Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Ruin and Rescue of Humanity (Genesis 3)

The weather has been so unusual lately that strange things are happening. I stepped out my front door earlier this week and had a nice surprise – a snake in my front yard! Thankfully, it was a good snake, and by that I mean a dead snake! I’d venture to say that most people have never been bitten by a snake, and very few of us probably even know someone who has been bitten by a snake, but we don’t like them. There’s always one or two folks we know who like snakes, maybe who have them as pets, but we tend to think they are a bit strange, don’t we? Call it a prejudice if you will, I think perhaps it is more of a long-standing grudge. They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and one of the first impressions that humanity had of a serpent did not go so well.

Chapter 3 of Genesis is an essential text of Scripture. W. H. Griffith-Thomas, the great Anglican preacher who died almost a century ago, said of this chapter, “This chapter is the pivot on which the whole Bible turns.”[1] He said, “if we take it away the rest of Scripture becomes meaningless. With the exception of the fact of Creation, we have here the record of the most important and far-reaching event in the world’s history—the entrance of sin.”[2]

We find here in this passage of Scripture the foundation for answering many of life’s hard questions. Why is our nature so bent toward rebellion? Why do our relationships take a wrong turn so often? Why is our work so often feel unsatisfying and futile? Why do bad things happen to seemingly good people? Why do people die? The answers to all those questions and more begin to unfold from this very page of the Bible. It is the account of the ruin of humanity and the first announcement of humanity’s rescue. We have been ruined by sin, and the rescue comes from God in the act of redemption. And so in this passage, we will see the deceptive origin of sin, the devastating effects of it, and the divine response to it.

I. The deceptive origin of sin (vv1-6)

It is of interest that nowhere in this passage do we find specific mention of the devil or Satan. The adversary in Genesis 3 is simply introduced as “the serpent.” But it does not take long for us to realize that this is not just a generic garden variety snake. Remember that everything the Lord created in this world was called “good” when He made it, and nothing has happened thus far in the text to change that. This “good” creation included all the earth dwelling creatures: “cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth” (1:24-25). Additionally, of all that God created, only one living thing was blessed with the gift of speech: humanity. It is an aspect of being created in the image of God. God is a speaking God, and His image-bearers have the ability to speak to Him and to one another. But along comes this serpent, who has the ability to speak. That tells us that this is no ordinary snake.

Verse 1 says that the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. I do not understand this to mean that snakes, in general, are more crafty than all the other animals. Instead, it seems that this particular serpent is in view. This one, the one who slithers in and speaks to Eve, is more crafty than any of the earth dwelling creatures that the Lord created. This particular serpent is set apart as unique and distinct from the rest of creation. And when it speaks, what the serpent says indicates that it is not part of God’s good creation in this world. Its origins are elsewhere.

We have the privilege of the rest of Scripture to help us identify that this serpent is actually a manifestation of the devil, Satan. How Satan came to possess or occupy the physical body of this serpent is not disclosed to us, but the testimony of Scripture is clear and unambiguous. In Revelation 12:9, we read about “the great dragon, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan.” Who is Satan and where did he come from? Again, the passage before us does not answer the question so much as raise it, and the rest of Scripture provides the answer. Revelation 12 tells us a war in heaven in which the angels did battle with the dragon, who had angels of his own on his side. In Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, we read passages concerning the downfall of evil kings who are likened to an angel who had fallen from heaven. It is widely agreed that these passages are describing the origins of Satan. From those texts, we can ascertain that Satan was an angel, part of God’s angelic host in heaven. Because of his own pride, this angel tried to exalt himself above the Lord. This sparked a rebellion among the angels in which Satan and the angels who rebelled with him were cast out of heaven. Unable to overthrow God in heaven, it appears that Satan set his sights on that which was most precious to God – the human beings who had been created in God’s image. Thus, the cosmic conflict enters a new theater of operations: the earth.

In verse 1, the serpent begins to speak to the woman in the garden. Here, his craftiness is seen clearly in the tactics he employs to deceive the woman. Notice first how focuses on disputing God’s Word. “Indeed, has God said …?” Every temptation that man has faced since the garden of Eden has begun at this very point. When we allow ourselves to begin to question what God has said, we have opened a door to disaster in our souls.

From disputing God’s Word, the serpent moves quickly to distorting it. “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’” This is almost the exact opposite of what God had actually said. In Genesis 2:16, God had said, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely.” There was only one tree from which man was forbidden to eat. To her credit, the woman knew this, but notice in her reply that she herself distorts the Word of God. In verses 2-3, she says 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.’” Where did she get this notion about touching it? God never said that the man or woman could not touch the tree, only that they could not eat from it. In this sense, she commits the same error which Satan himself commits. He altered God’s word, and she added to it. Be very careful with your handling of Scripture. Ensure that you know what it says and what it does not say. Failure to recognize when Scripture is being distorted (whether you or another is distorting it) is surely a step toward disaster.

Finally notice that the serpent moves from disputing and distorting God’s Word, to denying it. The woman rightly understood that the penalty for partaking of the forbidden tree was death, but the serpent said, “You surely will not die!” (v4). We must always beware of anyone or anything that proclaims that what God has said is not true! And yet this is the way Satan always seeks to deceive us. His tactics have not changed. First he raises a question about what God has really said, then he distorts it, then he denies it and seeks to persuade us to agree with him.

From questioning God’s Word, the serpent moves into questioning God’s nature. From the very first verse of the Bible, it has been an unmistakable observation that God is good, and that He provides good things for His people. But the serpent subtly plants the notion in Eve’s mind that God is not really good at all, and that He is seeking to deprive her of something that would be to her advantage. The serpent says in verse 5, “For God knows that in the day that you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The irony, of course, is that there is no way humanity could ever be more like God than the first man and woman were. They were created in His likeness and image. And they had all the knowledge of good and evil that they ever needed. God had given them what was good and instructed them in avoiding what was evil. The knowledge of good and evil was already theirs if only they would trust what God had said and receive what God had provided. But Satan’s tactics were gaining traction in the woman’s mind, and she began to contemplate all that she was hearing.

Verse 6 says that the woman saw that the tree was good for food. Remember, God had said that this tree was not good for food, and He had provided her with all the good food she would ever need. But Satan had deceived her into thinking that she can decide for herself what is good rather than trusting God to determine it for her. Her natural appetites were beginning to long for the fruit of that forbidden tree, and then she focused her gaze upon it. It was a delight to the eyes. How can something that looks so good be so bad? And then, having fully believed what the serpent had told her instead of what the Lord had declared, she considered that the tree was desirable to make one wise. First John 2:16 speaks of the things of this fallen world as consisting of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. We see all of those things rolling around in Eve’s mind as she contemplates the fruit of this tree. And she took the fruit and ate it. She had been deceived.

It is interesting that, throughout Scripture, when we read of the origin of sin, we do not read of Satan’s activity or of the woman’s activity in the garden. We always find reference to the sin of Adam, not the sin of Eve. Romans 5:12, for example, says, “through one man sin entered into the world.” Romans 5:14 speaks of “the offense of Adam.” First Corinthians 15:22 says “as in Adam all die.” What’s the deal? Didn’t Eve sin first? Why does Adam get all the blame? The reason is found in the subtle yet all-important distinction between deception and disobedience. Eve was deceived into partaking of the fruit. But then, “she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” There was no deception, no deliberation, no dialogue. He knew what God said, and he blatantly disobeyed him and sinned against Him. Eve has an excuse – not a great one, mind you, but an excuse nonetheless: she was deceived. Adam has no excuse. With willful intent, he disobeyed the clear command of God. And so sin had entered into the human experience. “Evil” had come into the “good” world that God had made. And the ruin of humanity was underway.

Having considered the deceptive origin of sin, we move now to …

II. The Destructive Effects of Sin (vv7-19)

As most of us have discovered the hard way, sin always promises more than it can deliver. The promise of the serpent was that this fruit would make the man and woman like God, knowing good and evil. They were already like God, and already knew good and evil as a result of God’s word to them, but they wanted more, and the serpent offered it to them. Having eaten the fruit however, they suddenly realized that they were no longer like God, not even like each other, and rather than knowing good and evil, they discovered that their knowledge of the good had been obscured and their knowledge of evil was now irreversible.

Verse 7 says that the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. Now, how long had they been naked? Since they were created! They had never not been naked. And was there anything wrong with their nakedness? No, for 2:25 says that they were naked and not ashamed. Their unashamed nakedness symbolized the intimate union that they enjoyed as man and wife. So what changed? The fruit did not make their clothes fall off. They were naked before and they were naked now. But the change took place inside of them, and suddenly their perception of one another’s nakedness produced a sense of shame within them. Their hearts and minds had been corrupted and they would never view one another’s nakedness the same way again. From their unashamed state, they had fallen into shame, so they made an effort to hide their nakedness from one another with fig leaves sown together by their own efforts to conceal their sin.

Verse 8 says that they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Prior to their sin, this sound would have brought them great joy! The Lord who made them, who brought them together, who gave them all good things, was coming into their presence. But now because their hearts had been darkened by sin, what was their response? “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Let’s make something abundantly clear: it is absolutely impossible to ever hide from God. But we all try, do we not? The Lord God called to the man in verse 9, saying, “Where are you?” Again, let us be clear: it is not that the Lord did not know. He always knows where we are. The question, and those which follow, are not attempts by the Lord to gain information. He does not need information from us. But by these questions, He is making Adam aware that something has changed. Adam is not where he is supposed to be, and with this question, the Lord begins to draw the man into a confession of his sin.

In verse 10, Adam said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” Note well the word afraid. For the first time ever in humanity’s short history to that point, the man made in the image of God was afraid of the one who made Him. The serpent never mentioned shame or fear, but these were immediate effects of the sin of the man and woman.

The questions continue: “Who told you that you were naked?” This question is not answered by the way. “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” Again, God already knew the answer to this question, but He is giving the man the opportunity to confess his sin. And so the answer begins to unfold: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree.” Notice what he is doing. It’s the blame game. It was not Jimmy Buffett who was the first to suggest that there is a woman to blame! He blames the woman, and obliquely blames God as well. Adam says that the woman whom God gave him as a good blessing was the source of all his trouble! It’s her fault, and beyond that it’s God’s fault! But none of these statements matter. The only phrase that matters in Adam’s response to God is the final words of verse 12: “And I ate.” You see, confession can never begin with what someone else has done. Confession has to begin with the word “I.”

With the confession, reluctant as it may be, Adam’s guilt is acknowledged. At what point did the serpent offer shame, fear, and guilt? Satan left those things out of his temptation didn’t he? Then notice in verse 16 that the effects continue to be compounded. To the woman, the Lord said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children.” Now, this does not mean that the pains of labor did not exist before sin entered into the world. Anything multiplied by zero still equals zero. There was already physiological pain in childbirth, but as every mother will tell you, the memory of that pain fades away quickly. The multiplied pain of bringing forth children is more far reaching than the moment of delivery. It is the pain of seeing children born into the world with a sin nature, an inherent bent toward rebellion, and watching them grow up in a world infected by sin. In the very next chapter, Eve will experience the multiplied pain of which the Lord speaks as one of her sons murders the other in a fit of jealous rage. Shame, fear, guilt, pain – these are the effects of sin, but they go on.

Next the Lord says to the woman, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” In order to understand this statement, we do well to look at Chapter 4 and see how these exact words are used by the Lord in His confrontation with Cain. The Lord says to the embittered Cain in 4:7, “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” The same Hebrew words are used as those here in 3:16. What does sin desire to do to Cain? It desires to overpower him and take control of him. And what must Cain do? He must wrestle against it and overcome it. So, what the Lord is saying to Eve here is that, because the corruption of sin within her, she will no longer be content to be Adam’s helpful companion. She will desire to overpower him, to domineer and control him. And in response, the man will abandon his God-ordained post as the shepherd-priest of the family and instead be a tyrannical overlord. So the intimacy of marriage that was demonstrated in Chapter 2 becomes a battlefield of domestic conflict. Shame, fear, guilt, pain, conflict. Devastating effects! And yet, there is more!

To the man, in verses 17-19, God says that the ground will be cursed because of his sin. The ground which God had blessed and caused to bring forth food for man will now have to be tended with sweat and toil. Thorns and thistles will spring forth, choking out the vegetation on which man’s life depends. His entire life will be conscripted to never-ending labor, with frustration and futility defining his efforts to put food on the table for his family. Shame, fear, guilt, pain, conflict, frustration. And then comes death. “Till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” He cannot say he was not warned. The Lord had clearly spoken: “In the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die.” Death had set in. The sentence had been past. Though, as we shall see, man did not physically die on that day, he began dying physically on that day. Internally, spiritually, he was already dead, as seen in the rift that opened between himself and God, himself and his wife. Physically, every day of his life was a day closer to the grave.

Sin had a devastating effect on humanity. Shame, fear, guilt, pain, conflict, frustration, and death. And because every one of us born to Adam’s race have inherited his guilt and his sin nature, we are subject to these same devastating effects as well. When we find ourselves facing these effects, we begin to despair and cry out in anguish, as if to say, “This is not the way life should be!” And to that, the Lord would say, “Amen.” This is not life as God intended it. This is life as sin has corrupted it. But the Bible says, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom 5:20 KJV). And we see the goodness and grace of God as we look finally at …

III. The Divine Response to Sin (vv15, 20-24)

Thanks be to God, sin and Satan do not have the final word for humanity. God has the first and last word, and His words are words of grace and mercy.

Notice in verse 15, the Lord announces the ultimate triumph over sin and Satan. He says to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle and more than every beast of the filed; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat.” The words are symbolic – crawling on the belly and eating dust are images of defeat and conquest. And this conquering defeat will come about in the Lord’s timing according to the Lord’s promise here. He says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.” The word “seed” here implies future generations. Satan will have “offspring,” if you will. They will be those who yield to their sinful natures and live their lives in disobedience to the Lord, carrying out the desires of the evil one. The woman’s seed, however, is the One who should capture our attention. Strictly speaking, women do not produce seed in the biological sense. Throughout Scripture, this word is used to describe the offspring of men, not the offspring of women. But there is One who is coming, whom the Bible says will be “born of woman” (Gal 4:4). It is the One of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke, saying, “The virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (“God with us”; Isa 7:14). There has only ever been One who was born of a virgin, only One who could be rightly called “the seed of woman,” only One who could wear the title of “God with us.” He is Jesus. Because of the enmity that exists between Him and the seed of the serpent, Jesus said to those who sought to kill him, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.” And so, the seed of the serpent did their father’s bidding and conspired together to put the seed of woman to death on the cross. But in so doing, the victory promised in the garden by the Lord would come to pass. “He (the seed of woman) shall bruise you (the serpent) on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.” That is, through His suffering, death, and resurrection, He would defeat Satan forever and deliver those who trust in Him from the power of sin and death. First John 3:8 says, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” Hebrews 2:14 says that “through death,” Christ has rendered powerless “him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,” and freed “those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”

In order to demonstrate what God was going to do for mankind through the Seed of Woman who was to come, the Lord provided a covering for the sinful man and woman. They had failed to conceal their guilt and shame by the works of their own hands with their garments of fig leaves. Our works can never make us right before the Lord. Only His work can do that. So to demonstrate what God would do through Jesus Christ, verse 21 says, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” In order to provide a garment of skin, there has to be a death. So on the day that they ate thereof, there was a death. But the man and the woman did not die on that day. Instead an innocent substitute died in their place, that they might be covered by its sacrifice. And this is precisely what happened at the cross. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, laid down His life as a substitute for us, that He might die the death that we deserve for our sins, that we might be clothed in His righteousness before God.

In the Lord’s mercy, He kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden. That may not sound merciful, but hear the love of God’s words as He says in verse 22, “”Now he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” Friends, as we have said, this sin-infected life is not life as God intended it. Therefore, in His mercy, He has prevented us from living forever in these corrupted bodies in this fallen and defiled world. He kicked humanity out of the garden, so that we might have the privilege of dying. Dying doesn’t sound like much of a privilege, and it surely isn’t if we die in our sins. But if we die covered in the righteousness of Christ, we have the promise of life everlasting in God’s presence in heaven. There, there will be no shame, no fear, no guilt, no pain, no conflict, no frustration, and no more death. There, we will live the life we long for, the life God intended for us to live. The Bible says that the tree of life, from which we have been barred in the garden, will be accessible to us in heaven. Revelation 22:14, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life.” Our robes are washed in the blood of Christ, who took our shame, our fear, our guilt, our pain, our conflict, our frustration, our death upon Himself. He was nailed to the tree of Calvary to rescue us. In the Garden, God says, “Take from this tree and die.” At the cross, Jesus Christ says, “Take from this tree and live!”

Sin has ruined us. Christ has rescued us. So let us turn to Him in faith and repentance and live.

[1] W. H. Griffith-Thomas, Through the Pentateuch Chapter By Chapter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 33.
[2] Griffith-Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Vol. I; London: Religious Tract Society, 1908), 45.

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