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Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible
Genesis 3

 

 

Verse 1

GENESIS CHAPTER 3

The serpent’s subtlety, and insnaring question, Genesis 3:1. The woman’s answer, Genesis 3:2. The serpent denies the certianty of the threatening, Genesis 3:4; suggests a benefit by eating, Genesis 3:5. The woman looks on the fruit, takes, eats, gives to the man, who also eats of it, Genesis 3:6. The consequence of their sin, Genesis 3:7-8. Adam’s summons, Genesis 3:9, appearance, Genesis 3:10, examination, Genesis 3:11, excuse, Genesis 3:12. The woman examined, excuses, yet confesses the fact, Genesis 3:13. Sentence upon the serpent the instrument, Genesis 3:14; upon the devil the chief agent, with the first gospel promise, Genesis 3:15; upon the woman, Genesis 3:16; upon the man, Genesis 3:17-19. Adam names his wife, Genesis 3:20. God clothes them, Genesis 3:21. They are thrown out of Paradise, Genesis 3:22, to till the ground, Genesis 3:23. Their return impossible, Genesis 3:24.

The serpent; or rather, this or that serpent; for here is an emphatical article, of which more by and by.

The serpent’s eminent subtlety is noted both in sacred Scripture, Genesis 49:17 Psalms 58:5 Matthew 10:16 2 Corinthians 11:3, and by heathen authors, whereof these instances are given; that when it is assaulted, it secures its head; that it stops its ear at the charmer’s voice; and the like. If it be yet said that some beasts are more subtle, and therefore this is not true; it may be replied,

1. It is no wonder if the serpent for its instrumentality in man’s sin hath lost the greatest part of its original subtlety, even as man’s sin was punished with a great decay both of the natural endowments of his mind, wisdom, and knowledge, and of the beauty and glory of his body, the instrument of his sin. But this text may, and seems to be understood, not of the whole kind of serpents, but of this individual or particular serpent; for it is in the Hebrew Hannachash that serpent, or

this serpent, to signify that this was not only an ordinary serpent, but was acted and assisted by the devil, who is therefore called

that old serpent, Revelation 12:9. And this seems most probable, partly from the following discourse, which is added as a proof of that which is here said concerning the serpent’s subtlety; and that surely was not the discourse of a beast but of a devil; and partly from 2 Corinthians 11:3, which hath a manifest reference to this place, where the apostle affirmeth that the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety; not surely through that subtlety which is common to all serpents, but through that subtlety which was peculiar to this, as it was possessed and acted by the devil. There seems indeed to be an allusion here to the natural subtlety of all serpents; and the sense of the sacred penman may seem to be this, as if he said: The serpent indeed in itself is a subtle creature, and thought to be more subtle than any beast of the field; but howsoever this be in other serpents, it is certain that this serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field, as will appear by the following words. If it be said, the particle this, or that, is relative to something going before, whereas there is not a word about it in the foregoing words; it may be replied, that relative particles are often put without any antecedents, and the antecedents are left to be gathered not only out of the foregoing, but sometimes also out of the following passages, as is apparent from Exodus 14:29 Numbers 7:19 Numbers 24:17 Psalms 87:1, Psalms 105:19, Psalms 114:2, Proverbs 7:8, Proverbs 14:26. So here, that serpent, that of which I am now to speak, whose discourse with the woman here followeth.

Quest. How the serpent could speak, and what the woman conceived of his speech, and why she was not affrighted, but continued the discourse with it? There be two satisfactory answers may be given to these questions.

1. The woman knew that there were spirits, and did freely and frequently converse with spirits or angels, who also did appear in some visible shape to her, which seems very credible; because in the following ages not only the angels, but even the blessed God himself, did in that manner converse with men. And as they afterwards used to appear in the shape of men, why might not one of them now appear to her, and converse with her, in the shape of a beautiful serpent? And why might she not freely and securely discourse with this which she thought to be one of those good angels, to whose care and tuition both she and her husband were committed? For I suppose the fall of the angels was yet unknown to her; and she thought this to be a good spirit, otherwise she would have declined all conversation with an apostate spirit.

2. A late ingenious and learned writer represents the matter thus, in which there is nothing absurd or incredible: The serpent makes his address to the woman with a short speech, and salutes her as the empress of the world, &c. She is not affrighted, because there was as yet no cause of fear, no sin, and therefore no danger, but wonders and inquires what this meant, and whether he was not a brute creature, and how he came to have speech and understanding? The serpent replies, that he was no better than a brute, and did indeed want both these gifts, but by eating of a certain fruit in this garden he got both. She asked what fruit and tree that was? Which when he showed her, she replied: This, no doubt, is an excellent fruit, and likely to make the eater of it wise; but God hath forbidden us this fruit. To which the serpent replies, as it here follows in the text. It is true, this discourse is not in the text; but it is confessed by Jewish and other expositors, that these words:

Yea, hath God said, & c., are a short and abrupt sentence, and that they were but the close of a foregoing discourse; which might well enough be either this now mentioned, or some other of a like nature. And that expression which follows, Genesis 3:6, when the woman saw, i.e. understood that it was a tree to be desired to make one wise, may seem to imply, both that the serpent told her, and that she believed, that the speech and understanding of the serpent was the effect of the eating of that fruit; and therefore that if it raised him from a brute beast to the degree of a reasonable creature, it would elevate her from the human to a kind of Divine nature or condition.

He said unto the woman, who had upon some occasion retired from her husband for a season (an advantage which the crafty serpent quickly espieth, and greedily embraceth, and assaulteth her when she wanteth the help of her husband).

Yea, or, why, or, is it so, or, indeed, or, of a truth. It is scarce credible that God, who is so bountiful, and the sovereign good, and so abhorring from all parsimony and envy, should forbid you the enjoyment of any part of those provisions which he hath made for your use and comfort.

Of every tree, or, of any; for the word is ambiguous, which therefore the cunning adversary useth to hide the snare which he was laying for her.


Verse 3

To wit, in order to the eating of it. Or the touch might be simply forbidden, or she might reasonably understand it to be forbidden in and by the prohibition of eating, because it was an occasion of sin, and therefore to be avoided. For it is not probable that the woman, being not yet corrupted, should knowingly add to God’s word, or maliciously insinuate the harshness of the precept. Others read, lest

peradventure ye die, as if she doubted of the truth of the threatening; which seems not probable, the woman yet continuing in the state of innocency, and such doubting being evidently sinful; and the Hebrew particle

Pen doth not always imply a doubt, as appears from Psalms 2:12 Isaiah 27:3 36:18, compared with 2 Kings 18:3.


Verse 4

It is not so certain as you imagine, that you shall die. God did say so indeed for your terror, and to keep you in awe; or, he had some mystical meaning in those words; but do not entertain such hard and unworthy thoughts of that God who is infinitely kind and gracious, that he will, for such a trifle as the eating of a little fruit, undo you and all your posterity, and so suddenly destroy the most excellent work of his own hands.


Verse 5

If you would have the whole truth of the matter, and God’s design in that prohibition, it is only this, He knoweth that you shall be so far from dying, that ye shall certainly be entered into a new and more noble kind of life; and the eyes of your minds, which are now shut as to the knowledge of a world of things, shall then be opened, and see things more fully and distinctly.

Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil, or, as God, like unto God himself in the largeness of your knowledge; the very name that God hath put upon the tree may teach you. But this is a privilege, of which, for divers causes best known to himself, some of which your own reason will easily guess at, he would not have you partake of.


Verse 6

The woman saw; by curious and accurate observation, and gazing upon it, or perceiving it by the serpent’s discourse, as was observed on Genesis 3:3.

Pleasant to the eyes, to wit, in an eminent degree; for otherwise so were all the rest.

To make one wise, which she might know by the serpent’s information. See Poole on "Genesis 3:1".

Gave also unto her husband with her, who by this time was returned to her, and who now was with her; or, that he might eat with her, and take his part of that fruit.

And he did eat, by her persuasion and instigation. See 1 Timothy 2:14.


Verse 7

The eyes of them both. The eyes of their minds and conscience, which hitherto had been closed and blinded by the arts of the devil, were opened, as the devil had promised them, though in a far differing and sadder sense.

They knew that they were naked. They knew it before, when it was their glory, but now they know it with grief and shame, from a sense both of their guilt for the sin newly past, and of that sinful concupiscence which they now found working in them.

They tied, twisted, or fastened, the lesser branches or twigs, upon which were also the leaves of a fig tree, which peradventure was then near them, and which because of its broad leaves was most fit for that use.

Made themselves aprons, to cover their nakedness.


Verse 8

The voice of the Lord God, mentioned Genesis 3:9, or rather the sound, as the word voice is often taken in Scripture, as Psalms 93:3 Revelation 10:3, Revelation 19:6. Either God the Father, or rather God the Son, appeared in the shape of a man, as afterwards he frequently did, to give a foretaste of his incarnation. About evening, the time when men use to walk abroad to recreate themselves, when there was a cool and refreshing wind, whereby also the voice of the Lord was more speedily and effectually conveyed to Adam and his wife.

Adam and his wife hid themselves: being sensible of God’s approach, and filled with shame and conscience of their own guilt, and dread of judgment, instead of flying to God for mercy, they foolishly attempted to run away from him, whom it was impossible to avoid.


Verse 9

The Lord God called with a loud voice: Thou whom I have so highly obliged, whither and wherefore dost thou run away from me, thy Friend and Father, whose presence was lately so sweet and acceptable to thee? In what place, or rather in what condition, art thou? What is the cause of this sudden and wonderful change? This he asks, not that he was ignorant of it, but to make way for the following sentence, and to set a pattern for all judges, that they should examine the offender, and inquire into the offence, before they proceed to punishment.


Verse 10

He confesseth his nakedness, which was evident, but saith nothing of his sin; which, if possible, he would have hid: see Job 31:33. And is grieved for the shameful effects of his sin, but not yet sincerely penitent for his sin.

I hid myself, out of reverence to thy glorious majesty.


Verse 11

That thou wast naked; or, that thy nakedness, which lately was thy glory, was now become matter of shame.

Whereof I commanded thee; concerning which I gave thee so severe a charge upon pain of death.


Verse 12

I have eaten, not by my own choice and inclination, but by the persuasion of this woman, whom thou gavest to be with me, as a meet help, a faithful friend, and constant companion, supposing that it was not good for me to be alone, which the event shows would have been much better for me. Thus Adam excuseth himself, and chargeth God foolishly with his sin.

I did eat, out of complacency to her, not from any evil design against thee.


Verse 13

How heinous a crime hast thou committed! What a world of mischief hast thou by this one act brought upon thyself and all thy posterity? Or, why hast thou done this? What causes or motives couldst thou have for so wicked an action? What need hadst thou of meddling with this forbidden fruit, when I had given thee so large and liberal an allowance?

And the woman said, The serpent, a creature which thou hast made, and that assisted by a higher power, by an evil angel, for such I now perceive by sad experience there are,

beguiled me, a weak and foolish woman, whose seduction calls for thy pity, not thine anger;

and I did eat, being surprised and over-persuaded against my own judgment and resolution.


Verse 14

Unto the serpent; or rather, this or

that serpent, which, as was said before on Genesis 3:1, was no ordinary serpent, but a serpent acted and assisted by the devil; and therefore this sentence or curse is pronounced against both of them:

1. Against the serpent itself, which though an unreasonable creature, and therefore not subject to a law, and consequently not capable of guilt or sin, Romans 4:15, yet, being the instrument of the devil’s malice, is rightly punished; as other beasts being abused by man’s sin did suffer together with him, Exodus 32:20 Leviticus 20:15-16, not for their crime, but partly for the punishment, and partly for the benefit of man, who is their lord and owner, Psalms 8:6; for whose sake seeing they were made, it is not strange if they be punished for his use, that in their punishment man might have a demonstration of God’s anger against sin, and a motive to repentance. See Poole on "Genesis 6:1", and following verses to Genesis 6:22. See Poole on "Genesis 7:1", and following verses to Genesis 7:24.

2. Against the devil, who is here principally intended, though as he lay hid in the body of the serpent which he possessed and used, so his curse is here mentioned under the cover of the serpent’s curse, and under the disguise of such terms as properly and literally agree to the serpent, but are also mystically to be understood concerning the devil; with whom the Lord entertaineth no conference, as he did with Adam and Eve, whose sin was less than his, and whom God meant to bring to repentance; but immediately denounceth the curse against him, as one that sinned against much greater knowledge, and from far worse principles, not from mistake or misinformation, but from choice and rebellion, from hatred of God, and from mere envy and implacable malice against men.

Because thou hast done this, deceived the woman, and tempted her to this sin, thou art cursed; or, shalt be from henceforth, both really and in the opinion of all mankind: or, be thou.

Every beast of the field; as in other respects, so particularly in that which here follows;

upon thy belly shalt thou go. If the serpent did so before the fall, what then was natural, is now become painful and shameful to it, as nakedness and some other things were to man. But it seems more probable that this serpent before the fall either had feet, or rather did go with its breast erect, as the basilisk at this day doth; God peradventure so ordering it as a testimony that some other serpents did once go so. And so the sense of the curse being applied to this particular serpent, and to its kind, may be this: Whereas thou hadst a privilege above other kinds of serpents, whereby thou didst go with erected breast, and didst feed upon the fruits of trees and other plants; now thou shalt be brought down to the same mean and vile estate with them,

upon thy belly (or rather, breast, as the word also signifies)

shalt thou go, & c. as they do;

and dust shalt thou eat. Dust is the food, as of earthworms, scorpions, and some other creatures, so also of some serpents, as appears both from Isaiah 65:25 Micah 7:17, and from the testimony of Nicander, Theriac, ver. 372, and Philo, an Arabic writer. Or, the dust is the serpent’s sauce rather than his meat; whilst creeping and grovelling upon the earth, and taking his food from thence, he must necessarily take in dust and filth together with it. These two clauses being applied to the devil, signify his fall from his noble state and place to earth and hell; the baseness of his nature and of his food, his delight being in the vilest of men and things, it being now his meat and drink to dishonour God and destroy mankind, and promote the esteem and love of earthly things.


Verse 15

Vers. 15. Though now ye be sworn friends, leagued together against me,

I will put enmity between thee and the woman; and the man too, but the woman alone is mentioned, for the devil’s greater confusion.

1. The woman, whom, as the weaker vessel, thou didst seduce, shall be the great occasion of thy overthrow.

2. Because the Son of God, who conquered this great dragon and old serpent, Revelation 12:9, who came to destroy the works of the devil, 1 John 3:8, was made of a woman, Galatians 4:4, without the help of man, Isaiah 7:14 Luke 1:34-35.

Thy seed; literally, this serpent, and, for his sake, the whole seed or race of serpents, which of all creatures are most loathsome and terrible to mankind, and especially to women. Mystically, that evil spirit which seduced her, and with him the whole society of devils, (who are generally hated and dreaded by all men, even by those that serve and obey them, but much more by good men), and all wicked men; who, with regard to this text, are called devils, and the children or

seed of the devil, John 6:70, John 8:44, Acts 13:10 1 John 3:8.

And her seed, her offspring; first and principally, the Lord Christ, who with respect to this text and promise is called, by way of eminency,

the seed, Galatians 3:16, Galatians 3:19; whose alone work it is to break the serpent’s head, i.e. to destroy the devil, Hebrews 2:14. Compare John 12:31 Romans 16:20.

Secondly, and by way of participation, all the members of Christ, all believers and holy men, who are called the children of Christ, Hebrews 2:13, and of the heavenly Jerusalem, Galatians 4:26. All the members whereof are the seed of this woman; and all these are the implacable enemies of the devil, whom also by Christ’s merit and strength they do overcome.

The head is the principal instrument both of the serpent’s fury and mischief, and of his defence, and the principal seat of the serpent’s life, which therefore men chiefly strike at; and which being upon him ground, a man may conveniently tread upon, and crush it to pieces. In the devil this notes his power and authority over men; the strength whereof consists in death, which Christ, the blessed Seed of the woman, overthroweth by taking away the sting of death, which is sin, 1 Corinthians 15:55-56;

and destroying him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, Hebrews 2:14.

The heel is the part which is most within the serpent’s reach, and wherewith it was bruised, and thereby provoked to fix his venomous teeth there; but a part remote from the head and heart, and therefore its wounds, though painful, are not deadly, nor dangerous, if they be observed in time. If it be applied to the Seed of the woman, Christ, his heel may note either his humanity, whereby he trod upon the earth, which indeed the devil, by God’s permission, and the hands of wicked men, did bruise and kill; or his saints and members upon the earth, whom the devil doth in diverse manners bruise, and vex, and afflict, while he cannot reach their Head, Christ, in heaven, nor those of his members who are or shall be advanced thither.


Verse 16

I will greatly multiply, or certainly, as the repetition of the same word implies.

And thy conception, in diverse pains and infirmities peculiar to thy sex; i.e. Thou shalt have many, and those ofttimes, false and fruitless conceptions, and abortive births; and whereas thou mightest commonly have had many children at one conception, as some few women yet have, now thou shalt ordinarily undergo all the troubles and pains of conception, breeding, and birth, for every child which thou hast. Or,

thy sorrows and thy conception, by a figure called hendiaduo, are put for thy sorrows in conception, or rather in child-bearing, which the Hebrew word here used signifies, Genesis 16:4, Judges 13:3. Aristotle, in his Histor. Animal. 7, 9, observes, that women bring forth young with more pain than any other creatures.

Bring forth children, or bear, for the word notes all the pains and troubles which women have, both in the time of child-bearing, and in the act of bringing forth.

Sons, and daughters too, both being comprehended in the Hebrew word Sons, as Exodus 22:24 Psalms 128:6.

Thy desire shall be to thy husband; thy desires shall be referred or submitted to thy husband’s will and pleasure to grant or deny them, as he sees fit. Which sense is confirmed from Genesis 4:7, where the same phrase is used in the same sense. And this punishment was both very proper for her that committed so great an error, as the eating of the forbidden fruit was, in compliance with her own desire, without asking her husband’s advice or consent, as in all reason she should have done in so weighty and doubtful a matter; and very grievous to her, because women’s affections use to be vehement, and it is irksome to them to have them restrained or denied. Seeing, for want of thy husband’s rule and conduct, thou wast seduced by the serpent, and didst abuse that power I gave thee together with thy husband to draw him to sin, thou shalt now be brought down to a lower degree, for he shall rule thee; not with that sweet and gentle hand which he formerly used, as a guide and counsellor only, but by a higher and harder hand, as a lord and governor, to whom I have now given a greater power and authority over thee than he had before, (which through thy pride and corruption will be far more uneasy unto thee than his former empire was), and who will usurp a further power than I have given him, and will, by my permission, for thy punishment, rule thee many times with rigour, tyranny, and cruelty, which thou wilt groan under, but shalt not be able to deliver thyself from it. See 1 Corinthians 14:34 1 Timothy 2:11-12 1 Peter 3:6.


Verse 17

Hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, i.e. obeyed the word and counsel, contrary to my express command.

Cursed is the ground, which shall now yield both fewer and worse fruits, and those too with more trouble of men’s minds, and labour of their bodies;

for thy sake, i.e. because of thy sin; or, to thy use; or, as far as concerns thee.

In sorrow; or, with toil, or, grief.


Verse 18

Thorns also and thistles, and other unuseful and hurtful plants, synecdochically contained under these, shall it bring forth to thee, of its own accord, not to thy benefit, but to thy grief and punishment;

and thou shalt eat the herb of the field, instead of those generous and delicious fruits of Paradise, which because thou didst despise, thou shalt no more taste of. See Genesis 1:29.


Verse 19

In the sweat of thy face, i.e. of thy body: he mentions the face, because there the sweat appears first and most. Or, with labour of body or brain, Ecclesiastes 1:13, and vexation of mind,

shalt thou get thy food and livelihood:

bread being put for all nourishment, as Genesis 18:5, Genesis 28:20.

Dust thou art, as to the constitution and original of thy body. See Genesis 18:27 Job 1:21 Psalms 103:14. Though upon thy obedience I would have preserved thy body no less than thy soul from all mortality; yet now, having sinned, thou shalt return unto dust in thy body, whilst the immortal spirit shall return unto God who gave it, Ecclesiastes 12:7. Thus thy end shall be as base as thy beginning.


Verse 20

The word signifies either a living, or, the giver or preserver of life. Though for her sin justly sentenced to a present death, yet by God’s infinite mercy, and by virtue of the promised Seed, she was both continued in life herself, and

was made the mother of all living men and women that should be after her upon the earth; who though in and with their mother they were condemned to speedy death, yet shall be brought forth into the state and land of the living, and into the hopes of a blessed and eternal life by the Redeemer, whose mother or progenitor she was.


Verse 21

The Lord God, either by his own word, or by the ministry of angels,

made coats of skins, of beasts slain either for sacrifice to God, or for the use of man, their lord and owner;

and clothed them, partly to defend them from excessive heats and colds, or other injuries of the air, to which they were now exposed; partly to mind them of their sin, which made their nakedness, which before was innocent and honourable, now to be an occasion of sin and shame, and therefore to need covering; and partly to show his care even of fallen man, and to encourage his hopes of God’s mercy through the blessed Seed, and thereby to invite him to repentance.


Verse 22

The Lord God said, either within himself, or to the other persons of the Godhead, Adam and Eve both are become such according to the devil’s promise, and their own expectation. This is a holy irony, or sarcasm, like those, 1 Kings 18:27 Ecclesiastes 11:9: q.d. Behold! O all ye angels, and all the future generations of men, how the first man hath overreached and conquered us, and got the Divinity which he affected; and how happy he hath made himself by his rebellion! But this bitter scorn God uttereth not to insult over man’s misery, but to convince him of his sin, folly, danger, and calamity, and to oblige him both to a diligent seeking after, and a greedy embracing the remedy of the promised Seed which God offered him, and to a greater watchfulness over himself, and respect to all God’s commands for the time to come.

As one of us, i.e. as one of the Divine persons, of infinite wisdom and capacity. Here is an evident proof of a plurality of persons in the Godhead; compare Genesis 1:26, and Genesis 11:7. If it be said, God speaks this of himself and the angels; besides that as yet not one word hath been spoken concerning the angels, it is an absurd and unreasonable conceit that the great God should level himself with the angels, and give them a kind of equality with himself, as this expression intimates. To know all things, both good and evil.

Lest he put forth his hand: the speech is defective, and to be supplied thus, or some such way. But now care must be taken, or man must be banished hence,

lest he take also of the tree of life, as he did take of the tree of knowledge, and thereby profane that sacrament of eternal life, and fondly persuade himself that he shall live for ever. This is another scoff or irony, whereby God upbraideth man’s presumption, and those vain hopes wherewith he did still feed himself.


Verse 23

For prevention thereof, the Lord God sent him forth, or expelled him with shame and violence, and so as never to restore him thither; for it is the same word which is used concerning divorced wives.

To till, to wit, with toil and sweat, as was threatened, Genesis 3:17, the ground without Paradise; for he was made without Paradise, and then put into it, as was noted before.


Verse 24

The east of the garden, where the entrance into it was, the other sides of it being enclosed or secured by God to preserve it from the entrance and annoyance of wild beasts. Or, before the garden, i.e. near to the garden; before any man could come at the garden any way.

Cherubims, i.e. angels, so called from their exquisite knowledge, and therefore fitly here used for the punishment of man, who sinned by affecting Divine knowledge.

And a flaming sword in the cherubims’ hands, as it was upon other occasions, Numbers 22:23 Joshua 5:13 1 Chronicles 21:16, 1 Chronicles 21:27. And this was either a material sword, bright, and being brandished, shining and glittering like a flame of fire; or flaming fire, in the shape of a sword. Or, flaming swords, because there were divers cherubims, and each of them had a sword; the singular number for the plural. Or, a two-edged sword,

which turned every way, was brandished and nimbly whirled about by the cherubims; which posture was fittest for the present service,

to keep the way that leads to Paradise, and so to the tree of life, that man might be deterred and kept from coming thither.

 


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Bibliography Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Genesis 3:4". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/genesis-3.html. 1685.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, July 6th, 2020
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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