Revisiting Eden (Genesis 3:1-7)
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I. Storytelling in the Old Testament
While ancient historians (including those whom God used to bring forth his word) often communicated past events through stories, storytelling is a distinct medium. And God's word contains many examples of this storytelling. Think with me about two:
First, consider the storytelling done by the prophet Nathan in II Samuel 12:1-4. It goes like this...
“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
It sounds like a parable Jesus might have told, right? But unlike most of Jesus' parables, this story was retelling an historical event. That is, though this tale of 'Two Men and a Little Lamb' was invented, it spoke powerfully about real people and a real injustice. And that point was not lost on King David, the actual 'rich man' targeted here in the storyteller's cross hairs.
Earlier in the Hebrew Bible, we meet another storyteller in the book of Judges. His name is Jotham and he's the son of Gideon. When his power-hungry brother Abimelech treacherously kills the rest of his brothers, Jotham escapes and declares a story to the leaders of their city, Shechem. It's a story that begins like this, “The trees once went out to anoint a king over them...” (9:8) The story goes on to describe how, when asked, the olive and fig trees, even the vine, would not become king over the other trees. Only the thorny “bramble” bush would agree to rule over them.
Like Nathan's story, though it is a creatively-crafted tale, it communicates important ideas about real people and events; specifically, about Abimelech, his corrupt character, and the foolishness of the people of Shechem, who were looking to a leader like this for 'shade'. Notice that it's also distinct from Nathan's story in that it uses what we might call fantastical elements to make its point. In this case, the story involves talking trees seeking a leader to lead them.
II. The Passage: “When the Woman Saw” (3:1-7)
Why this concern with storytelling in the Bible? Well, this morning I'd like to focus in on chapter 3, verses 1-7. But before we do that, let me suggest an idea that may seem strange to you at first. Let me suggest that what we find here in Genesis 2-3 is not just a story, but the work of a storyteller. Yes, like some of the stories I just mentioned, but also different; unique in many ways. Specifically, I believe this is a storyteller's take on history. What does that mean?
It means that Genesis 2-3 is the work of a divinely-inspired storyteller, a storyteller who wanted to communicate to his readers important ideas about actual people, places, and events. But like Nathan and Jotham, he did so through the storytelling medium.
I'm stressing this point because many people hear the word storytelling and immediately think of fiction and fantasy, rather than history. And that's understandable. But Scripture is crystal clear that the story in Genesis 2-3 is teaching us about actual people, places, and events. For example, Adam is included in three genealogies in Scripture (two in the OT and one in the NT). The Apostle Paul confirmed in Acts 17:26 that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth”. In both Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15, Paul identifies this man as “Adam”, and makes it clear that though “the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (I Timothy 2:14), it was (Romans 5:14) “the transgression of Adam” that sank our world into sin and death.
But why talk about Genesis 2-3 as the work of a storyteller rather than an historian? The story-telling of Nathan and Jotham are set in historical narratives, so it's explicitly clear from the context when that shift from narrative to storytelling takes place. Do we find that here in Genesis 2? No. But what we do find are clues, clues from the text itself; these are the kinds of clues that most people, in most cultures, in most centuries would recognize as indications that they are listening to the work of a storyteller, not just an historical account. I see at least seven clues like that in Genesis 2-3. Given our time limitations, let me try to briefly summarize them:
Clue #1: Readers and scholars have long noted the difference between the creation account in Genesis 1 and the creation account in Genesis 2. The God who was simply speaking all things into existence in chp. 1 is now depicted in chp. 2 as a divine craftsman, at the job site, shaping things like the dust, the ground, and even a rib to bring (even 'breathe') life into existence.
Clue #2: 2:7 describes this divine craftsman shaping man from the dust. But readers know we are not really made of dust or dirt, or anything like dust or dirt. Dust is dry and the ground is hard, but we are (for the most part) soft and slimy. Sounds like a storyteller's poetic depiction.
Clue #3: Though we may not be familiar with the geographical details in 2:10-14 concerning the river of Eden that flowed through and out of the garden, then split into four rivers, those details would have been familiar to many of the original readers. But they would have also seen these details as geographically problematic, pointing to a spiritual rather than geographical emphasis.
Clue #4: When trees in the story are given names like “of life” and “of the knowledge of good and evil”, that's usually a clue these are not literal trees but literary devices used by the story-teller simply to represent those critical concepts.
Clue #5: I believe that idea is confirmed by how the fruit of those trees has what we might call 'magical' properties. Simply eating it 'opens' one's eyes or imparts immortality. I believe the first readers of Genesis, who knew God and the world he created, would have recognized this clue.
Clue #6: Probably most revealing in terms of fantastical elements, one of the characters in this story is a talking snake. No, I don't believe Genesis or any book in the Bible tells us this was Satan. Given the threat that snakes represented to those ancient readers, and the fact that snakes don't talk, I think this snake is simply an excellent choice by the storyteller for represent-ing the deception and danger of sin. Interestingly, in the next chapter, in 4:7, sin is also talked about figuratively; and specifically, it's described as a deadly animal crouching, ready to pounce.
Clue #7: When cherubim are mentioned in the Bible, they are 1) never called angels, and 2) always talked about in representational or symbolic or visionary settings (not in narrative contexts). If that tells us something about how ancient people thought about cherubim, then their appearance in 3:24 might also be a clue that Genesis 2-3 is the work of an ancient storyteller.
Now notice what I've done. I've used clues from the text and, in light of the testimony of all Scripture, have tried to make a case for seeing Genesis 2-3 as a unique kind of story; a story-teller's take on history. Historical, but highly figurative. I want to be clear about the approach I've taken in order to curb anyone who's tempted to label other parts of Scripture as 'storytelling' without a careful case being made from the context and from broader context of the Bible itself.
Does it ultimately matter if you see this as more of a storyteller's take on history or as a straight-forward historical account? Ultimately, I don't think it does. Good scholars and faithful Christians have reached different conclusions, and that's okay. As long as we are allowing Scripture to drive the conversation, and holding fast to our foundational teachings, those that are clearly and regularly taught in God's word, I think exploring these ideas can actually be really helpful. So on that note, look with me at Genesis 3:1-7. This is what we read...
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,  but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
So what should we do with this well-known story? Well, let me remind you that the woman, in her response to the serpent in verses 2-3, is taking us back 2:15–17, where we read...
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
I point you back to those verses because I think they contain the key to making sense of this story of Eden. The key to this story is that “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. But what precisely does that tree represent? It doesn't simply represent knowing what is good and evil. The man and woman know what is right and wrong, even to the extent that the woman can communicate that to the serpent. No, the “knowledge” represented by the tree is different. If we use those key words “knowledge”, “good”, and “evil” to look for insight from the Hebrew Bible, we'd discover Deuteronomy 1:39 and Isaiah 7:15-16. Both of those verses speak about this kind of knowledge in relation to... children. Like our first parents, most children can also tell you what is right and wrong. But Isaiah 7:15-16 speaks more specifically about knowing “how to refuse the evil and choose the good”. That's not simply understanding the content of “good and evil”. It's also understanding something about the nature and consequences of “good and evil”. So think about that idea in the context of this story.
God has provided a garden full of ways to communicate the goodness of what is “good”. Provision. Abundance. Life. The best provision, of course, is his own presence. But He has also communicated to them the evil-ness of what is “evil”: “...for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (or “...you must surely die”). So the contrast between the knowledge God has imparted and what the tree will impart creates a tension. Here's that tension:
Will we trust what God has revealed about the goodness of what is good and the dangers of what is evil, or will we listen to the voice of temptation, and obtain that knowledge the hard way: by stepping away, believing we can stand on our own, only to find 'quicksand' under our feet? (consider that personally; take that to heart)
Genesis 3:22 tells us that the serpent was in some sense right in v.5. We have become like God in knowing good and evil. God himself confirms that in 3:22. But that newly-acquired human knowledge of the goodness of good and the evil-ness of evil is always obtained at a horrific price. It was gained, not by trusting, by trespassing; by stepping away from God and stepping over that line he drew in order to protect us. The story is clear: the consequences of stepping away from God and over that line are devastating: peril, strife, pain, toil, and ultimately death. Why these consequences? Because knowledge through trespass is a rejection of God, and therefore, a rejection of what the garden represents: his wonderfully abundant provision of life.
If we think about the very first readers of Genesis, then we begin to understand why the story-teller may have shaped this story the way he did. Genesis through Deuteronomy are often called the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch, because Moses seems to have been central in hearing, recording, compiling, and conveying the stories, laws, census data, etc. that we find in these books. When we recognize that, the first readers of Genesis come into view. They were the younger generation of Israelites liberated from Egypt, who had grown up wandering in the desert because of their parents' unbelief (Numbers 14:26-30).
So with them in mind, see if you can hear 'echoes from Eden' in the final lines of Moses' final appeal in the final book of the Pentateuch. This is Deuteronomy 30:11-20:
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
Why was this story, the storyteller's take on history that we find in Genesis 2-3, why was it so important for the original audience of Genesis?
Because it taught them about the ancient roots of their sin and suffering (and our sin and suffering, right!?). It reminded them about the devastating consequences of rejecting the commandment (or word) of God. Best of all, it pointed them to the One who is our “life and length of days”. This God was about to give them a “land” in which he would “bless” them, a land described in Genesis 13:10 as “well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD”. But if they would “not hear”, and were “drawn away to worship other gods”, they would be, according to Leviticus 20:22, 24, expelled from that place of abundance. The story in Genesis 2-3 confirmed for them that God had, and indeed, would again bring this kind judgment upon any who, by rejecting his word, foolishly rejected his incomparable presence and provision.
III. The Deceitfulness of Sin
Now in light of all this, listen to these sobering but practical verses, verses written for Christians and found in Hebrews 3:12–13...
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Like the woman in the garden, our first mother, all of us know the voice of that serpent. In Hebrews 3:13 he goes by a clearer name: “the deceitfulness of sin”. And how does sin want to deceive us? By lying to us about God and his perfect provision. Sin says, “You shouldn't listen to God. You shouldn't believe his word. He doesn't have your best interest in mind. He's keeping things from you. He doesn't want you to be all you can be; as wise as you can be; as happy as you can be. Trust your eyes instead. Trust your gut. There's something better in what you can take for yourself than what has already been offered or given to you by God.” Brothers and sisters, friends, please stop for a moment and consider in what ways, in what areas, you are hearing the serpent's voice this morning. We need to revisit Eden often, don't we? God is calling you, through this story, to remember the truth about who He is, what he gives, and how sin lies.
How do we know the 'serpent's' lies are lies? First, because all of us now have that knowledge of good and evil. Though we often deny it, and live imperfectly in light of it, if you're honest, you know all too well the goodness of what's good and the ugliness/emptiness/danger of what's evil.
But second, God has given us ultimate reassurance; he has proven that he is not keeping anything from us by... giving us that which was most precious to him, his only Son. He isn't the man who fell and died. He's the man who died and rose. And you and I can “choose life” by choosing to fix our eyes daily on him, the One who said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). For He, and he alone, withstood the “deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13), being “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15); in his death, being cut off and cast out for us, but rising to become “the last Adam” (I Corinthians 15:45). Wonder-fully, he, Jesus, is the same One who made this potent promise, “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7) Is Christ promising us there that a real tree in an earthly garden will one day be restored to mankind? No. I don't think so. I believe the symbolic imagery at the end of the Bible, functions the same way as the storyteller's creative efforts at the beginning of the Bible: the garden story powerfully points us to the gospel story. Glory with me in Romans 5:17, For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abun-dance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
other sermons in this series