Paradise Lost

Genesis 3:20-24 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever-” 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

INTRODUCTION

Within the U.S. judicial system, once a crime has been committed and the perpetrator apprehended, he or she is brought before a court to be judged. After the trial, the judgment is rendered and the sentence pronounced. At that point, there is some type of delay between the pronouncement and execution of the punishment. If a fine is handed down, the convict isn’t expected to immediately produce a sum of cash. If community service, the convict doesn’t instantly start painting over graffiti. If jail time, the convict at least has to be transported to the penitentiary. You get the idea.

And so it is in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve sinned, the emotional consequences of their sin washed over them and drove them into covering and hiding, and then God confronted them, tried them, pronounced judgment upon them, and then sentenced them. And now, as we’ll see in our passage for this morning, he immediately moved the man and woman toward their punishment.

There is a key difference, however, between the normal way the U.S. judicial system works and the way the garden-court worked. Unlike our judicial system, which can only exonerate or condemn, God promised to help and rescue those whom he had found guilty and sentenced. That is, in 3:20-24, we see the very first expressions of God’s promised curse and cure. God will judge all sin and he will do so justly, but he is no mere judge and he is not merely after justice.

My hope in preaching this Sunday’s sermon is that God would do whatever he sees fit to do with it. That’s always my aim. I have certain ideas of what that might be, but more than anything I want God’s will, not mine to be done. With that, though, I have prayed this week many times that God would do a few specific things in all of us as a result of this text. I’ve asked him to give us a collective increase in our appreciation for God’s different design for men and women, the seriousness of sin, his mercy and grace, and the goodness of trusting in the plans of God. At the same time I’ve prayed for a collective decrease in our desire to know evil and engage in it. Would you join me now in praying for these things?

THE SECOND NAMING (20)

Our passage for this morning begins, oddly enough, with a second naming of the woman.

20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

In 2:23 Adam named the helper God fashioned for him “woman”. Here he gives her a second name, “Eve,” which means “life” or “life-giver”. This passage is significant in that it is both another reminder of God’s complementary design for the relationship between husband and wife and an ironic hint at his mercy and grace.

It is a reminder of God’s design for marriage in that Adam’s headship is again reflected in his authority to name his wife. To be clear, this does not mean that Adam was superior to Eve in value or worth (to be the head of something doesn’t imply superiority), but it does mean that he was (in some ways) distinct in role. We’ve already covered this several times so I won’t belabor it here, but I will simply say again that, contrary to our current culture’s understanding of things, this is a sign of glory and honor (for both the man and woman) rather than any hint of inferiority or diminution for the woman.

And it is an ironic hint at God’s plan of salvation in that immediately after God promised curse and death, Adam named his wife “Life”. It’s ironic, but consistent with the rest of the chapter. What I mean is that the more time I’ve spent in chapter 3 the more I’ve realized that it is filled with unexpected twists and turns, surprise and irony.

In light of the end of chapter 2 we’d expect chapter 3 to begin with life and joy and obedience and fruitfulness, but instead it begins with a talking, crafty serpent. We might expect God to swiftly move in to drive the serpent out, but instead He allowed the serpent to remain and, evidently, roam freely. We might expect the woman to be alarmed by the serpent, but instead she casually engaged him in conversation. We expect the woman to see through the serpent’s treachery, but instead she swallowed it entirely. We expect the man to intervene, but instead he stood by passively. We expect the two to drop dead upon eating the forbidden fruit, but instead they continued on. We might expect them to call out to God for advice and help, but instead they tried to hide from him, the all-knowing God. We expect God to chastise them, but instead the all-knowing Godappeared to be on an information gathering mission. We expect the man and woman to own up to their disobedience, but instead they deflected and blamed their holy God. We expect nothing but a curse from God, but instead he subtly described a coming cure as well. And after the curse we expect the man and the woman to grieve the promised hardship, but instead (again, ironically) Adam seemed to focus on the promised cure.

Very little is as we might expect it to be in this passage; least of all perhaps Adam’s renaming the woman “life” instead of “death,” of him focusing on her as mother of humans that were to come rather than invoker of the curse for all mankind. And so it is, Grace. Our God is a God of holiness and justice and wrath, but he is also a God of mercy and grace and love. Even in this darkest hour, the light of the grace of God shines through. It’s subtle here—just as it is in his promise in 3:15—but it’s here. And that leads us to the next verse, the next scene, the next point, and the next subtle expression of God’s grace.

UPGRADED CLOTHING (21)

In the second scene, God upgraded the wardrobe of Adam and Eve.

21 And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

In this gesture is another unexpected and undeserved gift. Death and curse is all that the man and woman should have received. They disobeyed God and brought difficulty and misery into the world. They should have known only God’s judgment and wrath. Instead God gave them a gift. He gave them better clothing to cover their shame. It’s hard to imagine the fig leaves providing much protection or comfort and so, in a simple act of kindness, God came to their aid in providing “garments of skins”.

But there is more here than a simple wardrobe upgrade. This clothing was certainly an expression of his mercy (caring for those in need) and grace (giving an undeserved gift). And it might have been an expression of the sacrificial system that was to come. So much of the garden mirrors the Israelite temple. Many scholars believe that the animal sacrifice that God would have made in order to provide Adam and Eve with a covering mirrored the animal sacrifices that Adam and Eve’s descendents would eventually offer to cover their sins. We can’t say for certain that this is what is happening here, but we can’t miss the parallel or the fact that this is exactly the kind of God we serve—one who knows the beginning from the end, one who puts signposts all over his creation to point to his power and plan, and one who initiates the salvation of his people. In what initially seems like nothing more than a simple, kind gesture is likely something much more profound: an expression of God’s deep love for his people and a promise of grace to come.

THE SERPENT VINDICATED? (22)

With that, we find another scene change. In this third scene God makes a statement that seems to vindicate the serpent. God’s words sound much like the promise made by the serpent to the woman. Is that the case?

22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil…”

That’s exactly what the serpent said would happen back in 3:4. What gives? Again, like almost everything the serpent said (and says) there is a hint of truth in it. Consider a similar exchange many years later.

Matthew 4:5-7 Then the devil [the tempter] took [Jesus] to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

      ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ [Psalm 91:11]

and

      ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” [Psalm 91:12]

7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” [Deuteronomy 6:16

Again, just as was the case with Adam and Eve, the serpent sought to temp Jesus with bits of truth (though unlike Adam and Eve, however, Jesus was not duped). His tactic—hear this, Grace—is to introduce some measure of truth with a perverted meaning in order to sound legitimate enough to trick his prey. What does that mean for this passage, though? Did the serpent trick them or did he tell them the truth?

As v.22 points out, there was, once again, truth to what the serpent said. What isn’t as clear, however, is where the line was between truth and deceit—again employing his familiar tactic. It is true that the man and woman gained a kind of knowledge that they previously did not possess. It is also true, as this verse teaches, that in gaining it they became like God in a certain sense. What isn’t true is that any of that was good or desirable (as the serpent implied it would be). Their new knowledge of evil and the manner in which they became like God were not good or desirable. They were utterly sinful and destructive.

There are two ways to know cancer. One is like a patient suffering from it, and the other is like the oncologist who spends day after day studying it in order to destroy it. Both have knowledge of cancer, but in two very different ways. God knows evil like an oncologist knows cancer. Because of the deceitful tempting of the serpent and their subsequent disobedience, Adam and Eve were made to know evil like the patient knows cancer.

Again, what wickedness. What evil. What treachery. Don’t fall into that trap, Grace. Be careful in your understanding of the words and meaning of God. It is not enough to get close; that’s where the serpent is most crafty and deadly. I have, unfortunately, countless examples of this in my own life and in the lives of those I’ve pastored.

  • People struggling in marriage justifying seeking divorce claiming, “God wants me to be happy.”
  • People justifying their worldly behavior by labeling the alternative as legalism or by claiming some sort of cheap grace.
  • People justifying gossip and slander by disguising them in prayer requests.
  • People justifying wallowing in discouragement and despair (rather than the promises and gospel of God) in light of real trials or difficulties in their lives.
  • People justifying sins of omission in light or a relative lack of sins of commission.
  • People justifying engagement in “respectable sins” in light of a relative lack of more “serious sins”.

There is a measure of biblical truth in all of these. Some of them even have clear biblical texts we could point to. But all of them miss the spirit of God’s word and the actual heart of God.

Far from being vindicated, then, the serpent was further condemned. His wickedness was further exposed.

PARADISE LOST (23-24)

So what would happen next? Scene four, truly understood, is terrible to watch.

22 … Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever-” 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden… 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Having been made for life in fellowship with God in a garden paradise, this is a crushing revelation. Having been cursed, Adam and Eve were now driven from their home and, worst of all, from unfettered communion with God. Oh how hard this is to hear. How could God do that? How could he punish his people this severely? How could he do something that would allow for so much pain?

Grace, please take what I’m about to say into thought and prayer this week. And please do so in the knowledge that no matter how much you already understand what I’m about to say, you do not yet understand it enough…none of us do. Here it is: everything God does for his people is for our good.

Again, take a moment to imagine how crushing this must have seemed to Adam and Eve. And then ask whether or not this seems like it could have possibly contained an element of divine kindness. How could it? Where could such a thing possibly be hidden in this harsh sentence?

And then test this idea (the idea that everything God does is for the good of his people) against your own life. Take a minute to consider some of the headrest, most painful things in your life and ask, how could those have been for your good.

There are two particular ways that we can see the goodness/kindness of God in his expelling Adam and Eve from the garden. The first is explicit and the second is more subtle. First, driving the man and woman out was an act of kindness in that mankind was not meant to live forever in this cursed state. Eating of the tree of life before eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was, evidently, good and permitted. Eating of the tree of life after eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was bad and prohibited because, as the text tells us, if they were allowed to stay and then eat from the tree of life they would live forever in a diseased state. God had determined to rescue this man and woman (and many more) through one of their offspring and so driving them from the garden, though harsh, was really a display of mercy.

And the second way we see the goodness of God here is, again, a bit more subtle. God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden and in order to prevent their return he went so far as to put a cherubim and a flaming sword in front of the garden’s entrance. Again, how is that for their good? To help you see it, let me take you on a short journey through a few biblical passages.

The cherubim-guard indicated that the way back to fellowship with God was now outside of mankind’s power. He could not reunite himself with God. He could not reconcile himself to God. He could not achieve for himself eternal life. The way was blocked. But Grace, follow me for just a moment.

In Exodus 36:35 we find out something significant. We find out that cherubim, the same spiritual being charged to guard the garden, were also (in a sense) appointed to guard the Holy of Holies.

Exodus 36:35 He made the veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; with cherubim skillfully worked into it he made it.

The curtain symbolizing the separation between God and sinful man had cherubim embroidered on it. This means that once again, Cherubim were guarding the way to God, preventing mankind from coming to him on their own. That makes this next passage unbelievably significant. Consider what happened when Jesus died.

Mark 15:37-38 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

The curtain dividing man and God, the curtain marked with the same spiritual being charged with keeping man from eternal life, was torn in two when Jesus died. But there’s one more passage to consider.

Hebrews 10:19-22 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Do you see it, Grace? Do you now see the kindness of God even in this harsh act? It was for their good in that it foreshadowed the work of Christ. Sprinkled throughout the images and events and created beings of the OT were pictures of Christ. This is one of those. It would have been impossible for Adam and Eve to recognize this, but it is not impossible for us. We are able to see a measure of kindness that would not have been available to the man and woman. Again, let this be a lesson for us, Grace. We cannot always see how God is working for our good. When that’s the case, we have to decide whether we will trust in God’s promises or in our wisdom. The former leads to peace and rest and the latter, a sign of pride, leads to trickery or treachery. There is no good that comes from trusting in our ability to assess our own circumstances. Our sight is dim and narrow. God’s sight is perfect and eternal. Our power is small and weak. God’s power is without end and without measure.

Let me say it again, then, Grace: everything God does for his people is for our good, even when it’s hard to see.

LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE GARDEN (23)

Finally, then, we get to see the first glimpse of life outside of the garden; life under the curse; life with paradise lost.

23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

Man was still called to work the ground, but now he must do so in pain and sweat and inefficiency. In this, we begin to see what life outside of the Garden looks like. That is, we begin to see what life is like after the fall, under the curse, and before God’s promised redeemer.

CONCLUSION

In this passage, we’ve come to the end of Genesis 3. Perhaps more significantly, it also brings us to the end of the second part of the overall story of the bible. The first part of the story, which we saw in chapters 1-2, was God’s creation of the heavens and the earth. That part of the story describes the most basic aspects of who God is, where the world came from, who we are as people, our relationship with the rest of the world, and why God made us. The second part of the story, which we saw in chapter 3, tells of the fall of mankind. That is, in Genesis 3 we find out about the nature and effects of sin in the world and in the human race.

The rest of Genesis, which we’ll begin next week as we get into chapter 4, describes the continuing effects of the fall and the beginning of the third part of God’s great story: redemption (God’s rescuing mankind from his sins and their effects). As we remain zoomed out on the history of the world as a whole, things are going to go from bad to worse up through Genesis 6.

So let me remind you, Grace, lest you be discouraged, the story continues. It continues through hundreds of years of wandering in darkness with only a few glimpses of light. And it does so until the very Light of God bursts on the scene in the God-man, the seed of the woman, the Great Serpent Bruiser, the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. It is Jesus alone who will defeat sin and death, who will fully and finally overcome the curse for us, who will reconcile us to God, and who will bring us back to the paradise that is here lost. Look to him, therefore, and be saved. Amen.