It is the second Sunday at the beginning of a New Year, and we are in the second week of our series, Genesis: The
Beginning. We have started this Epic Narrative that is bigger than any blockbuster movie that you’ve ever seen.
Last week, we were introduced to the main subject of the Bible, God. God was displayed in all God’s glory with
the spectacular beginning of creation. God speaks, and it happens, things of literally cosmic proportions. Then
, we started to zoom in to the more specific of our planet and to humanity. God placed the first human in the
Garden of Eden (or Garden of Delight) to cultivate and take care of it, in other words, to build it and nurture it.
He was free to eat from any tree in the garden. There was only one prohibition. Don’t eat from the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil.
This week, we zoom in further and focus on the two humans there now, reflecting God’s image. They were to act
as God’s representatives in the world, tasked to manage and care for the creation.
All was created, and it was all pronounced by God not merely as “good,” but “very good.” However, in this very
familiar passage, conflict appears. Are they going to depend on God and how God defined good and evil, or are
they going to define it for themselves?
We go to Genesis chapter three, a passage that many know well. Again, it is a passage that we may have heard or
heard talked about so many times, it is easy to tune out. Let’s see if there is something new that we can see today.
Genesis 3:1-5 (NIV)
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said
to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say,
‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it,
or you will die.’” 4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that
when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
I’m going to camp here a little while before we continue. Why do you think it was a snake that talked to the woman?
We’ll set aside the idea of talking snakes today. Are snakes inherently evil? Before this God created all living creatures,
including ones that move along the ground, and saw that it was good (Gen 1:24-25). When trying to understand a
passage, even for our own time and place, it is a good idea to know the original audience and think about its purpose
Going back to around 3000 BC, the Israelites were escaping slavery in ancient Egypt, a place where snakes were
important in the culture and religion. If you are familiar with the head dress or crown of the pharaohs, you will
remember the image of a snake. It is the Uraeus Serpent, a cobra, upright and ready to strike. It was the symbol
of the goddess Wadject. She was one of the earlies Egyptians deities, and she was represented by a cobra. In the
pharaoh’s crown, it represented her protection of the pharaoh, the land, and his right to rule.
Having been in Egypt for over 400 years, the Israelites would be been raised with this idea of the power of snakes
over humans. They might even think of snakes as being rivals to God. Many scholars think that the original audience
might have more around 500 BC and the return from Babylonian exile, but even so snakes continued to be important
in many of the cultures around the Middle East. It was still true in Egypt, still an important country in the region.
One thing that this narrative in Genesis shows is that the snake was a created animal, just like any other.
So, this particular crafty serpent asks a question, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
It is a very clever twisting of God’s words. In fact it is almost exactly the opposite of what God did say, “You are free to
eat from any tree in the garden, but you may not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…” (Gen 2:16-17).
The woman responds in a natural way, to correct what seems to be an error in the serpent’s understanding. They are
allowed to eat of the trees in the garden except the one. She does add that they couldn’t touch it, or they would die (Gen 3:3).
Did she add the extra prohibition, or was that what she was told by the man? We don’t know. It could have been simple
prudence. You can’t eat the fruit of a tree that you don’t touch.
However, the serpent immediately challenges the woman’s assertion. (Also, showing that it knows more that it was letting
on before.) “You will not certainly die … For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will
be like God, knowing good from evil” (Gen 3:4).
The serpent’s words introduce doubt about God’s word. It makes it sound like God is trying to hold back something essential.
It sounds like God is trying to keep something good from them. The sad thing is that they don’t need this fruit to be like God.
They have already been created image of God. They are already like God. They have already been given the authority and
responsibility to rule, care for, and nurture the world.
The question is whether they are going to accept and trust God’s definition of good and evil, or are they going to abandon that
and define good and evil for themselves? Are they going to use their power for the benefit of others, or are they going to use it
for their own benefit? Can they stand the idea of not knowing something? Let’s read some more:
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable
for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he
ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves
together and made coverings for themselves.
I have a problem. I have a compulsive need to understand. If it’s a machine or a system, I want to understand how it works.
If I see a pattern, I want to see how it comes out. If there is a behavior that I don’t understand (especially in myself), I want
to figure it out. It is one of my strengths, but it is also a weakness. I want to know why? When that is impossible, it can drive
me to distraction. One could even call it an obsession.
Many years ago now, I worked at a hospital in Odessa, Texas. It is a city of about 100,000 people. It is big compared to
here, but not that big compared with cities like Dallas, Portland, or Seattle. It generally took me about 15 minutes to drive
to work in the morning. I could go on four lane roads all the way with varying speed limits.
The last main road had a speed limit of 55 miles per hour (mph) where I turned onto it, but most mornings people would
be going 40-45 mph in both lanes. This most certainly was NOT true in the evenings going home. The pavement was dry,
and there was good visibility. The road was flat and straight. You might say, “Rush hour traffic in a city,” but no, the amount
of traffic was moderate to light.
First off, it was plain frustrating. There was no reason that I could tell that people needed to drive that much under the
speed limit every morning. I’m sure that it was my imagination, but it seemed to be a conspiracy because the cars in both
the right and left lanes would drive right next to each other, so that no one could pass them.
You’d think that here is where I would ask “why,” and that was partially true, but then something would happen that
put my “why” into overdrive. We would get closer to downtown, and as you’d expect, the speed limit would drop. As soon
as we passed the sign that the speed limit went down to 45 mph, the cars that I couldn’t pass before would speed up and
start driving at 50-55 mph! I was only interested in going the speed limit, so they would leave me in the dust.
It would be one thing if it happened a few times, but it happened repeatedly for the ten years that I lived there! Why?!
Why would they do that to me?! It still makes no sense to me, but I finally accepted the fact that there was no way that
I could know why, and I let it go … mostly.
Do we have to, can we, know or understand everything?
The serpent implies that God is trying to keep something good from the man and the woman. In actuality, the prohibition
from gaining knowledge of good and evil gave them something good, good relationships with God and each other. As soon
as they eat the fruit, that is ripped from them. Before even eating the fruit, they lost trust in God. After eating they lose
trust in each other. They realize their nakedness, their vulnerability in front of each other, and they need to hide themselves.
They now have this new knowledge, but they are not equipped to deal with it. God knew they would not be, therefore the
So often with rules and guidelines, we think of them as God trying to keep something good from us rather and giving something
good to us. Freedom. Saving us from bondage or captivity to people, behaviors, or things.
The book of Judges has example after example of the Israelites emulating and taking on the behaviors and practices of the cultures
and religions of the countries around them rather than following God. These other religions included some really terrible things
including child sacrifice. Soon the Israelites would be conquered by that country, oppressed, and sometimes literally be taken
as slaves by that country.
What are you in bondage to? What do you spend your money on? That is a good indicator. As Jesus says in Matthew Chapter 6,
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21).
When we regard God as the one who is keeping us from what we want and think we need, two things happen.
- It’s hard to do what we know God wants or keep ourselves from doing what we know God does not want. It’s like taking
- nasty medicine that we don’t know will even work.
- It becomes the most important thing in our lives. When that is the most important thing, God can’t be. Our relationship
- with God is damaged.
Whereas, if we regard God as the one giving us something, abundant life (and I’m not talking about worldly riches here), we remain
in good relationship with God. We see how following God gives us freedom and well -being. The thing is that if we stray God that
freedom is always there waiting for us.
Let’s continue in the passage with verse 8.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day,
and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said,
“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived
me, and I ate.” 14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
Then, God talks about the consequences for the woman and the man. No mention of curses here, but life for both
of them will be harder. Their relationship with each other will be more complicated and lacking in trust.
Then continuing at verse 21.
21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the
Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be
allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”23 So
the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been
taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and
a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
So, even after this incident where the man and woman seriously miss the mark, do the one thing they were told not to
do, God still comes into the garden. God does not abandon them. “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) Like when a child hides
when it is afraid, they have hidden from God. God asks these questions of them, but God already knows the answers.
Have you ever caught a child doing something they shouldn’t and ask them what they’ve done? Even when you know
the answer? God is giving them an invitation to respond to God’s unconditional pursuit of them. Even in the midst of
our greatest failures God lovingly pursues and invites us back to him.
Then, after everything, the accusations, the deflection of blame, God has not withdrawn their mission. They are still called
to care for the world. However, they will now have to do it with this newly obtained knowledge, and God still takes care of
them. He provides them with better, more suitable clothing. In the Old Testament, taking away someone’s clothes could
mean that they have been disowned. Whereas, to give clothes is a sign of acceptance. Remember in the parable of the
Prodigal Son, the father gives the returning son a new robe and a ring. God’s provision of clothes is a sign that God has
not given up his purposes for them, and God is going to stay in their lives.
A couple of weeks ago, I heard a story on NPR about a family who was forced to give up custody of their adopted child. It
was tragic, a nightmare for the family. The child endured a lot of abuse in his early life. When the family adopted him at
age 10, there were a lot of emotional issues there. They loved this child, but there were repeated calls to the police when
the child was especially violent. In his calmer moments, he didn’t want to be this way, but he would react to stimuli. He
was repeatedly committed to institutions for treatment, but he always came back home. At one point the family was told
that if they brought the boy home again and the police were called again that the parents would be arrested for child
endangerment of their other children.
The parents could not afford the kind of inpatient treatment that the doctors advised them was needed. The only way that
he could get it was if the parents gave up custody. The father recounted how difficult that day was in the hospital with his
son when he had to leave without his boy. He felt like he was abandoning him, and yet he had to protect the rest of his family.
The boy, who was now 12, said that he understood, as his dad hugged him.
Here’s the thing. The parents did not abandon him, despite giving up legal custody. They stayed in his life. They visited him
all the time. They assured him that they still loved him no matter what. The boy needed the treatment, but he also needed
his family. This story has a happy ending. The boy is now in his twenties, and he is no longer in an institution. He lives down
the street from his adoptive parents. He has a job. When he has a tough day, he knows that he can go see his parents and talk
it out. All of their lives were more difficult and complicated because of the situation, but his parents went with him all the way.
The God who looks for the man and the woman in the garden, who pursues them despite their regrettable choice, who pursues
them with his relentless love is the same God who came in the flesh to walk among us, Jesus. He came to rescue us and take the
worst punishment upon himself. He came to reconcile humanity with God in a way that has not been possible since the garden,
and he will never leave us or forsake us. He will continue to walk with us no matter what we are going through whether we
caused it, or it is something that we must endure, like with Job. God continues to pursue us with a relentless love.
Let me pray for you.
Lord, who are we that you should care for us? As you have told us, we are dust, but we are also creatures made in your image.
Despite our best intentions sometimes, we let you down over and over again. We don’t trust you with our whole lives. We worry
that you might be holding out on us, keep something wonderful from us, forgetting all the wonderful things that you have given
to us. Forgive us, we pray. Help us to trust you. Help us to turn every part of our lives over to you, even or perhaps most
especially, the ugly parts of our lives. Heal us, Lord. Increase, our faith, our trust in you. Go with us this week, and when we
are tempted to turn to something or someone else in times of stress and crisis, help us to remember to turn to you. We pray
all these things in the precious name of Jesus.
Next week, the adventure continues with the building of a big boat …