Genesis Chapter 3 is about the fall of man. Historically this has been taught as man’s punishment for disobedience to God by eating the apple, and some churches say the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was about sex.
Hawgwash! I heard all these stories growing up and as I started this commentary I was excited about learning some new things about it.
It begins with the crafty old serpent. The original Hebrew word for serpent is “nachash” and is best translated as something that signifies to view or observe attentively, divine or use enchantments. It also involves something that is “brass or brazen”, and of course it signifies a “serpent, but of what kind is not determined.” (Clark’s Commenary on the Bible). There is some evidence that the ancient Hebrews considered this serpent to be a crocodile. What is known is that many early civilizations had advanced snake/serpent worship such as Thoth in Egypt, or the god’s of the Phoenicians, as snakes were sacred to most of the Heathen worship of ancient times. Many Jewish scholars and early Christian leaders identified the serpent as Satan. Some state that Satan used the serpent.
Of course there are also many arguments about if this is a historical story or an allegory. The Essential Bible Handbook says, “The writers of Genesis did not produce objective, footnoted, cross referenced documents with specific dates for the people and events they describe. They had a very definite perspective from which they wrote the book, and this perspective is that all reality, and specifically the reality of the community of faith, is grounded in the will and power of God. They wrote a theological history that seeks to preserve the experiences, remembrances, and beliefs of this earliest community.” What is agreed upon by all is that God created the world and everything on it. That it was good. And that man, with free will, broke the relationship with God.
The serpent, whatever it was, was crafty and subtle. First he approaches Eve, when she is alone and perhaps vulnerable, and asks her a simple question, “Has God told you not to eat of any tree in the Garden?” It is an ambiguous question designed to bring about doubt and to get her to question the divine goodness of God. Eve responds that God has said not to eat of the one tree, and even adds “nor shall you touch it or you will die.” This little addition is not what God had said and may show that she was already considering what was to happen.
The serpent sees this vulnerability and seizes upon it and tells her that she would not die, that God simply does not want her to be as wise as God and know good and evil. This question raised doubts as if God is good and righteous you would not die by eating fruit of the tree. He uses this logic to subtly contradict God. Remember, Faith leads to obedience, and doubt leads to disobedience. The seed of doubt was planted.
When Eve looked at the fruit she saw that it was pleasant to the eye (wants of the flesh), good to eat (food for the body), and held wisdom (religion). These are the same three temptations of Christ by the Devil.
What the serpent had said was only a half-truth, as Eve, and later Adam, didn’t die by eating the fruit, but it did not turn out like they had hoped.
So she ate it and then gave some to Adam, who also ate. Their eyes were opened and they felt shame at their nakedness. They tried to hide from God, knowing that they had done wrong, and attempting to hide their nakedness by sewing fig leaves together. Dr. Magee points out that the fig tree is the only tree mentioned that we have today. He says, “This is man today in religion. We go through rituals and churches in an outward form. We become very religious. It is interesting that Christ cursed the fig tree and denounced religion right after that.”
God sought them out; they did not seek out God. This is important because it shows the prevenient Grace of God. He seeks us out even when we run from Him or turn away from Him, and when we finally learn that we cannot live according to the Law, He takes it upon Himself to come to earth, live as a man, and to die, so that the sins of all may be forgiven. Man cannot save himself. Only God can save man. “It is the call of divine love that recovers man from sin and into relationship with God.” (Dr. Magee)
Salvation is God’s search for man, not man’s search for God.
When confronted by God, they do what all human beings do, they sought to blame someone else. Adam first blames Eve and God. “The woman you put here with me.” Eve blames the serpent who deceived her. But the truth is both chose to eat the fruit. They had freewill and they chose to be disobedient to God. John Wesley saw this as their determination to seek happiness “not in God, but in the world.”
God banishes them from the Garden into a world of work and pain, but not, as Wesley points out, a world of eternal torment, which could have been their fate. Again this shows God’s divine mercy and forgiveness.
He even gives them animal skins to wear; this clothing is to protect them and is again an expression of His love for them.
The issue now is that since mankind has the knowledge of good and evil, has freewill to chose, will he chose to be obedient to God, or to himself. Sin has been introduced, and the wages of sin is death.
Final Thoughts: I lean toward this being an allegorical tale that shows how mankind fails to be obedient to God, makes the wrong choices, and how man cannot possibly restore the relationship with a God who is perfect truth and love. A God to which sin is an anathema. This is why God had to design man’s salvation through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. We can blame the devil, but truly all the blame lies in our own hearts, and the choices we make.