(Note: This is another episode in my continuing exploration of the Bible, and the final part of my 3-part look at Genesis 3. Click here to read Part One and Two. You can read my series introduction here. All Bible quote are NIV and cannot be used for commercial purposes. Read copyright information here.)
Today, I wrap up my exploration of Genesis 3. Last week I discussed God’s curse on the serpent. This week I’m going to explore God’s judgement on Adam and Eve and what it means for humanity.
It’s important to note that in the case of Eve and Adam, unlike what happened to the serpent, God does not utter the words “Cursed are you…” This is critical, and this fact, upon closer inspection, is absolutely profound to the rest of the Bible and human history.
Let’s look at what God said to the woman first.
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.” (NIV)
These are consequences, not curses. Reading this, one can logically assume the woman had not given birth, as the narrative makes no mention of children or sexual relations. Now that man and woman are doomed to die they must have offspring in order to continue their linage. Why is that even important? Why didn’t God just wipe them out and start over? I’m going to get to that later. Bottom line, the woman must now suffer the natural consequences of procreation. “Your desire will be for your husband…” is also a natural consequence, as without it no one is having kids. This goes back to the pre- and post-puberty analogy of the Fall I discussed in the last episode. As for the man ruling over the woman, I think this is also a natural consequence of the division of family roles in primitive hunter-gatherer or agrarian societies.
I can assume a few things from this passage: 1) Adam and Eve didn’t have a sexual relationship prior to them eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. 2) Therefore, they had no children. 3) Since all of their needs were taken care of by God and daily survival wasn’t an issue, they had no traditional sex-based roles - they were like children and equals. Genesis 3 essentially implies inequality of the sexes, like spiritual death, is a consequence of sin and disobedience to God. Division of family labor, with woman as formally and socially subservient in order to survive, is a natural consequence of a life of toil in a pre-industrial society. This fact has been consistent in almost every human civilization. A funny observation, but only in the 20th and 21st Century in the Western world has modern technology and Western-thought permitted a gradual return to equality between the sexes enjoyed by Adam and Eve.
So, what of God’s judgement on Adam?
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
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 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.” (NIV)
Why would God curse the ground (earth?) because of Adam? Once again, I think its more like cursed as a consequence, not as a condemnation. Man transforms from gardener to hardscrabble farmer/gatherer. The world turns from gentle and giving to wild and hostile, unwilling to surrender its bounty without a struggle. Man will no longer care for it as much as battle it. I think of the desertification of places like North Africa under the onslaught of mankind, and God’s words make perfect sense.
20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.
21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (NIV)
Curious that God named the man Adam, but left the woman’s name up to Adam. Its also interesting that she isn’t given a name until after the Fall.
Is Eve truly mother of all the living? Or does this mean mother to the linage that would lead to Moses and David and Christ? I don’t know. Remember in Episode 2 God created mankind on Day 6 and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply, as opposed to Adam, who is created on what clearly appears to be Day 3. There seems to be a conflict here, which goes back to my statements in previous episodes that the writing in Genesis 3 feels very different from that what comes before. (SPOILER ALERT: It feels different from what follows, too.)
I think there may be a deeper meaning to “mother of all the living”. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think Eve’s role is pivotal for mankind’s ultimate redemption. Patience, because I’m going to come back to this point at the end.
Its also interesting that it is God, not Adam, that provides clothes for them to venture into the outer world. In my mind, this implies Adam and Even lack most of the basic survival skills, other than perhaps Adam’s possible ability to cultivate. Imagine what terror Adam and Eve must have felt, two children in a man and woman’s body, suddenly being forced to grow up all at once. I think perhaps the best word might be “trauma.”
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.” (NIV)
I really want to know who this “us” is. That is the second time the Bible mentions a divine “us.” Who is with God? This fascinates me.
Next point, remember earlier in Genesis 3 when the serpent said, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” This was the truth, and God confirms it. What does that mean for mankind? In Genesis 1, God states humanity is created in his image. Now, in Genesis 3, mankind has attained a level of knowledge regarding the universe previously reserved for God and this mysterious “us” he addresses from time-to-time. This knowledge is powerful, but is corrupting to the flesh and spirit. I’m going to use a line from my novel BLACK SEA GODS…I am too small a cup for what has been poured into me. We are too small of vessels for the power the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil has bestowed upon us, and that power eventually kills.
Let’s talk about the Two Trees.
In the previous episode I theorized the serpent simultaneously exists in this world, and not of this world. In Episode 2, I stated I believe the snake represents Chaos, or perhaps more accurately, possibility. I believe this holds true for the trees as well. They are symbols of powerful natural forces that transcend the tangible universe. I sort of think of them as pillars of creation, like flying arches that lift the great cathedrals of old.
I think the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represents intellect, or perhaps self-awareness. It is the tangible, the logical, the real. This tree’s branches hold up the sky and its roots anchors the bones of the universe. It is math, both Newtonian and Quantum. It is the atom and the galaxy, all we can see, touch, feel or prove. It is law and morality. It is science and fact. We cling to this tree like a life boat and tap its sap for our mortal strength. It is physical pleasure and mortal suffering. It is DNA without the spirit. Its a gun or a knife, and the terrible choice of how to use it. No matter how big and grand and beautiful, in the end the kingdom of this tree is still finite. Its gatekeeper is the Serpent, Chaos, always lurking in the branches or in the weeds at its roots. Just when we think we are masters of this kingdom, it strikes. Eventually, we come to the end of the math, and yet still cry out “Why?” The fruit of this tree is sweet and terrible and always leaves us unsatisfied. We cannot live by this bread alone.
So what of the mysterious Tree of Life? This tree wasn’t forbidden to Adam and Eve, but we have no record of them actually eating of it. For that, let’s look at the last passage of Genesis 3.
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. (NIV)
This final passage of Genesis 3 gives ultimate hope to mankind and sets the rest of the Bible in motion. God could have wiped out humanity right then and there as a spoiled race, unworthy for continued existence. But he didn’t. He could have removed the Tree of Life forever from our reach, and left us to eternal languish without hope and thereby creating a hell on earth. But he didn’t. He removed the Tree of Life from our sight, and placed a guardian to watch over it, offering hope that one day we may again return to its roots and eat of its fruit.
What is the Tree of Life? It is the gateway beyond the Kingdom of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Only here can Eve’s question truly be answered. It is laughter and tears, hugs and passion. This tree is conscious and faith. The Tree is compassion, a candle in the darkness, and fireflies on a summer’s evening. The Tree is hope, a gateway eternally facing the east and a new sunrise. The Tree is love, the breath of life that shakes the limbs of the Tree of Knowledge like a mighty wind. Its roots transcend the bones of the earth and its branches burrow beyond the curtain of the heavens. This tree is both eternal love and eternal life, and only under its branches can we once again be one with God. Its fruit is the fruit of the spirit, the antidote to the poison of Chaos. Its gatekeeper is the cherubim and its flaming sword, which I believe symbolizes ultimate truth. Only through truth can one find their way back to the Tree of Life. Without Truth, the tree, and Eden, are forever out of our reach. Is there a path back to the Tree of Life?
I believe so.
Genesis 3 is the most important passage in the Old Testament not because of the Fall of Man, but because of the hope God offers. Eve is not an accessory in the story, or a villain, or a victim. She is the pathway for the return to salvation. Read Genesis 3:23-24 carefully. It clearly states only Adam is banished from Eden, and makes no mention of Eve. Yes, Eve leaves with Adam, but Eve was never truly banished from the Garden. For Eve, God offers a sliver of Grace and, through her, to Adam as well. Let me explain.
“Why?” is a question women are somehow uniquely gifted to ask. Every time a mother witnesses her baby’s eyes flutter open for the first time she glimpses eternity, a universe of unlimited possibilities. She sees Eden before the serpent. She sees Hope.
Hope. Husbands understand this inherent nature about the women we love. It is because, and through, our women’s hope that men find our faith. This is why we should cherish them, and why we toil the fields with the sweat of our brow until we eventually return to the dust. Men understand, that as a gardner we may plant the seed and tend the garden, but it is the woman who brings new life into the world. Through his woman’s love, and wonderful children she brings into this world, can man catch the distant fragrance of paradise lost. A Woman’s Hope and a Man’s Faith are joined in Love. Through Love new life is created and another small step is taken back to the Tree of Life.
Truth is the gatekeeper of the Tree, keeping the Serpent of Chaos at bay. Hope is a vision of the tree, left to us by God after the Fall. Faith, as revealed through scripture, is the path back to the tree. Love, the child of Hope and Faith, that is the greatest of all gifts and is the fruit of the Tree of Life. Love enables us to transcend this world and step into eternity with our maker.
Finally, this brings me back to my earlier point about Eve’s pivotal role in humanity’s ultimate redemption. I believe it is through love, and a woman’s unique gift of bringing new life into the world, why Eve was not forever banished from the Garden. This is why the Tree of Life was not removed from this world, why all women, from Eve to Mary to today, share an unbreakable bond with the Tree of Life. In the moment of birth, when a mother pulls her newborn to her breast and hears her child’s first cry, the mighty cherub lowers his flaming sword for the briefest of moments. Through the veil of her pain and tears, the daughters of Eve are permitted the tiniest glimpse of eternity. In the eyes of her child, women receive the answer to Eve’s question.
In the moment of her child’s birth, she walks again, hand-in-hand with God in Eden on the morning of the Seventh Day.
Brian Braden is the author the book THE ILLUSION EXOTIC, the historical fantasy novel BLACK SEA GODS and several other exciting books.