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. 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 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
If you think about it, questions have their rightful place in a relationship, but when they are present in abundance it usually means that something is wrong. The greatest moments in any relationship tend to be declarative, not interrogative: “I love you.” “I am happy to be with you.” And, of course, “You complete me!”
Imagine, however, if you went to a wedding and the preacher said, “Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?” and the groom responded with, “What do you mean? Why? What does lawful mean? And what is this about wedded?” Or imagine the preacher says, “I Bubba take thee Oree…” And Bubba says, “Where do I have to take her?”
Yes, sometimes questions mean that something is wrong. This fact is demonstrated in Genesis 3 and the immediate aftermath of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. When God confronts them hiding in the garden, He peppers them with questions. In fact, He asks four questions right out of the gate:
“Where are you?”
“Who told you that you were naked?”
“Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
“What is this that you have done?”
These questions, all rhetorical in one sense since God knew the answer to them all, served a vital purpose: they were intended to get Adam and Eve to own what they had done and see the significance of their crime. I would propose that these questions maintain their significance in our own day and always will. They are the questions that we all must answer if we are to see rightly our broken relationship with God and if we are to put ourselves in a position to be restored and saved by God.
These are questions of ownership.
It is hard to own our failures. Most of us do not like to do so and we find ingenious ways of not having to do so. Even so, own them we must. Toward this end, God asks four questions.
“Where are you?”: Own where your sin has taken you.
I repeat: God certainly knowswhere Adam and Eve are. He is all-knowing. In fact, all divine questions are necessarily rhetorical. He knows the answer to all questions! Even so, God asks Adam the first question:
9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
There is a spatial dimension to sin. It carries us far aware. Perhaps the most powerful illustration of this is found in Luke 15 and the story of the prodigal son.
13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.
Sin inevitably carries us to a far country. Adam and Eve knew only the garden, of course, so they did the best they could: they sought the “far country” of the garden, that is, some place in which they could hide.
Adam tells God that he was afraid of Him because of his nakedness and that this is why he hid. Sin brings shame that makes us want to hide. Sin always seeks to hide.
This is a very important question, “Where are you?”When is the last time you answered that question? “Where am I?” Answer it truthfully. Where are you? Where are you right now? Where is your heart? Where is your mind? Where is your soul? Where has your sin carried you? Where are you hiding? Behind what are you hiding? What is the mask you are hiding behind? What is the dark corner you have sought out?
Brothers and sisters, it is a painful but absolutely necessary exercise. We must honestly proclaim where we are. You might say, “I am sitting here in this sanctuary.” But you and I both know that answer may simply be an evasion. Where are you really?
“Who told you that you were naked?”: Own the other voices you have been listening to.
Adam declared to God that he now knew he was naked. God asked, “Who told you that you were naked?” It is a powerful question. First, we must answer how it is that Adam just then knew that he was naked. After all, he was naked before he ate the fruit. Was he that self-unaware? In what sense had Adam just then come to understand his own nakedness? R.R. Reno has pointed to the words of Didymus the Blind as a helpful way to think about this.
Didymus the Blind applies this sense of vision to the original man and woman. Before they sin, they do not simply look upon material reality; instead, they see reality in the light of the reason or logosof creation that was established in the beginning. They see that what has been created is good and that it serves to prepare them for fellowship with God. After the fall, however, their vision changes. The eye of the soul is blinded, and the eye of carnal desire opens. The original pair now think of material reality itself as the endpoint or purpose of creation. Seeking to rest in finite things, they no longer think of material reality in the light of the original logosor reason for which and with which God creates…The man and woman feel shame—and not surprisingly. When we fail to see what reality is for, we cannot help but disfigure the intrinsic goodness of creation. The sight of life stripped of divine purpose is not pleasant…When the eye of the soul becomes carnal, taking the physical and finite as the measure of all things, the testimony of creation awakens a sense of shame. We know ourselves pursuing a futile life-project—even as we commit ourselves to its futility.
I find that line of argumentation to be very persuasive. Indeed, Adam and Eve now saw themselves as ends in and of themselves, their purpose before and relationship with God having now been sundered by their sin. And, yes, when one views the human body and human relationships and life itself outside of its grand purpose and outside of a relationship with God, they do indeed become comical and even monstrous.
Clyde Francisco has fleshed out the relational shift that happened when Adam and Eve sinned:
Formerly, Adam and Eve were living in a wholesome fellowship with one another and God. They did not see themselves over against God and each other but accepted each relationship without question. Now they suddenly became aware of their otherness. “Adam is looking at me,” muses Eve, and she must hide from him, or vice versa, “I must not let God see me like this,” they both feel. The “I, thou” replaces the “we” of their previous relationship. When Eve was encouraged by the serpent to think that God was not really concerned about her, the alienation had already begun.
This, too, is spot on. It is as if, cutting their ties to God, man and woman no longer know how to understand themselves or one another. They have become not only self-aware but self-concerned and self-protective. As a result, their own person and all of its elements are inflated in importance and, being so inflated, they lose a sense of proportion and perspective. This means that, paradoxically, they simultaneously have gained sight and become blind. They see the immediate in a vacuum and in so doing are blinded to the greater context and purpose of all things.
Thus, God asks, “Who told you that you were naked?” This is God’s first acknowledgement of another voiceto which Adam and Eve might listen. That is, it is God’s first acknowledgment of Satan to His human creation. He is asking Adam to name this other voice. “What other voices have you let into your head besides Mine?” He seems to ask. “Who else are you giving ear to?”
There is a deductively inescapable conclusion here. The answer cannot be Eve because, until her own sin, she did not know that she was naked either. Meaning, if God did not tell them they were naked, and if Adam and Eve in their original state of innocence did not know, that only leaves one other voice. It is a voice that God knows and that Adam and Eve now know. It is the voice of Satan. While Genesis never says that Satan shouts, “Ha! See! You are both naked!”, this is the obvious answer. Their knowledge of their nakedness came ultimately from their listening to the voice of Satan.
Interestingly, God does not leave time and space for Adam to answer this question. It is as if God does not want that named mentioned in Eden.
We must own the other voices we are listening to!
Let me ask you: what voices have you let inside your head? What voices, other than God’s, are you considering when it comes to the living of your life? Who have you let in your ear? Think on it for a moment! Now ask yourself this: what is the voice behind the voicesthat you have let in your ear?
The serpent is still whispering to the children of God. If you make room for his whispering, you will fall!
“Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”: Own your simple “Yes!”
God now moves to a simple question that demands a simple answer. He does not allow time for Adam to answer the question about his knowledge of his own nakedness. He moves immediately to this: “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” In other words, “Did you do it? Yes or no.”
11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
“A simple yes,” writes Victor Hamilton, “would have got the matter out into the open.”Indeed it would have. But have you noticed how hard it is to say, “I did it. I am wrong?” Instead, we do what Adam did: we shift the blame.
12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”
Adam first blames the woman. He does more, though. Robert Alter writes that Adam not only blamed the woman “but virtually blamed God for giving him the woman.”Unbelievable! “The woman whom you gave to be with me…” Hamilton has observed that Adam mentions his guilt only at the end of the sentence and there he seems to tack it on quickly as if God might not notice: “…and I ate.”
What is it so hard to give a simple “Yes!” to the question, “Are you guilty?” It is hard because we love to justify our own behavior! It is hard because our inability to own our guilt is part and parcel of our sin. But own it we must, if we wish to be saved! The inability to simply confess guilt destroys marriages, friendships, businesses, and virtually every other gathering of human beings.
How about you? Have you admitted and confessed your sinfulness before God? Or are you always explaining it away?
“What is this that you have done?”: Own the specific sin that you have committed.
The fourth question is like the third except that it asks more of Adam and Eve. Specifically, it asks Eve to name the actual thing she had done. The third question was a “Yes” or “No” question. “Did you do it?” The fourth, however, says “Tell me exactly what you have done.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
E.A. Speiser has written that the words “What is this that you have done?” could be translated “How could you do such a thing?”In both renderings God is calling Adam and Eve to look their sin square in the face in all of its ugliness.
We try to avoid the discomfort of our sin by keeping our confessions vague, by not naming the sin itself. The more specific we get the harder it is to verbalize it. I mean this in the most literal of senses. Try sitting alone in a room and simply saying aloud what you have done. We cringe to do so even in solitude. But if we can keep our confessions vague—“that unfortunate instance” or “that thing You, God, know I did”—then we will not have to deal with the raw reality of it.
I believe that this is why God is taking Adam and Eve back to a deeper consideration of the thing itself. “What is it? What did you do? Say it aloud!” In this way, God was calling upon them to own the specific sin they committed. This is not some cruel act of “rubbing their noses in it.” On the contrary, they must say it in order that they can hear it themselves and know that God has heard it as well.
It is always uncomfortable when, after a vague apology, somebody says, “Could you tell me exactly what it is you are apologizing for?” Specificity in the area of our own sins and rebellions is most uncomfortable. For this reason, God asks, “What is this that you have done?”
Accuracy in confession—to the best of our abilities—is very important. In 1 John 1, John says:
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The word for “confess” in verse 9 is the Greek word ὁμολογέω, homologeo, literally to say “the same word.” That is, we are to say the same word about our sin that God does. We must name it for what it is and see it for what it is.
Thus, God confronts us all even today: “What is this that you have done?” Own the specific sin you have committed. Own whatever it is that is causing a separation between you and God. Own it and name it so that you can truly give it to the Lord God.
These are questions of restoration.
These questions are indeed intended to help Adam and Eve own their sin. They are also questions of restoration. I would contend that the very fact that God asks questions of Adam and Eve in the wake of their rebellion is a sign of hope. Consider two facts: God converses instead of destroying and He convicts in order to save.
Yes, there were immediate and devastating consequences for their sin. Death entered the world and, through Adam, we all fell into ruin. Even so, God did not cast down lightning bolts and destroy them on the spot! Rather, He talked to them as a parent speaks to a wayward child. There is hope in that!
That restoration and forgiveness is implicit in these questions can also be seen when we compare them to the end of the gospel of John. First, notice that while God asks four questions in Genesis 3 only three of the questions are intended to be answered, for the second and third questions are asked back-to-back with no opportunity given for the second question to be answered. In other words, there are only three answerable questions and they receive three responses. That strikes me as interesting. Adam and Eve fall and God asks three answerable questions. This is where the comparison with the end of John’s gospel become fascinating.
In John 21 we read of the encounter between Peter and the risen Christ. Peter had denied Jesus three times. He had sinned against God. He had eaten the forbidden fruit. He had denied the Lord of all life. Then he sees Jesus on the seashore and this amazing exchange takes place:
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus asks Peter a series of questions in the immediate wake of Peter’s sin and rebellion. Three answerable questions, all of them the same: “Do you love me?” Jesus’ intent, as evidenced by his response to each of Peter’s answer, is restoration and forgiveness: “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep.” He asks the questions in order to convict, yes—the three questions brought to Peter’s mind his three denials—but all toward the end of restoration, forgiveness, and service.
Jesus asks the questions because if Peter owns the seriousness of what he has done then Peter can be used again of God!
Jesus asks the painful questions not to shame Peter but to restore Peter!
Jesus asks the questions because He has many things for Peter to do!
It is exactly why God asks the questions in Genesis 3. We must own what we have done so that we can get where God wants us to be! There are consequences, yes, and they can be devastating. But none of them can eclipse the love and mercy and goodness of our great God!
It is hard to answer the questions, but answer them we must!
“Where are you?”
“Who told you that you were naked?”
“Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
“What is this that you have done?”
“Do you love me?”
Answer the questions, church. Answer them! Answer them honestly and without qualification…and watch the mercy of God at work!
R.R. Reno, Genesis. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010), p.91-92.
Clyde T. Francisco, “Genesis.” The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol. 1, Revised (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1969), p.130.
Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Gen. Eds., R.K. Harrison and Robert L. Hubbard (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), p.194.
Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses. The Hebrew Bible. vol. 1 (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2019), p.16.
E.A. Speiser, Genesis. The Anchor Bible. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), p.22.