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Understanding How It All Went Wrong -- a study of Genesis 3

Satan doesn't want us to believe that there is consequence for sin.

Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Genesis 3

Eve didn't know God's instructions as well as she should, and Satan easily exploited that to trick Adam and Eve into breaking God's simple rule and bringing a curse on themselves and the world they lived in. But even in the terrible consequences of them giving into temptation, we see incredible displays of grace from the God who still loved them.

So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. (3:23)

When Last We Studied This Passage

We covered most of this passage in 2015. I call attention to that simply because I prefer not to duplicate content whenever possible. In that post:

I'm going to have to repeat some of that because it's too central.

Getting Started: Things to Think About

This is a downer of a passage (it's entirely about what's wrong with the world), so all of my idea are pretty somber. But I have one kinda-sorta fun idea for you ...

What Scene from the Bible Would You Like to See in IMAX?

And I mean "really well done" and "as accurate as humans are capable of". Here are some ideas floating around in my head:

  • Moses and the parting of the Red Sea

  • David facing Goliath

  • The glory of the Lord filling the temple of Solomon

  • Isaiah in the throne room of heaven

  • Jesus walking on water

  • The women at the empty tomb

What about you?

Well, let me add one more to our list: the cherubim and the flaming, whirling sword guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden. Holy moly, what an incredible image! There's quite a bit of artwork out there on this scene, all of it likely falls woefully short.

There are some pretty incredible images hinted at in Genesis 1-3.

When Did You Experience a Loss of Innocence?

The "loss of innocence" is a common theme in literature and film, often associated with a "coming of age". For some, the focus is on the growing awareness of evil in the world. For others, it's about the realization of right and wrong. For others, it's about discovering the consequences for wrong choices.

Whether they like it or not, all of those ideas come back to Genesis 3.

When I look at the pictures of kids who have been living through the current wars (and horrifyingly, the number of wars are increasing), I'm heartbroken.

As this woman wrote for CNN, children living through a war accept as "normal" things which no one should think of as normal -- Opinion: As a child of war, I know what the Ukrainians are going through -- They have "lost their innocence" as we might say.

You may not have lived through a war, but you experienced things that, say, "forced you to grow up". What were those things for you, and how did they stick with you?

In the case of Adam and Eve, their loss of innocence changed the whole world. And whatever happened in your life changed your whole world.

My point: if God can redeem the catastrophic actions of Adam and Eve, He can help you come to grips with what happened in your life and in our world.

What Does Temptation Look Like?

Digging around online, I was reminded that there's actually a tv show called "Temptation Island". Based on this photo of some contestants, you immediately know what they call "temptation". But the other picture below, of a person eyeing a piece of cake, is also a powerful image of "temptation".

Temptation "looks" different to everyone, because we are all tempted by different things. What do you tend to be tempted by? (You had better be very aware of that because I can guarantee you that Satan knows what you're tempted by.) We've studied "temptation" a number of times because it is a key obstacle to discipleship growth.

The way Eve was tempted is an archetype for us all:

The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. (Gen 3:6)

And as you might remember, this is usually categorized as

  • the lust of the flesh,

  • the lust of the eyes,

  • the pride of life.

What a great summary of temptations! What do you tend to be more susceptible to?


This Week's Big Idea: The Consequence of the Fall

Our lesson passage skips from verse 7 to verse 21. But I've talked a whole lot about how the consequence of the fall helps explain our gender confusion and controversy. So, please let me briefly share those verses and point out a few key implications. That way, if you don't have time to cover them (it is Christmas party time, after all), you at least have a reference.

Sin Results in Hiding

3:8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”

Let's start here. The key word is "hide", and it means what you think it means. If you go back to verse 7 (which is in our focal passage), you see this pattern:

  • The sinners hid from each other

  • The sinners hid from God

  • The sinners his from themselves

That last one is a poetic/dramatic way to describe what happens next:

Sin Results in Blame

 11 Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man replied, “The woman you gave to be with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 So the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Get this out of the way -- everybody is at fault, and everybody suffers the consequences. But God holds Adam chiefly responsible. When we study the passage in just a little bit, we will see that Eve "misquoted" God's instructions. Whether that's because she was taught incorrectly or because she was given reason to, it was Adam's responsibility to make sure that his household understood and respected God's rules.

Adam blames the woman. The woman blames the snake. They are both hiding from their role and responsibility in the matter.

[Sin Results in the Need for a Savior

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.

This is really the final and most important consequence of Adam's sin, but God addresses it right up front. We'll talk a little more about this in the passage, but for the moment let's consider the serpent an agent of Satan. Thus, when God curses the serpent, He's really cursing Satan.

Verse 15 is often called the "protevangelion" -- the first appearance of the gospel. Because the woman's "offspring" is singular, many Christian scholars have taken this to be a veiled reference to how Satan will be able to incite Jesus' death, but Jesus will "strike his head" (remove his power over people -- the fear of death -- and the reason for his temptation -- to bring about the damnation of all people).

Refer to the 2015 post for more about the word "curse".]

Sin Results in Lasting Consequences

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.”
20 The man named his wife Eve because she was the mother of all the living.

This is the key (and controversial) section for everything we talked about last week. Yes, there's the immediate physical consequence: childbirth becomes painful (and deadly), and working the land becomes painful (and deadly). Before the fall, this was not the case. Ask yourself this question: what has physical pain caused you to do that you regret? The basic introduction of pain into the human experience has wide-ranging consequences.

The bigger thing I want to talk about is the new gender dynamic. There's a lot of debate as to how to translate verse 16, but this seems to make the most sense of the grammar and context:

You will desire to control your husband, but he will dominate you.

Ominous, isn't it? And it does seem to capture a lot of the worst tendencies in a relationship. (And if courtroom testimony is any indicator, homosexual couples do not somehow evade these consequences.)

God created the marriage relationship to be the perfect complementary match. But sin turns it into rivalry. (Forgive me as a child of the 80s, but "Karma Chameleon" is such a great case-in-point (on multiple levels).)


Where We Are in Genesis

We've established that God gave these stories to Moses to help the Hebrews understand who they were, who God is, and how the world came to be as it is. You have to imagine the anger (and hurt) the Hebrews must have felt when they heard how beautiful and wonderful God created the world to be. "So why did my grandparents only know life as a slave?" Chapter 3 is the sad explanation.


Part 1: The First Temptation (Genesis 3:1-5)

Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. 3 But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “No! You will certainly not die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

About the Serpent. There are plenty of myths and legends related to the serpent. In one Jewish legend, all of the animals could talk, and thus the serpent was just a particularly naughty critter who didn't like being so short. And we could certainly take this at face value! Snakes were particularly despised and feared by people in ancient times. (And there were a number of species of venomous snakes in the Ancient Near East.)

However, there is New Testament evidence that things aren't quite what they seem.

  • "You are of your father the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies." John 8:44

  • "So the great dragon was thrown out—the ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world. He was thrown to earth, and his angels with him." Revelation 12:9

If this serpent is Satan, it could be that Satan "disguised" himself as a serpent (unlikely because otherwise why would God curse serpents?). Or, it could be that the serpent was willing to "work" with Satan by virtue of his craftiness. Perhaps Satan convinced a serpent to let him possess him, which is how the serpent could talk. Or maybe Satan just possessed a snake because he thought it would be the easiest way to sneak up on Eve. It'll all start to make your head hurt if you think about it too much.

For the rest of this commentary, I'm going to go with the idea that this serpent is somehow Satan.

Now -- why would God allow Satan into the garden? It's not as if Satan can sneak past God! It's like I've said: what good is saying people have the power of free will if they don't have a legitimate opportunity to exercise it? By allowing humans to fall flat on their face (and ruin the world in the process), God demonstrates to us how much He loves us and wants to have an uncoerced relationship with us.

Back to Satan. (What an awful sentence to type.)

Let me quote my 2015 post: "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."

Isn't that devastatingly direct? And isn't it frighteningly simple?

If you look closer, you can find two errors in Eve's response:

  • God actually said, "You may freely eat of ..."

  • God did not say anything about "touching" the fruit.

In other words, Eve already had two (minor?) things wrong about what God said, and Satan exploited what that seemed to indicate about Eve's relationship with God.

  1. Eve was disregarding God's generosity in every other matter.

  2. Eve was strengthening the prohibition in the one rule God gave.

Just a little crack in the relationship. That's all Satan needed.

Why did Eve have those two things wrong? Did Adam teach her wrong? Did she not listen? Or had a significant amount of time passed, and Adam and Eve had neglected to keep the rule fresh in their minds? This should help you see why it is so important that we study God's Word regularly, and that we really try to understand what it does and doesn't say!

Satan changes one word: not. And what is he really doing there? He is rejecting the truth that there is consequence for sin. And don't all people like the idea that there is no consequence for our wrongdoing?

Then Satan appeals to Eve's pride -- or whatever it was that was interfering with her relationship with God. Even today, we are at our most vulnerable to temptation when we neglect our relationship with God.

What Does Verse 5 Mean? Satan blatantly lies about what it means to be divine. Do you really think that the knowledge of good and evil is all that separates humans from being gods? Of course not! But Eve was sure willing to find out. (And isn't that the plot of a bunch of "cautionary tale" movies? The "G-rated" one for me to mention is Aladdin's genie:

Even the children who watch the cartoon could warn Jafar not to fall for the trap, but he is tempted by the possibility of having cosmic power.)

But What About the Whole "Dying" Part? We could go two directions with this:

  1. The serpent blatantly lied about "not dying". The serpent fully expected God to kill Adam and Eve when He discovered their sin. In this instance, it was God's mercy that stayed His hand.

  2. The serpent (Satan) understood that God meant "spiritual death" and a separation from God, and that was consequence enough for Satan. Adam and Eve would not have known because they had not encountered death yet.

In other words, Satan half-lies when his listener has fuzzy knowledge and won't recognize the lie, and he blatantly full-lies when the person really should know better.

And indeed, eating this particular fruit (btw, the Bible doesn't call it an apple!) did open Adam and Eve's eyes to good and evil. But it did not make them like God in the way Satan tempted them.

Let this help you appreciate how Jesus resisted Satan's temptations:

Application: have you ever had a half-truth about God, or a distorted message from the Bible come between you and God? I daresay that all of us have. If we earnestly seek to know God's Word, if we take counsel with solid Christian friends, and if we try to maintain our relationship with God in prayer, we can escape those traps quickly.

And that's a big part of the reason why we promote Bible study, prayer, and Christian community.

Bonus Application: I really like the leader guide's recommendation of using a smartphone as an object lesson. Such a small thing, but with so much power. It really is like a fruit with the knowledge of good and evil "inside". Think about all of the ways you have personally used a smartphone for good ends and for destructive ends.


Part 2: The First Sin (Genesis 3:6-7)

6 The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit 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 knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

I've already pointed our this grand paradigm of

  1. the lust of the flesh

  2. the lust of the eyes

  3. the pride of life

And in the 2015 post, I wrote out the pattern of

She saw—She took—She ate—She gave—He ate

If any of those steps had been interrupted, the entire process of sin could have been cut off. Martin Luther gave one of my favorite lines about this:

You can't stop birds from flying overhead, but you can stop them from nesting in your hair.

In other words, the temptation itself is not the sin. Eve was tempted before she sinned. But temptation leads to sin if not checked.

I think a great way to spend some discussion time is helping one another understand how temptation turns into sin. Sins don't just "happen" -- they are the result of a series of choices and actions. Help one another recognize that spiral and how to interrupt it.

Here are a few websites if you want some outside perspective:


Part 3: The Lasting Consequence (Genesis 3:21-24)

21 The Lord God made clothing from skins for the man and his wife, and he clothed them. 22 The Lord God said, “Since the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove the man out and stationed the cherubim and the flaming, whirling sword east of the garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life.

The leader guide says how verse 21 represents the first death. The symbolism is certainly there -- an innocent animal covering the sins of humanity -- but the Bible doesn't say that God killed an animal to get this skin.

But the Bible does say that God used these animal skins to replace the simple fig leaves Adam and Eve had made for themselves. And here's the point: "things are far worse than you think". Fig leaves aren't going to protect them from this "brave new world" they have thrust themselves into. But God's mercy and grace is evident throughout. He will help them adapt and cope. Even though they directly rejected Him as their Lord, He will never abandon them nor forsake them. Cue all the foreshadowing of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Now we come to the most controversial thing I'm going to say for a long time: God driving Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden is also a great mercy. Huh? Look at what God is specifically driving them from: the ability to eat the fruit of both trees -- knowing good and evil and living forever.

But you say, "Wouldn't it be great to live forever?" Stop. Think about it. Do you really want to live forever in this world in the condition it is? Because if you can live forever, think about who else can -- Adolf Hitler, Alexander the Great, Nero, Genghis Khan (and then we'd all be related to him!), etc. The list goes on and on. Mortality prevents the worst of our sins simply by virtue of there being a "time limit" on life.

But the place we will live forever -- the new heaven and earth -- will be freed from the curse of sin. And so will we. And that's the only want we can truly and fully enjoy life as God intended it. And isn't that a great Christmas tie-in?

3 No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.

I've often wondered what happened to the Garden of Eden. My assumption is that God "removed" it from the earth much in the same way He will bring the New Jerusalem to earth. It's just beyond our understanding.

So there you go. If your group can come away from this lesson with a basic understanding of temptation - sin - consequence, then all is well and good.

We are a week away from Christmas. I think it would also be a good use of time to talk about God's plan to restore everything that Adam and Eve "broke" and what it cost Him.

God loves us enough to give us a perfect world. And He loves us so much that when we ruin it, He will give up His own Son to restore it to us.

What wondrous love is this!


Closing Thoughts: Cherubim

This might be a helpful time to remind everyone that there are multiple "classes" of angels mentioned in the Bible.

While there are numerous references to "cherubs" (cherubim is the plural form), the vast majority of them are to the statues on the ark of the covenant and the images worked into the ornamentation of the tabernacle and temple. Otherwise, we have our reference in Genesis 3, an important series of references in Ezekiel 10, and ... that's it.

Based on the descriptions we have, it seems that the cherubim are guardians / sentries. They are not cute little cuddly chubby babies.

It seems we can blame Raphael for that ridiculus idea.

So, sorry -- we don't know anything about them. Except we don't want to mess with them.


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