Where the world comes to study the Bible

The Fall of Man (Genesis 3:1-5:32)

Genesis 3:1—5:32

Introduction

On July 20, 1969, our family arrived at my parents’ home in Washington State on our annual trek from Texas. We arrived just as the Lunar Module, the “Eagle,” landed on the moon. We heard those historic words, spoken by Neil Armstrong:

“That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

This was a moment in history that we shall not soon forget, but it cannot in any way compare with the event we are studying today. If I could paraphrase, I would describe the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden something like this:

“That’s one small slip for man; one giant downhill slope for mankind.”

I should begin by pointing out that the Bible consistently looks upon Adam and Eve as real people, the first humans to inhabit this earth. The account of their sin is not a fable, but a fact of history. Jesus spoke of Adam and Eve as real people (Matthew 19:3-6), just as He did of Noah (Matthew 12:38-41). Paul made much of Adam and Eve, and of his sin (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 11:2-12; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:8-15). When we read Moses’ account of the fall, we are reading the story of two people, whose sin affected the whole human race. The account of the fall is foundational to the rest of the Bible and to the “unfolding drama of redemption.” Let us listen carefully, and heed the lessons that are here for us.

The Setting

Genesis 2:4-25

While our focus will be on Genesis 2:4—5:27, I must call your attention to the first chapter of Genesis. Here, Moses informs us that God called the creation into being through His own Word:

“God said24 … and it was so.”25

By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible (Hebrews 11:3, emphasis mine).

My friend, Randy Zeller, summed it up this way: “In Genesis 1, the Word of God is the means by which the world was called into existence; in chapter 2, it takes the form of God’s command to Adam, to rule and to refrain from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; in chapter 3, the Word of God is challenged by Satan and disobeyed by Adam and Eve.” If the Word of God could call creation into being, surely it could be trusted, and should be obeyed. Thus, chapter 1 sets the stage for the fall in chapter 3.

Genesis 2 takes up the theme of creation, but from a different point of view. In chapter 1, everything that God created was declared “good” or “very good.” Beginning at verse 4 of chapter 2, we find the creation account retold, but from a different perspective. This creation narrative does not begin at the beginning, on the first day, but on the third day, when plant life was created. In chapter 1, creation (or cosmos – order) came from chaos. In chapter 2, creation comes out of need. Notice the things that are lacking in chapter 2:

No shrubs or plants (verse 5)
No rain (verse 5)
No man (verse 5)
No mate for Adam (verses 18-25)

Genesis 2 describes how God provided for the needs of His creation. As I understand it, there could not be any plant life without water. At that time, it seems as though there was no such thing as rain. How, then, would plant life survive? God provided through the “mist” (some translations) or “springs” (NET Bible). Technically, we could not say, “a river ran through Eden;” we would have to say, “a river had its headwaters in Eden” (see Genesis 2:10). That river then divided into four branches (verses 10-14).26 If my understanding of this is correct, then there was a second need – there was the need for a man to irrigate the garden. A mist would function like a rain in that it would water the garden whether a man was there or not. But a spring would necessitate irrigation ditches and cultivation. Thus, there was the need for a man, as well as for water, if a garden were to exist. God met both of these needs; He provided the springs (which became the headwaters of the river in Eden), and He provided Adam (who would irrigate and cultivate the garden).

There was yet one great need, and that need was for a mate for Adam. When God created animal life, He created them male and female, so that they could reproduce and fill the earth (1:22, 24). The way I read Genesis 2, God very purposefully led Adam to an awareness of his need of a mate. To do this, God brought each of the living creatures to Adam to be named. This naming was an expression of Adam’s rule over creation, since he was made in God’s image and commanded to rule over creation. But the naming accomplished another purpose – it highlighted the fact that Adam was incomplete without a mate of his own.

I can imagine how it happened. God brought the various animals to Adam to name, two-by-two. Adam could see the male lion, with his larger body and impressive mane, and he could see the female lion with him. If they had already begun to “be fruitful and multiply,” Adam saw how it was that they reproduced. Sooner than later, Adam would have to realize that these creatures all came in two’s – a male and a female. The connection had to be made, and Adam must have realized that he was a male. He realized that he needed a female, if he was to be “fruitful and multiply.” And looking about him, he saw many “matched pairs,” but no single creature that corresponded to him. How would he be able to fulfill his mandate without a mate? The need was now evident.

In stark contrast to chapter 1, God said of Adam’s situation: “It is not good …” (2:18). Adam could not carry out his calling alone. He must have a mate that corresponded to him (physically and otherwise). God provided for man’s need in a most amazing way. He did not create a wife for Adam from the dust of the earth; God created a wife for Adam from his own flesh. He anesthetized Adam and took one of his ribs, making a woman from that flesh and bone. They were, at the outset, “one flesh.” It is for this reason that Moses goes on to say,

23 And the man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
and flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

24 For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:23-25 NASB).

In the original creation, Adam and Eve had no parents, and they shared the same flesh. They were truly “one flesh.” This was to serve as a pattern for all future marriages, just as God resting on the Sabbath was to be a pattern for mankind (see Genesis 2:1-3). When a man and a woman married, they would become “one flesh” by means of their physical union. But they were to exhibit a deeper unity as well, one that began with the first marriage. As Adam and Eve had no parents, and became one flesh, so each husband and wife are to become one flesh by leaving and by cleaving. They27 are to leave their parents, not by avoiding them, or by neglecting them (see Mark 7:9-13), but by not living under the authority of their parents as they once did. Since God joins a man and a woman together in marriage, no one should dare to contribute to the breakup of that union.

The point of chapter 2 is that God will provide for every true need of His creation. The shrubs and plants needed water, and God provided springs and a man to irrigate the garden. Adam needed a mate, and God wonderfully provided for his need. We should learn from chapter 2 that God provides for the needs of His creation, in His way, in His time, and in a manner that we would not have expected. Surely we can see that if man needed the “knowledge of good and evil,” God would also provide that. We also see that it was not to be obtained through eating the forbidden fruit.

Chapter 2 sets the stage for the account of the fall in chapter 3 in yet another way. It is in chapter 2 that God’s commandments concerning the trees of the garden are given. God created a garden, and in this garden He provided every good tree. In this garden was every tree that was “pleasing to look at and good for food.” This must mean that the forbidden tree was also pleasing to the sight and pleasant to the taste. It, too, would have been “pleasing to look at and good for food.” God did not forbid Adam to eat of the fruit of this tree because it was a bad tree, with bad fruit, but because He did not want him to obtain the knowledge of good and evil by eating from its fruit.

God’s instructions to Adam are concise and clear. Adam was to care for and maintain the garden. He could freely eat from any tree of the garden, except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God said that if he ate of the fruit of this tree, he would surely die the day he ate of it.28 The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was in the very center of the garden, in addition to the tree of life. Adam was therefore faced with a choice, the choice between life and death. We know that at the time this command was given, Adam was alone, because Eve had not yet been created. (This is further indicated by the fact that the “you” in verse 17 is singular, not plural.) This simply means that it will be Adam’s responsibility to communicate God’s commandment to Eve.

The Temptation and the Fall

Genesis 3:1-7

1 Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard; 3 but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “Surely you will not die, 5 for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

The thing that strikes me is that we are not fully three chapters into the Bible before we encounter the account of the fall, and the description of the actual fall is only seven verses long. More than this, Adam is held responsible for the fall, but most of the actual fall is described in terms of what Eve did. It happens so quickly and so easily, and seemingly without resistance or hesitation. How can this be? No one ever had it better than Adam and Eve. They have no sin nature, inclining them toward evil. They have everything they could possibly need, and they live in a perfect world. So how is it that Adam and Eve can be persuaded to disobey God and spoil it all?

There are several parts to the answer. We can see from our text that Satan is incredibly shrewd.29 We have not been introduced to Satan before this, but the serpent was certainly a created being, and thus Adam would have previously named him. Satan himself is a created being (Ezekiel 28:13, 15). Satan’s fall is described in Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-15. In our text, he reveals his shrewdness in several ways.

First, Satan determines to wage his attack against man through his “helper,” Eve. I believe he does this because he feels that if he can persuade Eve to disobey God, Adam will be inclined to follow her. He also may know that God did not give the commandment concerning the forbidden fruit to Eve directly, but rather to Adam. Her information was therefore second hand. Neither was Eve involved in naming the animals, which would have reinforced the fact that man was to rule over creation (and thus over the serpent). Adam would have been more sensitive to the insubordination of the serpent, who dared to deceive the woman and to promote disobedience to God’s command.

Furthermore, the serpent approaches Eve as though he were a seeker or learner. He came to her with what appeared to be an innocent question. He seemed willing to be corrected if he happened to be wrong. It was not a direct, frontal attack against God’s command, but a deceptive scheme.

In addition to this, the serpent appeared to come as a friend, who had Eve’s best interests at heart. Satan does not disclose his agenda. He does not come as a liar and a murderer, though he is just that (John 8:44). He comes as a friend, a disinterested third party who is merely looking out for Eve’s best interest, supplying her with knowledge she lacks.

His great shrewdness is seen by the way he is able to completely change Eve’s perspective, so that she chooses to disobey God rather than to obey Him. I think it is safe to say that Satan is so skillful in his deception that he persuaded Eve to place her faith in him, and in his word, rather than in God, and in His Word. Here, in brief, is how he did so:

Initially, Satan appears humble and “teachable,” but soon he takes on an air of confidence and authority. He seems like someone who knows what he’s talking about, someone she can trust.

Satan appeals to Eve’s sensual desires. She should have viewed the fruit of the tree as beautiful and tasty, but forbidden. She came to see it as desirable, period.

Satan subtly creates a distrust of God by minimizing His grace, and by encouraging Eve to view God as miserly, withholding from her something truly good.

Satan causes Eve to doubt God’s Word, while believing his assurances (“You shall surely not die!”).

Satan persuades Eve to seek her own interests first of all, and to act independently of her husband and God, in order to achieve what she perceives as her highest good.

Satan uses Eve to lead her husband into sin.

Adam’s actions are even more baffling than those of his wife. We know from Paul’s words in the New Testament that there was a fundamental difference between Adam’s sin and that of his wife: Eve was deceived, but Adam was not (2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:14). If Adam was not deceived, then why did he disobey God? And why does his eating the forbidden fruit appear as almost a footnote to the account of Eve’s sin?

We do know from Genesis 3:17 that God found Adam guilty for obeying Eve. Adam did not lead; he followed. He did what his wife urged him to do, rather than to do as God had commanded him to do. As distressing as it is to admit, it appears from verse 6 that Adam was with Eve all the time, as well as at the
time she offered him some of the forbidden fruit.

When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it (Genesis 3:6, emphasis mine).

No wonder Adam so quickly ate of the forbidden fruit! He was there all the time. Adam was to rule over creation. Adam was to lead his wife (whose authority over her was evident by his priority in being created, by his being the source of her life, and by his naming her),30 and with her, to rule over creation. And yet we see Adam standing silently by as this creature deceives his wife and blasphemes God. How could he do so? Was he so awe struck by her beauty that he obeyed her, thus knowingly disobeying God? We may not know why Adam obeyed his wife, but we do know that he obeyed her, and for this he was guilty of sin.

Confrontation and Curses

Genesis 3:8-19

8 And 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. 9 Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 And the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 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.”

14 And 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 shall you go,
And dust you shall eat
All the days of your life;
15 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.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Yet your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”
17 Then to Adam He said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten from the true about which
I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’,
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you,
And you shall eat the plants of the field;
19 By the sweat of your face
You shall eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”31

Notice the order of God’s confrontation and of the curses pronounced. The chain-of-command was God – Adam – Eve – serpent. The order of the fall was serpent – Eve – Adam. When God confronted this sin, He first confronted Adam (3:9-12), then Eve (3:13). While God questioned Adam and Eve, He did not question the serpent. God was not in any way attempting to redeem the serpent. The order of the curses comes according to the order of the fall, so that the serpent is cursed first, then Eve, and finally Adam.

Notice also that Adam and his wife were not seeking God but were seeking to hide from Him. They covered their nakedness with fig leaves, and sought to hide themselves in the trees of the garden. It was God who sought out these first sinners. And so it has been ever since. No one seeks God; God seeks out sinners in order to save them:

“There is no one righteous, not even one,
11 there is no one who understands,
there is no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:10b-11).

9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this household, since he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

The serpent’s curse was two-fold. In the first place, he was going to “bite the dust” as we would put it. The serpent must have originally carried himself in an upright position, because his curse is to crawl about in the dust as the most cursed32 of all creatures. The ultimate curse is the prophecy of his total destruction in verse 15b:

“He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”33

Christians have understood this to be the first prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, who was the last Adam (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:45). The Messiah will be of the “seed of the woman:” He will be human (and, of course, divine). One of Eve’s descendants will “crush the head” of the serpent, while at the same time “bruising His heel.” The blow of Messiah’s heel to the serpent’s head will destroy the serpent, but it will also bruise the heel of the Savior. Here is the first prophecy of the cross of our Lord, where Satan’s defeat is accomplished (see John 12:31).

The curse of Eve and of Adam falls in the area of their primary focus or contribution.34 While it is not precisely stated in our text, we know that the curse on Adam fell upon all his male descendants, just as the curse on Eve fell upon all her female descendants. Both Eve and Adam will suffer painful labor. Eve will suffer pain in the labor of childbearing; Adam will suffer painful labor in raising food. In addition, Eve will have the desire to rule over her husband, but she must endure the leadership of her husband (3:16). The final words of Genesis 4:7 are strikingly similar to those of 3:16:35

“You will want to control your husband,
but he will dominate you” (3:16).
“It desires to dominate you,
but you must suppress it” (4:7).

There are those who interpret Genesis 3:16 differently, but it seems to me that God has made Eve’s curse appropriate to her sin, which was leading her husband, rather than following him.

Adam’s curse came in relation to the soil that he was instructed to cultivate. Because he obeyed the voice of his wife, Adam would find the soil less productive. Now, the growing of food would require hard labor. I think we could say that from this point on he had to contend with diseases, with insects, and with weeds – all of the things gardeners have to deal with today. In addition to this, Adam himself would return to the ground (as would Eve). This was part of the penalty of death, about which God had earlier spoken to Adam.

I sometimes hear men speak of their work in very idealistic terms. I think that they desire for their work to be, for them, as work was for Adam, before the fall. Is your job less than fulfilling? Does your work require some things of you that you don’t enjoy? Do you have to put in long hours and hard labor? That’s all part of the curse. That’s normal. To expect too much of one’s work is to hope that Adam’s curse might somehow bypass you. It doesn’t. This is not to say that there should be no measure of enjoyment in your work, but it does mean that work is much more “work” than it would have been before the fall of man.

Consequences of the Fall

Genesis 3:22—5:2736

The consequences of the fall quickly begin to appear. Some were “unseen” in the sense that God’s command to Adam in 2:16-17 did not spell out all of the repercussions of disobedience. Some of these were the direct outworking of the curses God pronounced, and some are not. For example, in Genesis 2:25 we were told that before the fall, Adam and Eve were both naked and yet they felt no sense of shame. After the fall, Adam and Eve are immediately aware of their nakedness and are quick to try to cover it. They sew fig leaves together for coverings (Genesis 3:7), and they attempt to hide from God among the trees of the garden (3:8). Their sin produced a sense of guilt and shame, which they could not cover.

In addition to their shame, Adam and Eve also experienced separation from God. They withdrew themselves, seeking to hide from God as we mentioned above. But in addition to this, God cast them out of the garden, stationing angels to guard the entrance, so that they would not be able to return to it to eat of the fruit of the tree of life (3:23-24).

God did warn Adam that death would result from eating the forbidden fruit, and we surely begin to see that in 3:19 – 5:27. God announces to Adam that he will die (3:19). Death will go far beyond Adam, however. Death has now entered the world for all living creatures.

19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:19-23).

The animals from which God made coverings of skin for Adam and Eve would have had to die (3:21). In Genesis 4, things go from bad to worse. Adam’s rebellion against God is reflected and amplified in Cain’s rebellion against God, and in the murder of his brother, Abel. Cain’s response to God’s gracious rebuke reveals insolence on Cain’s part. God did not find Cain or his sacrifice acceptable, but He told him what he could do to rectify the situation. Cain’s response is anger, and he takes that anger out on his righteous brother, killing him, and then denying any responsibility for his brother’s well being. Cain is therefore cursed to live the life of a wanderer.

The line of Cain’s descendants shows how the sin of Adam, and then of Cain, compounded itself. Moses briefly passes over Cain’s son Enoch, and his son Mehujael, and Mehujael’s son Methushael. The genealogy of the line of Cain ends at Genesis 4:18-24 with the account of Lamech, Methushael’s son. Notice that Lamech takes two wives, rather than just one (4:19), and that he boasts to them:

23 Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah! Listen to me!
You wives of Lamech, hear my words!
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for hurting me.
24 If Cain is to be avenged seven times as much,
then Lamech seventy-seven times” (Genesis 4:23-24)

Lamech does not look upon the sin of Cain as something evil, but as a kind of standard that he wishes to surpass. Did Cain kill his brother in anger? Lamech killed a man for wounding him, in fact, he was a young man who had in some way injured him (accidentally?). His reaction was out of proportion to the offense. Due to his fear of being harmed as a vagabond, God pronounced a curse upon anyone who harmed Cain. Lamech dared anyone to give him any trouble or he would do much more! The line of Cain went downhill very quickly.

In contrast to the line of Cain, we are introduced to another line – the line of Seth. Think about Adam and Eve for a moment. They had two sons, one of whom (Abel) was a godly fellow; the other (Cain) was not. Can’t you imagine Adam and Eve thinking to themselves, “This must be the ‘seed’ through whom God will accomplish our salvation, and the destruction of Satan?” How their hopes must have been dashed with the murder of Abel. Many years seem to have passed, because Adam is 130 years old when their son Seth was born (5:3). Adam and his wife must have felt that Seth was Abel’s replacement and hoped that he was the promised “seed” of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Seth had a son name Enosh, and Enosh had a son named Kenan. Kenan’s son was named Mahalalel. Mahalalel became the father of Jared, and Jared was the father of Enoch. Enoch later became the father of Methuselah. Methuselah became the father of Lamech, and Lamech was the father of Noah.

All these men lived very long lives by today’s standards. Adam lived 930 years, for example, and Methuselah 969 years. But Moses does not just wish for us to learn that these men lived long lives; Moses tells us that the fate of each man (save one) was the same – death. Over and over again we read, “And he died.” Surely Moses is repeating this to demonstrate that God’s words to Adam were true. The wages of sin is death. Not only did Adam die because of his sin, but all of his descendants died as well.

The bright light in all of this darkness is Enoch. Enoch “walked with God” we are told (Genesis 5:24). He did not die, but was somehow raptured up into heaven. Literally, “he was no more” – he just vanished one day. This is God’s way of informing us that He is faithful to save. The sin of Adam and Eve did bring death upon all, but God’s grace also brought about deliverance from death. Enoch is the firstfruits of those who will not taste death. He did not follow a system of rules, nor did he have the law to keep. He simply “walked with God” and “was no more.” Enoch is strategically placed in chapter 5 to remind us that while “the wages of sin is death,” the “gift of God is eternal life.” In the midst of man’s sin and God’s judgment, there is hope for our deliverance from the penalty of death.

The Cure

The sin of Adam and Eve brought consequences and curses, not only upon Adam and his wife, but also upon all of their offspring. Is there any hope for Adam and his offspring? Is there any hope for us? There certainly is. Ironically, the cure is closely related to the curse. God cast Adam and Eve out of the garden, and while this is a punishment for their sin, it was also a gracious action on God’s part. Had God allowed them to live in the garden, they would have eaten of the fruit of the tree of life. The problem is that having done so they would have lived forever, as fallen creatures. What a terrible fate! God also pronounced death as a part of the curse, but this too was a part of the cure. The only way out of this life and the consequences of sin is death. The death of animal sacrifices was a way of putting off judgment, until God provided a permanent solution. Ultimately it would be the death of the Messiah that would deliver men from their sins. Further, His resurrection assures the believer of their deliverance from death. As part of the curse, Eve would experience great pain in bearing children, but the really good news was that it was through the birth of a child that the Savior would come, Who would bruise His own heel while crushing the head of Satan.

And so it is that in the midst of a text dealing with sin and its consequences, there is hope in these early chapters of Genesis. Adam expressed hope when he named his wife Eve, “because she was the mother of all the living” (3:20). It seems to me that Adam has already begun to find hope in the promise of Genesis 3:15. As the “mother of all the living” Eve was also the mother of the promised Savior. While Cain and his seed must have been a source of sorrow and disappointment to Adam and Eve, Seth was certainly a source of hope. It was through his offspring that the deliverer would come. This was underscored by the rapture of Enoch, who walked with God and “was no more.” Here was a godly man on whom death did not have a grip. He was a symbol of hope for all who would walk with God. And finally, there was Noah, concerning whom we read:

28 When Lamech had lived one hundred and eighty-two years, he had a son. 29 He named him Noah, saying, “This one will bring us comfort from our labor and from the painful toil of our hands, because of the ground that the LORD has cursed” (Genesis 5:28-29).

He was a deliverer, but the deliverer had yet to come, and would not come for some time. God’s unfolding drama of redemption contains many more chapters. Nevertheless, the hope of a deliverer is here.

What Does This Story Teach Israel?

The first question we must ask is, “What were the first readers of this account to learn from it?” What was God saying to the second generation of Israelites who had left Egypt, and who were on the verge of entering the Promised Land?

First, the ancient Israelites would be reminded of the fact that they were “prone to wander” from the path of obedience. If unfallen Adam and Eve fell this quickly and easily into sin, those who now have inherited a fallen nature from them can all too easily fall into sin. God did not choose the Israelites because of their piety, but because of His grace. Let every Israelite be on guard, knowing how easy it is to fall into sin.

Second, the Israelites should be warned of the danger of being led astray by foreign women. God gave very strict orders concerning the Canaanites, whose sexual practices were exceedingly corrupt. You will recall that when the Moabites could not overcome the Israelites by hiring Balaam to pronounce a curse on them (see Numbers 22-24), they did succeed somewhat through seduction (Numbers 25). Solomon, wise as he was, had his heart turned away from God by his foreign wives (1 Kings 11:1ff.). Let the Israelite men learn that women can lead them astray, particularly those foreign women who worship other gods. If Adam could be led astray by his wife, who was created as his helper, think of what would happen if they married heathen women.

Third, the Israelites should learn that following God requires denying one’s sensual desires, rather than striving to satisfy them. When Paul writes to the Corinthian saints, he informs them that they need to learn self-control and self-denial. It was because of their determination to satisfy their fleshly appetites that they chose to eat meats offered to idols, even though this might cause a weaker brother to stumble (see
1 Corinthians 8:1-13). Paul cited his own self-denial as an example for the Corinthians to follow (see
1 Corinthians 9). Then, in the closing verses of chapter 9, he appeals to them to practice self-discipline. Following this, he reminds them that the failure of the Israelites in the wilderness was due to their preoccupation with satisfying their fleshly desires:

24 Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. 25 Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. 26 So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air.
27 Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5 But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were cut down in the wilderness. 6 These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did. 7 So do not be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. 8 And let us not be immoral, as some of them were, and twenty-three thousand died in a single day. 9 And let us not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by snakes. 10 And do not complain, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer. 11 These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall. 13 No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: he will not let you be tried too much, but with the trial will also provide a way through it so that you may be able to endure (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

Eve was deceived into believing that seeking the satisfaction of her own desires was more important than obedience to God’s commands. I believe that Adam was not deceived, but that he, too, chose to satisfy his desires rather than to obey. The Israelites would be tempted in the same way, and the account of the fall served as a warning.

Fourth, the Israelites should be impressed with the importance of obeying God’s commands, and with the painful consequences of disobedience. God had essentially given Adam a single commandment, which he failed to obey. The Israelites were given much more extensive instruction in the Law of Moses. Let the Israelites learn from Adam and Eve that disobedience to God’s commands brings judgment.

Fifth, the Israelites, like Adam and Eve of old, were faced with one of two choices. In the center of that garden were two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Essentially, we could say that before Adam and Eve was the necessity to choose between life or death. Exactly the same choices faced the Israelites of Moses’ day:

1 “Now when all these things happen to you— the blessing and the curse I have set before you—and you remember them in all the nations where the Lord your God has exiled you, 2 if you turn to the Lord your God and listen to him just as I am commanding you today—you and your descendants—with your whole mind and being, 3 then the Lord your God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. He will turn and gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you. 4 Even if any of your dispersed are under the most distant skies, from there the Lord your God will gather and bring you back. 5 Then he will bring you to the land your ancestors possessed and you also will possess it; he will do better for you and multiply you more than he did your ancestors. 6 The Lord your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being, in order to live. 7 Then the Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies, on those who hate you and persecute you. 8 You will return and pay attention to the Lord, keeping all his commandments I am giving you today. 9 The Lord your God will make the labor of your hands abundantly successful—in your offspring, the offspring of your cattle, and the crops of your fields. For the Lord your God will once more rejoice over you for good just as he rejoiced over your ancestors, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the law, that is, if you turn to him with your whole mind and being.

11 “For this commandment that I am giving you today is not too awesome for you, nor is it too remote. 12 It is not in heaven, as though one must say, “Who will go up to heaven to get it for us so that we may hear and obey it?” 13 And it is not across the sea, as though one must say, “Who will cross over to the other side of the sea and get it for us so that we may hear and keep it?” 14 For the thing is very near you—it is in your mouth and mind so that you can do it.

15 “Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other. 16 What I am commanding you today is to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to obey his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances. Then you will live and become numerous and the Lord your God will bless you in the land where you are going to take possession of it. 17 However, if you turn aside and do not obey, but are lured away to worship and serve other gods, 18 I declare to you this very day that you will certainly perish! You will not extend your time in the land you are crossing the Jordan River to possess. 19 I invoke heaven and earth as a witness against you today that I have set life and death, blessing and curse, before you. Therefore choose life so that you may live—you and your descendants! 20 I also call on you to love the Lord your God, to obey him and cling to him, for he is your life and the means of your longevity as you live in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 30:1-20, emphasis mine).

39 “See now that I, indeed I, am he!” says the Lord,
“and there is no other god besides me.
I am the one who kills and brings to life.
I smash and I heal,
and none can deliver from my power.
40 For I raise up my hand to heaven,
and say, ‘As I live forever,
41 I will sharpen my lightning-like sword,
and my hand will grasp hold of judgment;
I will execute vengeance on my foes,
and repay those who hate me!
42 I will satisfy my arrows fully with blood,
and my sword will eat flesh;
with the blood of the slaughtered and captured,
from the chief of the enemy’s leaders!’”
43 Cry out, O nations, with his people,
for he will avenge his servants’ blood;
he will direct vengeance against his enemies,
and make atonement for his land and people.

44 Then Moses went with Joshua son of Nun and recited all the words of this song to the people. 45 When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel 46 he said to them, “Instill in your mind all the things I am testifying to you today, things you must command your children to observe, all the words of this law. 47 For this is no idle word for you—it is your life! By this word you will live a long time in the land you are about to cross the Jordan River to possess (Deuteronomy 32:39-47, emphasis mine).

Simply put, if the Israelites were to live, they must keep God’s commandment;37 If they disobey, they will die. It is just as simple as that. And so the Israelites of old had the same decision to make as did Adam and Eve. Would they choose life, or would they choose death?

Lessons For Men and Women Today

There are many lessons for us to learn, and I will only be able to touch on these.

First, our text explains the reason for suffering, sorrow, and injustice in this world. There are some who foolishly say, “I refuse to believe in a God who is both good and all-powerful, but who allows suffering and injustice.” God did not create a world that was unjust, or filled with sorrow. He created a perfect world. He also created a world in which man was given the choice of whether to obey or disobey God’s command. It is man’s sin that has brought about sickness, suffering, death, and injustice. The fact that God punishes sin demonstrates that He is righteous, and it is we who are sinners, deserving His wrath. When you and I look around and see so much that is wrong, we should acknowledge that the cause of all this is sin – man’s disobedience to God’s Word. Sin and suffering tells us that there is something desperately wrong with us, not with God.

Second, the fall of man in the garden is the reason for some of God’s commands to us today. Why is it that women are commanded to keep silent in the churches or instructed that they must not lead men? Paul tells us that it is because of the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden:

9 Likewise the women are to dress in suitable apparel, with modesty and self-control. Their adornment must not be with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, 10 but with good deeds, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11 A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man. She must remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first and then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But she will be delivered through childbearing, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with self-control (1 Timothy 2:9-15).

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. 35 If they want to find out about something they should ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Did the word of God begin with you, or did it come to you alone? (1 Corinthians 14:33b-36).

I know that there are many non-Christians (and some Christians as well) who will say, “That’s just nonsense! Paul has no right to demand such conduct. It makes no sense to me, and I’m not going to do it!” Let me simply point out that this is precisely the same attitude and response that we see in Eve. The commands given to women are not based on any inferiority so far as women are concerned. These commands are rooted in the fall, and in the curse. Our response to them reveals either our submission to God or our disobedience. It is really as simple as that.

Third, we now know the cure for the curse. Someone may very well ask, “Why did God allow the consequences of Adam’s sin to fall on the entire human race?” “Why is it fair for me to suffer for what Adam did?” In the first place, I would say that most of my suffering is because of my sin, not Adam’s. But having said this, God was gracious to allow the action of this one man to affect me. It was gracious because He also purposed for the actions of another Man, a last Adam, to reverse the consequences of the first Adam’s sin:

12 So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned — 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed. 15 But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many! 16 And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification. 17 For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more, 21 so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:12-21).

42 It is the same with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living person; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” 46 However, the spiritual did not come first, but the natural, then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, made of dust, the second man is from heaven. 48 Like the one made of dust, so too are those made of dust, and like the one from heaven, so too those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

Adam was the first Adam, whose sin made all mankind sinners. Jesus Christ is the “last Adam.” He was tempted in every area, but unlike Adam, our Lord never failed (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). His handling of Satan’s temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12) was the opposite of Adam, and it provides us with much insight concerning dealing with temptation. He was tempted, yet without sin. He who was without sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:22). Adam’s sin brought all those in him (all mankind) into condemnation; Christ’s righteousness makes all who are found in Him righteous. We have a choice before us: whether we will remain in Adam, and thus under divine condemnation, or whether we will be found in Christ by trusting in Him, resulting in eternal life.

The message of our text could probably be summarized by five terms:

Faith. The outcome of the temptation of Adam and Eve was determined on the basis of who they chose to trust. The things that they were dealing with were, to them, unseen. They had never seen death, and did not really know what life was. They did not know what “the knowledge of good and evil” was, either. When man fell in the garden, it was due to misplaced faith. Eve trusted Satan, rather than God.

The Word of God. It was God’s Word vs. Satan’s, and Eve chose to believe Satan. God’s Word was sufficient to call creation into existence. The question was whether or not it was sufficient for Adam and Eve to live by.

Obedience. The test that God gave Adam and Eve was one of obedience. Would they obey His command?

Grace. God was gracious to create the perfect world that He did, and to place man in the garden. God was gracious to forbid Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit. He was gracious to seek out Adam and Eve, and to point out their sin. He was gracious to promise the coming of a Savior, who would once and for all destroy the evil one. In the Old Testament, as the New, grace is to be found on every page.

Leadership. The fall took place because Adam failed to lead, as God had commanded him. He listened to his wife, rather than to lead her, and to exercise authority over the serpent.

In conclusion, I would like to point out what I feel is a vitally important lesson that we were intended to learn from the account of man’s fall. Adam and Eve fell because they did not trust God to meet their needs. They felt that they had to act independently of God, and in disobedience to His Word, in order to have their desires satisfied. Eve saw the forbidden fruit as desirable, and she was willing to disobey God (even though He threatened death) to satisfy her needs (as she defined them). Seemingly, Adam was willing to disobey God because he felt he needed Eve more than God. Why else would he knowingly disobey God to obey her?

I believe Genesis 2 was written to demonstrate that God is both willing and able to meet our legitimate needs, in His way, and in His time. The shrubs and plants needed water, and God provided it. They needed cultivation and irrigation, and God provided for that need. Adam needed a helpmate, and God wonderfully provided Eve. God provided for every true need in His creation.

When our Lord was tempted by Satan, He was led into the wilderness where he had no food or water (much as the Israelites were led into the desert by Moses). Satan sought to employ the same kind of temptation he used in the garden, seeking to entice Jesus to act independently of the Father in order to meet His own needs. Our Lord answered that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Father. He knew that obeying God was more important than eating a meal. He knew that His ultimate need was to obey the Father’s will. He knew that if He entrusted Himself to God, and obeyed His Word, God would supply His needs.

Satan tempted Eve, convincing her that she really needed the fruit of the forbidden tree. She needed it, she thought, because it was desirable to make her wise, to make her like God. She needed to know good and evil. I am inclined to think that God fully intended to meet this need, but in His own way, and in His own time. I wonder if God did not intend to teach Adam about good and evil as they took their daily walk together in the garden. I believe that they would have come to know good by knowing God, and realizing that anything other than that which pleased Him was evil. They would learn to be wise by knowing God more intimately. In this way, the knowledge of good and evil would be a blessed thing, the result of enjoying God. Disobeying God brought about a separation from God, rather than greater intimacy with God.

How many times do we find ourselves being tempted in the same manner? We sense that we have a need (at the least, we feel a desire) that God has not yet met. We should draw near to God, trusting Him to provide, or to withhold, what we desire, knowing that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17). God withholds only that which is detrimental to our good. But all too often we, like Eve, choose to satisfy our needs independently, acting apart from faith, and perhaps in direct disobedience to His Word. The results of such disobedience are always disastrous in the end.

Isn’t this what the Israelites of old needed to learn as well? They were led into the wilderness, where there was no food and little water. God promised to provide for all their needs. When they failed to trust and obey Him, there were always painful consequences. God purposely let them be in need, to test them and to increase their faith:

1 You must keep carefully the entire commandment I am giving you today so that you may live, multiply, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised to your ancestors. 2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test to see whether deep within yourselves you would keep his commandments or not. 3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and feeding you with unfamiliar manna to make you understand that mankind cannot live by food alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth (Deuteronomy 8:1-3).

When we have needs, it is often God’s way of teaching us to trust and obey. When we fail to do so, we simply repeat, once again, the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the garden.


23 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on November 5, 2000.

24 Ten times in Genesis 1.

25 “It was so” may not have been precisely said in each instance, but it is implied if not stated after every “and God said.”

26 I have always been perplexed as to why Moses would bother to mention that there was “good gold” in the land of Havilah (2:11-12). If I understand Sailhamer’s argument correctly, then Eden was the land of Canaan. This would then be equivalent to Moses pointing to the hills of Canaan and shouting, “There’s gold in them thar hills!” It would be an ancient version of the gold rush. I say this somewhat with tongue-in-cheek, but there must be a reason for mentioning the gold. See John Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1996), pp. 70-73.

27 Specifically, the husband.

28 I understand this to mean that Adam would immediately die spiritually, and that he would begin to die physically as well. From the moment he ate of it, the aging process would begin.

29 It should probably be noted that “the serpent” is not actually called Satan here, but that becomes quite apparent in time. In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul refers to Eve being deceived by the serpent, but later in the same chapter he goes on to describe the deceptive work of Satan (11:13-15).

30 Much of this is Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 11:2-17.

31 NASB.

32 The inference of God’s words is that all earthly creatures fell under a curse because of the fall. The serpent is cursed “more than” the other creatures, which certainly appears to mean that they, too, are cursed, but not as much as the serpent. This squares with Romans 8:19-22.

33 NASB.

34 See also 1 Timothy 2:15; 5:14.

35 This is most evident in the original text.

36 Due to the length of this text, and some others in the future, I will not include lengthy texts in the message.

37 If time would permit, I would pursue the fact that “commandment” is singular, not plural. Moses is not saying that “law keeping” will produce eternal life. The one commandment we are to keep is to love the Lord our God. It is God who will circumcise our hearts, causing us to love Him and to obey His commandments. The one command, in essence, is to love God. This whole matter (along with Deuteronomy 30:12-14) is taken up in Romans 10:1-15.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)