Breaking with God
May 7, 2023
Genesis 2 made me think of sharing my family history with a doctor. Genesis 3 makes me think of the time I ended up at the emergency room. I had been playing frisbee with some friends and had made what—I assume—everyone acknowledge was an amazing grab. Unfortunately I landed on the sidewalk, breaking my fall with my left arm. I tried to keep playing, but the ever increasing pain made it clear that something was wrong. Once at the hospital, an X-Ray was taken of my arm, showing that it was broken. This wasn’t that surprising. After all, the pain and my inability to move my hand clued me into the fact that it was broken. But the X-Ray didn’t just reveal that it was broken; it also revealed where it was broken, which was vital to the kind of treatment I needed to receive.
That is something like what Genesis 3 does for us. We all know that the world is broken. That isn’t shocking. But without God showing us where the world is broken, we would not have much hope in understanding what is actually needed to address the problem. As humanity considers the problems that are in this world, there are a myriad of suggested solutions. But these solutions inevitably miss the real problem because they ignore the X-Ray that is Genesis 3.
When we looked at Genesis 2, we started to look at our family history in order to understand ourselves more. Genesis 3 continues to lay out our family history. Adam and Eve are historical, but they also represent every man and woman. In looking at them, we are able to see ourselves. Like looking at an x-ray, in reading about them in Genesis 3 we see and understand ourselves and our struggles all the more.
What does Genesis 3 teach us?
First, it shows us the Origin of sin (1-6)
Genesis 3 begins by introducing the serpent. In this passage we do not know much about the serpent. We are told that he is crafty and we see that he speaks, which is not normal for serpents. It is only by reading the rest of Scripture that we see that this is not a mere serpent, but the devil himself. Jesus speaks of the devil as being a liar and the father of lies, referencing the fall in the garden (John 8:44). Likewise, Revelation speaks of Satan as the “ancient serpent” (Revelation 20:2). But in Genesis not more is said of the serpent, for the point is not the devil but the fall of man. He comes through a serpent to upturn the good creation that God has made. He comes as a creature because Eve is to have dominion over creation, but he will have dominion over her. He does not come to liberate, but to exult himself by destroying her.
The Process of Temptation
How does he do it? He causes her to doubt the goodness of God by doing the following:
1) He questions God’s motive by asking, “Did God actually say…?” In the second half of verse 1. And notice that he rewords the command that God gave in Genesis 2:16-17. In Genesis 2:16-17, the command is front loaded with God’s provision as he says “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.” The serpent recasts the command as “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden.” This is the subtle beginning of what will come out fully soon. The serpent wants to make the woman think that the Lord is withholding instead of giving.
2) He speaks of the LORD God as simply God. This may not come across as a serious point, but so far in the narrative of man’s creation, he has been “the LORD God” and not simply “God” (see 2:5,7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 3:1, 8, 9, 13, 14, 21, 22, 23). When you see “LORD” in all capital letters, it is a stand in for God’s covenant name to Israel, YHWH. Why is it significant that the serpent only speaks of him as God? Because he is trying to create relational distance between the woman and her covenant Lord.
And you can see that his tactic works, for the woman’s response shows that she has been influenced by him. You can see this in how she speaks of the command and how she speaks of the Lord. She mimics the serpent and speaks of the Lord only as “God.” She notes in verse 2 that they may eat of the trees of the garden, but she does not say that this is what God told Adam. Rather, she only quotes his prohibition without attributing the provision to him. The prohibition comes from God. The provision just seems to exist apart from him. Likewise, she adds to the command, saying “neither shall you touch it, lest you die,” giving into the narrative that God is harsh instead of generous.
The woman is not using his terms and falling into his way of thinking. Seeing this, the serpent moves to the next level of temptation.
3) He denies God’s goodness by calling him a withholding liar. In verse 4, he denies God’s warning by saying that they will not actually die. In verse 5, he says that God only told that lie in order to keep them back from something good, namely divinity itself.
As we see in verse 6, Satan accomplished his goal. The woman became obsessed with what she did not have, seeing that the fruit was good to eat, a delight to her eyes, and that it would make her “wise.”
What is the Tree and What Did It Give?
But what exactly was this wisdom that she wanted? What was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and what exactly did it give one who ate from it? There is no lack of opinion on what the tree was and what it imparted. What we know is that it was a tree that, if one ate its fruit, it would give knowledge of good and evil such as they had not had until then. It is knowledge that God has, so it cannot be personal experience or empirical knowledge of evil as some think, for God has no personal experience of committing evil.
In Genesis 3, the focus is not on the content of the knowledge. Rather, it is the manner by which they obtained the knowledge. As one commentator on Genesis reminds us, it is sobering to remember that speculating about this tree is what got Eve in trouble, so we don’t wan to speculate about it.
But eating of it did make them like God in a way that they were not before, which is something that God himself says in verse 22. So how did Adam and Eve make themselves like God by eating of the tree? They made themselves like God in the sense that eating from the tree put them in a position to determine and judge for themselves what good and evil was. They were like God in that they now determined what was right and what was wrong—but not in reality.
The knowledge of good and evil is not the ability to distinguish between the useful and the harmful, or knowledge of the world and how to control it. It is the right and capacity to distinguish good and evil on one’s own.
In Genesis 2, God creates man and says to him, “come, enjoy my creation in joyful dependence on me.” And in Genesis 3, humanity says, “No, we’ll stand on our own feet, thank you very much. We will go our way and you can go yours.”
To know good and evil, then, is another way of saying that you are the judge of good and evil. It is to claim that you are the determiner of good and evil. It is to decide for oneself what is right and wrong and not submit to any external law.
To eat from the tree was a declaration: “I am emancipated from God!” But this is a declaration of death just as a fish declaring that it is emancipated from water; a clam from its shell; a head from its body; or a branch from a tree.
What is the Problem and Solution?
God shows us the origin of sin in the world and also how sin continues to grow in verses 1-6. All of it is rooted in believing that God is not good.
We are tempted to say things like, "If I only had this or that, then I wouldn't struggle to believe that God is good. But consider Adam and Eve. What did they lack? They enjoyed perfect communion with God, had perfect communion with each other, had meaningful work, and lived in a garden paradise without sorrow, anxiety, or death. Yet they doubted that God was good. Even to them the grass was greener on the other side.
In order to get you to doubt God's goodness, Satan and this world want you to focus on what you do not have instead of concentrating on the good gifts that God has given you. The worldly system that is opposed to God and Satan want you to think of God as stingy and withholding.
But that is not who God is. Clear your mind of these lies that God is stingy and withholding but considering these passages:
John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
Romans 8:31-32, after rehearsing the fact that God has redeemed us from sin and death and has guaranteed our final salvation, Paul writes, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?"
2 Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich."
God isn't withholding! How dare you even consider that as an option. He gives and gives and gives, and then, in the face of sin, he says, "Let me give you even more." Withholding? No. Selfish? Absolutely. He gives you salvation by giving you himself.
Second, it shows us Reactions to Sin (7-13)
Genesis 3 shows us the typical reactions to sin. The reaction of the man and woman to their sin is sadly familiar to us. Equally sad may be our lack of familiarity with God’s reaction to human sin. Let’s focus on man and then God.
Man’s Shame Leads to Separation
We see that immediately after eating the forbidden fruit, verse 7 tells us that their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked. Their nakedness wasn’t new to them; their fear at their vulnerability was. Their rebellion brought shame and guilt to them, and this shame and guilt manifested in fear that separated them from each other. This alienation from each other is represented by the sewing together of fig leaves. With their innocence gone, they did not trust each other anymore. Sin had ruptured the first human relationship and it has ruptured every subsequent relationship since.
But it isn’t human relationships alone that are effected by sin. We see in verse 8 that upon hearing the sound of God in the garden, they hid themselves. Why? Hearing him in the garden reminds them that they did not hear and obey his word. They know that they are wrong and so they run and hide in order to avoid him.
But let’s turn from man’s reaction for a moment see God’s.
God’s Love Leads to Justice and Kindness
Do you notice how God responds to the first sin? He comes in search of his people. While they have been faithless, he remains faithful and comes to find his own. As they hide, he calls. Do you see God’s justice and kindness played out here in these verses? He asks four questions: Where are you? Who told you? Have you eaten? And, “What is this that you have done?
He does not ask these questions because he is ignorant of the answers. He knows all things. So why does he ask these questions? I think for two primary reasons
First, he models justice for us. He touches us that justice requires us to gather information and inquire from witnesses before we give our decision. This is an insight for all of us in positions of authority. Parents, do you practice justice with your children in this manner or do you just assume that you know everything? God models for us calm and just judgment in these verses. He is acting in the exact opposite way that Satan claimed he would. He is not harsh and withholding. He is calm and patient.
Second, he invites reconciliation. Again, he does not ask these questions in order to gather information. He asks these questions in order to give the man and the woman an opportunity to confess. Don’t read these questions as an attempt to shame; they aren’t. These questions are God drawing out the man and woman from hiding in shame. The serpent asked questions that led them to sin and shame; God asks questions to lead us out of sin and shame.
That’s what conviction of sin is meant to do in you, too. Conviction of sin makes you want to hide because you feel so ashamed. But that conviction is actually God drawing you out of hiding so that he may deal with your sin. Conviction is God inviting you to be a witness against yourself. Reconciliation is impossible until you are ready to admit your guilt. God, then, is the one who takes the first steps to heal us of our sin.
How do the first man and woman respond to this kindness? That takes us back to the reaction we know all to well.
Man’s Guilt and New Image
In verses 10-13, we see the man and the woman respond in all the wrong ways.
The man does not readily admit his wrong, only his fear. He says that he hid because he was afraid and he was afraid because he was naked. He is unwilling to admit that all of this fear and shame sprang from his rebellion against God. And, as God questions him further, he does not confess to his sin. Instead, he deflects and blames the woman and, in by connection, God himself for giving him the woman. His sin has turned the woman he praised into a creature he curses.
And the woman does not do much better. She in turn deflects the charge of guilt by blaming the serpent.
As you witness the man and the woman in this scene, it is worth asking: whose image do they reflect? Like Satan, they have became deceivers in denying their sin and accusers in pointing at each other.
Such are the reactions that we have to sin. Such is God’s merciful response.
What is the Problem and Solution?
Do you know that God invites you to confess your sin? We sin because we think he isn’t good, so is it any surprise that you also have convinced yourself that he won’t receive a sinner who confesses?
Where are you hiding from his voice? Are you hiding among the trees of righteous appearances? Busyness? Tic Tok? FB? Instagram? Twitter? Netflix? Is your world so loud that you cannot hear his inviting question “Where are you?” Remember, he does not say that because he lacks information. He asks that question to you as a gracious opportunity to end the hiding so that he can deal with your sin.
And deal with it he does.
Third, it shows us the Judgment of Sin (14-24)
There are two kinds of judgment in verses 14-24. First, there is the judgment that condemns sin and then there is the judgment that restrains sin in order to redeem from it.
God’s salvation comes through God’s judgment. God promises in these verse to crush the root of sin, which is Satan. But he also promises to root sin out of the heart of his people, which he will do by restraining sin and then ultimately redeeming from it. How does God condemn, restrain, and then redeem from sin? It is all seen in these words of varying judgment. Let’s make some notes about the judgment in these verses.
First, only the serpent is cursed and he is cursed without questioning. In verses 14-15, we see the curse that the serpent is to bear and it corresponds with his rebellion. He sought to totally upturn creation by leading the woman, who in turn led her husband. But God now decrees that he will be humiliated and choke on the dust by which man is made. Not only this, he will ultimately be defeated by the seed of the woman whom he sought to use in order to defeat the whole human race. This offspring from the woman will ultimately crush his head.
Second, the man and the woman are not cursed, only the serpent and the ground are cursed. The word “cursed” is only used of the serpent in verse 14 and the ground in verse 17. This indicates that the man and the woman retain the blessing that God gave them in their creation (cf. Gen 1:26-28). Nevertheless, the man and the woman—and all men and women after them— are judged and humbled in order to restrain sin until God completes his work of redemption. This judgment takes place in ways that are particular to their roles and their sins.
The woman’s creational role was to bear children, so now her pain will be increased in childbirth. Childbirth serves for woman as a reminder of human sin, but it also serves as a reminder that God will provide the ultimate solution to sin through a child from a woman.
The "desire" the woman has for her husband is a desire for mastery. This is revealed when we compare this statement to Genesis 4:7. There the same wording is used in speaking sin's desire to master Cain. The woman, then, will desire to master and rule over her husband, but God has ordained that the man exercise his leadership function. That the man rules over his wife is seen in Genesis 2:15,18. Woman is now called to submit to this divine edict in order to restrain the spread of sin. God is reaffirming the order of creation that the human rebellion sought to undue: The serpent is subject to the woman, man, and God; the woman is subject to the man and God; The man is subject to God.
The man is likewise humbled by being given a reminder of sin through his creational role. Because he did not lead his wife and instead was led by her, now his domain of labor—the ground—will not submit to him.
And all of humanity, male and female, is judged by being cast from God’s immediate presence in the garden. God cleanses his garden temple by casting them out.
Third, the man and woman are given hope in the coming seed. We see this in verse 15. This verse acts as a transition between the curse on the serpent and the judgment on the woman for her sin. While there is no good news for the serpent, this verse is the good news for Adam and Eve. There God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall brush his heel.” God promises that he will turn the woman’s heart away from Satan and instead lead her to despise him. Not only that, but her offspring will hate his. This isn’t just a statement that people will hate snakes. It is much more than that. As we know from elsewhere in Scripture, the serpent is not a mere serpent. He is the devil. The offspring of the devil are not his physical children or demons; they are human are align with his ways. From here on out in the Bible, there are two lines or kingdoms of humanity depicted: the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The word seed or offspring can either refer an immediate child, multiple people, or to a particular far off child. In this verse, it most likely refers to all three. What this means, then, is that the story of the Bible is the story of this verse playing out: those who serve God will make war with those who serve Satan by rebelling against God. But ultimately, God has promised, that one seed will come and he will crush the head of Satan himself. But in doing so, he will be wounded. And even though this is on the heel, a serpent can kill by biting the heel.
As the Bible unfolds, we see many battles between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent: Cain and Abel, Israel and Egypt, David and Goliath, and many more. But ultimately we see the promised seed in the coming of Jesus Christ. He comes and succeeds where Adam failed. While Adam and Eve rebelled against God by believing he was not good, though they were in paradise provided to them by him, Jesus stood firm under temptation in the midst of a desolate wilderness. Adam, in the garden, said “my will be done.” Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane said, “your will be done.” And in going to the cross, Jesus removed forever the penalty of sin by bearing it on himself. On the cross he crushed Satan and his power—for his power only stands as he is able to accuse God’s people of sin. By removing sin by his perfect life, obedient death, and atoning resurrection, Jesus crushed Satan.
What is the Problem and Solution?
You live in a world broken by sin, but God remains merciful even in this sin infested world. He kept his promise to heal us of sin and he will keep his promise to completely remove sin from this world. What do we need to do while we wait? We do something similar to Adam in verse 20. There we see that he named his wife’s name Eve. Why? Because she was the mother of all living. Adam heard God’s promise that one would come from her who would deliver them from the curse brought on the world because of sin. He believed God and named her accordingly. And in response to his faith, God gave them animal skins—which required the shedding of blood—to cover their shame.
Concluding with Some Questions
You may feel like saying, “But I’ve got questions! From whence did evil arise? If all creation is good, how could evil even begin? Why did Satan rebel?” Those are fine questions and I encourage you to seek answers: but let me offer you just two cautions:
First, don’t get angry that this chapter doesn’t answer those questions. That would be like getting angry that my photo album doesn’t have any of your baby pictures. The point of Genesis 3 is to tell you the origin of man’s sin and not a full explanation of the origin of evil. Don’t get angry that it doesn’t tell you.
Second, don’t demand that God answer every question you ask. That is to show your family resemblance with Adam and Eve and saying, “Let God make his case for why he did that. I’ll be the judge of whether he was right or wrong.” Do you see what you are doing? You are still trying to emancipate yourself from God.
Instead of letting your mind swim with your questions, let God’s questions swim in your mind:
What kind of seed are you?
How will you respond to his judgment? In faith and hope or in anger?
These are the two questions we must ponder as we leave Genesis 3. Will you align yourself with God by trusting his word and seeking to root out whatever voices cause you to doubt it? Will you hear his promise of a Savior and say, “Yes, Lord, I believe.” And then order your life accordingly?
Don’t believe the lie that he is not good. He stands ready to receive you even as you bring with you an ocean of sin. Genesis 3 reveals man’s great sin. It also reveals that his mercy is more than all of that sin. Amen.