Genesis 3
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics


1. Not the mere serpent.

2. A higher power of evil.

3. This higher power a person.

4. The leader of the fallen angels.

II. WHY PERMITTED? Easy to see why moved; why permitted, a mystery. But we may note -

1. That the intercourse of mind with mind is a general law of nature. To exclude the devil, therefore, from gaining access to man might have involved as great a miracle as preventing one mind from influencing another.

2. That the good as well as the evil angels have access to us. Can we estimate their influence, or be sure that Adam's position or the world's would have been better if both had been excluded?

3. That possibly by this sin under temptation we were saved from a worse sin apart from temptation.

4. That God magnifies his grace and vindicates his power against the devil's in raising fallen man above his first place of creature-ship into that of sonship.


1. Because not permitted to assume a higher form - his masterpiece of craft, "an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14), or his masterpiece of power, a mighty prince (Matthew 4:1).

2. Because of all animals the serpent seemed the fittest for his purpose. - W.

Hitherto the moral nature of man may be said to be absorbed in his religious nature. He has held intercourse with his Creator. He has ruled earth as "the paragon of animals." The introduction of a helpmeet was the commencement of society, therefore of distinctly moral relations. It is in the moral sphere that sin takes its origin, through the helpmeet, and as a violation at the same time of a direct Divine commandment, and of that social compact of obedience to God and dependence upon one another which is the root of all true moral life. The woman was away from the man when she sinned. Her sin was more than a sin against God; it was an offence against the law of her being as one with her husband. There are many suggestive points in the verses (1-7) which we may call the return of man's moral state into chaos, that out of it may come forth, by Divine grace, the new creation of a redeemed humanity.

I. As it is only IN THE MORAL SPHERE THAT SIN IS POSSIBLE, SO IT IS BY THE CONTACT OF A FORMER CORRUPTION WITH MAN that the evil principle is introduced into the world. The serpent's subtlety represents that evil principle already in operation.

II. While the whole transaction is on the line of moral and religious responsibility IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DISCONNECT THE ANIMAL NATURE FROM THE FIRST TEMPTATION. The serpent, the woman, the tree, the eating of fruit, the pleasantness to taste and sight, the effect upon the fleshly feelings, all point to the close relation of the animal and the moral. There is nothing implied as to the nature of matter, but it is plainly taught that the effect of a loss of moral and spiritual dignity is a sinking back into the lower grade of life; as man is less a child of God he is more akin to the beasts that perish.

III. THE TEMPTATION IS BASED ON A LIE; first soliciting the mind through a question, a perplexity, then passing to a direct contradiction of God's word, and blasphemous suggestion of his ill-will towards man, together with an excitement of pride and overweening desire in man's heart. The serpent did not directly open the door of disobedience. He led the woman up to it, and stirred in her the evil thought of passing through it. The first temptation is the type of all temptation. Notice the three points: -

(1) falsification of fact and confusion of mind;

(2) alienation from God as the Source of all good and the only wise Ruler of our life;

(3) desire selfishly exalting itself above the recognized and appointed limits. Another suggestion is -

IV. THE IMPOSSIBILITY THAT SIN SHOULD NOT FRUCTIFY IMMEDIATELY THAT IT BECOME A FACT OF THE LIFE. Temptation is not sin. Temptation resisted is moral strength. Temptation yielded to is an evil principle admitted into the sphere of its operation, and beginning its work at once. The woman violated her true position by her sin; it was the consequence of that position that she became a tempter herself to Adam, so that the helpmeet became to Adam what the serpent was to her. His eating with her was, as Milton so powerfully describes it, at once -

(1) a testimony to their oneness, and therefore to the power of that love which might have been only a blessing; and

(2) a condemnation of both alike. The woman was first in the condemnation, but the man was first in the knowledge of the commandment and in the privilege of his position; therefore the man was first in degree of condemnation, while the woman was first in the order of time.

V. THE WORK OF SIN UPON THE WHOLE NATURE IS IMMEDIATE. The knowledge of good and evil is the commencement of a conflict between the laws of nature and the laws of the human spirit in its connection with nature, which nothing but the grace of God can bring to an end in the "peace which passeth understanding." That springing up of shame in the knowledge of natural facts is a testimony to a violation of God's order which he alone can set right. "Who told thee," God said, "that thou wast naked?" God might have raised his creature to a position in which shame would have been impossible. He will do so by his grace. Meanwhile the fall was what the word represents a forfeiture of that superiority to the mere animal nature which was man's birthright. And the results of the fall are seen in the perpetual warfare between the natural world and the spiritual world in that being who was made at once a being of earth and a child of God. "They sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves aprons." In the sense of humiliation and defeat man turns to the mere material protection of surrounding objects, forgetting that a spiritual evil can only be remedied by a spiritual good; but the shameful helplessness of the creature is the opportunity for the gracious interposition of God. - R.

Narrative of the fall is of interest not only as the record of how mankind became sinful, but as showing the working of that "lie" (2 Thessalonians 2:11) by which the tempter continually seeks to draw men away (2 Corinthians 11:3). Eve's temptation is in substance our temptation; Eve's fall illustrates our danger, and gives us matter whereby to try ourselves and mark how far we "walk by faith." The SUBSTANCE OF THE TEMPTATION was suggesting doubts -

(1) As to God's love.

(2) As to God's truth.

The former led to self-willed desire; the latter gave force to the temptation by removing the restraining power. We are tempted by the same suggestions. The will and unbelief act and react upon each other. Where the will turns away from God's will doubt more easily finds an entrance, and having entered, it strengthens self-will (Romans 1:28). Unbelief is often a refuge to escape from the voice of conscience. But mark - the suggestion was not, "God has not said," but, It will not be so; You have misunderstood him; There will be some way of avoiding the danger. Excuses are easy to find: human infirmity, peculiar circumstances, strength of temptation, promises not to do so again. And a man may live, knowing God's word, habitually breaking it, yet persuading himself that all is well. Note two chief lines in which this temptation assails: -

1. As to the necessity for Christian earnestness. We are warned (1 John 2:15; 1 John 5:12; Romans 8:6-13). What is the life thus spoken of? Nothing strange. A life of seeking the world's prizes, gains, pleasures. A life whose guide is what others do; in which the example of Christ and guidance of the Holy Spirit are not regarded; in which religion is kept apart, and confined to certain times and services. Of this God says it is living death (cf. 1 Timothy 5:6); life's work neglected; Christ's banner deserted. Yet the tempter persuades - times have changed, the Bible must not be taken literally, ye shall not die.

2. As to acceptance of the gift of salvation. God's word is (Mark 16:15; Luke 14:21; John 4:10) the record to be believed (Isaiah 53:5, 6; 1 John 5:11). Yet speak to men of the free gift, tell them of present salvation; the tempter persuades - true; but you must do something, or feel something, before it can be safe to believe; - God has said; but it will not be so. In conclusion, mark how the way of salvation just reverses the process of the fall. Man fell away from God, from peace, from holiness through doubting God's love and truth. We are restored to peace through believing these (John 3:16; 1 John 1:9), and it is this belief which binds us to God in loving service (2 Corinthians 5:14). - M.

I. GOD THE JUDGE REVEALING HIMSELF. The voice of the Lord God represents to men the knowledge of themselves, which, like light, would be intolerable to the shamefaced.

II. MAN HIDING FROM THE JUDGE BECAUSE UNABLE TO MEET HIM. While the darkness of the thick foliage was regarded as a covering, hiding nakedness, it is yet from the presence of the Lord God that the guilty seek refuge.

III. MAN'S SELF AGAINST HIMSELF. The instinctive action of shame is a testimony to the moral nature and position of man. So it may be said -

IV. GUILT is itself God's witness, comprehending the sense of righteousness and the sense of transgression in the same being. (Perhaps there is a reference to the working of the conscience in the description of the voice of God as mingling in the facts of the natural world; "the cool of the day being literally the evening breeze," whose whispering sound became articulate to the ears of those who feared the personal presence of their Judge.) - R.

We can picture the dread of this question. Have you considered its love - that it is really the first word of the gospel? Already the Shepherd goes forth to seek the lost sheep. The Bible shows us-

1. The original state of man; what God intended his lot to be.

2. The entry of sin, and fall from happiness.

3. The announcement and carrying out God's plan of restoration.

THE GOSPEL BEGINS not with the promise of a Savior, but WITH SHOWING MAN HIS NEED. Thus (John 4:15-18) our Savior's answer to "Give me this water" was to convince of sin: "Go, call thy husband." That first loving call has never ceased. Men are still straying, still must come to themselves (Luke 15:17). We hear it in the Baptist's teaching; in the preaching of St. Peter at Pentecost; and daily in his life-giving work the Holy Spirit's first step is to convince of sin. And not merely in conversion, but at every stage he repeats, "Where art thou?" To welcome God's gift we must feel our own need; and the inexhaustible treasures in Christ are discerned as we mark daily the defects of our service, and how far we are from the goal of our striving (Philippians 3:13, 14). Hence, even in a Christian congregation, it is needful to press "Where art thou?" to lead men nearer to Christ. We want to stir up easy-going disciples, to make Christians consider their calling, to rouse to higher life and work. Our Savior's call is, "Follow me." How are you doing this? You are pledged to be his soldiers; what reality is there in your fighting? How many are content merely to do as others do! What do ye for Christ? You have your Bible; is it studied, prayed over? What do ye to spread its truth? Ye think not how much harm is done by apathy, how much silent teaching of unbelief there is in the want of open confession of Christ. Many are zealous for their own views. Where is the self-denying mind of Christ, the spirit of love? Many count themselves spiritual, consider that they have turned to the Lord, and are certainly in his fold. Where is St. Paul's spirit of watchfulness? (1 Corinthians 9:26, 27). "Where art thou?" May the answer of each be, Not shut up in myself, not following the multitude, but "looking unto Jesus." - M.

These verses bring before us very distinctly the elements of man's sinful state, and of the redemptive dispensation of God which came out of it by the action of his brooding Spirit of life upon the chaos.

I. THE WORD OF GOD ADDRESSED TO THE PERSONAL CONSCIOUSNESS IS THE BEGINNING OF THE NEW WORLD. "The Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? Before that direct intercourse between the Spirit of God and the spirit of man there is no distinct recognition of the evil of sin, and no separation of its moral and physical consequences. The Where art thou? begins the spiritual work.

II. THE PROCESS OF THE WORK OF GOD IS THE CONSCIENCE IS ONE THAT LEADS US FROM THE OUTSIDE CIRCLE OF RESPONSIBILITY TO THE INNERMOST CENTER OF CONVICTION AND CONFESSION. I was naked," "I was afraid," "I hid myself," "The woman gave me of the tree," "I did eat;" so at last we get to the central fact - I broke the commandment, I am guilty towards God. Each lays the blame on another - the man on the woman, the woman on the serpent. But the main fact is this, that when once the voice of God deals with us, when once the Spirit of light and life broods over the chaos, there will be truth brought out, and the beginning of all new creation is confession of sin. After all, both the transgressors admitted the fact: "I did eat." Nor do they dare to state what is untrue, although they attempt to excuse themselves for there may be a true confession of sin before there is a sense of its greatness and inexcusableness.

III. The transgression being clearly revealed, next comes THE DIVINE CONDEMNATION. It is upon the background of judgment that redemption must be placed, that it may be clearly seen to be of God's free grace. The judgment upon the serpent must be viewed as a fact in the sphere of man's world, not in the larger sphere of the superhuman suggested by the later use of the term "serpent." God's condemnation of Satan is only shadowed forth here, not actually described. The cursed animal simply represents the cursed agent or instrument, and therefore was intended to embody the curse of sin to the eyes of man. At the same time, the fifteenth verse must not be shorn of its spiritual application by a merely naturalistic interpretation. Man's inborn detestation of the serpent brood, and the serpent's lurking enmity against man, as it waits at his heel, is rightly taken as symbolically representing

(1) the antagonism between good and evil introduced into the world by man's fall;

(2) the necessity that that antagonism should be maintained; and

(3) the purpose of God that it should be brought to an end by the destruction of the serpent, the removing out of the way both of the evil principle and of the besetments of man's life which have arisen out of it. This "first promise as it is called, was not given in the form of a promise, but of a sentence. Are we not reminded of the cross which itself was the carrying out of a sentence, but in which was included the redeeming mercy of God? Life in death is the mystery of Christ's sacrifice. It pleased the Lord to bruise him " (Isaiah 53:10). "Through death he destroyed him taut had the power of death," &c. (Hebrews 2:14). It must have been itself like a revelation of redeeming love that God pronounced sentence first upon the serpent, not upon man, thereby teaching him that he was in the sight of God a victira of the evil power, to be delivered by the victorious seed of the woman, rather than an enemy to be crushed and destroyed. The sentence seemed to say, Thou, the serpent, art the evil thing to be annihilated; man shall be saved, though wounded and bruised in the heel; the "woman's seed shall be the conqueror, - which was the prediction of a renovation of humanity in a second Adam, a dim forecasting of the future, indeed, but a certain and unmistakable proclamation of the continuance of the race, notwithstanding sin and death; and in that continuance it was declared there should be a realization of entire deliverance. The sentence upon the woman, which follows that upon the serpent, as she was the first in the transgression, is a sentence which, while it clearly demonstrates the evil of sin, at the same time reveals the mercy of God. The woman's sorrow is that which she can and does forget, for joy that a man is born into the world." Her desire to her husband and her submission to his rule do come out of that fall of her nature in which she is made subject to the conditions of a fleshly life; but from the same earthly soil spring up the hallowed blossoms and fruits of the affections, filling the world with beauty and blessing. So have the law of righteousness and the law of love from the beginning blended together in the government of God. In like manner, the sentence upon the man is the same revelation of Divine goodness in the midst of condemnation. The ground is cursed for man's sake. To thee it shall bring forth thorns and thistles, i.e. thy labor shall not be the productive labor it would have been - thou shalt put it forth among difficulties and obstacles. Thou shalt see thine own moral perversity reflected in the stubborn barrenness, the wilderness growth of nature. Yet thou shalt eat the herb of the field, and depend upon it. With sweat of thy face all through thy life thou shalt win thy bread from an unwilling earth. And at last the dust beneath thy feet shall claim thee as its own; thy toil-worn frame shall crumble down into the grave. It was

(1) a sentence of death, of death in life; but at the same time it was

(2) a merciful appointment of man's most peaceful and healthy occupation - to till the ground, to grow the corn, to eat the bread; and it was

(3) a proclamation of welcome release from the burden "when the dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it." There is no allusion in any of these-sentences to spiritual results of transgression, but that is only because the whole is a representation of the fall, objectively regarded. Just as the serpent is spoken of as though it were only an animal on the earth, so man's sin is spoken of as though it were only his life's error, to be paid for in his life's suffering; but as in the former case the deeper spiritual meaning lies behind the form of the serpent, so in the latter the condemnation which brings toil and suffering and death upon man's bodily frame brings upon his whole nature that which the external infliction symbolizes and sets forth. The life goes down into the dust, but it is the life which by sin had become a smitten, cursed thing; that hiding of it in the dust is the end, so far as the mere sentence is concerned. We must, however, wait for the revelation which is to be made in the new man, - the life coming forth again, - which, though but dimly promised, is yet suggested in the story of paradise. Adam gave a new name to his wife when she became to him something more than "a help-meet for him." He called her, first, woman, because she was-taken out of man.-He called her, afterwards, "Eve," as the life-producing, "because she was the mother of all living." The coats of skin - which were not, like the fig-leaves sewn together, man's own device for hiding shame, but God's preparation for preserving that reverence between the sexes so vital to the very continuance of the race itself - betokened again the mingling of mercy with judgment; for, apart altogether from any theory as to the slain animals whose skins were employed, the Divine origin of clothing is a most significant fact. When we are told that "the Lord God made them coats of skins, and clothed them," we must interpret the language from the standpoint of the whole narrative, which is that of an objective representation of the mysteries of man's primeval life. It would not be in harmony with the tone of the whole book to say in what method such Divine interposition was brought about. To the Biblical writers a spiritual guidance, a work of God in the mind of man, is just as truly God's own act as though it were altogether apart from any human agency. The origin of clothing was an inspiration. Perhaps it is not putting too much into the language to see in such a fact an allusion to other facts. Man is directed to use skins; might he not have been directed to slay animals? If so, might not such slaughter of animals have been first connected with religious observances, for as yet there is no allusion to the use of animal food, save in the indirect form of dominion over the lower creation? In the fourth chapter, in the extra paradisiacal life, the keeping of herds and flocks is mentioned as a natural sequel. Doubtless from the time of the fall the mode of life was entirely changed, as was its sphere. Before sin man was an animal indeed, but with his animal nature in entire subordination; after his fall he was under the laws of animal life, both as to its support and propagation. Death became the ruling fact of life, as it is in the mere animal races. Man is delivered from it only as he is lifted out of the animal sphere and becomes a child of God. The expulsion from Eden was part of the Divine sentence, but it was part of the redemptive work which commenced immediately upon the fall. The creature knowing good and evil by disobedience must not live forever in that disobedience. He must die that he may be released from the burden of his corruption. An immortality of sin is not God's purpose for his creature. Therefore the Lord God shut up Eden. - R.


II. THE DOOM OF HOSTILITY (ver. 15). Three stages: -

1. The enmity.

2. The conflict.

3. The victory. Lessons: -

1. See the wondrous mercy of God in proclaiming from the first day of sin, and putting into the forefront, a purpose of salvation.

2. Have we recognized it to the overcoming of the devil? - W.

God's chief promises generally accompanied by visible signs or symbolical acts; e.g., bow in the cloud, furnace and lamp (Genesis 15:17), passover, &c. The time here spoken of specially called for such a sign. Man had fallen; a Deliverer was promised; it was the beginning of a state of grace for sinners. Notice four facts: -

1. Man unfallen required no covering.

2. Man fallen became conscious of need, especially towards God.

3. He attempted himself to provide clothing.

4. God provided it.

Spiritual meaning of clothing (Revelation 3:18; Revelation 7:14; 2 Corinthians 5:3). And note that the root of "atonement" in Hebrew is "to cover." Thus the covering is a type of justification; God's gift to convicted sinners (cf. Zechariah 3:4, 5; Luke 15:22; and the want of this covering, Matthew 22:11). With Adam's attempt and God's gift compare the sacrifices of Cain and Abel. Abel's sacrifice of life accepted through faith (Hebrews 11:4), i.e. because he believed and acted upon God's direction. Thus atonement, covering, through the sacrifice of life (cf. Leviticus 17:11), typical of Christ's sacrifice, must have been ordained of God. And thus, though not expressly stated, we may conclude that Adam was instructed to sacrifice, and that the skins from the animals thus slain were a type of the covering of sin through the one great sacrifice (Romans 4:7). We mark then -

I. THE HELPLESSNESS OF MAN TO SAVE HIMSELF FROM SIN. The natural thought of a heart convicted is, "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." Vain endeavor. The "law of sin" (Romans 7:21, 24) is too strong; earnest striving only makes this more clear (cf. Job 9:30; Isaiah 64:6). History is full of man's efforts to cover sins. Hence have come sacrifices, austerities, pilgrimages, &c. But on all merely human effort is stamped failure (Romans 3:20).

II. THE LOVE OF GOD FOR SINNERS (Romans 5:8). A common mistake that if we love God he will love us. Whereas the truth is, 1 John 4:10-19. We must believe his free gift before we can serve him truly. The want of this belief leads to service in the spirit of bondage.

III. THE PROVISION MADE BY GOD (John 3:14-17). That we might be not merely forgiven, but renewed (2 Corinthians 5:21). The consciousness that "Christ hath redeemed us" is the power that constrains to willing service (1 John 3:3). - M.

Notice -

I. THE MERCY WITH JUDGMENT. He did not destroy the garden; he did not root up its trees and flowers.

II. He "DROVE OUT THE MAN" into his curse that he might pray for and seek for and, at last, by Divine grace, obtain once more his forfeited blessing.

III. AT THE EAST OF THE GARDEN HE PLACED THE CHERUBIMS AND THE FLAMING SWORD TURNING EVERY WAY, emblems of his natural and moral governments, which, as they execute his righteous will amongst men, do both debar them from perfect happiness and yet at the same time testify to the fact that there is such happiness for those who are prepared for it. Man outside Eden is man under law, but man under law is man preserved by Divine mercy.

IV. The PRESERVING MERCY IS THE REDEEMING MERCY. The redemption is more than deliverance from condemnation and death; it is restoration to eternal life. "Paradise lost is not paradise destroyed, but shall be hereafter paradise regained."

V. There is a special significance in the description of "THE WAY OF THE TREE OF LIFE" as closed and guarded, and therefore a way which can be afterwards opened and made free.

VI. Without pressing too closely figurative language, it is impossible, surely, to ignore in such a representation the reference to a POSITIVE REVELATION as the MEDIUM OF HUMAN DELIVERANCE AND RESTORATION. The whole of the Scripture teaching rests upon that foundation, that there is "a way, a truth, and a life which is Divinely distinguished from all others. Gradually that eastward gate of Eden has been opened, that road leading into the center of bliss has been made clear in the man Christ Jesus." - R.

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