Genesis 3


This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on October 26th, 2014.           To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Gen 3.

Life is complex.  We have been looking at the Genesis creation stories for the last two weeks and have seen is that (1) God is creative and investing, and that he appreciates and enjoys the creation–particularly human beings, and then (2) that human beings are flesh/spiritual beings who are made to cultivate life around them, to be free to live and choose before God, and to be in relation to one another.

However, our relationship to the world–to ourselves and others–and to God are complex.  The behavior of other people–but also our own behavior, thoughts, fears, desires, wills–make our lives complex.  Genesis three becomes a third stage of a layered picture of the world which helps us to understand the complex, foundational relationship between human beings and God.

Distrust of God Enters the World.  (Image of the Serpent)

The Serpent:  Any ancient reader of the Bible would have understood who this serpent was.  The serpent was a figure in ancient mythic literature–an evil, demonic creature who sought to destroy the world order and life.

  • In the Egyptian myth of Osiris, the demon serpent Apophis attempts each morning to overthrow the sun god Ra and enfold the world in darkness.
  • In the Sumerian Epic, a serpent robs Gilgamesh of the Plant of Rejuvenation which, if eaten, would have granted him eternal life.
  • In the Ugarit’s Baal-Anat Cycle, Baal and his consort Anat defeat the seven headed twisting serpent, Lotan, who is related to Leviathan.

The Origin of Sin:  The point of the opening verse in Genesis three is not to focus on the serpent, but to show us something about the nature of sin.  Original sin has a pattern that should not be unfamiliar to us.  Temptation is a subtle dialogue that involves distrust of God, while at the same time desiring to be like him/ take his place.  The conversation between the woman and the serpent and her actions and the man’s that follow, give us a very compelling picture of sin.  Sin involves…

~ Introduction of suspicion, distrust, disregard and rebellion against God:  This is the idea at the root of sin, always.  Sin is the suggestion that God is somehow withholding something desirable, consequent distrust, a willingness to ignore or put aside what God has said, and consequent behavior.

This is a faith statement–an important insight into the nature of sin.  Sin has its origin (Genesis means origins), in this distrust which is implanted into the heart orientation of human beings.  These questions about who God is become the core of our reactions and responses to God.  This layer of understanding, on top of the others becomes the core of the explanation of our complex relationship with God.  He is our source of life–we long for him–at the same time, we distrust him.

The Expansion of Sin:  The act of distrusting God has immediate effect: “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.”  Adam and Eve receive the serpent’s promised “knowledge” and feel ashamed and afraid.  They cover themselves to hide from one another–and then turn on one another.

These behaviors: hiding ourselves from people because we fear being judged and blame-shifting, accusing, refusing to take responsibility, make our lives more confusing, difficult and complex.  They create fearful, distrustful ways of living in us which we tend to become so used and to take for granted.

But Genesis also is showing us something important about the nature of sin, distrust and rebellion–it expands.  The rebellion of Adam and Eve does not end with one action–it spreads into their relationships, their ways of looking at the world and responding to God.  Sin is like infection.  it has to be treated at its source–its root–or it will continue to spread.

Sin Makes Life Complicated.  (The Curses of God)

God’s response to the actions of the serpent and Adam and Eve, is to curse them.  This sounds like vindictive and cruel behavior–kicking the couple while they are down.  However, a closer look at the curses reveal them to be consequences more than punishments handed down.

Also notice that each of the curses have dual application (1) They explain some aspect of the world to ancient people–(Why does childbirth hurt so much?) and (2) Describe the effects of sin, in a symbolic way.

Curse on the Serpent–Sin Diminishes:  First, this curse explains why snakes are the way they are. To an ancient mind, snakes are lowly, crawling in the dust, but also kind of fascinating. On one level, the author of Genesis is explaining snakes.

But the author is saying more than this.  The bearer of the message/temptation to distrust God, who deceived Eve, is going to eat dust–“On your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life.”  The tempter is going to be (1) diminished–humiliated–made less so that it now goes on its belly, (2) empty–without meaning or that which nourishes life–like eating dust, and (3) ruinous–destructive.

Therefore, those who associate with him by listening to his conversation/message are also going to be cursed in association with him.  He and his conversation are something to despise and get away from because it is diminishing, empty and ruinous.

Curse on the Woman–Sin Alienates:  The curse on the woman is relational.  In bearing children, a process that Scripture describes as “knowing” her husband–an expression of intimacy–she will produce a new life.  In other words, relating to her husband will be desirable–and yet it will lead to pain.

Again this is a dual explanation of, on the one hand, why childbirth is so painful. It is an explanation that would make sense to an ancient mind.  But on a deeper level it also explains why the union of two people who try to love one another is often complicated.

The pain in childbearing is a metaphor for the joy and yet the pain in human relationships.  They are good.  They are pleasurable.  We need them.  They are capable of producing new life.  And yet, they are often the source of great pain–and not just the physical pain of childbirth.  They will involve dominance of one ruling over another, misunderstanding, hurt.  Sin has made relationship complicated.

Sin Makes it More Difficult to Be Human:  In the same way, man, who is formed dust and spirit–who was put in the garden, and is, himself a garden, (metaphorically)–is now something else.  He is tied to the dust–and to dust he will return.  Man is now a garden, overlaid with weeds.  The view is layered and complex.  Man is not just broken–he is still everything that he was before, but now fallen.

The Relationship with God Changes.  (Expulsion from the Garden)

God does three things in the close of the story which show his disposition towards man has not changed, but which are required now in the new complex situation…

God Covers their Nakedness (the promise of restored innocence):   God will not have man to be living in shame and so does something that allows the people, who need one another, to live together.  He makes coverings for them. This compassionate act shows God’s continuing disposition towards human beings.  They have created a situation in which they are no longer at ease either with one another or in God’s presence.

This covering is something that will be worked out through Scripture. God will continue to work to cover the guilt of people who desire to come to him–the final covering given through the sacrifice of his Son.

God Sends Them Out to Cultivate (the promise of continuing investment):God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.

There is no question that cultivation of the ground will now be more difficult.  That which is meaningful for people–the cultivation of life–is now going to be beset with problems which are the result of our own fear and distrust of God, our own broken way of relating to others, our own inner tendency to desire what we should not and our failure to do what we should.

Yet human beings remain God’s image!  We are still God’s cultivators–still entrusted with the cultivation of our lives–of the earth and its resources.  Now fallen and capable of evil cultivation–and yet God does not remove his investment in our lives.  There is the promise that we will continue to have the privilege of cultivation.  In the final chapters of the Bible, God speaks of a new heavens and earth–given to man again.

God Drives them from Presence of God (the promise of restored wholeness):  God drives them, specifically, away from the tree of life.  On the one hand, this drives them out of that environment and away from that presence (now guarded), which is the environment they were made to live in.  Eden symbolizes all that man was given plus  the presence of God.  Human beings are, in a vital way, removed from the fellowship of walking in the garden.  Separation from the presence of God is, itself, death–both spiritually and physically–like removing a fish from the water.

This can seem only cruel until we realize that the couple is no longer suited to live in the garden near the tree of life.  To eat from the tree in their fearful, distrusting, broken state would be a the worst curse of all.  They would have no possibility of ever being whole again.   As it is, God has promised the serpent that he–and the diminished, empty, ruinous life he brings, will be crushed finally by a deliverer, “He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.

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