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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 3

 

 

Verse 1

1. The serpent is here represented as a beast of the field which the Lord God had made, and, therefore, must have been good, as all the rest of the creation. Genesis 1:25. Hence we should not understand the word ערום, subtile, in a bad sense, implying malignant craftiness, as some expositors have done. This term is frequently employed in the Old Testament in a good sense, as meaning prudent, or sagacious. Such is the import of the Septuagint, φρονιμος. Our Lord enjoined upon his disciples to be “wise as serpents.” Matthew 10:16. The serpent’s sagacity is seen in its keen eye, its power to charm birds and men, its prudence in avoiding danger, its skill in shielding the head, its most vulnerable part, from the attack of man. The words more subtile do not imply that all other beasts of the field were also subtile, but rather that this feature separated or distinguished the serpent from them. As to the prominence which the serpent holds in the religious symbolism of ancient peoples, Lenormant observes: “These creatures are there used with the most opposite meanings, and it would be contrary to all the rules of criticism to group together and in confusion, as has been done by scholars of former times, the very contradictory notions attached in this way to the different serpents in the ancient myths, in such wise as to create a vast ophiolatric system, derived from a single source, and made to harmonize with the narration of Genesis. But side by side with divine serpents of an essentially favourable and protective character, oracular, or allied with the gods of health, of life, or of healing, we find in all mythologies a gigantic serpent, personifying the nocturnal, hostile power, the evil principle, material darkness, and moral wickedness.” — Beginnings of History, pp. 107, 108.

He said unto the woman — The serpent spoke in an intelligible way. Le Clerc (after some of the rabbies) supposes that the serpent tempted Eve, not by language audibly spoken, but by significant signs, and by repeatedly eating the fruit in her sight. Others imagine she was charmed into a visionary or ecstatic condition in which the movements of the serpent seemed to her like words. Some, as we have seen, deny that any real serpent was connected with the event, and hold that the temptation was purely spiritual; while others have denied the agency of Satan in this temptation, and affirmed that the tempter of Eve was nothing but a serpent, which, by repeatedly using the forbidden fruit before her eyes, at length induced her to follow its example. Less strained, and far more compatible with the general doctrine of the Scriptures, is that ancient interpretation which has been commonly received by Christian scholars, namely, that Satan made use of a serpent in his work of falsehood and ruin. There is no sufficient ground for denying the possibility of Satan speaking through the organs of a serpent. Mind and spirit are superior to matter, and control it. A fallen spirit is, in intellect, untold degrees above a brute. The mystery of demoniacal possession is too great for us to allow any a priori assumptions to govern our interpretation. According to the New Testament records, evil spirits usurped the powers of human speech, and entered also into swine. Mark 5:1-17. Why the Almighty should have permitted Satan to make such an approach to the first woman is as idle as to ask why he permits any sin or sinners to exist in his universe. We regard this first temptation and transgression as a great mystery, and a momentous event, but not a myth nor a fable. The mystery of God in Christ, by which God himself becomes flesh and redeems sinful man, implies other mysteries that may well surpass our knowledge. The incarnation, temptation, righteousness, death, and resurrection of the One who accomplishes the work of redemption, furnish to our thought a series of stupendous events; if we believe them, why do we stagger over that which appears startling and wonderful in the offence of the one by whom “judgment came upon all men to condemnation?” Romans 5:18.

Yea, hath God said — Or, as the Hebrew strictly implies: Really, is it true that God has said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? The language seems like the continuation of a conversation, the previous part of which is not given. The question was adapted to awaken doubt in the woman’s mind, and the tempter shrewdly addressed himself to the woman first, as the one more easily to be deceived than the man. Chrysostom thus expands the thought in the serpent’s words: “What good is life in Paradise if we may not enjoy the things which are found therein, but must feel the pain of seeing before our eyes what we are forbidden to take and eat?” Critics have raised a needless and profitless question over the serpent’s use of the name Elohim, rather than Jehovah. Keil thinks, that the tempter felt it necessary to ignore the personality of God by this omission of his covenant name in order to work distrust in the woman’s mind. Lange says, that the demon could not utter the name of the covenant-God Jehovah, not knowing him in that relationship. According to Knobel, the writer omitted the name of Jehovah from fear of profaning it in such a connexion. All which seems far-fetched and worthless. See Introd., pp. 51-54.


Verse 2

2. The woman said — Her pausing to parley with so serious a temptation was a fearful mistake. To entertain the thoughts of an evil spirit is the sure way to become partaker of some measure of his nature.


Verse 3

3. Neither shall ye touch it — This is the woman’s own addition to the commandment as given in Genesis 2:17, and is thought by many to imply that in her own mind the commandment was too severe. The tempter started a thought which she develops, as if soliloquizing: “Yes, it is even so. We may eat of all other fruit, but this particular tree we must not even touch, lest we die!” And thus the way is prepared for bolder words from the deceiver.


Verse 4

4. Ye shall not surely die — A direct and malicious contradiction of God’s word as given in Genesis 2:17. Here the devil is revealed as Satan, the adversary, “a liar, and the father of it.” John 8:44. This daring advance in the temptation is commonly supposed to imply a noticeable wavering on the part of the woman.


Verse 5

5. For God doth know — The Satanic utterance here recorded is a specimen of blasphemously changing God’s truth into a lie. The deceiver would make the woman believe that God was keeping her in ignorance of some great good.

Your eyes shall be opened — “’Your eyes,’” says the voice of the tempter, ‘instead of closing in death, will be for the first time truly opened.’ Here it is to be remarked that the hour when unbelief is born is immediately the birth hour of superstition.… And so, in like manner, is every sin a senseless and superstitious belief in the salutary effects of sin.” — Lange.

Ye shall be as gods — Rather, as God. The tempter would pervert the image of God in man by inducing a false aspiration. Elohim has made you in his own image, and yet withholds from you the honour and glory of knowing good and evil. Break this bond, eat this forbidden fruit, and you will at once become like Elohim, your Maker.


Verse 6

6. Good for food… pleasant to the eyes… to be desired to make one wise — Observe the threefold form of this first temptation. First, appeal is made to the animal appetite; next, to the longing eye; and then to an ambition to become wise and godlike. Thus, too, the apostle comprehends all generic forms of human temptation under “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” 1 John 2:16. It is notable that when this same old serpent attempted the ruin of the Second Adam he employed the same threefold method of assault. The first, was based upon his sense of hunger; the second, was a suggestion to exhibit a vain display at the temple of God; and the third, to make himself a hero-god of the world. Comp. Matthew 4:1-11. After the failure of the first Adam and the triumph of the Second in conflict with the devil, we may not plead that we are ignorant of Satan’s devices.

She took of the fruit thereof, and did eat — So it is that “when lust hath conceived it bringeth forth sin,” (James 1:15,) and the heart walks after the eyes. Job 31:7.

Her husband with her — This is understood by some to imply that Adam was present with the woman during her temptation; but such a supposition seems inconsistent with the narrative, which exhibits Satan and the woman so prominently, and makes no allusion to the man. Better, therefore, to understand the עמה, with her, of his subsequent partnership with her in transgression. Manifestly we have here a very concise record of a most important event. The great facts are stated, the guile of the tempter is exposed, and the sad result is chronicled. Other details are not attempted.


Verse 7

7. Knew that they were naked — Here is a stinging irony. Literally, Opened were the eyes of both of them, and they knew that — naked were they! Their eyes were opened, indeed, as the serpent had predicted, but his word was like the lying oracles of the heathen world, which contained a delusive double sense. What were their eyes opened to know? That they were like God? No; but that they were naked! Here is a standing type of the vanity, vexation, shame, and confusion of face into which the glowing assurances of the old serpent always lead.

Aprons — Or girdles, of fig leaves, fastened about the hips.


Verse 8

8. Heard the voice of the Lord — Some interpreters understand this voice to have been the sound or noise made by the approach of Jehovah. Comp. “sound of a going” in 2 Samuel 5:24. But the two following verses imply that it was the voice of Jehovah calling, rather than the noise of his movement, that is here intended. Both ideas, however, may be combined, for the anthropomorphism here is a notable feature of the description. The voice that called was the well-known voice of One who had spoken to them before, and who now came walking to and fro in the garden as aforetime, but his voice now inspired fear rather than delight.

In the cool of the day — Literally, at the wind of the day. That is, at the time of the evening breeze. It was the closing day of Adam’s Eden life, and, as Delitzsch has observed, that hour is adapted to weaken the dissipating impressions and excitements of the day, and beget a stillness in the soul. Then arise in man’s heart the sentiments of sadness and loneliness, of longing, and of the love of home. “Thus with our first parents: when evening comes, the first intoxication of the Satanic delusion subsides, stillness reigns within; they feel themselves isolated from the communion of God, parted from their original home, while the darkness, as it comes rushing in upon them, makes them feel that their inner light has gone out.”

Hid themselves — This action was on their part a confession of conscious guilt and shame.


Verse 9

9. Where art thou איכה, where — thou? or, where (shall I find) thee? How is it that I must now search for thee, who hast been wont to watch for my coming, and hail it with delight? The entire passage is in condescension to human conceptions. Not that Jehovah was unable to find the guilty one, but to intensify the picture of the sinner attempting to hide himself from Omniscience. Here, truly, is revealed the Good Shepherd seeking after the lost sheep.


Verse 10

10. I was afraid, because I was naked — Adam’s self-defence was a self-betrayal. Fear, consequent upon a sense of guilt, distracts the reason, demoralizes the judgment, and exposes the transgressor to certain condemnation. His nakedness was, for the moment, more prominent in his thought than a proper sense of his guilt.


Verse 11

11. Who told thee — A question adapted to suggest to him the cause of his sense of nakedness. How is it that thou wast never conscious of thy nakedness before? This plea of nakedness was itself a confession of guilt.


Verse 12

12. The woman whom thou gavest to be with me — Observe the natural effort of a fallen nature to excuse its own guilt by casting the blame on another. And not only is the woman blamed, but a sinister reflection on Jehovah himself appears in the words whom thou gavest to be with me.

This woman by my side, whom thou gavest to be my companion and helper, she has been the occasion of my eating the forbidden fruit.


Verse 13

13. The serpent beguiled me — The woman also, in her turn, throws the blame of her offence upon another. The serpent, she pleads, had imposed upon her by deception.


Verse 14

14. The Lord God said — Now follows the threefold judgment, pronounced first upon the serpent, next upon the woman, (Genesis 3:16,) and finally upon man, (17-19.) The malediction against the serpent (Genesis 3:14-15) is itself threefold. The prime tempter is not asked, What is this thou hast done? for “the trial had now reached the fountain-head of sin, the purely evil purpose, the demoniacal, having no deeper ground, and requiring no further investigation.” — Lange.

Cursed above all cattle — Not that other cattle or beasts were in their measure cursed, any more than in Genesis 3:1 it is implied that they were subtile. Nor is the meaning cursed by all cattle, (as Gesenius, Lex., under מן;) but, cursed from all; that is, thou only out of all. As the serpent was distinguished from all the beasts on account of his subtilty, (Genesis 3:1,) so is he doomed to a like distinction in this condemnation. “The ground was cursed for man’s sake,” says Keil, “but not the animal world for the serpent’s sake, nor even along with the serpent.”

Upon thy belly shalt thou go — Thou shalt ever be thought of as an abominable crawler. Comp. Leviticus 11:42. This has been supposed by many to imply that the shape and movements of the serpent were miraculously changed by this curse. Thus Delitzsch: “As its speaking was the first demoniacal miracle, so is this transformation the first divine.” Some have supposed that originally the serpent walked erect; others, that it had wings like a cherub, and could fly. All this, however, is in the realm of conjecture, and not necessarily implied in the words. The serpent may have crawled and eaten dust before as well as after the curse, but as all was then very good, no sense of shame, or curse, or humiliation, attached to these conditions. As the nakedness of the man and the woman excited no thoughts of shame or improper exposure, so the creeping things of the earth, and the serpent among them, had no unfavourable associations attached to their bestial shape or habits. But the serpent’s connexion with man’s sin caused him, as apart from all other beasts, to have his natural form and locomotion cursed into that which ever suggests disgust, meanness, and enmity.

Dust shalt thou eat — For being a crawler on the ground and eating its food in the dirt, the serpent must needs devour much dust along with his food. Hence to “lick the dust like a serpent” is a proverbial expression. Micah 7:17. “And while all other creatures shall escape from the doom which has come upon them in consequence of the fall of man, (Isaiah 65:25,) the serpent, the instrument used in the temptation, shall, agreeably to the words in the sentence, all the days of thy life, remain condemned to a perpetual abasement, thus prefiguring the fate of the real tempter, for whom there is no share in the redemption.” — Hengstenberg.


Verse 15

15. Enmity between thee and the woman — That a sense of enmity exists between the entire serpent race and mankind is a conspicuous fact, account for it as we may. But no better reason for it can be given than that presented in this Scripture, namely, because it was basely associated with man’s original sin.

It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. — It is difficult to ascertain the precise meaning of the word שׁוŠ, here rendered bruise. It occurs but three times, namely, here, Job 9:17, and Psalms 139:11. The Septuagint renders it here by τηρεω, to watch for; in Job by εκτριβω, to rub; in the Psalm by καταπατεω, to tread upon. The Vulgate translates it by two different words in this passage, contero, to bruise, in the first sentence, and insidior, to lie in wait for, in the second, but in Psalms 139 it has conculco, to tread upon. The word evidently denotes some sort of deadly stroke or wound, and the universal habit of man to seek to wound the serpent’s head, while the serpent is apt to wound the heel, (comp. Genesis 49:17,) confirms the realistic character of this narrative.

But while this Scripture is capable of such a simple and literal interpretation, it has also its profounder allusions. As the serpent was but the instrument of the devil, the father of lies, (see note on Genesis 3:1,) so the curse pronounced against the crooked, crawling beast has a deeper application to Satan and his seed. The base crawling, the dust-eating, and the heel-biting of serpents symbolize the habits of the old serpent, the devil. He evermore moves about his demoniacal work in conscious condemnation, as if in trembling (James 2:19) and in torment.

Matthew 8:29. Like unto the natural enmity existing between the serpent-race and man is that irrepressible conflict between Satan and the redeemed man. Tayler Lewis suggests that head and heel in this Scripture may denote the strong contrast between the methods of contest of these two eternal foes. The seed of the woman fights in a bold and manly way, and strikes openly at the head. Biting or striking at the heel, on the contrary, “denotes the mean, insidious character of the devil’s warfare, not only as carried on by the equivocating appetites, but also as waged by infidels and self-styled rationalists in all ages, who never meet Christianity in a frank and manly way.”

But who, in this deeper sense, is that “seed” who shall bruise the serpent’s head? The masculine pronoun HE ( הוא) is not without significance. The reading is not ipsa, she herself, as the Vulgate has it, and which some Romanists understand of the Virgin Mary; nor it, of the English version, which fails to convey the force of the Hebrew, הוא. We fully accord with the great body of Christian interpreters who recognise here the first Messianic prophecy, the protevangelium. But this prophecy, given in Paradise before the expulsion of the transgressors, should not be explained exclusively of the personal Messiah. That promised seed comprehends also the redeemed humanity of which he is Head — that great company who both suffer with him and with him shall also be glorified. Romans 8:17. The final triumph will not be won without much bloodshedding and many wounds. The old serpent has more than once bruised the great Conqueror’s heel, and many of the faithful “have resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” Hebrews 12:4. So only those who belong to Christ as their great head and leader, are the seed of promise; all others, though born of woman, by espousing the serpent’s cause and doing the lusts of the devil (John 8:44) are of the seed of the serpent, a “generation of vipers,” (Matthew 23:33,) whose end is perdition.

“Against the natural serpent,” says Keil, “the conflict may be carried on by the whole human race — by all who are born of woman — but not against Satan. As he is a foe who can only be met with spiritual weapons, none can encounter him successfully but such as possess and make use of spiritual arms. Hence the idea of the seed is modified by the nature of the foe. If we look at the natural development of the human race, Eve bore three sons, but only one of them, namely, Seth, was really the seed by which the human family was preserved through the flood, and perpetuated in Noah. So, again, of the three sons of Noah, Shem, the blessed of Jehovah, from whom Abraham descended, was the only one in whose seed all nations were to be blessed; and that not through Ishmael, but through Isaac alone. Through these constantly repeated acts of divine selection, which were not arbitrary exclusions, but were rendered necessary by differences in the spiritual condition of the individuals concerned, the seed to which the victory over Satan was promised was determined, and ceased to be co-extensive with physical descent. This spiritual seed culminated in Christ, in whom the Adamitic family terminated, henceforward to be renewed by Christ as the Second Adam, and to be restored by him to its original exaltation and likeness to God.… On the other hand, all who have not regarded and preserved the promise, have fallen into the power of the old serpent, and are to be regarded as the seed of the serpent, whose head will be trodden under foot.” Matthew 23:33; John 8:44; 1 John 3:8. Comp. the conflict between Michael and his angels, and the dragon and his angels in Revelation 12:7-9.


Verse 16

16. Unto the woman he said — A fourfold sentence: 1) multiplied pains of conception and pregnancy; 2) the pangs of childbirth; 3) the desire of the husband; and 4) the subjection to the authority of the man. Or the sentence may be treated as twofold by connecting the first and second together, the pains of pregnancy and childbirth being naturally associated; and the third and fourth are, in like manner, closely related in thought. The words thy sorrow and thy conception are properly regarded by most commentators as a hendiadys, meaning the sorrow of thy conception. The anxiety and pains of woman in conception, pregnancy, and childbirth are a most impressive commentary on this Scripture. The travail of childbirth is frequently alluded to as the image of deepest distress. Isaiah 13:8; Jeremiah 30:6; Micah 4:9.

Thy desire shall be to thy husband — Not sensual desire, though that may be remotely implied, but that instinctive inclination and tendency of heart which the female sex has ever shown toward man. The woman seems to have aspired to headship and leadership, but, being first in transgression, is doomed to be the “weaker vessel,” instinctively clinging to the man who has lordship over her.


Verse 17

17. Unto Adam he said — The examination began with Adam, (Genesis 3:9,) and the offence was traced to the serpent, (Genesis 3:13;) the condemnation was pronounced first upon the serpent (Genesis 3:14) and last upon the man. The curse pronounced against the man seems manifold. It contains, at least, five elements of woe: 1) On account of him the very soil is cursed, and, as a penal result of that curse, 2) the ground he tills will produce thorns and thistles along with the herb which is to be his food. Genesis 3:18. Moreover, 3) the cultivation of the grain which is to be his food, will involve toilsome and tiring labour, causing the sweat to stand upon his face, (Genesis 3:19,) and consequently, 4) his very eating will be in sorrow. 5) At last he himself must die and return to the dust from which he was taken.

Because thou hast hearkened… and hast eaten — To listen was a culpable weakness, to eat the forbidden fruit a crime. The plea of Adam (in Genesis 3:12) is of no avail. For the weakness of hearkening to his transgressing wife he must expend his manly strength in life-long painful struggle with a cursed soil, and for his own transgression of the commandment he must return to dust.

Cursed is the ground — Instead of a delightful Paradise, he shall find the ground becoming barren and unfruitful. Often since this general curse was uttered has God, by special judgments, cursed the land for the sins of the people. See Isaiah 24:1-6; Jeremiah 23:10.

In sorrow shalt thou eat עצבון, labour, distress. The same word employed in Genesis 3:16 to denote the woman’s sorrow. Her perpetual reminder of the original sin is to be the pain of childbearing; his, the corresponding sorrow of oppressive labour for food in the midst of manifold vocations.


Verse 18

18. Thorns also and thistles — Not that these had never yet grown, though they may not have existed in the garden. They become a curse and a plague by often outstripping the better herbs. They become luxuriant in spite of human effort to root them up and destroy them, while the much desired edible products of the soil demand great labour, sweat, and care. This fact should also remind fallen man that evil will grow in his heart more readily than good, and the “fruits of the Spirit” are not obtained and kept except by constant watching and working. The wild olive grows untilled, but not the good olive-tree; if that receive not cultivation, it will also run wild. Romans 11:24.

Thou shalt eat the herb of the field — These words may be understood as enhancing the idea of the curse and vexation of thorns and thistles just mentioned. Thus taking herb, in the broad sense of vegetable products necessary to man’s subsistence, the thought would be: The herb of the field will be necessary for thy subsistence; but not as heretofore will it grow without the troublesome admixture of thorns and thistles. These ugly growths will furnish an element of vexation in procuring thy daily bread. But a better view is, that which takes the herb of the field as a sad contrast of the fruit of the trees of the garden. Genesis 2:16; compare Genesis 3:2. The fruits of Eden, furnished in profusion and without laborious toil, shall be thine no longer, but in their stead thou shalt be compelled to eat the herbs of the field.


Verse 19

19. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread — Not only shall the sweat oppress thee in thy toil, but even when thou sittest to eat bread, it shall appear on thy face. “This sentence includes all the sorrows, pains, and sweating toils to which men are subject in gaining a livelihood.” — Jacobus. “No man eats bread but by the sweat of some man’s face.” — Conant. Dust thou art, (Genesis 2:7) and unto dust shalt thou return — Excluded from the garden and the tree of life, man must, sooner or later, suffer bodily dissolution. He may live nine hundred and thirty years, (Genesis 5:5,) but the death will surely come. The perfection and vigour of the first man may reasonably be believed to have been the cause of patriarchal longevity. The vigour of the race gradually deteriorated until human life rarely continued beyond a hundred years. See note introductory to chapter 5.


Verse 20

20. Eve… the mother of all living — The account of man’s original sin concludes with four statements too important and suggestive to have been accidental. The new naming of the woman, (comp. Genesis 2:23,) the first clothing, the expulsion from the garden of Eden, and the two sacred symbols placed at the gate, are full of significance. The name Eve, חוה, Hhavvah, from the intensive stem חיה, signifies life-spring, or quickener of life. Given in the very face of the death foreshadowed by the penal sentence, it seems to have arisen from Adam’s faith in the promise that the woman’s Seed should wound the serpent’s head. In Genesis 2:23 he named her Woman, in view of her origin; here he names her Eve, in view of her hopeful destiny.


Verse 21

21. Coats of skins — To procure these, animals must have been slain, and this was probably done by the man in accordance with a divine commandment. With much reason, therefore, have Christian divines believed that this was the origin of sacrifices, the offering of blood as an atonement for the soul. Comp. Leviticus 17:11. Possibly these animals were slain for food, but Genesis 9:3, taken in connexion with Genesis 1:29-30, has been thought to imply that animal food was not used by man before the flood. The covering of skins might have been an appropriate object-lesson to enforce the deeper lesson of the covering of guilt by the shedding of vicarious blood. Only by symbol could this deep lesson be then set forth.


Verse 22

22. As one of us, to know good and evil — The plural form of expression is the so-called plural of majesty, as in Genesis 1:26. Some, however, imagine that the angels are here addressed. The likeness is defined and limited by the words, to know good and evil, and this entire utterance of Jehovah Elohim is a solemn declaration of judgment. The allusion to the serpent’s words, in Genesis 3:5, is too marked to be denied, and hence we may allow that this word of the Lord contains an element of irony. This opinion is not to be set aside by the assertion that irony, at the expense of a fallen soul, would befit Satan rather than Jehovah. The irony is an element of the penal judgment, and as Goeschell (quoted in Lange) well observes, “a divine irony is everywhere the second stage in all divine acts of punishment.” Lange himself thus paraphrases: “He is become like God; true, alas! God pity him! He knows now, in his guilty consciousness, the difference between good and evil.” God, in his infinite holiness and wisdom, possesses absolute knowledge of good and evil, but not by participation in the evil. By a perfect knowledge and possession of good, sinning is with him immutably impossible. Hebrews 6:18. Man should have attained like knowledge in a normal way, not by an opening of his eyes through disobedience. Compare note on Genesis 2:17.

Take also of the tree of life — The word also does not necessarily imply “that the man had not yet eaten of the tree of life,” (Keil,) nor are we to suppose that once eating of the fruit of that tree would secure exemption from death. Often, during his sojourn in Eden, might he have eaten of that tree. But now, lest by continuing to eat he maintain himself in immortal vigour, he must be excluded from the garden, and allowed no access to the tree of life.


Verse 23

23. Therefore the Lord God sent him forth — The divine utterance in the previous verse was impressively left unfinished, a notable example of aposiopesis. The writer here passes abruptly to state what immediately followed the penal sentence, as if unwilling to express the awful words of the Judge.

To till the ground from whence he was taken — His toilsome labour in the dust is to be a constant reminder both of his bodily origin and of his future dissolution. Compare Genesis 3:19.


Verse 24

24. Cherubim, and a flaming sword — More accurately the Revised Version: the cherubim, and the flame of a sword. There is nothing in this narrative to assure us that these cherubim were “real creatures, and not mere symbols.” (Murphy.) Their introduction into a history of what was real does not prove that they, any more than the flaming sword, were real creatures. Rather, both cherubim and sword were significant symbols placed at the east of the garden of Eden, in sight of our first parents, (as Moses lifted up a brazen serpent in view of penitent Israel, Numbers 21:9,) and adapted to inculcate some important fact or lesson of divine revelation, The flame of the sword — probably a flame of fire in the form of a sword — would have served as a symbol of divine justice to intensify the certainty of retributive judgment on every transgressor. Such a spectacle, turning to and fro before the eyes of the first man, was a significant “object lesson” to inspire holy fear of God, the righteous Judge. In connexion with the words of promise (Genesis 3:15) and the doctrine of sacrifice and atonement, (Genesis 3:21, note,) it was necessary to impress the lesson that the Justifier must himself be just. See Romans 3:26. But what was the appearance of the cherubim, and what did they signify? In Ezekiel 1:5-14, they are represented as “living creatures,” combining the four highest types of animal life, namely, man, lion, ox, and eagle, and moving in closest connexion with the mystic wheels of divine providence and judgment. Ezekiel 1:15-21. Over their heads was enthroned the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah. Ezekiel 1:26-28. In Revelation 4:6-8, they appear also as living creatures “in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne,” and the New Testament seer combines with them some features peculiar to the seraphim of Isaiah 6:2-3. These latter seem to have been the same in the heavenly temple as the cherubim were in the temple and tabernacle. Moses was commanded to make two cherubim of gold, and place them in the holy of holies, one at each end of the mercy-seat, with their faces toward each other, and their wings spread out over the mercy-seat. Exodus 25:18-20. Hence Jehovah was thought of as dwelling with, or sitting upon, the cherubim. 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1; Isaiah 37:16. Whatever the various import of these composite figures, we should observe that they everywhere appear in most intimate relation to the glory of God, and to be filled with intensity of life. As now the flaming sword symbolized the righteous judgment of God and proclaimed his fearful justice, so, on the other hand, the cherubim were suggestive symbols of the eternal life and heavenly glory to be secured to man through the mystery of redemption. Their composite form would serve to illustrate the immanence and intense activity of God in all created life — an incarnation or embodiment of divine life in earthly form, by which all that was lost in Eden might be restored to heavenly places in Christ. Thus the Edenic symbols were a grand apocalypse, revealing the glorious truth that man, redeemed and filled with the Spirit, shall again have power over the tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. Comp. Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:14. Though of composite form, and representing the highest kinds of creature-life on earth, those symbols had pre-eminently the likeness of a man. Ezekiel 1:5. Jehovah is the God of the living, and has about the throne of his glory the highest symbols of life. So at the gate of Eden and in the holy of holies, the cherubim were signs and pledges that in the ages to come, having made peace through the blood of the cross, God would “reconcile all things unto himself,” whether things upon the earth or things in the heavens, (Colossians 1:20,) and sanctify them in his glory. Exodus 29:43. The redeemed are to “reign in life” through Jesus Christ. Romans 5:17. It is significant, therefore, that these prophetic symbols were set to keep the way of the tree of life. That way was not to be closed up forever. It was guarded both by justice and love, and will be until the work of redemption becomes complete, and “there shall be no more curse.” Revelation 22:3. Then the redeemed of Adam’s race, having washed their robes, shall have the right to come to the tree of life, and shall “enter through the gates into the city.”

Revelation 22:14. The New Testament vision of new heavens and new earth, and New Jerusalem, are but a fuller revelation of what was shown in symbol at the east of the garden of Eden. The whole earth shall become a blessed Eden, (comp. Micah 4:1-5,) the holy city shall, like the happy garden, become its holy of holies, into which fallen man, having washed his robes, shall freely enter, for then, in the highest reality, “the tabernacle of God” shall be “with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4.

It is significant, that in the New Testament Apocalypse no cherubim appear about the throne of God and the Lamb. For the mere symbols of redeemed humanity are supplanted by the innumerable multitude in blood-washed robes, (comp. Revelation 7:9-17,) from whom the curse has been removed, and who take the places of the cherubim and seraphim about the throne, behold the glory of Christ, (comp. John 17:24,) look upon the face of God and the Lamb, act as his servants, and have his name upon their foreheads. Revelation 22:3-4. So the New Testament Apocalypse completes what the one at the garden of Eden but dimly foreshadowed.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/genesis-3.html. 1874-1909.

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