Saturday, October 13, 2007

BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING: Address 3: Adam and Eve Fail First Test (Gen 3)

Address 3: Adam and Eve Fail First Test  (Genesis 3)

Last week we left Adam and Eve inside the gates of Paradise University. Like entering students at Uganda Christian University, they may have walked around dazed by the greenery of the trees and delighted by the sudden new friendship – may I suggest romance – that God had given them in each other.

In his famous work Paradise Lost, John Milton portrays Adam and Eve having evening prayers before turning in for the night. However, there is no real reference to this in the text, and it may well be that the idea of communicating directly with God had not yet dawned upon them. Perhaps all they had to go on was God’s single word of direction: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (verses 16-17). Even this command came to Adam only and therefore to Eve second-hand. Hence the first couple may not have been prepared for the “pop quiz” on the next day. They should have been but they weren’t.

Surprise Test

Eve is approached by a talking snake. Perhaps she should have been on her guard to aberrations in nature. Some animals may be cleverer than others, but talking, it seems, is unique to man (and angels). This strange animal – we may guess that the snake was possessed by Satan (Revelation 12:9: 20:2), but Eve did not know this – this strange animal begins by asking questions. Asking questions is the beginning of wisdom according to the Greek philosopher Socrates, who walked the streets of Athens questioning the youth. For university students, it is important that you learn dialogue, to interact with the ideas you find from your teachers and books. And I might add, your teachers should be posing exam questions to you that do not merely require the repetition of information but force you to think more widely.

Questions, however, can also be a vehicle for challenging authority, in the snake’s case the authority of God Himself:

He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (verses 1-3)

Put yourself in the place of the woman. Did she answer well? I don’t think so. Let me propose several alternative answers she could have given.

  • “Who are you, you snake, to be speaking to me, a daughter of God?”
  • “Excuse me, but I need to consult with my husband about this.”
  • “Yes He did, and I quote: ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’”

Notice that Eve did not do a good job on her memory verse: she adds “you must not touch it…” which God did not say. Could Adam have added that flourish? We don’t know. What we can say is that Adam and Eve have not taken with full seriousness the truth that this is God’s word and not to be tampered with. Hence they open the door to the Tempter.

The snake moves from question to assertion:

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (verses 4-5)

Not only is he asserting something about the tree of knowledge, he is also asserting something about God. Here we meet the arrogant spirit of Satan, the Opposer of God, who claims he knows what God intended in His command, who insinuates that God has prohibited the tree out of envy that man might become god-like and who assures man that he would not die but have eternal life. In all these matter he is a Liar and a Deceiver.

The Woman has mixed motives in her disobedient action: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it” (verse 6a). She chose it because of its being “good” and “beautiful” – not bad reasons per se but bad in this situation. She acts like a married woman seeing a good-looking man and saying, “Wow, I’d like him.” She is bound by a prior commitment, and so good and beautiful though he may be, he is off limits to her.

The Woman then shared her sin with Adam: “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (verse 6b). Here we encounter the sad perversion of our social nature. We are made for society of others, but not every society is worthy. The Church should be a community dedicated to loving God and neighbour. A gang of thugs – the LRA – corrupts man’s natural sociality for an evil purpose. So, hard as it might seem, we have to judge that Adam should have said No to Eve and Yes to God, whatever the hard consequences. Instead, Adam and Eve are conspirators in a hopeless rebellion against the Creator.

Adam and Eve’s university course has hardly begun and already they have failed – or rather they are put on probation by God’s mercy. The theological term we use for this failure is SIN, and we are all heirs of that sin: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

Answerable to God

In the next section, Adam and Eve for the first time meet God face to face. Well, not actually face to face because they have hidden in the bushes.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (verses 7-8)

Let us not glorify sin. It is ugly and evil and has led to the horrible acts of inhumanity of man to man through history. At the same time, we can see that sinful Man has not become a devil; rather he has been corrupted. Many of the good things which Adam and Eve had now become “mixed blessings.” Man’s potential – what he might have become had he patiently lived under God’s law – also emerges more quickly but crookedly.

Their eyes were opened and they saw they were naked. In one sense the Tempter was right. The act of eating the forbidden fruit led to a new kind of knowledge, not just the knowledge to distinguish between good and evil but the knowledge of evil dwelling within, the kind of conflicted knowledge that says, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). In particular, the natural beauty of the body becomes an embarrassment. It is as if the body becomes a symbol of the whole personality, ashamed to stand upright before God and others.

We have the beginning of the “shame game,” hiding our true feelings, especially our hateful ones but even our better ones .We also have the beginning of the blame game – shifting our sins to others. Confronted with his disobedient act, Adam says: "The woman you put here with me-- she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." And the woman quickly passes the blame on to the snake:" The serpent deceived me, and I ate." We are all caught in the web of sin, which is the inheritance of our race. There is corporate sin as well as personal sin. But it is ever our tendency to evade our personal responsibility by looking to the sins of the fathers, or of the society in general. “Everyone cheats, so I have to cheat to keep up,” is our slogan – a slogan taken straight out of the Garden of Eden.

Sin makes us aware of our guilt before God, but it also hides true self-knowledge. In this sense, Adam and Eve gained knowledge from the tree, but they also gained ignorance. They no longer have that simple understanding and trust of God and of each other. Civilization begins with the Fall; the greatness that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome are all by-products of the Tree. Only those who are known by God can truly know Him and their neighbour and their own soul.


Some people today dispute the role of punishment in a legal system. Why do we punish criminals? To keep them off the streets? To rehabilitate them? What about because they have it coming to them. There is a long-standing connection between justice and punishment, but in the Bible there is also a principle that “the punishment must fit the crime.” The “law of retribution” (lex talionis) states: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; a life for a life.” Some people find this rule harsh, but think the alternative: a life for an eye, a tooth for a life, etc. There have been many law codes where there is no connection between the severity of the crime and the punishment or where “big men” calculatre they will get away with major crime with little risk to themselves.

But God is “no respecter of persons,’ and He metes out the punishment to the perpetrators of the Fall. He goes in order of initiative, from the snake to the woman to the man. The snake is condemned to slide on its belly and be the mortal enemy of man, as we in Africa well know. The woman bears the pain and risk of childbearing and child-rearing and depends on her husband to provide for the family.

Adam’s curse is much more explicit. Like a judge, God declares the judgement before pronouncing the sentence:

To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." (verses 17-19)

Adam’s sentence, it turns out, is not for him alone but for Eve and all their descendents. All will die and with them the kosmos – what we today call the environment – will harden and wither and succumb to “natural” catastrophes.

Life Outside the Garden

“So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden…” (verse 23). Most of the features of human history, right down to the modern era, are seeded in Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden. And they are not all bad. God does not curse Man utterly or eternally as he does Satan. To be sure, we deserve final death and destruction. But God shows His mercy even in justice. We cannot go back to Eden, but we do carry part of it with us – in a holy marriage, in stewardship of the earth, in cultivation of beauty in the arts…in education. True, our parents failed the first exam, failed it badly. But God gave them a second chance. They failed to obey his One commandment. Now he will give them a chance to learn and obey his Ten Commandments, or for us Christians his Two Great Commandments: to love the Lord God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Our race made a bad start, but God has provided us a tutor: His Word and Spirit.

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