Trusting God to Create Order out of Chaos
In order to set the stage for our conversation on Genesis 3, we need to pause for a moment to provide a brief overview of Genesis 1-2. In Genesis 1 we are introduced to an unformed world where the Spirit if God is ready to bring about order to the chaos of the sea. God creates everything over a period of time and upon reflection assesses everything as being good.
As I shared in our Christmas series, the creation account is modeled on the building of an ancient temple. The creation of Eden, the garden, and the space beyond replicates the Holy of Holies, the Holy Place, and the outer sanctuary. Humanity is created to be the priests and priestesses to manage the sacred space. In this account, we are introduced to two different trees planted by God: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the Ancient Near East, the image of the Tree of Life was a popular image and revealed the quest of so many cultures that pursued the acquisition of immortality. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a unique symbol to the narrative of the Old Testament and has not been duplicated in any of the creation stories of this period. Both of these trees are located at the center of the garden because God is seen as both the source of life and wisdom.
I pause at this point to share a possibly different interpretation of these opening paragraphs. The existence of the Tree of Life in the garden seems to imply that prior to the rebellion of the man and woman that immortality was not something already attained. The man and woman would have eventually died if they did not eat from the Tree of Life. This explains why the tree was necessary, and why after their rebellion, God blocks them from the tree in order to protect them from an immortality of brokenness. It is not the decision of the man and woman that caused death, but their decision blocked our way to immortality and would necessitate a different response from God to make this a reality again.
Allow me to introduce a structure proposed by John Walton concerning the concept of order in the creation account. Walton explains that prior to creation, there existed a state of non-order or what we would describe as chaos. God enters the picture and brings order to a portion of creation and finishes his initial work and then enters a rest because order has been established. After the rebellion of the man and woman, disorder enters the created order in the form of broken relationships and sin. These categories will be important as we begin our study of Genesis 3 to see where it all went wrong.
Trust in God is Challenged
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. Genesis 3:1
As we begin our study of this passage, I hope to reshape some of our assumptions about the encounter between the serpent and the man and the woman and how it would have been perceived by its original listeners. We are introduced to one of the key characters in our story that happens to be a serpent. In the Ancient world the serpent was a cultural image for chaos. The serpent embodied the presence and activity of non order and its desire to increase non order in the surrounding world. The original listeners would not have seen this creature as a source of evil or as an overarching arch-enemy; rather, it would have been a creature of chaos.
We are told that the serpent is “crafty” which also means that the creature is tricky, cunning, or a very wise being. The serpent is going to use this capacity to guide the couple to a series of decisions that will change the world. However, the narrative makes it clear that the serpent is a created being and is not co-equal with God.
Quite often when we picture the encounter between the serpent and the man and the woman, we imagine them by the two trees in the middle of the garden with the serpent wrapped around the trunk of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but I do not believe this to be the case. It is more likely that the man and woman are exploring the boundaries of the garden and enter the land outside and encounter the serpent. Since the serpent is a creature of chaos and the garden is the temple of God, the serpent would not have had access to this sacred space.
He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The serpent starts a conversation with the woman by asking a question concerning the limitations placed upon the couple. In a sense, the serpent asks, ‘Did God place you in a garden where you cannot eat from any of the trees.” The serpent begins a line of thought that focuses on the limits placed on the man and woman by God rather than all the blessings he has provided
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.’” Genesis 3:2-3
The woman comes to God’s defense and explains that they can eat from every tree except the special tree in the middle of the garden and they are not even supposed to touch it. If they do, they immediately will die. However, is this really what God told the couple? In order to clarify the woman’s response, we need to go back to the original moment the command was given.
We read the following in Genesis 2
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:8-9
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Genesis 2:15-17
As we take a closer look at this passage, we learn that Adam is the one who receives the blessings and prohibition from God. Eve was not a participant in the original conversation and must have learned of the conversation from the man. It would appear that there is some confusion on the woman’s understanding of the prohibitions.
Being the wise and crafty creature that he is, the serpent speaks into the confusion, “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.” Genesis 3:4-5
The serpent responds in the following manner, “Are you kidding me – you will most certainly not die – the reality is that God is holding out on you. He knows that if you eat some of the fruit from that tree you will be even more than you are now; you will be like God. God is really insecure and jealous and does not want share with you the true secret to happiness and flourishing. You see, if you eat from that tree you will have the wisdom of God on your terms and not God’s terms.”
The serpent seeks to drive a wedge between the man and woman and God. God had placed the man and the woman in the garden to fulfill a particular purpose in a particular manner. Over time, God would guide and teach them how to grow the garden, multiply and fill the earth, and rule it based on his wisdom. The serpent provides a counter narrative that says they can have access to this same wisdom simply by eating from the tree in the middle of the garden. Who will the man and woman trust: God or themselves?
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. Genesis 3:6
We get this picture of the woman and the man quickly moving from the edges of the garden right towards the center and immediately got to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and soon realize it really is attractive and is the source of wisdom that the serpent pointed out. The woman tentatively reaches out to grasp the fruit and touches it; the serpent was right, she does not die. She then eats from the tree and the man partakes with her. The idea of “desirable” can also be translated as covet or lustful.
The man and woman were to protect the garden and God’s sanctuary from the creatures of chaos, but they end up inviting chaos into the shalom and serenity of the garden and shalom is broken. Our world will now move from order to disorder and will never be the same.
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. Genesis 3:7
The couple receives wisdom of a form they never imagined and soon realize that their decision has built a wall between themselves and the surrounding garden. What will this mean for their relationship with God?
Key Points to Trusting God
What do we do with this narrative? There are just a few ideas I would like us to consider as we continue to move forward with our study on why bad things happen.
First, we learn that free will is an important part of God’s creation and that humans have the capacity to make good and bad decisions, and these decisions have powerful consequences.
I appreciate Nahum Sarna’s reflections on the existence of the free will in his book Understanding Genesis: “By relegating the “tree of life” to an insignificant, subordinate role in the Garden of Eden story, the Bible dissociates itself completely from this preoccupation. Its concern is with the issues of living rather than with the question of death, with morality rather than mortality. Its problem is not the mythical pursuit of eternity, but the actual relationships between man and God, the tension between the plans of God and the free-will of man. Not magic, it proclaims, but human action is the key to a meaningful life.” The existence of free will provides us with some understanding as to why bad things happen: people make decisions that promote non order as well as disorder.
Second, in order to thrive in life, we need to depend and trust upon the wisdom of God. A life of faith understands that we need to believe that what the Scriptures say about God and how we are supposed to live is true and live accordingly. Are you bumping into things that you want to do, but you know the Scriptures tell you they are wrong? How are you responding?
Finally, one of the key themes of Scripture focuses on the desire of God to be in relationship with humanity. From Genesis 3 on we are going to enter the Story that focuses on how the God of the Scriptures can make it possible for the rebellion of the man and woman to be addressed.