GENESIS 2:4b—3:24: THE CONTEXT
Our reading follows the story of the creation of the world and the man (2:4b-14)—God’s instructions to the man regarding the trees from which he may and may not eat (2:15-18)—the creation of the woman as a partner for the man (2:18-24)—and the decision of the woman and the man to eat the forbidden fruit (3:1-7).
Our reading begins after the sin takes place. It includes God’s confrontation of the couple (3:8-13) and the cursing of the serpent for tempting the woman (3:14-15). It ends there—in the middle of a passage where the Lord spells out the consequences of the sin for:
• the serpent (vv. 14-15)
• the woman (v. 16)
• the man (vv. 17-19)
In other words, the lectionary reading includes the consequences for the serpent (3:14-15) but fails to include the consequences for the woman and the man (3:16-19).
The decision not to include verses 3:16-19 defies understanding. We can only imagine a weary committee succumbing to the voice of its least but loudest member. We should include at least verses 16-19 in this reading—and should also consider including verses 20-24, which form the proper conclusion for this story.
Verses 3:1-7 are included in the Revised Common Lectionary as the reading for Lent 1A. Verses 3:16-24 are not included anyplace in the Revised Common Lectionary.
Note the order in which the author presents the three characters in this little drama:
• The temptation and sin (vv. 1-7): Serpent/woman/man.
• The confrontation (vv. 8-13): Man/woman (no serpent).
• The consequences (vv. 14-19): Serpent/woman/man.
This literary integrity is further evidence that verses 1-19 should be treated as a unit.
GENESIS 3:8-13: THEY HEARD THE SOUND OF YAHWEH GOD
8They heard the voice of Yahweh God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Yahweh God among the trees of the garden.9Yahweh God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
10The man said, “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”11God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”13Yahweh God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
“They heard the voice of Yahweh God walking in the garden in the cool of the day“ (v. 8a). This has a lovely sound to it—the Lord God walking in the garden at evening time—a pleasant, cool breeze stirring. The late afternoon is a special time of day in a Mediterranean climate—”when the sea breeze flows in to replace the hot air rising off the land at the end of the day” (Towner, 46).
Gardens have a quiet beauty that soothes us, and walking in the midst of such beauty relaxes us. The sound of the Lord God walking through the garden should be pleasant to the man and the woman, because it is the Lord God who installed them in these pleasant surroundings—who provided for them so generously. Genesis includes the phrase, “walked with God,” three times (5:22, 24; 6:9—see also 17:1; 24:40)—each time expressing a favorable opinion about a Godly person.
But verses 1-7 told us about temptation and sin, so we sense an ominous undertone behind these quiet, lovely words.
“and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Yahweh God among the trees of the garden“ (v. 8b). The Godly presence brings fear rather than joy to those whose consciences convict them of sin. Whereas they had expected to become like God, now they are afraid even to talk to him (Mathews, 239).
The man and woman hide from God “among the trees of the garden”—among the trees that God provided so that the man and woman could freely eat of their produce (2:16). The man and woman now use God’s gift as a barrier to separate themselves from God.
“Yahweh God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?‘” (v. 9). God questions the man and woman one at a time—the man first. “Where are you?” sounds natural, but Yahweh knows where they are. Yahweh’s question, then, “functions as an accusation” (Roop, 45).
“The man said, ‘I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself’“ (v. 10). The man doesn’t answer God’s question, but instead explains why he was hiding. His response reflects a troubled conscience.
“I was naked” (v. 10). This brings to mind happier days when “They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed ” (2:25). Now the man is naked and afraid.
“I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (v. 10). The man’s repeated “I” points to the problem. Where they had once been God centered, they have become self-centered (Brueggemann, 49).
“God said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?'” (v. 11). God earlier asked, “Where are you?” (v. 9)—a question that functioned as an accusation. Now God asks two more questions that also function as accusations. The first is “Who told you that you were naked?” The man had always been naked, but hadn’t considered that to be a problem during his time of innocence. It is only after his sin that he recognizes the reality of his nakedness—that it causes him embarrassment. “Who told you that you were naked?” is an interesting question, given that only the woman or the serpent could have told the man that he was naked. The second question, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” strips away any hope that the man might have that he can fool God—that he might devise an effective alibi for his nakedness and his strange behavior. God’s question reveals that God knows what the man has done.
“The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate'” (v. 12). The man looks for a way to avoid responsibility, and turns first to the woman who gave him the fruit. But his core defense is not that the woman gave him the fruit but that God gave him the woman. If God had not given him the woman, she could not have given him the fruit and he would not have eaten. She, therefore, is the immediate cause of the trouble, but God is the real culprit. At least, this is the man’s argument.
We need to go back a short time to remember the man’s response when the Lord presented the woman to the man. On that occasion, the man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of Man” (2:23). That was a cry of joy! The man was overjoyed to have a suitable partner to keep him company. He had been lonely, but was lonely no more.
But those were the days of innocence. Now that sin has entered the picture, the man’s tune has changed. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (v. 12). Sin not only breached the man’s relationship with God, it also breached his relationship with the woman. Sin does that. It destroys relationships. It makes us suspicious and bitter. It turns us against even those who love us.
“Yahweh God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?'” (v. 13a). As we will see in verses 17-19, God has not yet finished dealing with the man, but for the moment he turns to the woman. As before, God’s question, “What is this you have done?” serves as accusation.
“The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’“ (v. 13b). To her shame, the woman, like the man, tries to shift responsibility elsewhere—in this case to the serpent. To her credit, unlike the man, she doesn’t try to blame God.
GENESIS 3:14-15. HE WILL BRUISE YOUR HEAD
14Yahweh God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
you are cursed above all livestock,
and above every animal of the field.
On your belly you shall go,
and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will bruise your head,
and you will bruise his heel.”
“Yahweh God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, you are cursed above all livestock, and above every animal of the field'” (v. 14a). God does not question the serpent, but pronounces a curse on it “because you have done this.” In the ancient Near East, a curse was assumed to exert power over the accursed. This was true, even when one human pronounced a curse on another human—although the power behind the curse was assumed to be either divine or satanic. To have God pronounce the curse was to raise the bar—to insure the effectiveness of the curse—to insure the misery of the accursed. Note that God pronounces a curse on the serpent (v. 14) and the soil (v. 17), but does not pronounce a curse on the man or the woman.
“On your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life” (v. 14b). The first part of the curse is that the serpent shall travel on its belly and eat dust. While there are positive references to dust in the Old Testament—”Your seed will be as the dust of the earth” (Genesis 28:14)—most references are negative.
Dust can be a sign of God’s judgment—”Yahweh will make the rain of your land powder and dust: from the sky shall it come down on you, until you are destroyed” (Deuteronomy 28:24). Eating dust symbolizes the serpent’s humiliation.
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring (zeraka—your seed) and her offspring” (zera’—her seed) (v. 15a). The second part of the curse is that there will be hostility between the serpent and the woman and between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed.
At first glance, we wonder why God establishes this enmity between the serpent and the woman rather than between the serpent and both woman and man. Then we remember that the serpent tempted the woman, not the man (3:1-5).
“He will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel” (v. 15b). A serious strike to the heel can be expected to be painful and crippling—but a serious strike to the head can be expected to be lethal. Verse 15b is sometimes call the protevangelium—the first Good News—the Good News that Satan will be defeated.
The question here is who is “he”—who is the one who will be struck on the heel and who will strike the serpent’s head?
• One possibility is Christ. We will see Christ struck on the head (mortally wounded, apparently) at the cross, but his resurrection will transform the event—will show Satan to have power only to strike Christ’s heel rather than his head—power to impose only a painful wound rather than a final death.
• Another possibility is the church. When writing to the church at Rome, Paul will say, “And the God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).
• Perhaps we should say that Christ has struck the moral wound—has crushed Satan’s head—but, like a mortally wounded serpent, Satan continues to writhe and to strike, often with deadly results. Christ has empowered the church to continue the battle until Satan’s power is finally and forever defeated.
GENESIS 3:16. IN PAIN YOU SHALL BEAR CHILDREN
16To the woman he said,
“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth.
In pain you will bear children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you will bear children” (v. 16a). There is judgment in this verse, but there is also a great deal of grace. The judgment is that the woman will experience terrible pain in the midst of childbearing—one of the most fulfilling moments in her life. The grace is twofold. First, God earlier warned the man not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die” (2:17)—but God does not require the woman’s life here. Second, God does not deny the woman the fulfillment of childbearing, but simply imposes pain on it.
“Your desire (tesuqa) will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (v. 16b). Hamilton notes that the word tesuqa appears only twice in Genesis—the other appearance being in Genesis 4:7, where God tells Cain, “Its sin or desire (tesuqa) is for you, but you are to rule over it.” In that situation sin is trying to take advantage of Cain’s anger so that it might dominate him, but God tells Cain that he must master his anger so that he might emerge as master over sin. It is a struggle for dominance.
Hamilton then uses sin’s tesuqa for Cain as an analogy for the woman’s tesuqa for her husband. Tesuqa in 3:16 will result in a struggle for dominance between the man and the woman (Hamilton, 201-202).
GENESIS 3:17-19. CURSED IS THE GROUND FOR YOUR SAKE
17To Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to your wife’s voice,
and have eaten of the tree,
of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground for your sake.
In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
18 It will yield thorns and thistles to you;
and you will eat the herb of the field.
19By the sweat of your face will you eat bread until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken.
For you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
Once again we have both judgment and grace. The judgment is that the man’s work will become arduous instead of pleasant. When God put man in the garden “to dress it and to keep it” (2:15), he provided abundant water (2:6, 10-14) so the man’s work was more pleasure than toilsome. Because of the man’s sin, God curses the ground (v. 17)—just as he cursed the serpent. The man’s work will no longer be easy, but will instead be characterized by thorns, thistles, and sweat. The man will work, not because he wants to work, but because he must—and his work will be unpleasant and painful.
The judgment is tailored to the sin. The man ate the forbidden fruit. Now he will eat plants of the ground only by dint of working ground that has been cursed—wrestling with thorns and thistles to try to produce food.
The grace, as noted above, is that God does not require the man’s life, as we would expect from his earlier warning (2:17).
“By the sweat of your face will you eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (v. 19). Earlier, “Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (2:7). God now warns that the breath of life will not always be in the man’s nostrils, but that his breath will one day be stilled and that he will return to the dust from whence he came.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume One: A-D – Revised (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979)
Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume Four: Q-Z – Revised (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988)
Brueggemann, Walter, Interpretation Commentary: Genesis (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982)
Hamilton, Victor P., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990)
Mathews, Kenneth A., The New American Commentary: Volume 1a – Genesis 1-11:26 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996)
Roop, Eugene F., Believers Church Bible Commentaries: Genesis (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1987)
Towner, W. Sibley, Westminster Bible Companion: Genesis (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001)
Von Rad, Gerhard, The Old Testament Library: Genesis, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1972)
Wenham, Gordon J., Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15 (Dallas: Word Books, 1987)
Copyright 2006, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan