There was only one thing they could do wrong.
Having placed man and woman in the Garden, God told them to enjoy all the abundance Eden offered, even the tree of life. He gave only one prohibition—they were not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they did, they would be dead before sundown.
So, given the threat, what did you expect to happen when they took that bite?
I expected them to fall over dead.
But they didn’t. Which means either one of two things—the serpent was right and God lied, or… there’s more to the Story than we have grasped.
So, which is it?
Well, let’s begin by remembering the serpent’s version of what the man and woman could anticipate if they ate. Recall that, in contrast to God’s warning, the serpent insisted they would not die, but that eating would make them like God, knowing good and evil.
So, did they become like God, or did they die?
Actually, both happened. The fact that they became like God is a bit surprising, but God confirms that this indeed, did happen—
“Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil…” —Genesis 3:22 (NAS95)
So, if they became like God, wouldn’t that mean the serpent was right, and therefore, God lied?
The short answer is “No,” but it’s more complex than that. While there was a technically accurate element to the serpent’s statement, the overall message was, in fact, deceptive.
To see that, we need to return to the Story.
As we do this, we must remember how narrative works. Many times, it is much more effective to employ the “show–don’t–tell” principle of story telling. I recently came across a quote that captures it well— “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” (attributed to Anton Chekhov).
Why do I mention this here?
Because, if we come to the Story expecting Moses to tell us whether or not they died, we will miss it. But if we recognize that he may very well show us instead, we can be alert for the glint of light on broken glass—for a description rather than a statement.
Toward that end, let’s recap the relevant details of the Story and consider how he has set things up:
In chapter 2, we know the man and woman are alive, because it is only for the living that death holds a threat (Genesis 2:17).
So, what does such Life look like? That was the focus of an earlier article—Life In The Garden. There, we summarized that Life:
“So here they are—the first man and woman, the first husband and wife. Their home is The Garden, a place of boundless provision and beauty. They have an identity—God’s representatives. They have significance—to rule as God’s representatives and fill the earth with more of their kind. And they are fulfilled—on top of the abundant provision and beauty, they share an unhindered intimacy with one another, and with God.”
In short, the Life they possessed involved more than mere existence. As God’s representatives, their existence had everything it needed to be meaningful, everything necessary for their souls to be full.
But this wasn’t enough. Having become discontent with the Life God had given them, they ate…
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.”
“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” —Genesis 3:7-10 (NAS95)
Just as the serpent had said, their eyes were opened. But he had implied that this would be a good thing. The lie could not have been bigger.
With their eyes opened, the first thing they know is that they are naked. No longer are they unashamed. Now, they begin to cover up. They sew fig leaves together to cover their privates. But that is not enough. Their sense of nakedness is overwhelming. They’re going to need more leaves. A lot more.
Then, God comes looking for them—“Where are you?”
“I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”
With their new knowledge, came, not a sense of sovereignty and superiority, not a sense of equality with God, but fear. And the fear drives them into hiding. So much for feeling like God.
In one bite, they went from naked and not ashamed (Genesis 2:25) to afraid and hiding. Gone is the intimacy, the security, the peace that had been the norm.
As events unfold, we see their fear justified.
“And [God] said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” —Genesis 3:11–13 (NAS95)
Confronted with his disobedience, the man throws his wife under the bus, and ultimately tries to shift the blame back to God—“The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.”
And the woman blames the snake.
Plenty of blame and accusation to go around. No longer is it safe to be naked. Nakedness feels shameful, and shame is a weakness—a vulnerability to exploit.
Now everyone is looking out for themselves. Now, you are at risk of being sacrificed if I think it will aid my self-preservation. Because, having abandoned the Life God provided, I am seeking Life on my own terms. It’s up to me and me alone. I must be the master of my own fate, the captain of my own soul.
With this development, the pursuit of Life has become competitive. I will try to secure my place by shifting blame to you. Gossip, slander, accusation, criticism, and condemnation will become the new norm.
But the results don’t end there. There’s more. Next, God pronounces the curse.
“The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
To the woman He said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.”
Then to Adam He said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat from it’;
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
“Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”” —Genesis 3:14 (NAS95)
Note well—God does not curse the man and the woman. He does curse the serpent, and He curses the ground because of the man. They are not cursed, but now they must carry on in a creation cursed because of them.
The curse brings hostility and conflict. Now there are sides. The serpent and those who take after him are on one side, the woman and her descendants on the other. One of the woman’s descendants will ultimately win the conflict, crushing the Enemy, but in the meantime, their will be enmity.
And while the prospect of offspring holds hope, it also brings pain. Successive generations will come from the woman, but the process will be most painful.
For the man, the curse brings futility. Now matter how hard or how smart he works, creation will not cooperate. He will scratch out a living, but it will be in the midst of thorns and thistles—in the midst of futility and frustration.
In the end, he will not triumph. He will succumb to the futility and return to the ground from which he was taken. For all his labor, the best he can hope for is decay. He is not God, he is dust.
The consequences of the decision to pursue Life independently of God are snowballing. In addition to the immediate shame, vulnerability, fear, and accusation they experienced, we now add pain, conflict, futility, and an existence in a cursed world, culminating in physical death and decay.
But we’re still not done.
Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living. The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. —Genesis 3:20–21 (NAS95)
At first reading, these verses seem totally disconnected from the curse which concluded in the preceding verse, making this feel more like a bullet–list of observations rather than a story. But there is a sequence here. To see it, we need to revisit some of the details of the curse more carefully. There, God says:
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
To the woman He said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children…” —Genesis 3:15–16a (NAS95)
As you read these verses, place yourself in Adam’s shoes. What do you hear?
Of course, as we have already seen, there is the promise of pain for the woman. But remember, there is also hope. This pain is going to occur in the midst of child-birth. This is not the end. The woman will bear children. That in itself is enough to bring some measure of relief, but it goes deeper.
Let’s look again at the curse upon the serpent, line by line.
There will be enmity between the serpent and the woman. Ok, that’s pretty straightforward, once we understand enmity means hostility, conflict.
Next line—this conflict will extend to the seed (descendants, offspring) of the serpent and of the woman. Here is the first indication that the woman will give birth. Childbirth is implicitly necessary in order for her to have descendants.
Ok, third and fourth lines—”He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”
Wait. Who does “He” refer to?
Well, consider the options—
He is on the other side of the conflict from the you. The you is the one to whom God is speaking—the serpent. Thus the He cannot be the serpent or his seed. And it cannot be the woman, who would be a she. The only remaining possibility is the seed of the woman.
While we might assume seed to be a collective plural referring to all of the woman’s descendants, He is singular. Does that mean there will only be one child?
Well, that is not clear in the Story at this point. As the details unfold, we will discover that everyone but Adam is born through the woman, but this is getting ahead of things. Right now, the point is that there will be One born to the woman who will crush the serpent himself—this one who has shown himself to be the Enemy of the man and the woman.
So the implication is not just that life will go on, but that through the woman, One will be born who will ultimately defeat the Enemy.
Now, if you are Adam, you face another choice. You can believe God’s promise of One Who will come… or not.
Adam chose the former—he believed God.
How do I know?
Because he named the woman “Eve,” which means living, life. Adam believes that life will continue through her. Implicit in this act is the acceptance of God’s promise to Eve—not only that she will bear children, but that through this, One will come who will defeat the Enemy.
Wow. This is the first glimmer of hope we have seen. But how does this help us understand death?
Well, recall what happens next.
“The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” —Genesis 3:21 (NAS95)
Again, note the sequence. Adam expresses faith, God provides a garments to cover their nakedness.
Up to this point, Adam and Eve had only been given fruits and vegetables to eat. God does not give them meat for food until after the flood (Genesis 9:3). Which means that there weren’t any animal skins lying around to be used for clothing for Adam and Eve. Something had to die.
Now, remember. Adam and Eve weren’t technically naked at this point. They had made coverings for themselves from leaves. But these leaves were nothing more than a loin–covering, a girdle. Clearly, they did not consider that adequate, as evidenced by the fact that they still hid from God.
Obviously, God didn’t consider this adequate covering either, since He killed animals to replace these loin–coverings. His covering will be more complete. In the place of loin–coverings, He makes garments to clothe them.
Let’s place this in the larger context of the Story—
God had told them that in the day they ate, they would die. But as the day is unfolding, they are still walking around, and in fact, God has promised them hope and life. How can this be?
In God’s provision of garments, the Story takes an unexpected turn. For, while they did not keel over that day, their actions brought death, nonetheless. An animal died in their place. With this act, God’s astounding grace is introduced into the Story, and with it, the concept of substitutionary atonement, which will find its ultimate fulfillment in the death of the One Who will come—Jesus Christ.
This is Good News.
But behind the Good News lies Bad News. And the Bad News is that mankind is guilty—deserving death.
Later, in the Law, the demonstration of this guilt will become even more explicit. When a person offered a burnt offering, peace offering, or sin offering, they were required to lay their hand on the head of the animal, thus identifying the animal with themselves (Leviticus 1:4; 3:2, 8, 13; 4:4, 15, 24, 29, 33). Then, they would slit the animal’s throat with their own hand. The effect was to visualize the person’s guilt. This animal died in their place, by their hand, because of their guilt.
The fact that the man and woman didn’t die that day in the Garden doesn’t negate their guilt. In their place, an animal died. God didn’t lie. Death was the penalty for their grasping at godhood. But, as an expression of God’s grace, an animal died in their place. Ultimately, we will discover that this didn’t cover any guilt, it just rolled it forward (e.g., Hebrews 10). But at least it buys some time—it leaves room for hope. In the meantime, mankind still lives under guilt.
Add that to the list. Adam and Eve’s decision brought shame, vulnerability, fear, accusation pain, conflict, futility, existence in a cursed world, anticipation of physical death, decay—and now guilt.
So, we’re still not done?
“Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” —Genesis 3:22 (NAS95)
One aspect of the Garden that is almost forgotten by now is the tree of life. If the man and woman had eaten from it, they would live forever. But at this point in the story, that would mean continuing forever in shame, accusation, conflict, pain, futility, and guilt. To prevent this, God drives them out of the Garden and stations armed cherubim there to guard access to the tree of life.
The Garden had been the place of Life—the place of God’s abundant provision. Not just of food, but of all that gave meaning to their existence. It was a place of astounding beauty, of intimacy and vulnerability, the place where the man and woman walked with God in the cool of the day. And it was the location of the tree of life—of immortality. It was the residence of His representatives.
But now that they have abandoned their role as God’s representatives, and have decided to pursue Life on their own, independently of God, they are excluded from all this. Everything that gave meaning to their existence is gone. And the prospect of physical death is certain.
Finally, we’re done—at least with the events of that day.
God had said, “in the day that you eat from [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you will surely die.” Now we have seen that played out—seen what it meant for them to die. Certainly, this death included physical death. The fact that they didn’t die that day is not because God lied, but because of the unexpected expression of His grace. But in their place, an innocent animal died. However, this did not provide an escape, only a delay. Ultimately, they will return to the dust.
But physical death doesn’t capture all that it meant to die. In that day, they also lost everything that gave meaning to their existence. When they abandoned their role as God’s representatives, they abandoned their identity, significance, and their residence—the place of provision, beauty and fellowship.
To have Life, then, is to have all this—not only existence, but the truly meaningful existence that can only be found as God’s representative.
By contrast, Death certainly involves the loss of physical life, but also, very much more. It includes the absence of all that brings lasting meaning to our existence. It is the existence of all who pursue Life independently of God.
Of the two aspects of Death, the absence of lasting meaning will turn out to be much more significant than physical death. The rest of the Story holds out hope of deliverance from Death—of Life. Since each of us, believers and unbelievers alike, can anticipate physical death, the hope must center on the recovery of meaning for our existence—on the hope of reconciliation with God and restoration as His representatives.
The nature of that hope and the path that leads to it will be the focus of the rest of the Story.
©Copyright Garth Oliver