After reading the first couple of chapters in Genesis it is not hard to realize that we’re not living in those same conditions. We are not in an idyllic paradise and shame and guilt are not unknown. We have lost paradise, but how does this happen? What is the reason behind this? Genesis 3 presents us with the story that a number of people call “The Fall.”
We start off Genesis 3 being given a portrait of the serpent. The picture we’re given is that the serpent was a crafty creature beyond any of the other animals God had made. This is meant to be a contrast to the human pair who were naked (which could also be used to mean innocent) and unashamed in Genesis 2:25. So much for the humans ruling over creation eh?
Now a lot is made out of the serpent. The serpent is commonly associated with Satan or the Devil. Now admittedly there is no explicit connection made between the two here. This connection is usually made by connecting Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 to this story. These may very well be proper connections, but a lot of time went between these two stories.
I also imagine that a good part of trying to connect it to something supernatural (but not above or on par with God) is that I haven’t met many serpents who can talk and have tempted me to disobey God. It certainly seems like something more is at work here than just what’s being presented at the surface. Does that mean for certain the serpent was Satan? No, but does it rule it out either? Personally, I don’t think so.
Did God Really Say?
The serpent comes upon the woman and asks “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'” Now this is the point that most Christians really rally around, that the worst thing to ask is if God really said something. While there is a degree of truth to that, I think the danger lies when we ask that while skewing what God actually said for our own purposes, which is what the serpent is doing here.
There is a divide between asking this question in a subversive manner and asking this question in an inquisitive manner. I know that on my journey of faith I often wondered where we found the basis for our belief that something is wrong to do. So asking “Did God really say playing cards/dancing/drinking/etc is wrong?” isn’t necessarily bad, because it can be asked to gain insight and understanding. I feel that we don’t always do a good job at discerning the intent behind questions and often assume the worst and maybe even point to this passage to vindicate ourselves.
Now, the serpent asks this question and doesn’t even present what God actually told the man and woman, which was “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” (Genesis 2:16-17). He instead presents this as if God had not allowed any tree at all to be eaten.Trying to present God as one who keeps the man and woman from doing things rather than focusing on what God does allow.
The woman tells the serpent that there is only one tree they can’t eat of or else they’ll die. The serpent then counters by saying that the woman is wrong. They won’t die if they eat the tree, instead eating from the tree will make them like God. This is again playing up the idea that God is keeping this from them. This is all it takes for the woman to reevaluate the tree, eat of it and get the man to eat of it as well.
Once they eat of it their eyes are opened, they realize their nakedness and seek to cover themselves up. John H. Sailhamer in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Genesis frames this whole exchange in an interesting way by saying, “Ironically, that which the snake promised did, in fact, come about: the man and the woman became ‘like God’ as soon as they ate of the fruit. The irony, however, lies in the fact that they were already ‘like God’ because they had been made in his image (1:26).”
Hide and Seek With God
God enters the scene in 3:8 and once the man and woman notice this they run away and hide. This prompts an exchange between the man and God. God seeks out the man and the woman and I believe offers a chance for confession and repentance.
Why do I believe that? Well because all God does is ask questions. Here he casts no blame and doesn’t pronounce any judgment. The ones who cast blame are actually the man and woman themselves. The man instead of taking responsibility for his own part blames the woman and indirectly God for giving him the woman in the first place. The woman comes out blaming the snake, but does admit to eating the fruit. Neither strike me as really seeking forgiveness, but rather trying to put the bulk of the blame on another person. I could be wrong on this, but that’s my take.
Anyhow, God curses each of the individuals after asking his questions and the chance of repentance now lost. The snake is told that he will crawl on his belly and eat dust. Sailhamer doesn’t think that it has to mean the snake once walked on all fours, but that “The emphasis lies in the snake’s ‘eating dust,’ an expression that elsewhere carries the meaning of ‘total defeat.'” So it seems that the whole curse of the snake is centered around the idea of defeat, and specifically defeat at the hands of the woman’s offspring.
For the woman and the man there seems to be some difficulty added to things they were to enjoy in the garden. For the woman one difficulty would center around being fruitful and multiplying as was presented in Genesis 1:28. Greatly increased pain in childbirth would now be a factor.
In addition there seems like there would be added difficulty in the relationship between the man and woman. I wonder if this is a adding difficulty to the notion that man and woman would be one flesh as presented in Genesis 2:24. Instead of oneness, there would now be contention and battles for power. It doesn’t mean that they would not become one in marriage, but that this oneness will now be more difficult to achieve.
With man the first focus is regarding the land. Instead of being able to freely eat of any of the trees in the garden (Genesis 2:16) he is now going to have to toil and work for the crops. The second focus is the life of the man himself. Instead of living eternally, he would one day return to the ground that God formed him out of. The idea that man would surely die by eating of the forbidden tree is coming, even if not immediately.
Death and Exile
One aspect of this story I’ve never quite realized before, is the idea that the fall breaks God out of his rest. He makes garments for the man and woman. As Sailhamer says “After—and because of—the Fall, there was more work to be done.” I never really thought about it from the vantage point of God and his rest, which we were to be a part of, being interrupted by the fall.
I’ve always thought of this act as being a sacrifice. In place of the immediate death of the man and woman, animals were killed to literally cover them as clothing after their disobedience. Maybe that isn’t something that is to be taken out of the situation, but it certainly seems fitting to me.
If this was a sacrifice, it was not enough to have the human race escape the death that God placed as punishment. What is interesting with how it is described is that the death of the man and woman was due to God exiling them from Eden and the tree of life. It isn’t something naturally within man or nature that keeps them alive, but something that has to be accessed externally. This is a different angle than is often the way I feel that immortality is presented regarding the world pre-fall by many Christians.
Tempted to become like God in ways we weren’t meant to be, humanity was separated from God and life was made harder due to their disobedience. After being tempted by the serpent, being made in God’s image wasn’t enough, the man and woman sought more. The price for that was separation from God, increased difficulty in life, and eventual death.
Any thoughts about Genesis 3 you have? Questions? Disagreements? Comments? Feel free to leave them below.