The Creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2 end on high notes, with the creation of the first man and woman sending the Lord into a poetic song and pronouncing the day “very good” (Gen 1:26–31), and with Adam bursting into poetic song about his “helper” and wife, with whom be was intimately and unashamedly bonded with in marriage (Gen 2:18–25).
This perfect bliss does not last long, though, at least in the sequence of the narrative. Chapter 3 quickly changes scenes from the joyful union of Adam and Eve to the “crafty” Serpent that will bring it all crumbling down. One day—we don’t know how long after Creation—Eve is working in the Garden, doing the task that the Lord had given them (Gen 2:15). This Serpent, who “was more crafty than any other beast of the field” (Gen 3:1), came to Eve and sowed a seed of doubt in her mind that God was holding back from them. He questions what God had told her, and then he pokes holes in Eve’s faith in God’s instructions. Through his subtle deceit, he convinces Eve that she won’t really die, and that God only told them not to eat the fruit because it would make them “wise” (v. 6), and “like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5).
The Serpent’s deception was so effective because it was so subtle. There were half-truths mixed throughout. They did not surely die on the day that they ate, at least not physically. But he didn’t tell them that they would indeed die spiritually, putting an end to the beautiful fellowship they had with God, walking together in the Garden. Their eyes were indeed opened to good and evil, but not in the way that God’s were. Their eyes were opened to evil because they were now experientially acquainted with it, both committing it and facing its consequences. The irony of it all is that their decision to eat the fruit was rooted in a desire to be “like God,” but they were already like God by being made in his image. They traded a life walking with God in beautiful obedience for a life of choosing to define for themselves what was good and evil. And the results were catastrophic.
As the story progresses, we see God walking through the Garden and calling for Adam and Eve. They, now knowing they were naked, were so ashamed that they covered themselves with leaves and hid from God (but he knew all along where they were and what they had done). As he finds them, they confess that they ate, but cast the blame on anyone but themselves (vv. 12–13). Ironically, the Serpent told them the fruit would make them wise, but they act quite foolish here.
The Lord begins to dish out punishments (or curses) to each party involved, first to the Serpent (we’ll come back to this one), then to Eve, then to Adam. The punishments for Adam and Eve (and all humans to come) seem to be rooted in the original intent of God’s creation order and mandates in chapters 1 and 2. To Eve, God declares that their will be great pain in childbearing (v. 16a). If we look back, we see that the first command God gave to this couple was to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (Gen 1:28), a task which is made more difficult after their sin. We see a similar connection to the second part of her punishment: she was given to Adam as a “helper” or partner (Gen 2:18), but here it seems that there will now be a struggle for power (Gen 3:16b). Likewise, Adam’s punishment is rooted in the commands from creation. He, along with Eve, is told to “subdue” the earth (Gen 1:28), and to “work” and “keep” the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:15). His punishment, though, primarily deals with the immense pain and toil that would be involved in working the ground and harvesting food (Gen 3:17–19).
Even in their punishments, though, God shows great grace. First, in the punishment given to the Serpent (Gen 3:14–15), we see a glimmer of hope: the Lord promises that there will be enmity (or hatred and fighting) between the Serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring, resulting in harmful or fatal blows to each (v. 15). This verse is understood by many as being the first hint of the gospel in Scripture (proto-euangelion; Greek for “first gospel”) by pointing to the mutual bruising of Jesus and Satan in the Cross and Resurrection. Even in this sin and punishment, there is hope that God will send One to defeat the deceitful Serpent. In addition to this, we also see that Eve received her name following these events because it means “mother of all living” (Gen 3:20). This is a promise that Humanity will continue through Eve, even though God could have ended this humanity right then and there. Finally, we see that the Lord cares for their physical needs by making them skins to cover their nakedness (v. 21) and by banning them from the tree of life so that they do not continue forever in this sinful and cursed state (vv. 22–24).
The fallen state of mankind can be dismal—as we’ll see in weeks to come (and as we see in our own world today) humanity is capable of extraordinary disobedience and evil. But God never leaves them or forsakes them. Even in this judgment here, and even in the judgments to come, our God is still gracious and merciful, caring for his people. Spoiler alert: He does send a Savior to defeat the Serpent. This process began two thousand years ago, and we look forward to the day when it is complete. All the while, we struggle against sin, but we look to the Lord as the gracious provider who will help us walk with him. All we have to do is ask.