Once Upon a Garden

Genesis 3

We began a study last week entitled “Back to Our Roots.”  And the roots we’re returning to are all the way back in Genesis, because it’s in Genesis that everything that we will need to understand the rest of the Bible, and our own spiritual heritage begins there.

We learn one thing quickly about Genesis – it is not a theological reference book for all our curious questions – and I have a lot of them.  But aside from my curiosity and desire to know just went on that turned this whole thing upside down, we do learn that while God looked on all that he had created and said, “this is very good” something not so very good had also entered the scene.

If God is the power of creation and sustainer of all that he created, the writer quickly wants to let us know that there are other forces at work to corrupt that good.

In Genesis 1-2, we learned that man is the pinnacle of God’s creation, not some cosmic blunder, or the latest rung in the evolutionary ladder to higher beings.  He is not simply one animal among many animals that God created, with no more rights or privileges or standing than a rodent.  We are created in God’s likeness, in his image.  Remember the psalmists words we read last week:  Psalm 8

One of the unique things that God created within man and woman was the ability to choose – to make decisions that express our character and intention.  Not just led by instinct, but with the real ability to choose – even to choose badly.

That choice is the focus around which our ability to know God revolves.  In his creation, God could have made it impossible to sin – no temptation, no choices – obedience, blind obedience, absolute obedience… empty obedience.  But God knew that obedience that comes from the inability to choose to obey means nothing.

Yes, the actions are important, but it has always been the heart which God has wanted most.  That with our heart we choose between the right and the wrong, between disobedience and obedience, between God and Satan.

We are introduced rather abruptly to the serpent, who is obviously more than meets the eye.  As a serpent, just another creature, but God will in short measure make some drastic changes in his physical features and stature.  But he is also the embodiment of an evil influence whom we are to identify without a doubt as the evil one himself, Satan.

How did Satan arrive on the scene?  Did he slip in while God wasn’t looking, did he enter through the back door and entrench himself in a little corner of creation?  What is he doing here in the middle of the garden of Eden – evil in the midst of paradise?

Satan once was as one of the angels – a chief angel – his name was Lucifer, which meant “morning star.”  Isaiah writes of his tragic fall:

How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn!

You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!

You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God;

I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.

I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit. (Isa. 14:12-15)

Did he stage a failed coup?  Did he try to unseat God or merely try to establish a competing kingdom?  (Like I said, I have a lot of curious questions – but we aren’t given answers to all of the questions we want to ask.)  What we can only speculate is that it happened at some point after the completion of creation (the angels are created beings, and thus Satan is a created being), and God banished him to earth and allowed him to have a measure of power within the realm of earth, and we surmise from Genesis 3 that he set up shop in Eden, knowing that this was God’s weakness – his love for man.

From that moment on his existence was spent working to destroy the work of God.  He hates God’s creation and especially people and wants to enslave them and destroy them and, it would seem, to drive a wedge between us and God.

Look at the way Satan works – it is instructive:  Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. 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.’”  “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.” vss. 1-5

Satan doesn’t make the woman do anything.  He simply provides her a choice.  I don’t recall Satan ever making me do anything either, but he certainly gives me choices.  But he always distorts the facts, the consequences, the cost.  But the devil never “made me do it.”

He is crafty and seems to tempt us most with those things that tempt our weakest side.  Listen again to those words to Eve:  “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  What could be wrong with that?  How could knowledge hurt someone?  To be like God?  After all, weren’t they created in his image? Why wouldn’t God want them to become more like him?

And once again, Genesis 3 condenses this conversation to a brief five verses, but I think it took place over days and weeks and months.  Eve didn’t walk by one day and have a three minute conversation with the serpent and decide to ignore God’s warnings by doing what she knew she shouldn’t do.  But over time, the conversation grew.  Apparently his appearance didn’t frighten her, his words didn’t alarm her – they were soothing and compelling.  They weren’t bold and aggressive, they were subtle and persuasive.  He wasn’t asking her to defy God to his face, just to do what any thinking person would do when given the opportunity.  I imagine that she, at first, ignored him, then lingered for a moment and listened, then stopped and spoke, then engaged in the conversation, then began to consider what he said, then began to buy into his reasoning, until finally she thought she was doing God a favor by doing what the serpent suggested.

The writer condenses it all into three phrases:  look at vs. 6: 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.  She saw, she took, she ate.

She won’t be alone.  The Bible will describe this same scenario over and over. 

·         In Joshua 7, the Israelites have conquered Ai and the Lord has told them not to take any of the plunder but to destroy it all.  But the appeal is too great – in Joshua 7:21 – Achan saw, he coveted, he took, he hid.

·         When David looked down from the roof of the palace and there was Bathsheba – 2 Samuel 11:2-4 – David saw, he asked, he sent, he slept with her.

·         James describes this tragic scenario in our lives:  “but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15)

Listen to the tragic consequences there in the garden:  She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  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.

The serpent had promised knowledge, but their immediate influx of knowledge was not the kind that makes you wise.  It is the kind that defiles and shames.  The intimate relationship between Adam and Eve is broken.

We also immediately see sin’s effect on the intimate relationship between them and God:  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. (Gen. 3:8)

The given-ness of God’s presence and his rule in the garden are no longer the boundaries of a safe place.  God is now an intruder to be avoided, a barrier to be circumvented.

God begins to ask questions – not to obtain information (he knows what has happened) – but to make the man and woman understand the impact and the consequences of what they have done. 

Where are you?

Who told you you were naked?

Have you eaten from the tree?

What have you done?

What had been safe parameters now held fear and terror.  The awareness of their nakedness and the hiding already manifest the power of death even before God takes any action.  They choose “knowledge” rather than trust.  They have taken life into their own hands.

What takes place next sounds so familiar – it is the blame game and we haven’t really gotten much better in the generations that have followed them:

The LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? ” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”  (Gen. 3:9-13)

Here are the long term consequences of their sin:  So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

God’s punishment of the serpent was twofold.  One part was upon the serpent, that he would no longer walk, but crawl on his belly – a significant physical change.  The second part was aimed at Satan himself – that there would be hatred between him and mankind. 

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

The woman’s punishment would be twofold: pain in childbirth, and disruption to the natural harmony that had existed between husband and wife. 

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.” (Gen 3:14-19)

Finally, man’s punishment was also twofold: he must now work hard for his food (thank Adam for weeds), and also mortality.  Until this time, it would seem, death had not entered the scene (as God banished them from the garden it was in order to keep them from eating of the tree of life and “living forever.”)  And even more significant was the entrance of spiritual death as a consequence of sin.

Now understand, God could have put them to death immediately – he had warned them that “when you eat of it, you will surely die.”

He could also have just ignored it and said, “everyone makes mistakes,” but he didn’t.  The punishment that he applied was so that man would not forget, and more than that, so that he would be drawn to come back to God.

Even as God banishes them from the garden, we see his gracious provisions.

He clothed them with garments of animal skin.

He banished them from the garden to protect them.

And most significantly, he gives us hope:  In those prophetic words: “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”  There is a redeemer who will one day put all things right and heal this tragic wound.

Three things we need to take away from Genesis 3 this morning:

1)         God’s creation remains good – and more than that, God remains good.  As Paul will write in 2 Timothy 2:13,  If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

2)         Each man and woman is responsible for his or her own sin.  Whatever else we have inherited from Adam, it cannot be the guilt of his sin.  I am guilty, not because Adam sinned, but because I have sinned.  Just a few verses earlier in 2 Timothy, Paul wrote,  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time… (2 Tim 1:8)

3)         Sin is too powerful for us to overcome by ourselves.  Only the blood of Christ can cleanse us from sin.