Updated: Dec 21, 2021
Adam's disobedience exchanged God's blessing for a curse.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Genesis 3
Satan tricked Adam and Eve into disobeying God’s one command, utterly separating God and man, bringing shame and disgrace on all people, and forcing all people to suffer the consequences of their sin and rebellion. BUT God had a plan to overcome our sin, a plan to be unfolded over thousands of years.
the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom (3:6)
[Editor's note: this is a teacher's newsletter that has been put online for posterity.]
Getting Started: Things to Think About
It’s simple but effective: bring in an ornament or decoration you have that has broken, but you glued it back together. We try hard to fix things, and sometimes we can make it look really good. But what happens when we shatter glass? There’s no fixing that; it’s impossible. Well—sin doesn’t just break us (no matter what people try to say), it shatters us. And we can’t fix it. But lest we get too discouraged, we should know that God can turn shattered lives into a beautiful tapestry.
Lure or Bait.
Bring in a tackle box or some kind of pest bait. Talk about how they work. Basically, they are designed to look or smell like something the target would eat, but when they do . . . Bam! A hook! Poison! Whatever. That’s how Satan works with respect to our temptations. He knows what we are vulnerable to, and he knows how to prop those things front and center in our lives. We must be ready and willing to resist temptation. Ask your group how they stay out of traps or know when trouble is approaching.
Genesis 3: The Big Picture
I feel like a bit of a cop-out here, but I thought the leader guide did a very good job with the basic commentary and questions. I have a few things I can add, but it’s not going to be materially different. Kudos to Lifeway!
I think their opening topic of conversation is dead on. People in the world today do not want to admit that we have a problem. We are taught that all people are basically good—they just need better education, more money, more encouragement, more positive thinking, or more freedom. Your class can talk about all of the ways they have heard to excuse human sin (I am sure there are more than that short list). The Bible is very clear: human society is a mess because people are sinners against God and all that is good and holy. Better education may treat a symptom, but only the power of God can “fix” us.
This Week's Big Idea: Theodicy. Why Is There Evil?
I would not be surprised if this topic came up in your discussions. It has been around for a long time. Basically, it goes like this: “If God really loved Adam and Eve, why did He allow Satan in the garden?” Or “If God is really all-powerful and all-knowing, why didn’t He stop Satan / give Adam a better power to resist the temptation?” And then it becomes an attack on the goodness of God. Clearly, Adam’s sin made a mess of the world. I imagine if you asked “What is the worst headline you saw or heard this weekend?” you would get a whole bunch of answers. That sure makes it seem like God didn’t really care that much about Adam after all! (Let alone that God created paradise for Adam . . .)
You might remember when we went through 1 John that I brought this up there.
(1) God allowed Satan in the garden because God gave Adam and Eve the true, free opportunity to choose between Satan’s word and God’s word. How would we ever know it was a free choice if Adam never had a need to exercise his free will?
(2) God was very clear to Adam that there would be consequences for exercising his free will to disobey God. The continuing presence of evil in the world today is simply God keeping His word.
(3) Along those lines, God gave Adam everything Adam needed to make the right choice. God was very clear and direct. Adam just made the wrong choice. But even then, God was able to use Adam’s fall to teach Adam about forgiveness, discipline, and hope. This leads to
(4) that God was clearly not surprised by Adam’s choice. God already had a plan in place to send Jesus to pay the infinite failure of Adam. God’s infinite power and knowledge led Him to create a being with true freedom (who could rebel) rather than a robot because God has always had the capacity for infinite grace and mercy. The Fall of Adam explains evil while still explaining God’s sovereignty.
Part 1: The Sham (3:1-5)
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'?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 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.' " "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
In fact, there are two shams here. The first is the greatest: sin has no consequences. That’s basically all that Satan had to say to Eve to get her to doubt God’s goodness and rightness. Still true today? The second sham is the coverup—not Adam’s but Satan’s. It has been well said that Satan’s greatest victory in the modern West has been convincing us that he doesn’t exist. If there is no Satan, there is no evil. If there is no evil, there is no sin. There is no right and wrong, there are simply equal choices. That’s a lie. Straight from the serpent’s mouth.
The Hebrew word for “serpent” is also regularly used of snakes, which is where we get that idea. But nowhere are we told the fruit is an apple, so let’s give the poor apple a break. Anyway, it seems pretty obvious that Satan was animating/possessing the snake. Perhaps he was disguising himself from God? Disguising his jealousy and rebellion? You remember in Revelation about the war in heaven—after Satan was ejected from heaven he turned his fury against mankind on earth. Here’s my take on Satan’s rebellion. The appearance of Adam made Satan extremely jealous; he already knew he wanted God’s throne, and Adam seemed another threat. His action could be one of two things. (1) He thought Adam would die when he ate the fruit. Satan originally tried to destroy humanity through lies and deception so as to have plausible denial when God came asking (he really thought he could fool God). After Jesus, Satan gave up on the lies and went on the offensive. OR (2) Satan believed what he said to Eve and wanted their eyes to be opened. Observing what would happen to them, Satan could decide if he wanted to eat the fruit, or if Adam would join him in his rebellion.
Your leader guide does a good job of explaining Satan’s subtleties. I have to believe that Eve had looked longingly at that tree once or twice for Satan to know he could beguile her there, which would explain why Eve engaged in conversation with a snake about a tree. Ultimately, I put the blame on Adam. Eve’s uncertainty about exactly what God said implies that Adam didn’t teach her carefully. And her willingness to talk about the subject in the first place implies that Adam didn’t really impress upon her the importance.
What Satan did was very simple: get Eve to doubt one word of one thing that God said. That’s it. It didn’t matter the countless blessings and wonderful relationship with God. Eve just had to doubt one word. That called everything else into question. What are the things we doubt about God today and why? What are the commands we doubt in the Bible today and why? Knowing this is how Satan can work, how do we resist him?
Aside: What Is “Evil”?
This is a very important question. If everything God created was “good” then how could there be “evil” in the world? Where did it come from? Part of the problem is we tend to think of evil as an entity. We are influenced by the old translation of the Lord’s Prayer, “and deliver us from evil,” as if evil is some kind of force at work in the universe. That’s not how the Hebrews understood it. Rather, the Hebrew word we translate here (ra) had a wide range of uses as a noun and adjective. It could refer to calamity, misery, affliction and disaster. Really, what they thought of as “evil” were the effects of those events. The word ra also referred to things that were inferior, as in the seven years of famine were “evil” next to the seven years of plenty. A basket of rotten fruit was “evil.” Finally, the word was also used of people’s rebellious attitudes towards God. The grumbling Israelites were “evil.”
If we think of “evil” in those terms, it should make more sense. In the Bible, “evil” refers to the fact that some people’s circumstances are worse than others (usually catastrophically so). It also refers to the rebellion latent in humanity against God. The former follows the latter. Evil exists because we created it. Evil is the consequence of sinful actions. This is why the better way of translating the Lord’s Prayer is “and deliver us from the evil one.” In that context, Jesus referred to Satan, the father of lies and the thief and murderer. But He also made it clear that evil is something that happens, not something that is. God did not create evil. Evil is simply our capacity to disobey God.
Part 2: The Shame (3:6-7)
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. 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.
This passage is a tremendous, tremendous explanation of sin. Jesus experienced it in His temptations (Matthew 4), and we also talked about it at great length in 1 John 2. Look how Eve saw the fruit: good for food, good to look at, and desirable for wisdom. What’s wrong with any of those three things? Nothing! In fact, based on the circumstances of the garden, it would seem that she should eat the fruit! What was wrong with her decision? In a vacuum, it seems fine—except for one thing. God had told her not to do it. That’s it. That’s why this tree was the ultimate (and thus only necessary) test of obedience for Adam and Eve.
We don’t know how long Eve was in the garden before this happened. Enough time had passed that she decided (with a little manipulation and nudge) that her needs/desires outweighed God’s command. Look at the progression:
She saw—She took—She ate—She gave—He ate
How simple and how true! If she had removed any one of those steps, the disaster could have been avoided. But she didn’t. You could spend a lot of time talking about the process and power of temptation, and I think you should!
Temptation works because the object of our temptation appeals to something within us. In the case of the fruit, it appealed to everything about Eve, but just one of those aspects would have been enough. It appealed to her physical needs and desires (food), it appealed to her eyes and brain (delightful), and it appealed to her innermost self (wisdom). What are the things that are the most tempting to us today? It’s different for everyone. For some, it’s pornography. It could also be an illicit affair or homosexuality. Alcohol. Overeating. Drug abuse. It could also be too much of otherwise normal things: money, exercise, cars, shopping, and so on. We talked about this in 1 John 2. The root action in all of those things is not wrong. What makes it wrong is acting outside the boundaries given to us by God.
Does that make sense? Eating fruit is not a sin. But because God told Eve not to eat that fruit, it was a sin. Having sex is not a sin. But because God gave us rules for it, having sex with someone who is not your spouse is a sin. Do we trust God enough to trust His commands for these behaviors?
I also think it would be helpful to walk through the process of sin as we see it here. How could Eve have interrupted the sin? How can we stop the process of a sin in our lives?
Anyway, moving on. Their eyes were indeed opened, just as Satan promised. But to what? Their nakedness. That’s a strange thing to all of a sudden be aware of, especially since they had always been naked and everything else in all of creation was naked. Like everything else, I think this is a symptom of something deeper. When they ate the fruit, they became aware of their frailty, their uncertainty, and their fear. It was always there; they just didn’t know it. Think about it—until a child realizes something is dangerous, he will run with scissors, run on a ledge, run near a stove, whatever, totally oblivious to the problem. But once someone sees the danger, it’s tough to help them get over that.
There’s a survival show on Discovery Channel called “Naked and Afraid”; the hook (as I understand it; I actually haven’t watched the show) is that these people have absolutely nothing to protect their bodies. And that’s what I think nakedness was to Adam and Eve: naked meant vulnerable. They realized that they were utterly dependent on God staying benevolent. And now that they had become aware of the doubt in their own heart, they doubted God’s continued love. Their response? To try to cover their shame, hide from God. Doesn’t that still sound like us today?
Aside: Blessings and Curses
In modern America, we really don’t get this. We think of a “curse” as an obscenity or profanity and a “blessing” as the thing we say before supper. We hear stories about someone putting a curse on someone else and find them quaint (a rapper named Lil B claimed to have put a curse on several basketball players during last year’s playoffs and caused a bit of a stir). But in the ancient world, these things carried real weight. Did they actually accomplish something? Let’s find out -
Hebrew has three words for curse.
(1) ‘arar means “to bind with a spell”; this is the word used against the serpent. One article pointed out that it usually appears in the Bible as a passive participle, a form used to emphasize the helplessness of the recipient and also the ongoing power of the spell.
(2) qalal means “to render insignificant”; this is the word God used of Abraham’s enemies. Actually, Genesis 12:3 illustrates the difference between the two because God actually says, “whoever qalal-s you I will ‘arar.” If anyone slighted the Hebrews, took them lightly, did not care about them, or treated them as insignificant, God would retaliate.
(3) cherem is a strange one because it just means “set apart”. But in relation to the Hebrews, it is always used of their devotion to false gods. With respect to the one true God, their false devotion was a curse.
In Genesis 3, the word for “curse” is ‘arar. By His words alone, God immediately caused lasting impact for the serpent’s deception and Adam and Eve’s disobedience. The serpent was humiliated (forced to crawl on its belly), childbirth was rendered painful, and the ground was bound to thorns and thistles. Now, the earth that produced the amazing plants that were good to the eye and the stomach would have to be worked. What would have been easy was now hard.
There are two common words for “blessing” in Hebrew.
(1) barak means “to empower” or “to express gratitude.” When the action is of a subordinate to a superior, it simply means to thank. But when the action is of the superior downward, it has real weight; the person doing the blessing has the authority to make his words stick. This is the word used in Genesis 1.
(2) ‘ashar means “to be happy” and is the word used in places like Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who . . .” It is more of a consequence of obedience.
Summary: to be cursed is to be opposed; to be blessed is to be empowered. Obviously, we can see how this has meaning coming from God. But can humans enact blessings and curses? Yes, when we’re just talking about what’s under our control. Isaac gave his blessing to Jacob (instead of Esau) as something in his control. When someone vows to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, that’s a curse. But what about my example of Lil B? Can someone mysteriously cause calamity in someone else’s life just by saying some words? Well, Noah cursed Canaan in that way (Gen 9:25); Balaam was widely believed to have the power of curses (Num 22). But here’s my take: Noah was actually prophesying the choice of God, and Balaam was under demonic influence. I do think that demons will respond to requests for a curse BUT ONLY inasmuch as it brings the person foolish enough to pronounce the curse under their future control.
Part 3: The Shambles (3:14-19)
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent:
Because you have done this, you are cursed more than any livestock and more than any wild animal. You will move on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life. 15 I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.
16 He said to the woman:
I will intensify your labor pains; you will bear children with painful effort. Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you.
17 And he said to the man, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’:
The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it. For you are dust, and you will return to dust.”
Actually, I think you should cover the whole section from verse 8. It’s priceless. God goes for a walk in the garden (some say it’s night; I’ve always thought morning); Adam and Eve hear Him and hide. God knows what’s happened, but they need to own up. Adam admits they were hiding of shame for being naked, which God immediately questions why they should think that to be wrong in the first place (a good question!). This is now the second time humans created a law that God never did (“don’t touch that tree” and “being naked is bad”). It just goes to show our inability to stay on track. When challenged, Adam blames Eve. But if you read carefully, Adam really blames God. Eve then blames the serpent. And the serpent is prevented from speaking. I have often wondered why the serpent took the fall for Satan’s clear prompting. My guess is that this particular serpent had Satan’s tendencies—carrying himself with grace and guile, envying the position of man, and so was an easy alliance for Satan, a “spy” in the garden, if you will. Thus to prevent something like that from ever happening again, God took snakes out of that picture.
We also notice that every creature is cursed as a result of this transaction. This is where I believe carnivores started carnivoring. Until this point, all creatures lived in harmony, getting plenty of nutrition from the plants and fruits. Now, all hell has broken loose. This might seem like an extreme punishment for one man’s bad decision, but God had a point to demonstrate. “If you want to do things your way, this is what happens.” God knew He would one day restore everything to its primitive purity; we just didn’t comprehend that it would be thousands and thousands of years.
There are some very interesting questions about the relationship between the serpent and the woman. On the face of it, God is simply saying that snakes will be a threat to humans, and humans will counter by bashing their heads. With a shovel. Or a shotgun. But many scholars see in this verse the first promise of Jesus, the One who will put an end to the real snake’s (Satan) power. I like that, but what do we do with “seed”? Satan did not have children. Aha! Context to the rescue! Jesus said that those who opposed His mission were “children of the Devil” (John 8:44). Further, nowhere else in Scripture do we see the idea of a woman’s seed. It’s always the man’s seed (that makes sense, right?). But here, it’s the woman’s seed. This very well could mainly refer to the fact that Satan would raise up an army against the one Man who was not brought to be by a man’s seed, Jesus. In other words, Adam and Eve are given hope.
And that’s about the only hope they get. Look at the rest of the curse.
For Women. Childbirth will be rough. The only thing that is the most beautiful in all of human existence (that only women can do), bringing new life into the world, will now be an ordeal even deadly. But don’t miss the promise that women would be the one to bear children. Yes there’s a curse, but there’s also hope. And then there’s the strange statement about “your desire for your husband.” There’s a lot of debate over this verse. Some say it means, “You will be sexually attracted to and fulfilled by your husband, and the price will be that he rules over you.” Others say, “You will desire to control your husband, but you will not.” This is what I say, and it’s in line with the sidebar I had about men and women last week: God created men and women equal, but with different tasks. God created Adam to be the head/leader; God created Eve to be the supporter/companion. But in the fall, Eve’s gift of companionship would be distorted into something like codependence. Adam’s gift of headship would be distorted into something like control. Both outcomes are not God’s design for marriage.
For Men. God puts the blame squarely on Adam. Because of Adam’s failure, the entire world is cursed. The ground will now produce weeds and will only be cultivated through intense labor. God had planted the garden in Eden and done the work, giving Adam the simple job of keeping it up. No more. Now Adam would have to do the work. This is where some get the idea that men have to work outside the home and women primarily bear children. But that’s not what God is saying! God has simply made all labor (including childbirth) painful.
Until very recently in human history, the entire family worked together to plant and harvest and cook and clean and mend. Very soon in human history, Adam’s descendants specialized how they provided for themselves, so this cannot be a command that all men must work the ground. It’s more about the consequence of sin: your life will be filled with pain, and you will return to the dust when you die.
How do we suffer the consequences of our sin? I’m sure people have some stories to tell about this. Your leader guide has the illustration of a drop of food coloring into a water bottle—this is a very effective illustration for how sin spreads!
I think your main teaching point is the process of sin: how sin works, and what we need to do to interrupt it (that usually means getting help!). When you’ve established the bad news, end with the good news. Present the gospel to your class. Even when Adam was rebelling against God’s plan, God’s plan to restore all things was already in effect. God was not taken by surprise. In many ways, God knew that the struggle of human history would be the crucible for heaven to be the beautiful place it will be, a place where everyone there will understand and appreciate the price Jesus paid. A place where we will no longer want to rebel and stray. That’s good news.
Pray that God will cause more people to see the reality of their sin, the cost of their sin, and the price Jesus paid for their sin. Pray that God would bring salvation to the Thomson community. And then also pray that God would help us who are Christian to have a greater desire to avoid temptation and follow Jesus more closely. That would be a great outcome to this Sunday indeed!