25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
1 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’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 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.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 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. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
All scripture is inspired by God and authoritative. Even so, there are certain sections of scripture that communicate key and foundational doctrines, doctrines upon which the rest of scripture hinges and in the light of which the rest of scripture makes sense. The beginning of Genesis 3 is one such section of scripture. I am not exaggerating when I say that if you get Genesis 3 wrong you will get John 3 wrong. Indeed, if you do not understand the entry of sin into the world, you will not be able to understand the cross and the empty tomb.
The chapter/verse distinctions in scripture are oftentimes muddled. Remember: the chapter/verse distinctions were added many many years after the writing of the Bible. One may criticize them in good conscience! The separation of Genesis 2:25 from the first seven verses of Genesis 3 would be one such occasion for criticism! Genesis 2:25 and Genesis 3:7 form an inclusio, a bookended section that begins and ends with a common image and whose verses are defined by the bookends. Look at the first and last verses of our section:
25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Do you see? The bookends have to do with (a) the nakedness of our first parents and (b) their understanding of that nakedness. In Genesis 2:25 we see innocence. Adam and Eve are naked but “not ashamed.” They have nothing of which to be ashamed in Genesis 2:25. But in Genesis 3:7, they are naked and know they are naked. Thus, they feel shame and seek to hide themselves.
Were one to situate these two verses on a graph, one would put Genesis 2:25 in the upper left corner of the graph and Genesis 3:7 in the bottom right corner with a sharply descending line going from the former to the latter. On the line one would write, “the fall.”
These two verses show the radical devastation wrought by what Christians call the fall of man, by which we mean humanity’s descent from innocence to shame, from guiltlessness to guilt, from holiness to sin, and from a right relationship with God to a fractured relationship with God. Indeed, the fall of man refers to the entry of death into the world, for this is ultimately what Adam and Eve’s sin brought into the world: death.
The question becomes, then, “How did we get here? How did this happen?” And to answer this we can turn to a close examination of the verses between our bookends, Genesis 3:1-6. They are not only a record of what went wrong. They are also an explanation of what goes wrong every day in your life and in mine and the lives of all human beings when we sin. This is the story of humanity and our fall into shame.
How did this happen? How did our first parents fall?
Eve allowed Satan to put a question mark where God put a period.
Our first parents fell because Eve allowed Satan to put a question mark where God put a period.
1 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’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 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.’”
The first thing we must understand is that Satan is a linguist. He loves words. He is good with words. You never want to get into a linguistic contest with Satan. There is even a linguistic play-on-words between the last verse of Genesis 2 and the first verse of Genesis 3 that seems to highlight that something interesting is happening here with words.
In Genesis 2:25 we read that “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” There is a subtle link between that verse and the description of the serpent as “crafty.” Kenneth Mathews writes:
…v.25 as transitional anticipates the role of the serpent and associates the viper’s trickery with the lost innocence of the first couple. The term “naked” (pl. ‘arummim) is a play on the word “crafty” (‘arum), which describes the nature of the serpent (3:1).
The devil is indeed crafty. He is a spin doctor. His prowess with words is on full display in his dealing with Eve in Genesis 3. We can see this in a few different ways. First, notice that the first recorded word out of Satan’s mouth is an interrogative, a questioning word: “Did…” Is that not fascinating? “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” This is, I must say, a brilliant maneuver. Satan employs misdirection, hyperbole, and reductio ad absurdumin this brief question: misdirection in that he immediately gets Eve to think about what God said instead of what he, Satan, was doing in that moment, hyperbole because he knew full well that God never told Eve should could not eat of any tree in the garden, and reductio ad absurdum(i.e., “reducing something to the absurd”) because he knew that his extreme and intentional overstatement of the divine command would throw Eve’s equilibrium off. “The subtle serpent creates a disorienting atmosphere of uncertain questions,” writes R.R. Reno. “The ambiguity is crucial…Transgression can only allure in a world of distortion and dreamlike fantasy, where what is real becomes malleable, capable of seeming to be what it is not.”
Take a moment and consider Satan’s masterful use of language. In one quick move he manages to cast doubt and confusion, to obfuscate, to raise a fog in Eve’s mind. Of course, Eve was sharp enough to know that Satan’s absurd overstatement was indeed an overstatement, but I would suggest that Satan had already struck a blow. Perhaps his intent to disorient Eve is evidenced in her less-than-precise recitation of the divine command back to Satan in response. To get at this, let us first remember what it was that God actually said in Genesis 2:
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 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.”
This is simple enough: “You can eat from every tree in this garden…except that one.” That is plain and clear, right? But notice how Eve quotes the command back in Genesis 3
2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruitof the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
She makes two changes. First, she says that God said they could not eat of the fruit of the tree. Technically, however, what God said was they could not eat of the tree. This is excusable in a sense, for what else could God have been referring to but the fruit. Even so, when dealing with the devil, precision counts and even understandable deviations and summaries can get one into a lot of trouble. Second, Eve added the words “neither shall you touch it.” God actually never said they could not touchthe tree. Again, in Eve’s defense, not touching the tree whose fruit will bring death is a reasonable deduction. However, this is another deviation from what God actually said. Victor Hamilton writes that Eve, in her response, “repeats, albeit for a different reason, the serpent’s tact. That is, she exaggerates.” He concludes thus about Eve’s additions to God’s words: “These additions may be only innocent embellishments, but they pave the way for a surrejoinder by the serpent.”
This must be stressed: we must strive to be very veryprecise when we learn and give voice to God’s word and God’s commandments. Why? Because the devil lives in the little details we get wrong, in our quick and hasty summations, in our lack of precision which oftentimes reveals a lack of genuine effort and care on our parts.
It is a powerful thing to think that the devil’s first line of attack in all of human history was a verbal and linguistic line of attack. The devil loves to play with words. Because of this, we can establish a truth: if you find that you are trying to justify an action on the basis of forcefully parsed words, you probably do not need to do that action. In general, this is true. There is a simplicity and transparency about God’s word. To be sure, yes, some portions of scripture are more difficult than others. And, yes, we should handle God’s word, down to the very grammar and spelling, with care and precision. But there is in fact a wonderful clarity to the commandments of God and to the fundamental assertions of the core tenets of the gospel in scripture. Not everything in the Bible is a Rubik’s Cube. The heart of it is really quite plain.
When I served as a Youth Minister early in ministry I used to be struck by the phenomenon of young men who would come and say something like, “How far is too far with my girlfriend?” I would say, “If you are having to ask that, it is too far.” I would propose that if a grown man or woman says, “Well, I technically did not violate my marriage vows…that they certainly did violate their marriage vows.” If an employee says, “It was not technicallyembezzlement,” it was embezzlement. Etc. etc. Our games with words unmask our true intents.
If we are honest, we know that when we get down to the point of playing with words, with parsing our actions, with trying to justify our behavior with loopholes, we have fallen into the devil’s trap of putting question marks where God has put periods. Do not play word games with the devil! We are not match for his craftiness on our own!
Eve lingered long enough for a “No!” to become a “Why not?”
There is also a time component here. Simply put, Eve lingered. She talked for too long. She entered into conversation with the devil! What a tragic mistake! She lingered and, as a result, her “No!” became a “Why not?”
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6a-d 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…
Is it not amazing how the human mind can justify just about anything if we linger over something long enough? Perhaps some of you might look at your lives right now and see things that you now tolerate that earlier in life you would not have. Perhaps you now do things you earlier in life would have considered wrong. How does that happen? It is simple, really: the numbing effects of lingering. The longer you linger over sin the easier it becomes to justify your sin. Is it not the case? Live long enough with the poison snake and you will actually get used to his company ad his diabolical suggestions. The proximity that lingering brings lessens our shock and makes us susceptible to caving in.
What, then, is the alternative? What should Eve had done instead of lingering? She should have run! Yes, it is true! Eve should have run the moment that Satan questioned God’s clear commandment. She should have run and not stopped running! It is the same with us! We should run, immediately and with great haste in the opposite direction. There is biblical support for this. Consider Genesis 39’s account of Joseph’s reaction when Potiphar’s wife came onto him:
11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, 12 she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.
Joseph ran! In fact, he ran so fast and so suddenly that he ran straight out of his clothes! Joseph ran naked out of Potiphar’s house…and for a brief moment he must have been naked and notashamed, for he had resisted the devil and was running in righteousness.
In a more didactic form, Paul said this to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:
22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
Flee! Run!Church: run!! Do not stay in the arena with the devil. Do not attempt to match wits with him. Whatever you do, do not listen to his words! No, run, run, RUN! To linger is to fall. To flee is to live! When it comes to the devil, you simply cannot put too much space between him and you.
Adam allowed his desire to become stronger than his disgust.
But what of Adam? Where has Adam been? Adam’s absence has oftentimes been criticized. It has led to criticism of Eve because she should not have been alone dealing with the devil. It has led to criticism of Adam because he is simply not there with his wife, protecting her. Perhaps this criticism is just to an extent. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps they were simply in different parts of the garden tending to it when this happened and nothing more should be read into it. On the other hand, Adam could have been standing right there, all along, in silence and passivity. We do not know. What we do know, however, is that Adam’s fall happens much more quickly than Eve’s!
6e-fand she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
It is fascinating to me that it took the devil employing strategy to get Eve to fall. It simply took Eve holding up fruit in front of Adam to get him to fall. For Eve, it involved at least some measure of psychological manipulation, but for Adam it appears to have been largely impulse and appetite alone. And, yet, I wonder…
Genesis 3:7 says this upon the aftermath of Adam eating the forbidden fruit: “Then the eyes of both were opened,” but there is a nuance that emerges if one emphasizes the “then” or if one emphasis the “both.” If “both” is to be emphasized (and given the fact that Eve fell first) there is the possibility that Eve was aware of their nakedness and aware of a sense of shame before Adam. In other words, there is a possibility that Eve’s eyes were opened first and that 3:7 is simply saying that both of their eyes were opened when Adam finally ate(i.e., whereas before it had been only her eyes that were opened).
I cannot help but wonder whether or not Adam noticed something different in Eve’s eyes and in the manner of her offer of the forbidden fruit. Did he see pain there? Was he overwhelmed by the plaintive plea of her broken heart manifested in her face and did he eat out of a sense of overwhelming pity or fear for her? Or perhaps he noticed something else. Did Eve’s loss of innocence in that moment manifest itself in some kind of subtle seductiveness, even as she would rush to cover herself in a mere moment? I do not know. We do not know. The text does not say. But it is perhaps not inappropriate to wonder if there was something about Eve after her fall that exerted such a powerful force on Adam that he did what the text says he did: simply and quickly took and ate.
Regardless of what other dynamics were or were not in play, this much is true: in the moment when Adam ate, he allowed his desire to become stronger than his disgust. This might have been a desire to meet with and sympathize with Eve in her pain. It might have been fleshly desire for Eve herself. Or, least nobly of all, it might have simply been the hungry desire for fruit! Regardless, Adam should have been repulsed and nauseated at the very idea of disobeying the God who had made the world, who had made him, who had made and placed him in this beautiful garden, and who had created this wonderful woman named Eve. Yet that is not what happened. His desire was stronger than his disgust, and he fell.
It is always this way with sin, regardless of what the sin is. When we sin we have, in that moment, allowed our desire for the sin to outweigh would should be our disgust at the thought of rebellion. We take and eat and fall. We all do. “For all have sinned…” (Romans 3:23).
In her journal, a young Flannery O’Connor wrote, “Sin is large and stale. You can never finish eating it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited.” She also wrote, “The rest of us have lost our power to vomit.”
Let me ask you: have you lost the power to vomit over sin? I realize it is a disturbing image, but it is an apt image and I do not apologize for it. Let me ask you another question: do you not wish that you were still nauseated over the sin to which you have now become accustomed? Would it not be wonderful to be shocked again, to be scandalized, to be offended at the very idea of hearing or seeing or doing something for which the Lord Jesus hung upon the cross?
I wonder if we conservative Evangelicals are so desirous of separating ourselves from angry fundamentalists that we compromise on ungodly things in an effort to appear more sophisticated, more suave, more not-like-those-squares-over-there? I wonder if we have become too enculturated? Perhaps I should stop allowing us to hide under the corporate “we.” Let me ask you: is this true of you? Is this true of me? Have I compromised? Have you?
If we have, then let me assure us: the very dynamics that were in play in Eden are in play today. The devil has regrettably not had to become terribly creative. The same old tricks keep working. We still see that something is desirable and we still reach and take it…and it still brings death!
But think of this, church: our great God against whom we have rebelled and sinned, this God who has given us all good things, still loves His wayward children. He still loves us! So much so that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on a cross in payment for the sins mentioned in Genesis and the sins committed today that we hope nobody sees. But God sees it. And God grieves. And God will not abide unholiness. However, He has not left us in our sins. He sent His Son and His Son became our sin on the crossto save us from our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21).
I ask you: is this not amazing love? Is this not amazing grace? It saves a wretch like me…wretches like us…it saves all who will take the hand of Jesus in repentance and faith.
Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1:11-26. The New American Commentary. Old Testament, vol. 1A (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, Publishers, 1996), p.126-127.
R.R. Reno, Genesis. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010), p.29-32.
Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), p.189.
Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal. (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p.22, 35.