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Sunday, June 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 3

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

Verse 1

Catastrophe In The Garden (3:1-24).

Genesis 3:1 a

‘Now the snake was wiser than any creature that the Lord God had made.’

The word for snake always refers to ordinary snakes in the Old Testament, with the exception of Isaiah 27:1 and possibly Amos 9:3. However these exceptions do show that the Israelites were familiar with the myths of surrounding peoples relating to ‘snakes’ and ‘serpents’, which were often looked on as semi-divine creatures involved in evil, although also often in good. It is the behaviour of this snake that reveals its innate evil. The fact that the writer also calls him ‘wiser’, (a word usually translated ‘more prudent’), ‘than any creature that the Lord God had made’ demonstrates that he is indicating that this snake is unusual. Given the fact that the root of the word used for snake (nachash) is also used for ‘enchantment’, it is difficult to avoid the thought that the writer intends it to be seen as somehow endowed with some sinister power. But he does not dwell on the question because he does not want to be seen to take away the responsibility for failure from the man and woman.

The word for ‘wiser’ comes from the same root as the word for ‘naked’ in the previous verse. This is written in a way that shows that there is an intentional connection. There is an ironic contrast between their nakedness, a proof of their innocence and what they are revealed to be, and his ‘wisdom’ which is the proof of his devilishness and what he is revealed to be, which will later result in their ‘nakedness’ being revealed.

Genesis 3:1 b

‘And he said to the woman, “Yes. Has God said that you shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” ’

This immediately raises the question as to how the snake was able to speak. Does the author really see it as chatting with the woman, or are we to see the conversation as going on in her mind? Or was there a Satanic voice which spoke through it? The sinuous beauty of the snake, curled round a branch of the tree, (possibly the very tree itself, with its fruit clearly visible), and gazing at her with an hypnotic stare, might certainly have an hypnotic effect, on a hot day, on a languid and slightly resentful woman. Possibly what happened was the result of the woman’s reverie combined with a growing sense of unhappiness and discontent which had arisen within her, influenced by suggestions placed in her mind by the one behind ‘the snake’. The writer may well have imagined such a scene.

In other words did the snake in fact ‘speak’ through his silent gaze? Did the woman look at the fruit and think of that fruit which was forbidden, and then sense words which she felt came from the hypnotic influence of the snake? The Bible is full of places where we are told that ‘God said’ when that word was probably expressed in other ways, for example through use of the Urim and Thummim. Indeed the usage is common today when we say, ‘God told me to ---’ or ‘the Devil persuaded me ---’. Such anthropomorphic language has been common in all ages. Thus we might be justified in seeing here a conversation going on in her mind, induced by some evil power, for which the snake takes the blame! It may be significant that later, while God questions Adam and Eve, He does not question the snake. Was it becaise He knew that the snake could give no reply?

If we ask, why then would God blame the snake, we must recognise that it is not really the snake that God is blaming, but the shadowy figure behind the snake. Just as Jesus would curse a fig tree to teach a lesson about a nation (Mark 11:14; Mark 11:21), so God ‘curses’ a snake to teach a lesson about this shadowy figure from the spiritual realm.

Otherwise we are left with a choice between a talking snake and a demon possessed one. Or rather not a choice, for while we may see the latter, the woman sees the former. She sees only a creature who comes below her in the order of things, one who is not to be feared, unaware of dangerous undercurrents. The reader, on the other hand, is aware of a power at work that is both subtle and dangerous. To her a talking snake is an interesting phenomenon. To the reader it is indicative of sinister undertones. Suddenly into this idealistic world something ‘foreign’ has introduced itself. Elsewhere God will speak through an ass (Numbers 22:28). Here some evil presence could well literally speak through the snake.

Whatever way it was the idea sown by the snake was effective. The question was ambiguous, suggesting a God Who somehow was a little unreasonable without actually saying so. The implication was, was God really being behaving as He should?

Verses 1-24

Man’s Establishment and Fall (Genesis 2:4 to Genesis 3:24 ) TABLET II.

Genesis 2:0 and Genesis 3:0 form a unit distinguished by the fact that God is called Yahweh Elohim (Lord God), a usage repeated, and constantly used, all the way through (apart from in the conversation between Eve and the serpent), a phrase which occurs elsewhere in the Pentateuch only once, in Exodus 9:30 where it is connected with the thought that the earth is Yahweh’s. It thus connects with creation. This distinctive use sets the account off from the rest of Genesis as standing by itself.

The use may be in order to stress the closeness of man’s relationship with the Creator at that stage, or it may be in order to link Elohim the Creator of Genesis 1:0 with Yahweh the covenant God of Genesis 4:0 onwards. (In general we must beware of laying too great a stress on the use of particular divine names in the Pentateuch as other Hebrew texts and the versions such as the Septuagint and the Syriac often differ with the Massoretic Text in the use of such names. However there can be no doubt that in the Massoretic Text there is in this passage this distinctive use of Yahweh Elohim, although the versions sometimes have simply the equivalent of Elohim).

The use of a dual name for a god was not unusual in the Ancient Near East. We can compare in Egypt ‘Iir-Sedjmy’, ‘Amen-Re’, ‘Mentu-Re’, ‘Sobek-Re’ and at Ugarit ‘Aleyan Baal’. Baal was also known for example as ‘Baal Melkart’. It is true that Baal meant ‘Lord’ and that in one sense this is saying ‘Lord Melkart’, but Baal, like Melkart, is a god in his own right and would be acknowledged as such by the Phoenicians. Indeed Yahweh Elohim - where El is the name of a god but was also used to depict ‘God’ - is a very similar combination. C. H. Gordon cites a number of further examples of the use of compound names for gods in Ugaritic and other literature.

The focus of the account is found in the words of God in 3:14-19. These words are based on a theophany (manifestation of God in some way) in which God declares His covenants with the man, the woman and the snake, the background to which is given in these chapters. This passage is therefore in ‘covenant form’ and once probably stood on its own as originally an oral ‘record’ of the above covenants, before being incorporated into the wider framework, initially possibly the framework of Genesis chapters 1-11. While general history was not always put in writing in smaller tribes, covenants were put in written form from the start, and once writing was known covenants like this would be recorded because of the importance they had with regard to their relationship with God.

It is even possible that it was first incorporated into a larger record from Genesis 2:4 to Genesis 5:1, along with the two smaller covenants with Cain and Lamech, this whole record bearing the colophon ‘this is the history of Adam’ (Genesis 5:1), before being incorporated into Genesis chapters 1-11.

The continually recurring phrase in Genesis ‘this is the history (toledoth) of --’ demonstrates that much of the material, if not all, is taken from tablets, as ‘this is the history of’ is typical of the colophon (heading or footnote) found on tablets to identify them. Mention could also be made of certain repetitive phrases found in Genesis which are typical of links between such tablets.

It is extremely probable that at some stage these early ‘covenant’ tablets were incorporated into a series of tablets making up Genesis 1-11, which almost certainly once formed a unit, paralleling a similar ‘history’ of Atrahasis, recording matters from creation through the flood and beyond, which is found elsewhere. Although the similarity is only in structure and basic form, the parallel does serve to demonstrate the existence of such epics around the time of Abraham. Thus it may have been at this latter stage, when it was incorporated into Genesis 1-11, that this initial group of covenants was brought together to form a ‘history of Adam’, possibly attaching the colophon at the end from one of the tablets from which they were taken.

The account is remarkable both for its simplicity and the absence from it of mythical material. The seeming naivete of it is deceptive. It is a work of brilliant insight and understanding, and while the story appears straightforward enough to the casual reader, the writer deliberately introduces undercurrents which the discerning reader cannot ignore.

Verses 2-3

‘And the woman said to the snake, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden. But God has said ‘you shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, nor shall you touch it, lest you die’.”.’

The woman’s conscience is struggling to be fair to God. But she cannot help but think of THAT tree, and she slightly ameliorates God’s warning and slightly exaggerates His demands. God had not said ‘lest you die’, He had said ‘you shall surely die’. Dangerously she has in mind the possibility that it might not be true. It is always unwise to ‘improve’ the word of God. Nor had He said, ‘you shall not touch it’. But in the latter she was interpreting God perfectly correctly. To touch it was to be half way to eating it. (Here we have an indication that the man and the woman saw the tree as ‘sacred’. It was ‘untouchable’). Possibly she is also trying to build up her protection against the temptation she is now experiencing.

Some have tried to see in the reference to this tree as ‘the tree which is in the midst of the garden’ (which was how the tree of life was previously described by the writer) an indication that the story originally only contained one tree, the tree of life. Others have suggested that the woman only knew of one tree, because the tree of life had not yet been revealed to man. But neither is necessary. To the woman in her condition there was only ONE tree, that which was forbidden to her. Her concentration on that tree is intended by the writer to demonstrate the seeds of doubt in her mind. Whereas the most important tree to the writer and to God was the tree of life, which offered continuing life and was therefore central, to the woman the most important tree was the one which was she was unable to partake of, and in her thinking that was central.

Verses 4-5

‘And the snake said to the woman, “You shall not surely die, for God knows that in the day you eat of it then your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God knowing good and evil”.’

The snake knows he has won. He now drops his mask. He no longer prevaricates but blatantly and with stress reveals his true nature. No ordinary snake could be seen as speaking like this, for he is forcefully claiming to know better than God. The reader has his suspicions confirmed that something dreadfully sinister lies behind the snake. (Supernatural beings are ever in the background in these passages without being mentioned e.g. Genesis 1:26; Genesis 3:22; Genesis 3:24. They are the background to all that happens).

‘But the snake said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it you will be like God, knowing good and evil”.’ How subtle the snake is. He is suggesting that knowing good and evil is a good thing for the woman, and that God is only pretending when He makes His threats so as to prevent them getting on equality with Himself. Indeed he makes God look mean-spirited and he makes a curse look like a blessing. Why, do they not realise that they can be ‘like God” (or ‘like the elohim’, like spiritual beings)? Of course, the truth is that had they continued in obedience they would have known the difference between good and evil through persevering in goodness, and would then indeed have been more Godlike. On the other hand the snake’s way was a much quicker route, learning by experience rather than by obedience, but it was a way that led to disaster.

Note that the snake uses simply the term God. This, along with the woman’s reply (Genesis 3:3), is the only place where the term ‘the Lord God’ (Yahweh Elohim) is not used in Genesis 2:5 to Genesis 3:24. It is probably intended to be seen as the snake ‘watering down’ the authority and closeness of God in the woman’s mind, and an indication of the woman responding.

Verse 6

‘So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.’

The woman clearly did not give way immediately. She contemplated the tree and the fruit carefully, and no doubt she wrestled with her conscience. How wonderful the fruit looked, so much to be desired, and how beautiful the tree was, surely something so beautiful could not cause her any harm? Had not God made them? And to be made wise in knowing good and evil like God. How wonderful that must be. She was not aware of Paul’s words to Timothy, ‘flee youthful desires’. For that is what she should have done. Victory over desires like this is only found through flight, not by trying to fight them. Had she fled all would have been well. But she lingered on, and in the end she inevitably gave way. She took of its fruit and ate.

Of course the man and the woman had a conscience and knew the difference between right and wrong in a semi-theoretical way (having never experienced evil) but she saw the snake as offering something more, a God-like knowledge of good and evil.

But she did worse. She went to her mate and took him with her, for she gave the fruit to him, and he ate as well. Seemingly he ate because the woman asked him to. There was no thought for him that it would make him wise like God. He allowed the woman to be more important to him than God. That is why Paul can say, the woman was deceived ( 1 Timothy 2:14), but the man was not deceived. He was flagrantly disobedient because of his wife. How often when we fall we drag others down with us.

So the one who was ‘a helper suitable for him’ has proved man’s downfall. Perhaps because she was only a helper she did not consider her privilege and responsibility as God’s representative on earth. (How easy it is for us to think that we are unimportant and therefore that what we do ‘doesn’t really matter’). Thus instead of seeing the tree as a proof of her exalted position she saw it only as a way of getting satisfaction and status.

We are constantly brought into positions where we too, as God’s representatives on earth, have to make choices. When something alluring comes before us we need to ‘flee’. That is the only way to fight such things. Otherwise we too will fail, and drag others down with us. On the other hand, if someone important to us begins to suggest we disregard the Lordship of God, we need to be stern with them, and if necessary even be willing to turn away from them. For otherwise we too will fall.

Notice how the temptation is a basis for the words of John in 1 John 2:16. She saw that it was good for food (the lust of the flesh), a delight to the eyes (the lust of the eyes), and to be desired to make one wise (the pride of life). Herein lies the root of most sin.

Verse 7

‘Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked, and they joined fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.’

What a dreadful moment. Having eaten they suddenly became aware of their puniness, and their inadequacy, and that they could no longer face God because they were defiled. ‘They knew that they were naked’. It was true that they had indeed received a form of knowledge, but it was a knowledge of what they had lost, a knowledge that they could no longer be His representatives, a knowledge that they no longer enjoyed the approval of God, a knowledge that they lay bare before Him, a knowledge that they could no longer face Him. They had become aware that they had forfeited their position totally, aware that all that awaited them was death.

Their response to their nakedness is not said to have had anything to do with sexual awareness, and the fig leaves were not said to be placed delicately over their private parts. Rather what they wanted to do was to hide themselves, to cover themselves totally, for they were afraid of God. ‘They joined fig leaves together’. They had never had clothes and now they had to make a pathetic attempt to find something which would cover them. They could not, of course, sew. All they could do was take the feeble fig leaves and try somehow to join them together into coverings, something for which the fig leaves were really not suitable.

What a pass this couple have now come to. From proudly walking with God and having dominion over their world, they have come to scrabbling around trying pathetically to tie fig leaves together to make some kind of covering so that they could hide themselves from God. Truly they have received knowledge, the knowledge of what good was, and what evil is, the knowledge of the consequences of sin and disobedience. And what has it produced? Panic and fear.

The idea of nakedness here is that of inadequacy before God, of being seen for what they are. ‘All things are naked and open before the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13). We can compare with this how Paul does not want to be found ‘naked’ before God when he goes to meet Him (2 Corinthians 5:3). Nakedness was now a thing of shame (compare Isaiah 20:2-4; Ezekiel 16:7; Revelation 3:17). There is no reason at this stage to equate it with sexual awareness. That will come later.

Verse 8

Genesis 3:8 a

‘And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze (ruach - literally “‘in the wind of the day”)’.

It may well be that they had communed with God each evening, and that the sound in the trees had indicated to them His presence. It would have brought to them the thrill and joy of worship. But now the overtones are different. Now the sound is to them the approach of a vengeful God which is made known to them by the sound of the wind in the trees, and the would be filled with terror. Compare 2 Samuel 5:24 where God is known by ‘the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees’. (See also 2 Samuel 22:11, ‘he was seen upon the wings of the wind’; Job 38:1, ‘the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind’; Psalms 18:10, ‘he came swiftly on the wings of the wind’; also Psalms 104:3; Ezekiel 1:4; John 3:8; Acts 2:2). This is no stroll. To their guilty consciences it is the sound of the approach of God to tackle them over what they have done.

Genesis 3:8 b

‘And the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.’

Like the scrabbling together of coverings from fig leaves, this was another desperate and foolish attempt to hide from the all-seeing eyes of God. They were almost frozen with fear. They sought out the darkest place they could find among the trees of the garden, the trees which God had provided as a blessing and which had now become their only hope of hiding from Him. Possibly they hoped that if they could not be seen God would pass them by. How foolish we are when we think that we can hide anything from God or avoid facing up to Him.

Verse 9

‘And the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” ’

God speaks directly to the man. This is no vague call but a word spoken directly to the heart. God, of course, knew where he was, but He was making him face up to his present situation. He was giving him a chance to express his deep sorrow and repentance.

Verse 10

‘And he said, “I heard the sound of your presence in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself .” ’

How quickly the man gives himself away. The futile coverings that they had made had proved useless, as do all man’s attempts to make himself acceptable to God. (‘Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags’ declares the prophet in Isaiah 64:6) Now he has to recognise the folly of his ways. ‘I was afraid because I was naked’. The knowledge of God’s presence had intensified his sense of shame. Now he knew himself for what he now was, and it caused him to give himself away completely. ‘And I hid myself ’. The frank admission that alone could give him hope. He does not try to brazen it out before God. He admits his unworthiness, his shame, that he is not fit to meet God.

Verse 11

‘And he (God) said, “Who has made you aware that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” ’

The man, of course, had always known that he was physically naked, but that had been unimportant. This question goes deeper. There is something in the man that has filled him with conscious shame, that has made him afraid to be looked at by God. The man is ashamed of his inner nakedness, which reveals him as one who has failed God, as one who has rebelled against God, as one who has weakly given way to the one for whom he was held responsible.

God is aware of what the man means, He knows that there is only one thing that could have filled him with this sense of shame and He determines to pin him down and to make him admit the whole truth. ‘Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ If there is to be a remedy the lesson must first be brought fully home.

Verse 12

‘And the man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” ’

What an accurate picture of a man suffused in guilt. He seeks to place the blame anywhere but on himself. ‘The woman --’. She is the one who is to blame. She gave it to me. ‘Whom you gave to be with me.’ It was really your fault, God, it was you who gave her to me. ‘She gave me fruit from the tree.’ What else could I do? It would not have been nice to refuse. ‘And I ate.’ In the end he has to admit a tiny bit of blame for himself.

So it is clear that the real culprits are the woman, and to some extent God. The fact, of course, was that the man himself was largely to blame. He was not deceived. He had been appointed by God and told that the fruit of the tree was banned. The tree was holy to the Lord. Had he stood firm, how the course of history would have changed. But he was deliberately disobedient. Possibly his only real excuse was that the woman was very beautiful and persuasive. But like the woman, he should have run away with his fingers in his ears.

Verse 13

Genesis 3:13 a

‘Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” ’

Only God really knew the answer to that question as He looked down the suffering of the ages, and saw finally the suffering of His own Son. He knew what she had done. But, although the woman may have been aware of some of the consequences for herself, she could have no idea what she had done. Sin is like that. It reaches further than we can ever know.

Genesis 3:13 b

‘And the woman said, “The snake beguiled me, and I ate”.’

She did not blame God. It was the snake’s fault. She admitted she had been deceived, but it was only because he was so beguiling. She could not accept that she was really to blame. But earlier she had told the snake quite clearly what the position was. She too was without excuse. And in the end she admits ‘I ate’.

“The snake beguiled me.” How feeble her excuse is. Here is this subordinate creature and yet she puts the blame on him. She is not yet aware of the power behind the snake.

It is now noteworthy that God does not question the snake. This is not an omission. God is well aware that the snake cannot speak. And indeed the writer wants us to know that God knows that the snake is not really to blame. There is another, who is yet nameless, who must bear the blame, and it is to him that the sentence on the snake is really addressed.

Verses 14-15

‘And the Lord God said to the snake, “Because you have done this, cursed are you beyond all cattle, and beyond all wild animals. On your belly you will go, and dust will you eat all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” ’

Did the author really think that the snake had once had legs, which were now removed? Of course not. Otherwise what about the harmless worm? That too moves without legs. Rather then he is now turning the snake into a symbol of what would happen to the one who had used the snake as a tool. We notice here that of all the culprits it is only the snake which is cursed. If it had only been a misguided creature, lower than man, this would be inconceivable. It can only be that, at this stage, for reasons we cannot fathom, the master is seen for the present as out of reach. So the curse is pronounced on the tool. (Just as it will be the ground from which man was taken that will be cursed and not the man).

“Beyond all cattle.” ‘Micol - ‘from all’, therefore as distinctive from, compare Genesis 3:1 where he was wise beyond all. Because he was wise beyond all he is now cursed beyond all. The wisdom and the curse belong to another.

The majestic movements of the snake are now depicted in terms which demonstrate his master’s fate. ‘On your belly you will go, and dust will you eat’. How different things can look from a different perspective. It is not the snake’s movements that have changed, it is the interpretation of them. The author knows that the snake does not actually eat dust. The ‘eating of dust’ is a symbol of defeat and humiliation (Psalms 72:9; Micah 7:17; Isaiah 47:1; Isaiah 49:23) and crawling on the belly was widely known as something expected by kings of their humbled foes (see also Psalms 44:25 where it symbolises affliction and oppression).

So from now on the snake will be humbled and defeated. Once he was seen as moving gracefully along the ground, but now he is seen as ‘crawling on his belly’, and man will attack the snake wherever he sees it, and the snake will equally retaliate. But it is the man who, though grievously hurt, will finally come out on top. And from now on the ‘unseen enemy’ will also attack man, and with the help of God will be fought against, humiliated and defeated, and be made to crawl and bite the dust.

The symbolism is significant. Every time man sees a snake he will be reminded of the subtlety of sin, and how it creeps up and strikes suddenly. He must take as much care in watching out for sin as he does in watching out for snakes.

‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will snap at your head, and you will bruise his heel.’

Man’s future constant battle with snakes, which is a totally new departure in that almost perfect world, is also seen as a picture of man’s constant battle with evil, the evil that will meet him at every turn and constantly snap at his heels. But it is significant that that battle is seen in terms of final, though hard won, victory for man, for that is surely what the bruising of the head must signify. The head is the major part, the heel the tail end. It will be a hard and difficult time but in the end it is man who will gain the victory. But only God knew Who the Man would be, and what He would have to go through, to achieve that final victory. Note that the battle is between snake and man, and the unseen enemy and man. God is sovereign above it all, until He steps down and becomes man.

The words for ‘snap at’ and ‘bruise’ are only slightly different. The first comes from a root shuph as a variant of sha’aph, ‘to snap at, snatch’. The other from shuph (Akkadian sapu) ‘to trample on, bruise’. Thus there is a deliberate play on words.

Are we to see here a reference to the coming of One Who will defeat the Serpent? The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. What is declared is that man will finally triumph, and the implication is of triumph over the unseen evil behind the snake. It is only later that it will become apparent that this must be by some Special Man. But it is implicit for otherwise why will it take so long? A special, unique man, the seed of Adam, must be in mind to achieve the final victory. The Serpent will be defeated by the ultimate Man.

Verse 16

‘To the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply your pain, especially in childbearing, in pain you will produce children, and your desire shall be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” ’

In Genesis 1:0 the producing of children is a duty, a privilege and a blessing, but now that duty, privilege and blessing will be accompanied by intense pain. It is in the mercy of God that, in spite of what she has done, she will still be allowed the blessing of producing children. It is the punishment of God that this will be achieved through much pain.

But she will not be able to avoid it even if she wants to. ‘Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you’. She will not be able to avoid her punishment, for her craving for her husband will ensure that she seeks him out and his authority over her will guarantee her part in procreation. There is here a clear loss of status. The man’s authority is now seen as more emphatic and overbearing.

“Your pain, especially in childbearing” is literally ‘your pain and your childbearing’. The word for ‘pain’ (atsab) is not the usual one for pain in childbearing and is used in the next verse for man’s punishment in toil. Thus it refers to the more general misery of life. Life is to become more miserable. That will, however, include discomfort in child-bearing. It is significant that, in theory at least, child-bearing can be without pain. Some even achieve it. Thus prior to this event that would have been true for Eve. But now the stress and tension produced by sin will result in agony in child-birth. The word ‘atsab’ is deliberately used because two of its consonants connect to ‘ets’ (tree), thus indicating pain and suffering arising from the tree.

Verses 17-19

‘And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to your wife’s voice, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you ‘you shall not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; in toil (pain) you shall eat of it all the days of your life, thorns and thistles it will produce for you, and you will eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you will eat food until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust and to dust you will return”.’

It is noteworthy that God does not curse the man, as He cursed the snake. Unlike the snake, the man is ‘on his own’, a weak earth creature. There is no one behind him deserving to be cursed. But from now on it is his daily provision that is cursed, something that will constantly remind him of his position and what he has done. Thus as with the snake the curse is one step removed from the guilty party. The snake is cursed as representing the evil power behind it, the ground is cursed as representing the man.

From now on man will have to toil in pain for his food against ever increasing difficulties. He will have to contend with thorns and thistles, which will be ever ready to prevent the growth of what he will eat. It is the vegetation that tears at his hands and prevents him having food that will grow on its own, as once, in contrast, the trees of the garden had grown on their own to provide him with food. Seeking his food will be a constant struggle. The place to which he will be sent will not have sufficient trees to provide his food. It must now be sought amidst thorns and thistles, which will tear not only his hands, but his heart.

“Cursed is the ground because of you.” Contrast the description of the land that is blessed in Deuteronomy 33:13-15, it is well-watered and fruitful, full of precious things. The thought here is of land unwatered and unfruitful except as a result of hard labour.

“In the sweat of your face you will eat food”. The water of the river in the garden is replaced by the sweat of his brow. Now he will be dependent on the vagaries of rain and weather, and life will be a constant and almost unendurable struggle.

Then, in the end, the ground that has been cursed will receive him, and he will become once more part of the ground. He will return to the dust. Thus the curse will fully attach to him in the end. But the cursing of the ground and not the man is God’s indication that in mercy He is delaying punishment. The man will die, but not yet.

It will be noted that the warning ‘in the day that you eat of it you will surely die’ has not been carried into literal fruition. Neither the man nor the power behind the snake will receive their deserts as yet. The writer indeed wants us to see that a new phase is beginning in God’s purposes. He is acknowledging that the man has not fallen because he independently chose to rebel against God, but because another more sinister power dragged him down. Thus God will show mercy to him so that he in his turn, along with his descendants, can reverse the situation and bring down that evil power. He will yet bruise the head of ‘the snake’. Yet the sentence is only delayed, for, as God has already declared, one day the ground that has been cursed will receive him. He is but dust, and dust he will become.

Verse 20

‘And the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.’

The man recognises that God has shown mercy to him and that, in spite of all, life will therefore go on. And by revealing his willingness to carry out God’s command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28), he is making a statement of faith. ‘The man called his wife’s name ‘Chawwa’ (‘life’ - ch as in loch) because she is to be the mother of all who will live’ (‘chay’). Suddenly tragedy has been tempered by hope. All is not yet lost. Although they have lost everlasting life, they will live on in their children.

But the change of name also reflects the change in situation. She has previously been ‘woman’ in relation to ‘man’, the suggestion of an idyllic relationship, now she becomes the ‘life’ bearer who through pain and anguish will produce children. The renaming further stresses the woman’s new relationship to the man, ‘your desire will be to your husband and he will rule over you’. By renaming her the man is exerting his new authority. She is now not just subordinate, but in subjection.

Verse 21

‘And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife clothing made from skins and covered them.’

God now makes clear their new position. They can no longer walk naked before him, for they have made themselves feel vulnerable, inadequate and ashamed. Thus they must be covered to give them a feeling of security and acceptance. The clothes will ever be a reminder of the wonderful relationship with God that they have lost.

Yet with some surprise we learn that the clothes were ‘of skins’. Here we have the first hint of actual deaths. No reader could fail to relate the provision of skins with the deaths of animals. And in this story it stands out dramatically, for death has been totally absent. Thus man receives his first lesson that his disobedience has brought death. Already a substitute is required. Others die that he might be able to face God. Here we have the primitive beginnings of the idea of sacrifice, which will lead on to the final Sacrifice.

Verse 22

‘Then the Lord God said, “Look, the man has become like one of us knowing good and evil, and now, to prevent him from reaching out and taking also of the tree of life so that he might eat and live for ever ----” therefore the Lord God expelled him from the plain of Eden, to serve the ground from which he was taken.’

Once again, as in Genesis 1:26, we have the introduction of ‘us’ - ‘like one of us’. God again reveals Himself as surrounded by His heavenly court. But they remain in the background. The hint is there and nothing else. They have no place in creation and the working out of man’s destiny. Yet they are a reminder that ‘behind the scenes’ there are other beings who have not directly entered into the account. There is too the further hint that among ‘us’ both good and evil have been experienced - ‘like us knowing good and evil’. Again we are made aware of the sinister power behind the snake, an evil heavenly being.

The sentence for man, although reduced, is again emphasised. Death will now become his destiny because the means of ‘life unto the ages’ will be removed. He will no longer be able to eat of the tree of life, the tree whose fruit has the special quality that it can renew life and prevent old age. By this man is sentenced to a lingering death. The idea of a food of life which can give immortality was widespread in the ancient world, taking many forms, but it demonstrates that the idea was writ large in man’s ancient memory.

Verse 23

‘Therefore the Lord God expelled him from the plain of Eden to serve the ground from which he was taken.’

Man not only loses the tree of life, but all the trees in the plain of Eden. He is sent out into a place where he must eat ‘herbs of the field’, scrabbling among the weeds to obtain his food, and scratching at the surface of the ground in hope that it will increase its production. He had been raised above it by God, but now he returns to it, a reminder of his new situation.

Verse 24

‘So he drove out the man, and at the east of the plain of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.’

The verb is forceful - ‘He drove out’. This suggests some powerful catastrophe that made it impossible for man to stay where he was. The mention of the cherubim takes us by surprise, and indeed this is the first time that heavenly beings are suggested as playing any part in God’s activity. The fact that they do so is a further indication of the barriers that have grown between man and God. What tragedy. The guardians of God are set to keep out the one who had been set to guard. reaching out’ --- and ‘he drove him out’.

In Psalms 18:10 the idea of the cherub is paralleled with the ‘wings of the wind’, and in Ezekiel 1:4-5 with a stormy wind, and it may thus be that originally the cherubim were seen as directly connected with powerful, stormy winds. The cherubim and their parallels are regularly seen as the guardians of sacred places, and even, as an escort, of God Himself.

“The flaming sword” almost certainly refers to lightning, continually flashing down and hitting the ground. Certainly in Ezekiel the cherubim are associated with both stormy wind and lightning (Ezekiel 1:4-5). So we have here the idea of stormy winds and the continual flash of lightning. We are thus left to visualise for ourselves the destructive forces which forced man to leave and ‘guarded the way to the tree of life’. Heavenly powers combine with earthly powers to exclude man from what was once his hope and delight. No doubt at some later stage the plain of Eden was so devastated that neither guard was further necessary.

But we note that God did not there and then destroy the tree of life. The fact of its continued existence left hope for the future.

The Facts behind the Story.

In dealing with the above account we have deliberately stuck to the plan and pattern of the writer. We have thus avoided reading in what later teaching would reveal. His account was written so as to lay the emphasis where it belonged, on the man, his failure and his destiny. But we, of course, are aware of the background which would push the man into the background, the activities of ‘that old snake, the Devil and Satan’ (Revelation 12:9), the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, to defeat him, the final victory of God. But this was the beginning, the low point, and we must not lose its impact. The remainder of the story will be revealed later.

The Mythological ‘Background’.

Much has been made of the myths that are said to lie behind the stories of Creation, the Garden of Eden and the Fall and for the sake of completeness we attach details of some of these myths and our view of them. But Genesis 1-3 are remarkably free of mythical elements, and, although briefly mentioning such myths as we went on, we were loath to clutter up the narrative with detailed discussion. Those, however, who may be interested should go to Mythology.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 3". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/genesis-3.html. 2013.
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