Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Paradise Lost-Gen. 3:1-7
The stories found in the book of Genesis have served as the inspiration behind movie franchises, art, and other fanciful retellings throughout the ages. One of the most famous adaptations of the passage we are going to look at today is entitled Paradise Lost in which John Milton provides his own retelling of the fall of Satan and the subsequent fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Today we are going to look at the original account of this tragedy from Genesis 3:1-7 and observe three disastrous steps that were involved in the fall of mankind. Ultimately, from this study today we will learn exactly how precious God’s Word is for His people and just how egregious it is to disobey His commands.
STEP #1: God’s Word is Distorted-3:1-3
Paradise complete, community created, fruit aplenty, Eden was a real marvel to behold. However, as iterated earlier in this study (see notes on 2:7-8, 17-18), good is not great if there is no free choice involved. Without the possibility of choosing to do otherwise, the free agents that God created would not know true freedom.
“For so I created them free and free they must remain” (Milton’s Paradise Lost).
Therefore, to pave the way for mankind’s free expression of love and obedience, God allows a serpent to enter the garden—“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made” (3:1). The serpent’s appearance is sudden and, at least in the way it is written, unexpected for those reading this.
He is described as “crafty” (arum), which, depending on the context in which this word is found, can either mean wise or conniving. Here, it is obvious that the sharp wit of this serpent will be used for nefarious purposes. In fact, there is an interestingly word play going on in the original language as “crafty” (arum) looks and sounds a lot like what will eventually be exposed for Adam and Eve after their failure—their nakedness (arummim). This first couple ought to be aware of the craftiness of this serpent’s words lest his phrases lead to their undoing and shame.
No doubt connected to this historical account, serpents in the ancient world were viewed as unclean animals because of their movement on the ground (see Lev. 11:41-45). These were also associated with the judgment of God for Israel’s complaints against God in the wilderness (see the “venomous snakes” in Num. 21:6). Also, in the ancient Near Eastern tradition, snakes represented powerful forces that opposed the creator-god (for more discussion see Matthews, 234). Therefore, though Eve was unaware of the danger of falling prey to this destructive predator, you can bet that the original audience listening to this account would have gasped upon learning of the snake’s presence in the Garden of Eden. They understood what kind of danger Eve now faced.
Once introduced, the serpent sets about his work. Step one for this especially crafty serpent involved undermining the word of God—“And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’” (3:1b). Notice how insidious this statement is. First, the serpent chooses not to directly contradict the command given. Instead he questions God’s motivation with “indeed, has God said” (i.e. “did God really say…?”). Second, the serpent uses the name “God” instead of the covenant name “LORD” that has so characterized the narrative from 2:4-25 (where “LORD God” appears almost exclusively). Third, after calling into question God’s motivation and calling the Lord by a different name, the serpent lies outright—“Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’…” (3:1b). Is this what God said?
Genesis 2:16-17-“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die."
This command, given originally to Adam before the creation of Eve, is worlds away from what the serpent is now suggesting in his question. Adam and Eve were free to eat from ALL the trees except the one—not prohibited from enjoying ANY of the fruit!
Many have speculated why Eve was made a special target by the serpent. Some suggest that the serpent believed if he could get Eve to sin, it would be an easy sell to her husband—that same husband who knew what it was like to be alone and upon seeing her for the first time was so taken with her likeness and beauty. Others believe that because Eve did not hear the command from God’s own lips, she was an easier target. Unlike Adam, Eve received the command from a secondary source. This could have rendered her understanding of the commandment more tenuous.
No matter the reason, Eve makes a tragic mistake in verses 2-3—“The woman said to the serpent, ‘from the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die”’…”. Here, Eve entertains the question of the crafty serpent and tries to reason with someone who has a nefarious agenda. In so doing, she endorses a conversation with this destroyer that eventually leads to more manipulation of God’s command as originally given. In Eve’s attempt to correct the serpent, she ends of making her own mistake. She adds to God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil the idea of even touching it. This, along with her lack of urgency (changing “surely die” as found in the originally command to “die”) sets Eve up for failure. The tragic thing is, she doesn’t even realize how close she is to tragedy.
By the end of verse 3, God’s Word has been totally distorted. First, Satan has intentionally distorted God’s Word. Second, Eve has unintentionally failed to maintain its nuance and urgency. This failure is the soil in which sin sprouted in paradise. The principle here is simple: When God’s people fail to know, understand, and keep the Word of God, they will inevitably fall.
STEP #2: God’s Best is Replaced-3:4-6a
As the situation continues to devolve, God’s best is replaced with something else. The serpent’s play involves getting the couple to believe that God is keeping them from something desirable. To this end, the serpent says, “’You surely will not die! For God know that in the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,’….” (3:4-5). Again, the motivation of God is called into question. For the serpent, God is not good and gracious; He is selfish and deceptive, preventing the man and woman from achieving the same position as Him.
Ultimately, in his crafty presentation, the serpent makes three counterclaims: First, in opposition to what Eve has just said, he claims that they will not die when they eat this food. Second, contra the couples’ experience, the serpent makes it seems as though it is only upon eating this forbidden fruit that their eyes would be truly open. Third, the serpent contends that God is holding them back from true abundance, fun, and knowledge (in spite of all that this couple knew and enjoyed up to this point) (adapted from Matthews, 237).
“Knowledge forbidden? Suspicious, reasonless. Why should their Lord Envy them that? Can it be a sin to know? Can it be death?” (Milton’s Paradise Lost)
It is, after all, just fruit,…right? What was the big point anyway? Why would God want to withhold something as pure as knowledge from this couple, especially in Paradise? To answer these questions we have to return to what is at stake. Though the couple was free to eat from the tree of LIFE, they were not permitted to eat from the tree of knowledge of GOOD AND EVIL. Can you imagine living a free and lasting existence without ever knowing the perils of wickedness? This is what God intended. The only way this could happen is if free agents followed God’s one command. Then, and only then could they know a perfect existence and maintain their freedom. Freedom is illustrated in the very real potential for choosing to disobey God’s command (to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil). Paradise is illustrated in the tree of life that could be freely enjoyed. God’s best involved providing Adam and Eve with a life free from knowing Evil. What could be better? What was a piece of fruit compared to that?!
Though God had the best intentions to make the very best existence available for this first couple and made every accommodation for mankind to realize this paradise forever, Eve, upon hearing the serpent’s words is distracted from God’s best by what looks good—“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirably to make one wise,…” (3:6a). This distraction is reflected in 1 John 2:16.
1 John 2:16- “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”
It is obvious by what Moses reveals in Genesis that Eve endorses these inclinations. She looks at the juicy fruit hanging from the limbs and supposes it to be good for food (lust of the flesh), recognizes its color and size and is impressed by its ripeness (lust of the eyes), imagines what it would be like to know what God knows (pride of life), and, as a result, is in very real danger.
There is something deeply personal going on here as it pertains to the serpent and the nature of his temptation. If we believe that the serpent is none other than the fallen angel Lucifer, it is easy to understand why he wants Adam and Eve to fall in this way. The very same knowledge that the serpent tempts Eve with—the promise to be “like God” –is the very same thing that Lucifer wanted in the heavens. Because he failed in his prideful attempt to be like God, leading to his fall, he would love nothing more than for God’s greatest creation to experience the very same failure.
Ultimately, as it plays out here, Eve takes her eyes off of God’s best and settles for what looks good at the time—tasty fruit, good-looking produce, and new knowledge. This leaves her susceptible for egregious failure.
STEP #3: God’s Command is Broken-3:6b-7
In the most tragic verse perhaps ever penned, Moses writes, “she took from its fruit and ate” (3:6b). Here, in this first ever sin of commission, God’s one command was broken and paradise was lost. After entertaining the lies of the serpent and engaging a deceiver in conversation, God’s Word was distorted. After listening further to the destructive case being made and calling into question God’s motivations, the Lord’s best was replaced. The seed that was planted by the serpent grew in the Garden by means of discussion and manipulation, leading to a harvest of sin.
To make matters worse, Moses continues by saying, “and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (3:6c). One might ask, “Where has Adam been this whole time?” (That is a very good question!) Up to this point, his presence has gone largely unnoticed. However, his presence is assumed in this verses which suggests that he was “with her” this whole time. Not only that but the second and third person plural pronouns (“you” and “we”) that pervade verses 1-5 suggest that the serpent was speaking not just to one, but to both of them (although he was focusing on Eve in particular).
Therefore, though Eve’s decision to eat the fruit was the first example of a sin of commission, Adam’s silence during this whole situation illustrates the first example of a sin of omission. Adam failed to correct the record of God’s Word that the serpent lied about and that Eve misrepresented. Adam failed to remind his wife of God’s best for them. Adam failed to lead Eve away from the tree and instead allowed her to move toward it. Because of this, one might make the case that Adam’s sin, though less obvious was primary and even more troubling.
Adam’s sin illustrates exactly what happens when individuals do not stake a stand for what is right, true, and good. As Simon Wiesenthal said, “for evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.” Here, Adam’s failure not only leads Eve toward sin, it also allows for the infection of the perfect community God created. His sin and her sin become their shared sin. This leads to the destruction of the perfect relationship this couple once shared with each other and with God.
“Our state cannot be severed, we are one, One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself.” (Milton’s Paradise Lost)
Immediately, just as quickly as Moses describes the sin of each of them, he continues by outlining the immediate consequences. First, there is an abundance of guilt, “then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (3:7a). Unlike God who is able to handle the knowledge of good and evil perfectly, humble humanity is shaken to its core, resulting in shame. That which was once a beautiful expression of love and freedom becomes a cause for concern and displeasure.
The two immediately set out to cover up their sin by covering up their naked bodies—“and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings” (3:7b). Their efforts to hide their shame are puny and insufficient. No one was hiding anything with these leaves. Instead, in an effort to hide their shame, they only drew more attention to it.
Now, no longer was Garden of Eden a wondrous place, but a fallen place. Guilt pervaded the once joyous garden. Covers now crudely hide the glorious beauty of God’s greatest creation. Paradise was lost.
How did this all happen? God’s Word was distorted, God’s best was replaced (after the serpent had Eve believing that God was withholding His best from them), and God’s command was broken. This is the fault of BOTH Adam and Eve. Adam was silent when he should have spoken up and led. Eve was enamored with what was in front of her rather than who God was.
While it is easy to call these two out for their great failure, understand that Satan gets a lot of return out of these same tactics today. This is why God’s people need to study, know, and understand His Word. The Bible says “Thy word have I hidden in my heart that I may not sin against God” (Ps. 119:11). This is also why we need to be more impressed by God than we are with this world has to offer or what we believe we are missing. Like Paul we must trust that no matter the circumstance or presumed lack, God is still with us and providing us with everything we need to perform His will—“I know how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:12-13).
So much is at stake when we are tempted. It is a matter of life and death! However, it is also a matter of confidence in who God is and what He has said. We must not fail to remember His word. We must not be silent when HIs truth is being distorted. Instead, we must lead the way to truth and have a bigger opinion of what is unseen than what is seen.