Reading 2 THE ENTRANCE OF SIN Genesis 3–5
“I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Gen. 3:10).One of the great mysteries that puzzles philosophers is solved in Genesis 3. Sin is no unexplained remnant of humanity’s supposed rise from beastiality, but a heritage flowing from Adam’s fall. Yet the focus in these two chapters is not on the fact of sin, but on its consequences.
Eve succumbed to temptation and induced Adam to disobey God (3:1–6). Overcome by guilt and shame, the pair ran from the Creator God who loved them (vv. 7–10). God found them and explained the consequences of their act (vv. 11–20). God Himself offered history’s first sacrifice (v. 21) and led them from the Garden (vv. 22–24). Adam and Eve lived to see sin’s consequences in their own family as Cain killed his brother Abel (4:1–16). Lamech, Cain’s descendant, represents the sinful society that emerged (vv. 17–26). Here lies the foundation of the Christian doctrine of “total depravity.” Man is not as bad as he can be. But mankind, separated from God, is as bad off as it can be.
Understanding the Text
“He said to the woman” Gen. 3:1–6. Satan’s approach to Eve is a classic model of the reasoning that leads us into sin. God’s command not to eat of one tree in the Garden (2:17) established a standard. Satan attacked this standard in three ways. Satan questioned the existence of the standard: “Did God really say?” (3:1) Satan cast doubt on God’s motives for establishing the standard: “God knows that when you eat . . . you will be like God” (v. 5). Satan denied the consequences of violating the standard: “You will not surely die” (v. 4). Yesterday I saw a debate over pornography on CNN’s “Crossfire,” and saw Satan’s arguments marshalled once again. An ACLU lawyer ridiculed the idea that even gross pornography is wrong. He claimed censorship of pornography would deny readers their rights and pleasures. And he claimed that no harm would come through filling the mind with pornographic images. Our only protection against evil is the belief which Eve abandoned. We must affirm what God has said. We must be convinced that His standards are not intended to deny us pleasures but to protect us from harm. And we must realize that tragic consequences will follow violating God’s standards of right and wrong. “Die” Gen. 3:4. In the Bible “death” is an all-encompassing term. It describes the end of biological life. But it also describes man’s psychological, social, and spiritual state. When God warned Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit, He explained, “When you eat of it you will surely die.” Adam’s sin brought “death” in all four of its meanings. Biologically the process of aging began when Adam sinned; a process that led to the death of the first pair and to the physical death which stalks every human being now. Psychologically Adam and Eve were stricken with guilt and shame, expressed here in their sense of nakedness (3:7). Socially Adam and Eve were set at odds, blaming each other for their act. The harmony they had known was broken by strife (vv. 11–13). Spiritually Adam and Eve were alienated from God, and this created a sense of fear. The God of love had suddenly become an object of terror (vv. 8–10). No human being is as bad as he or she might be. But all human beings, the victims of sin’s legacy of physical, pyschological, social, and spiritual death, are as bad off as they could be. We’re familiar with all these aspects of what the Bible calls “death.” Each is a witness—a billboard—announcing loudly that sin is a reality with which we must deal. “They sewed fig leaves together” Gen. 3:7. The phrase portrays man’s first, futile effort to deal with sin. Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves. Yet they knew their attempt to deal with sin was a failure. How do we know? When Adam and Eve heard God nearby, “they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the Garden” (v. 8). Try as we may to deal with sin by our own efforts, deep down we human beings retain a sense of guilt and shame that witnesses to our lost condition. There never has been, and never will be, a human being saved by his or her own works. “God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife” Gen. 3:21.This simple statement is filled with symbolic significance. It is referred to as “history’s first sacrifice.” God Himself took the life of an animal to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve. Note that God made the garments. We cannot deal with sin. God Himself must act. Note that blood was shed. Here, as in Mosaic Law’s system of sacrifices, several lessons are taught. Sin merits death. Yet God will accept the death of a substitute. There was no merit in the blood of bulls and goats slain on ancient altars. Animal sacrifice was God’s visual aid, preparing humanity to recognize in the death of Christ on Calvary a substitutionary sacrifice that does take away sins. “God banished him from the Garden” Gen. 3:23. Driving out Adam and Eve was an act of grace, not of punishment. The first pair was banished lest they “take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” It would have been horrible beyond imagination for Adam and Eve to have lived on through the millenniums, forced to witness the wars, the injustice, the suffering that flowed from their original act of sin. How appropriate Isaiah’s words might have been, engraved over the forbidden entrance to Eden: “The righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death” (Isa. 57:1–2). “Cain was very angry” Gen. 4:1–16. Adam and Eve could not avoid observing this evidence of the spiritual death they unleashed on their descendants. When God accepted the sacrifice of Abel and rejected Cain’s offering, Cain was filled with anger. Cain lured his brother “out to the field,” where he attacked and killed him! What a heartrending experience for Adam and Eve! One dearly loved son killed by another. And they knew that ultimately the fault was theirs! Adam and Eve had themselves introduced into history the sin that expressed itself in Cain’s hostility and murderous act. The story of Cain and Abel raises several questions. Why did God reject Cain’s offering? The rabbis concluded that Cain offered God rotting fruit. A better explanation is that Abel, in making a blood sacrifice, followed a prescription that God had given Adam and Eve when He first clothed them in skins. In offering produce Cain suggested that his best was good enough to offer God. God’s reminder, “If you do what is right” (v. 7), supports this interpretation. Cain knew the right way to approach God, but was unwilling to do so. Why did Cain kill Abel? Anyone who sins and refuses to accept responsibility is likely to seek a scapegoat and be hostile toward that person. The truly good person is most likely to attract the hostility of the wicked, for his or her very goodness reminds the wicked of their sin. Where did Cain get his wife? If Adam and Eve were the only humans, and Cain and Abel their only children, where could Cain obtain a wife? The answer, of course, is that Cain and Abel were not Adam and Eve’s only children. Genesis 5:4 says they “had other sons and daughters.” Cain and Abel are the only two mentioned in Genesis 4 simply because the story is about them! We can assume from 5:4 that a rather large community of Adam’s children, and perhaps even his children’s children, existed before Cain attacked his brother. All these questions, however, divert us from the emphasis the writer of Genesis intends. The death that God announced would follow disobedience has struck not only Adam and Eve, but has been inherited by their children! Sin has corrupted the race of man, and we all live with the tragic consequences of Adam’s fall. “I have killed a man for wounding me” Gen. 4:23. Genesis 4 continues to trace the consequences of sin. A descendant of Cain named Lamech violated the divine order for society by marrying two women. He then justified murder, explaining that the man he killed had wounded him. One woman was no longer viewed as a man’s partner, but women had become subservient, objects for a man to use. Injustice was rationalized, and murder was viewed by the proud as fair recompense for insult. In this passage we see society itself being torn from its moral foundations. There is more than a touch of irony here. Genesis 4:19–22 describes achievements of Lamech’s sons. One gained control over the animal kingdom (v. 20). Another introduced those aesthetics we humans associate with “culture” (v. 21). Another learned to wrest metals from the earth and shape them to man’s use (v. 22). Is there any invention, are there any heights, that humanity cannot achieve? Today we live in an amazing world. We send men to the moon, unmanned probes to distant planets. We focus radiation to destroy cancer cells, and flood the market with medicines that prolong life. We fill the airwaves with music, hurtle along highways in machines that are complex beyond our ability to understand. Yet despite all our achievements in the material universe, our society remains marred by suffering and sin. Cigarette companies responsible for the early deaths of 380,000 persons a year freely promote their product. The drunk and drug-impaired crash those complex machines into other human beings. Major free-world corporations help terrorist nations to construct chemical warfare plants. Child abuse and murder, wars and rumors of wars, fill the pages of our newspapers. Yes, man can achieve wonders in the material world. But humanity is spiritually dead, unable to overcome the pull of sin or to avoid its awful consequences. Again, we are not as bad as we might be. But, without God, we remain as bad off as we could be. All this is taught and demonstrated in Genesis 3 and 4.
DEVOTIONAL“Because You Ate”(Gen. 3:8–19)
The dialogue between God and Adam lies at the heart of these tragic chapters. God found Adam and questioned him. Adam’s words revealed the fact that this was truly the story of a Fall, despite the claim of some that eating the forbidden fruit was a step upward. Adam was now afraid of the God whose image he bore (v. 10). Adam was aware of his guilt and felt shame (v. 10). Adam refused to face reality and attempted to shift blame for his act to Eve (v. 12). Eve too would not accept responsibility (v. 13). God then announced consequences that must follow the choices made by each actor in the Genesis 3 drama. It’s important to see the consequences not as some arbitrary punishment but as a necessity required by the moral nature of the universe God created. The serpent that loaned his body as a vehicle to Satan lost his beauty (v. 14). Stripped of illusion, sin is always ugly and degrading. Satan won the hostility rather than the allegiance of the human race (v. 15). Unlike the angels who fell, mankind will not willingly form ranks behind Satan in his mad warfare against God. Satan also is destined to be crushed by One to be born of the fallen race (v. 15). In a moral universe, it is impossible for evil to triumph. The consequences to Eve were physical, psychological, and social (v. 16). Some understand “increase your pains in childbearing” to indicate a more frequent menstrual cycle. “Your desire will be for your husband” indicates a new psychological dependence that will replace Eve’s original sense of strong personal identity. And “he will rule over you” introduces for the first time the idea of hierarchy: that in a sinful universe human beings will struggle to gain dominance over one another, and that women will be forced by society into subservient and depersonalizing roles. Here the cause is not the morality of the universe, but the distortion caused by sin itself. When Adam and Eve abandoned submission to God’s will to assert their own independent wills, conflict became inevitable. Adam too would suffer, this time from the distortion sin caused in nature (vv. 17–19). Work became toil, and life a struggle against nature. In all these things we see further evidence of the ruin sin brings. Yet we also sense a note of hope. What Adam did, Christ has and will repair. When Jesus comes, nature itself will be liberated (Rom. 8:18–21). But you and I can experience liberation even now! No, not from the physical changes caused by the first sin. But we can be liberated in our relationships. We can be liberated from competition in our homes and churches, and through mutual submission to God’s will regain the harmony that reigned before the Fall. We can be liberated from the desire to establish our own superiority by dominating others. In Christ we can be liberated too from blaming, from hatred, and from doing injustice. The dark picture drawn here as sin’s consequences are defined reminds us of what once was before the Fall. That image of what man has lost informs us of the kind of persons we are called to be in Christ, and of the bright future Christ promises to the people of God.
What indications of the Fall do you see in your own relationships with others? Be encouraged! Christ died to deliver you from just these consequences of sin.