Still in the Garden
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. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 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.”
The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring
Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:8-19 ESV)
We pick up a well known story part way through – the tempter has tempted – the people have fallen and taken the fruit and eaten it and their eyes were opened – but it brought them shame. Tricked maybe, nevertheless they are responsible for their actions and there’s no turning back so they hide from each other and from God – puny efforts but what else can they do? And now comes the reckoning.
But before that people already have questions …
Who or what is the serpent? And at the time of writing and telling the story parent to child the answer was ‘the serpent’. For now there is no association with the demonic.
What was the fruit? We don’t know other than it wasn’t an apple or a mango or a pomegranate but it was called ‘the fruit from the tree of life’.
Does God have legs? We don’t know but then the story tells us that God walked in garden in the cool of the day so maybe he does.
Why did God call out to them? If he was God he would have known where they were. We don’t know. But questions don’t have to be asked because of ignorance. You can ask a question for lots of reasons. Maybe God was reaching out to the man and the woman?
Who or what are the offspring of the serpent who is in enmity with the offspring of the woman? Good question! We don’t really know because we think we know that celestial or spiritual beings are sexless – they don’t marry or have children.
These answers – and more! – are required if we are to film the scene – and that is exactly what happens in our heads as we see this scene played out. We have to fill in the gaps and thus the scene is in danger of taking on a life of its own – as indeed is all history and all communication. What helps us
remain in the Word is to do exactly that – focus on the word (individually) and words (the context and the type of literature it is) for we know that we read prose differently to poetry, diaries different to newspapers, legal legislation different to public relations. We look for evidence whether it is about Julius Caesar or Barak Obama noting that generally the closer we are to the person or the event the easier it is find the evidence. Evidence answers such questions as who, what, when, where and maybe even why. Thus because the early portions of Genesis are strictly ahistorical – we can’t date or place them with accuracy despite the listing of four rivers in Genesis 2 (of which we only really know the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers) – it is best to read them more as typology where realities are told often in story form.
In our search for meaning and for self understanding we have to come to grips with shame and transgression and betrayal and evil and treachery (the last few are mentioned more in chapter 4) because that is part of our lived experiences – sometimes more or sometimes less depending on person and circumstance – but none of us are immune or unaware of such things. Into this situation together with all the other religions’ answers, Genesis 3 speaks and tells a sad little story – no armies, no battles – just disobedience (I know better – I want things on my terms) and then self preservation at all costs – and the paradise is ruined – all relationships are corrupted and deal now in death.
The Bible doesn’t give philosophical responses but tells a story – hiding, fearful, ashamed when God comes close. We know what Adam does when challenged about his behaviour – there are only three characters in this scene – him, the woman, and God – and he blames everyone else but him! The woman blames the serpent and describes herself as an object – he deceived me – not exactly upfront taking responsibility.
There’s no soliloquy from God to himself wondering where it all went wrong – and all human speculation is revealed to be tainted because in this area of philosophy humanity will always blame God. Instead God acts – he’s decisive – there is judgement here – consequences – there are always consequences from God – and it is interesting to note that it is not the man and the woman who are cursed but instead the serpent and the ground.
For the woman there is now a disastrous relationship with the man. Previously they were close together – reflecting individually and as a couple – the image of God. He was ‘ish’ and she was ‘ish-ah’ – man and woman – one flesh – she was his woman (we tend to use the word ‘wife’ here but the Hebrew remains ‘ish-ah’) just as he was her man (now we tend to use the word ‘husband’) but the words obviously go together. Not anymore.
There is another Hebrew word for ‘man’ ‘adam’ comes from the ‘adamah’ (Hebrew for ground) and you can translate it as Adam or man. In our text today the ESV prefers ‘man’ to Adam but that then doesn’t make clear that in verse 16 where all the other references in the reading to him are Adam here it is her ‘ish’ and now instead of being complementary, supportive, helpful, together, side by side – the relationship is tipped on its side and both of them are trying to be the boss on top. We have no way of knowing the complete implications regarding pregnancy and childbirth but they have now gone from life affirming and life giving to pain, sorrow, and toil for danger and death are the consequence of their being like god but without the power to deal with things. We are truly impotent gods.
For the man there is also pain – same Hebrew word group – but this pain is life long – the worry, pain, even anger at having to wrestle and battle and sweat blood and tears perhaps at constantly getting food or the necessities for life. And all for what? So he can die and return to the dust! Human beings are gods of dust. You have your wish, stupid man – he is more culpable than the woman – Romans 5 picks that up – and wanted to rule the world and all he finds is dust.
Today we have epidurals and food abundance in first world countries but globally many people’s situations don’t seem to have changed that much. People still want to be god – make life hell for others – and live not in relationships of trust but of blame – and whenever possible blame it all on the true God people still sense hidden in creation and if they’ve heard about Jesus, revealed in him.
Gender issues and relationships today reflect centuries of oppression and violence towards women still evident unfortunately in many places today.
And when God comes walking close to people the defences go up – so does the hiding, the blaming, the excusing – this mess is still God’s fault. Descendants of this man and woman still meet the descendants of the serpent – temptations still abound – and people still make bad choices.
We’ve lost the first meaning of bruising head and heel but the reason the lectionary compliers suggest this scene is because we know that dust is no longer the full stop of the story. God intervenes in all the dust as a second Adam (check out Romans 5) the person of Jesus and defeats death’s dusty grip. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection – another story a long time after this one – God makes it possible for all those who trust his word – who have received the fruit of the tree of life already – who have been grafted and joined to the vine – to live in this world now precisely because the future – can’t see the details – but this Paradise with God is secure.
Thus this story today is not historical or mythical or fable but reveals the type of relationship we have with God and what God does. None of us want our sins broadcast in public. Surely we prefer the dark in such times but the light has come and we scurry away. God however call us to himself – more than that comes to us – and fearfully we wonder what he will do to us – but discover to our amazement and relief that he cleans, clothes us and doesn’t leave us to what we deserve. People discover this in confession and absolution; they also discover it when they go to the one they’ve sinned against – not playing the blame game – confessing and receiving forgiveness; they also discover this when sins trouble them and they receive private absolution from the pastor. We tend to not see God so much as we’re consumed by our sins but where reconciliation happens, the relief and the desire to make amends is powerfully motivating.
That is what happens at each Divine Service. God is coming to us and the topic is sin. God is serious about it and wants us to be too – and not play lip service or be consumed by despair – but to seek God’s help to repent and struggle – for in one sense this new creation in Christ is washed clean no pain born again no pain in baptism but the daily living of this is a struggle and a world of pain and shame whether that be in our bodies or our relationships.
Consequently we till the dust, we struggle to harvest righteousness in our lives each day, not by giving in to the flesh, the world, and whatever tempts us but here guided by God’s Word and equipped – fed and strengthened at his table – we are pruned where necessary and lifted up when necessary and blessed always as we daily read and pray and bring our days to God.
The story of the man and the woman is also our story and God is still walking and speaking among us. We still face consequences for our actions and God continues to speak and act. For us that means looking at and following Jesus who in our lives and relationships has broken the power of sin and the serpent and the dust to control. We have to work at not hiding from God – and from each other – to seek to serve especially if we have a man or a woman around – hopefully at one’s side as the original plan intended – but this service applies to all people as determined by our relationships with them. And even if they are enemies, following Jesus is pretty clear. What God says is clear – and we mostly hear it too – it’s just that we still want to do things our way.
That changes when we hear God say to sinners, ‘Don’t be afraid! Peace be with you. I love you!’
- Genesis 3:8 - 19