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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 3

Verses 1-24

Genesis 3:1. The serpent. The rabbins and the christian doctors have largely sported their opinions here. St. Cyril contends that Satan assumed the figure of the serpent, and so talked with the woman, while the letter of the text indicates that he spake in the serpent, as the angel spake in Balaam’s ass. The main point here is, the origin of evil, which occasioned the ruin and miseries of man. These most eventful and interesting occurrences were, no doubt, delivered by Adam to Methuselah, and by Methuselah to Noah, and by him and his sons to all the families of the earth. In the next age we find all those simple and holy traditions disguised by fable, that, as hallowed mysteries, they might command the greater reverence of the people, and exalt the wisdom of the priest by his illustrations. The poets of after times, finding those the most popular subjects, clothed the fables in the most beautiful forms of verse. This was done at first like the Voluspa, a northern poem, written in verse of two feet; but afterwards, conformably to the refined ear of Greece and Rome, they were put in hexameters. Old Hesiod says in his Theogony, that Pandora, the first woman, was formed by Vulcan of highly tempered earth, the finest figure of beauty that can be conceived. On being animated, each of the gods honoured her with the most desirable of endowments: Venus gave her beauty, Pallas wisdom, Mercury eloquence, Apollo music, and Juno riches, &c. On this account she was called Pandora; that is, a woman who possessed all endowments. Jupiter, irritated against Prometheus who had stolen the celestial fire, and brought it down to earth; and being desirous to avenge himself on mankind, employed this woman, to whom he gave a closed box full of evils of every kind, and sent it to Epimetheus, brother of Prometheus, who most foolishly and stupidly opened the box, and let out all the evils abroad into the world. On perceiving what he had done, his sole hope remained at the bottom of the box, that one day he might possibly repair his error by recovering back into the box, all the evils which had escaped.

We are bold to say here, and are supported in the assertion by the most learned men of the last century, that both Jews and Christians have too much despised pagan mythology, inasmuch as it furnishes a cloud of collateral evidence in favour of revelation. What is this Pandora but Eve, the beautiful mother of all living? What is this awful present but Eve bringing the apple to Adam? What is the opening of the box but the criminal desire to know good and evil? What is this hope at the bottom of the box but the promise of redemption by him who shall abolish death, and bring in everlasting righteousness?

Genesis 3:6. And he did eat. She allured him by the arguments used by the serpent, and by the more weighty one of her own example. Thus by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; for our will was in his will, and our consent in his consent; so death passed on all. But thanks be to God, that we are now born under the new covenant, so that no man can die eternally for Adam’s sin.

Genesis 3:10. I was naked. He knew he was naked before; but now he felt the shame of unbelief, and pride, and concupiscence; and therefore shunned his Maker’s presence.

Genesis 3:15. The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head. St. Paul remarks here, that the word seed or son, is in the singular number, Galatians 3:16; and St. John adds, that the promise is to be understood in the largest sense, the complete destruction of the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8. It was probably accompanied with many other cheering words to fallen man.

On this promise all patriarchal religion and hope were founded. The promised Messiah was their sun and shield, their rock and refuge in the time of trouble. It was the cheering theme sung by all the Hebrew seers.

Noah transmitted it to posterity through his sons, as the dearest of all paternal trusts. The Sybils sung this hope in every temple of ancient Egypt and Greece. It was sung also by Vola, our northern pythoness, in her Voluspa, to cheer the dreary evenings of the Goths, and the Scandinavian race.

The Grecian mythology, by Minerva, most assuredly designates the Messiah. “Jupiter,” says Hesiod, “produced Minerva of his own brain, when as yet he had not produced any creature.” Theogony, v. 886, 924, 925. The Greeks call her Αθηνη Athenè, from Αθηλος , unsuckled; that is, she had no mother. Here is the faith that Messiah is one substance with the Father.

The titles which the poets give to Minerva, coincide with the Lord Christ. She is called the goddess of wisdom, and Christ is called the wisdom of God, in the bosom of the Father. Proverbs 8:22. Sir 24:3 . She is called goddess of armies, and Christ through all the old testament is called the Lord of Hosts.

“The fable of SEMELE, a name composed of Shem and El, the name of God, held up the same faith to the ancient world. She being pregnant by Jupiter, arrayed in divine majesty, whose splendour consumed her, the child Bacchus was snatched from the flames, or splendour of glory, and sewed up in his father’s thigh, to fulfil the time of pregnancy. Thus the son was twice born by divine and human geniture. He possesses two natures, divine and human, as is often celebrated in the hymns of Orpheus. Thus, it must be admitted, that the heathen knew the promise of our redemption.” Dr. Stukeley.

They knew more: they knew that “bruising the heel” meant killing the promised heir of all. And to this alone can we refer the oblation of vicarious sacrifices for sin upon the atoning altar, which in times of great extremity was extended by every nation to human victims.

Enmity. This is indeed the same word with regard to the Serpent, and the Woman’s Seed; but the difference is great between the enmity of Satan, and the holy indignation of the Lord. He hateth all iniquity, but he is merciful and gracious. He hath sworn that he will have war with Amalek for ever: I would say, with the Serpent’s brood, and all the works of darkness. He will make no treaty with the Amorite, but he is longsuffering. He will chase darkness before him, in the unfoldings of future generations, till death himself be swallowed up of immortality and life. The Saviour is here the perfect model for the church to follow.

Genesis 3:16. I will multiply the sorrows of thy conception. This reading is more appropriate to the spirit of the text than the authorized version. Dr. Anselm Bayly’s Hebrews Gram.

REFLECTIONS.

After viewing our first parents in the glory of pristine innocence, and surrounded with the beauties of paradise, we now see them stripped of every excellence in the hour of temptation, as nature by the severest blasts of winter. If they fell not on the day of their creation, scarcely had they celebrated a single sabbath before the tempter effectuated their ruin. From the sad history of their fall we may learn his wiles and devices. He awaited the woman, who incautiously approached too near the forbidden fruit; he availed himself of the beautiful serpent, more sagacious than all the beasts. Eve not knowing all the powers of the serpent, entered into conversation with him. The enemy allured her eyes by the beauty of the fruit, for she had nothing in her heart inclined to sin. He denied the threatened punishment ye shall not surely die. He magnified the liberty and advantages to be derived from indulgence; ye shall be as the gods who fill the highest thrones of heaven, knowing good and evil. Ah! so he seduces sinners still. He denies that punishment shall ever come; and affirms in defiance of God, that the pleasure of sin shall augment their happiness.

His wiles are farther discovered by tempting the woman in her husband’s absence. How dangerous is it for weak believers to stand alone; and who is not weak? In the infancy of grace we need, more especially, the fostering care of experienced Christians; and the most advanced have need of daily support from the means of grace.

We learn also how dangerous it is to parley with temptation, or trifle with an unholy thought. Passion is stronger than reason: it is by grace we are saved. Conscience should never have occasion to speak the second time, for its first intimations are always the purest. The husband and the wife should especially beware of sin, because of the peculiar influence of the one over the other.

Whenever the wicked feel the consequences of their crimes, they immediately accuse one another; and the dearest relatives are often the foremost in doing this. The man accused the woman, the woman accused the serpent; but God accused the whole, and punished them in various degrees. How dreadful then must the end of wicked connections prove! How dreadful their torments in hell, when the nearest relatives on earth shall be most abhorred in the abodes of darkness. Well might the rich man be alarmed, lest his five brothers should follow him to that place of torment. Sinners, if you are resolved to destroy your own souls, never bring others into the same condemnation.

We should patiently bear the labours and afflictions of life, because they are occasioned by our sin, and they may all be sanctified by making us sigh for a happier abode. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him.

We have here the grand and original promise of redemption, so often referred to in the sacred writings. The Woman’s Seed, or the God-man, was not to be conceived in the usual way. He was to assume the human nature of the woman’s substance, and so join it in mysterious union with his Godhead, as to be but one person. In this nature he was to bruise the serpent’s head, or destroy the works of the devil, by the expiation of sin, and by abolishing the dominion of death. In this promise the bright morning of hope shone on the world from the beginning, and cheered good men in all their sufferings, with the prospects of everlasting salvation. But as serpents give a deadly wound, by biting the heels of men, so Satan was to bruise the human nature of Christ on the cross.

If Jesus Christ is then our sole atonement, we see the impossibility of approaching God, or obtaining happiness in any other way. It is neither the pharisee’s presumptuous ideas of his own righteousness, nor the infidel’s false and flattering notions of the divine clemency, that can embolden his approach to his Maker. The flaming sword of justice turns every way to keep the offender from the tree of life.

Lastly, if the ground is cursed for our sin; if there is nothing here but misery, sorrow, and death, our affections must not be placed on things on earth, but on things above. Lord help us to be grateful, that thou hast provided a better paradise than Adam lost, and afforded us adequate means for obtaining thy favour and everlasting joy.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 3". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/genesis-3.html. 1835.