Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 3

Verses 1-24

Genesis 3:1-24. Among the animals formed by Yahweh, in His first attempt to provide man with a companion, was the serpent; at that time either a quadruped or holding itself erect. It was eminent among its fellows for cleverness. In antiquity serpents were often regarded as mysteriously gifted with wisdom or cunning, sometimes as good but more often as evil. It is a mistake to think of it here as an incarnation of the devil; the ability to speak and reason is quite commonly attributed to the animals in folk-stories. Its wisdom is shown in the familiarity with the nature of the tree, its cunning in the intentional mistake it makes as to the prohibition, by which the woman is led to correct it and thus the opening for conversation is made. Craftily it contrives to instil a resentment at God's unreasonableness into the woman's mind: can it really be that God has insisted on a condition so unheard-of as this? Possibly the effect is to be seen in the woman's addition of touching to the prohibition of eating, thus making it more exacting. The woman describes the tree by its position, probably since she does not know its name or its quality. (On the difficulty that in Genesis 2:9 "the tree in the midst of the garden" is the tree of life, see p. 138.) The serpent now discloses the true nature of the tree and the reason for the Divine prohibition. The tree confers knowledge such as God wishes to be the monopoly of the Elohim or heavenly beings. The tree has no fatal properties, but will lift you in this respect to the Divine level. The woman scrutinises the tree as she had not done before, and sees that it is as the serpent has said. Its fruit is not deadly but good to eat, its beauty attracts her, the promise of wisdom completes the fascination; she eats and shares the forbidden fruit with her husband. The serpent has indeed told the truth; they become mature at a bound, their eyes are opened. The first effect of this guilty deed is the loss of sexual unconsciousness and the birth of shame. This leads them to make girdles of fig leaves, which were very unsuitable, but chosen for mention as the largest leaves of Palestinian trees. But they have still to meet Yahweh. It is, it would seem, His habit to walk in His garden at evening, just as men do in Palestine when the cold wind blows in from the sea. So in the cool of the evening (not of the morning) they hear the sound of His movement and hide. Yahweh calls out to learn where the man is. The man alleges his nakedness in explanation of the fear with which he shrank from meeting his Maker, and thus inadvertently discloses what he has done. When taxed with his disobedience he puts the blame on the woman, for the gift of whom he reminds Yahweh that He was responsible. The woman in turn explains that the serpent enticed her. The serpent is not questioned, not because he is a mere beast (such an estimate being modern) but because Yahweh is aware that no fourth party stands in the background, the scheme was hatched in the snake's clever brain. He is picked out from among (mg.) all cattle for a curse; to lose his upright posture and eat dirt, to hate and be hated by the woman's posterity. In the perpetual feud between them man crushes with his foot the serpent's head, but in doing so is bitten in the heel. There is no Messianic reference in the passage, and the last clause ("and . . . heel") may be a gloss. The woman is punished by the pangs of childbirth, promoted by her desire for man's society, and by his rule over her. The man is punished by the cursing of the ground; thorns spring up of themselves, food only at the cost of hard toil. And at the end comes death: made from the dust, back to the dust man goes; the threatened penalty of Genesis 2:17 is not enforced. Clothing more adequate than fig-leaves is provided by Yahweh's own hands, possibly from the skins of sacrificed victims. But since man has become like the Elohim in point of knowledge, there is a danger that he may eat also from the tree of life, and thus, winning immortality, become like them altogether. To prevent this, he and the woman are driven from the garden, and the way to the tree of life is guarded by the cherubim and a whirling fiery sword. The cherubim appear here as custodians of the entrance: they resemble the griffins who watch over treasures. (See Psalms 18:10*, Isaiah 6:2*.)

Genesis 3:15. bruise: the Heb. word occurs only here and in Job 9:17, Psalms 139:10, where the text is probably corrupt. Its meaning is uncertain, but the general sense of the passage is clear.

Genesis 3:20 seems out of place, and may belong to a story, only fragments of which have been here included.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 3". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.