of scheming to get rid of the sweat and toil and men may think they are going to achieve it. But already we have heard the slogan, "We work or we want;" to that we may add, "We sweat or we starve;" for we can no more dodge that part of the curse than we can escape death.

It was at this point apparently that Adam gave the name of Eve to his wife. She is the mother of all living. Ages had to pass and another woman be found before the Seed of the woman appeared.

Verses 21-24

Gen_3:21 ; Gen_4:26 .

The promise of God that there should arise a Deliverer, who should break the power of the adversary, was supplemented by an act of God, which shed light on the way the deliverance would be brought to pass. Adam and his wife had attempted to cover their nakedness with fig-leaf aprons, and had failed. The Lord God did cover them with coats of skins. Now skins are not a vegetable but an animal product, and only available to clothe man when death has come upon the animal that produced them. Here then we find the primitive revelation of the fact that man can only stand clothed before God on the basis of death. He must own that the death sentence, which righteously lies upon him, has been endured by another in his stead.

The act that revealed this was followed by another act of God equally significant. Man had acquired the knowledge of good and evil without any power to achieve the good but rather with an acute propensity to the evil. Lest he should perpetuate his living in this condition he was driven forth from the garden of Eden, and his way back to the tree of life was barred by the cherubim with a flaming sword. This was doubtless an additional act of judgment but it contained within itself a strong element of mercy.

Supposing Adam had been able to put forth his hand and eat of the tree of life, what would have been the result? He would have perpetuated his condition of sin and misery, making himself a deathless creature in a hell of his own devising. That would have been bad enough. But it would have been a much worse disaster in this respect, that even by becoming Man it would not have been possible for Christ to die. His death has become to us the door into life. In eating of the tree of life Adam would have closed and barred that door. We may well thank God for the cherubim and the flaming sword!

Our first parents had now lost their innocence, lost their Paradise, and lost such happy communion with God as they had at the beginning. They had gained the knowledge of good and evil, but only to find themselves enslaved by the evil, and they had brought themselves and the creation beneath them under a curse. Under these sad conditions the propagation of the race began, as stated in the first verse of Genesis 4.0 .

The first man to be born of woman appeared and Eve thought she had acquired him "from" or "with" the Lord, and hence the name that was given to him. We are not told what Adam said but only what she said, so it may have been again the case that she took the leading place which belonged to her husband. Anyway she again was wrong, for Cain was not from the Lord, but rather "of that wicked one" ( 1Jn_3:12 ). The Lord Jesus told the Jews that the devil "was a murderer from the beginning," and again that "he is a liar, and the father of it" ( Joh_8:44 ). We see him as the liar in Genesis 3.0 , and as the murderer in Genesis 4.0 .

When the second son appeared a name was given him more in accord with the fallen state of mankind; Abel meaning Vanity or Transitoriness. At this point the record of Adam's family stops, and we hear no more as to them until we come to the end of our chapter. Adam doubtless had many sons and daughters but God's object in Genesis is not to give us history, but to furnish us with sufficient detail to instruct us in His governmental dealings with fallen men, and that with a view to their ultimate deliverance and blessing.

When Adam was expelled from the Garden he was bidden to go forth and "till the earth," so there was no fault to be found with the occupation that Cain followed. Abel became a shepherd, since sheep are defenceless creatures and man's fall had produced wild beasts. Man had revolted from God, and feared His presence. The animal creation, broadly speaking, consequently revolted from man, and feared his presence.

Yet a day came when both brothers felt they ought to render some tribute to the Creator and seek a basis of approach td Him. In the sacrificial offering that Abel brought we see the second foreshadowing or type of the death of Christ. The first was in the coats of skins that clothed the guilty pair, where we discover that only by death can man's nakedness and sin be covered. Now we advance a step and find that the only basis of approach recognized by God is the death of an acceptable sacrifice.

In Cain's offering. there was no recognition of this. He brought the fruit of the ground which God had cursed though probably he brought the finest produce of the toil of his own hands and in this there was no acknowledgment of the death sentence that lay upon him. He was like a condemned criminal under sentence of death, seeking to curry favour with his judge by bribing him with something nice. Whatever an earthly judge might be tempted to do, God had no respect to this manoeuvre, and he found himself rejected.

Abel's offering involved the death of the sheep, as is evidenced by the words, "and of the fat thereof." At this point Heb_11:4 should be read. It shows us that his offering was an act of faith the first to be put on record. Now faith lays hold on what God has revealed. If we ask what had been revealed for Abel's faith to apprehend, we can only refer to what we have in verse Gen_3:21 of Genesis 3.0 . Abel apprehended the significance of the coats of skins, and hence by his offering acknowledged that he was a sinner under the death sentence, and could only approach on the ground of the death of a victim. Cain had no faith, He ignored this, and approached under false pretences.

Thus almost at the start we see human life like a river dividing into two diverging and even opposite streams. which have continued to this day. Hence we regard this incident as one of the most fundamental in the whole Bible, and lay the greatest stress upon it Near the end of the New Testament we read of a "Woe" that rests on those who "have gone in the way of Cain" ( Jud_1:11 ), and the number of those doing this even though they might wish to be called "Christian - has greatly increased in our day. The verse in Jude shows it to be the first of three steps that lead down to perishing in utter apostasy.

On the other hand, Abel stands at the head of the men of faith, who are recognized in Hebrews 11.0 . The sacrifice he offered was "more excellent," and to it God bore testimony, accepting it in some way that was visible and definite, and this acceptance was clear evidence to Abel that he was righteous, or in other words, right with God. Yet even today there are to be found not a few who do sincerely trust is Christ and through a defective understanding of the Gospel, considering themselves rather than the Divine testimony, they have their doubts as to how they stand with God. Amazing, is it not? to think that nearly four thousand years before Christ came, Abel enjoyed what many are missing nineteen centuries after He has come.

Rejected by God, Cain became very angry with God, and wreaked his vengeance on the man of faith whom God had accepted. The picture is true to life, for the same thing has been re-enacted times without number in the history of the world. Cain was not irreligious. Had he been, he would not have troubled himself even to make an attempt at approaching God. No! He was a religionist, and just because he was, anger and hatred filled his breast. God. was beyond his reach. He could not strike at Him. Abel was well within his reach, so the blow was effectually aimed at him. The most prominent example of this in the New Testament is Saul of Tarsus. He hated Jesus of Nazareth with an intense hatred, and because He was in glory beyond his reach he struck at His followers on earth.

Cain became a murderer in spite of God having remonstrated with him, reminding him that, in spite of what had happened, his rights as the elder brother should be respected Abel having the subject place and indicating where the mischief, and perhaps the remedy, lay. We are told that the Hebrew word translated "sin" also has the meaning of "sin-offering." So it may literally have been that there was almost at his feet a lamb which he might even at this juncture have brought as a sacrifice, and thus have put himself right with God.

Slaying his brother, Cain revealed himself to be "of that wicked one," and he did it because " his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous." He proved himself moreover to be not only a murderer as regards his brother but utterly defiant as regards God. Challenged as to his brother's whereabouts, he showed not the slightest sign of repentance, but rather a truculent spirit that feared not God, and made a play in words upon the fact that Abel had been a "keeper" of sheep. He was not going to admit that he was "keeper" to Abel!

But Abel's blood from the ground had uttered its voice into the ear of God, and swiftly a special curse descended upon him, in addition to the curse that had already fallen upon Adam and his race, as we saw in Genesis 3.0 . Adam was to obtain his food only by the sweat of his face, but Cain was to find the earth unproductive even if he laboured to till it, so that he would become a wanderer, fleeing from the face of God Verse Gen_3:14 shows that Cain realized the significance of this curse and declared it was too great to be borne. From that day to this sinful men, if unrepentant , have complained of the severity of God's judgment. Only when men are repentant do they bow and humbly own that God's judgment is just.

Without a doubt there is in mankind an instinct that urges them to avenge wanton murder by the death of the murderer. Cain himself had that instinct and anticipated that some others of his brethren would slay him. No government was yet instituted in the earth and therefore God would allow no punitive action to be taken against Cain. When government in its most primitive form was instituted, then action was to be taken, as we see in verses Gen_3:5 and 6 of Genesis 9.0 .

In the last verse of Genesis 3.0 , Adam was driven out of the Garden; in verse Gen_3:16 of our chapter Cain "went out from the presence of the Lord." The one was a compulsory judgment; the other a deliberate forsaking. To an unrepentant murderer the presence of God was abhorrent. We read in Romans 1.0 of the barbarians that, "they did not like to retain God in their knowledge," and this was exactly the case with Cain. He departed to the land of "Nod," or "Wandering," carrying with him a wife and a son, and there he built a "city," some primitive kind of stronghold. As far as he could, he defied God's sentence upon him, and showed that he distrusted what God had done that he might not be slain. If the earth was not going to yield its produce for him, then let others have the trouble of cultivating it! Rather than wander he would settle down and protect himself!

With this we take leave of Cain. Verse Gen_3:18 merely mentions the names of his more immediate descendants. Verse Gen_3:19 stops at Lamech to give us a few details. Remarkably enough this man was the seventh from Adam in the line of Cain, just as Enoch was in the line through Seth. In the details given we see the world system beginning to take shape. Its basic principles are revealed to us, and they agree with the analysis given to us in 1Jn_2:16 .

It was Lamech apparently who first broke through the Divine ordinance as to marriage of one man with one woman, and instituted polygamy. He was a forceful character who intended to do what he liked, and not what God had said. Here, without any question, we see the lust of the flesh raising its ugly head.

The two wives bare children and in the details given as to them we see the lust of the eyes appearing, for that term covers man's search for what appeals to the inner eyes of his mind as well as spectacular shows that appeal to the eyes of his head. In Lamech's family there was the beginning of the life of freedom and the acquiring of wealth for in primitive times a man's possessions lay in his herds the beginning also of the arts and sciences in music; and the beginning of applied science in manufactures, especially in brass and iron. Here mankind started its career of expanding inventiveness, which in our day has reached the atom bomb stage. Man's eyes of lust have probed all too deeply into the secrets of the earth, and how much further they will penetrate before God drops the extinguisher upon all his projects by the appearing of Christ in flaming fire who can say?

Lamech's daughter, Naamah, is the first woman to be mentioned after Eve. This is, we judge, because her name has the meaning of Pleasure or Charming . If we add pleasure, and its pursuit, to the features we have just noticed, we have the foundation principles on which man's world is based.

Lamech's speech to his wives may seem a little obscure, but the rendering of the New Translation, " for my wounding," and " for my hurt," makes it clearer. Some unfortunate young man had wounded and hurt Lamech, who in revenge , simply rose up and slew him. When Cain had murdered centuries before, he betrayed some sense of wrongdoing. Not so Lamech, who came home to brag to his wives of what he had done, and to make scornful allusion to God's action in forbidding revengeful action against Cain. If Cain was to be avenged sevenfold, why, he would be seventy and sevenfold. He felt himself to be eleven times more important than Cain. Here was the pride of life in high degree!

In this man, then, the seventh from Adam, we see both corruption and violence coming plainly to light. All evil may be classified broadly under these two heads, and evidently Lamech's polygamy and murder quickly bore their bitter fruit until just before the flood, "the earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence." It is a sad fact that in our day, and in lands where for long the light of the Gospel has been shining, similar conditions are rapidly multiplying.

The two verses that conclude our chapter carry us back long before the days of Lamech, for the next chapter tells us that Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born. Many children may have been born between Abel and Seth, but they are passed over in silence for Seth was the seed appointed to carry on the line of faith, as contrasted with the line of Cain. That Seth was a man of faith we gather from the name he gave his son Enos signifying mortal, weak.

One of the first signs of faith springing up in the heart is that a man acknowledges himself to be a sinful creature under the death sentence. The next thing is that in the light of this he begins to call upon the Name of the Lord. So the closing words of our chapter are very striking. In the New Testament we find that "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" ( Rom_10:13 ).

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Genesis 3". "Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbh/genesis-3.html. 1947.