The Word Made Fresh
1There was a snake in the garden, more scheming and clever than any of the other wild animals the LORD God had made. It asked the woman, “Did God tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” 2The woman replied, “Oh, we are allowed to eat the fruit from the trees in the garden, 3but God did say, ‘Don’t eat the fruit that grows on the tree in the center of the garden, or even touch it, or you’ll die.'” 4But the snake told her, “You won’t die. 5God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you’ll know the difference between good and evil, just like God.”
6The woman was convinced that the tree was a good source of food, and she saw that it was a beautiful tree indeed and was convinced that whoever ate of its fruit would be made wise. She picked some of the fruit off the tree and ate it, and she gave some to the man and he ate it, too. 7Then they both became suddenly aware that they were completely naked, so they sewed together some fig leaves, and made coverings for themselves.
8They heard the LORD God walking in the garden as the day was growing cooler, and they hid from God among the other trees in the garden. 9But the LORD God called out to the man, “Where are you?” 10The man replied, “I heard you in the garden, but I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid from you.”
11God said, “How did you know you were naked? Who told you? Did you eat from the tree I told you not to eat from?”
12The man replied, “That woman you gave to be my companion gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13Then the LORD God said to the woman, “Tell me what you did.”
The woman replied, “The snake tricked me. That’s why I ate it.”
14Then the LORD God said to the snake, “Because you did this, you are now cursed above all the animals and wild creatures. You will crawl on your belly and eat dirt all your life. 15You and the woman will be enemies from now on, and so will your descendants be enemies of her descendants. Her children will strike at your head and you will snap at their heels.”
16The LORD God told the woman, “I will make childbirth very painful for you. You will have children, but it will hurt. Even so, you will desire your husband’s affections and he will lord it over you.”
17To the man the LORD God said, “Because you listened to her and ate some of the fruit from the tree I clearly commanded you not to eat, the very ground will be under the curse of what you’ve done. You will eke a living out of it with hard work, 18but it will sprout briers and weeds and you will have to subsist on the plants of the fields. 19But you will be able to work and sweat to get enough to eat until you return to the dirt. You were taken out of it. You will return to it.”
20The man called the woman Eve because she would be the mother all who came after them.
21The LORD God made animal skin clothes for them 22and said, “So, the humans have become like us. They know the difference between good and evil. And now they may reach out and pluck fruit from the tree of life and eat it and live forever!” 23So the LORD God banned them from the garden of Eden and the man had to farm the dirt from which he was created. 24God drove them out, and at the east of the garden of Eden he stationed cherubim with a flaming sword guarding the way to the tree of life.
1-7: The “serpent” convinces the woman that the fruit of the forbidden tree will impart the knowledge of good and evil (verse 5), which is exactly what God called the tree to begin with. The serpent is correct in saying this and is also right that they won’t die for eating it — at least they won’t die immediately. In this detail the serpent seems to be telling the truth while God lied! Some explain this by saying that when God said, “in the day that you eat of it you will surely die,” God really meant that death would be introduced into the world on that day because God would subsequently withdraw access to the tree of life. Anyway, she eats it, gives some to the man and he eats it, and suddenly they know the difference between right and wrong. (I have a mild regret that the very first thing they decided was wrong was that they were naked.)
When the Bible was put together more or less in the form we have today, I imagine the scribes who assembled it wanted to communicate the simple understanding that the difference between good and evil is this: good is obeying God; evil is disobeying God.
8-19: In these early chapters of the Bible there is an intimate relationship between God and humans. That relationship will grow more and more distant throughout the book of Genesis. God is walking in the garden, either in the early morning or late afternoon. The man and woman are hiding, but God has come especially for them, and begins to call. In the exchange that follows the man claims that nakedness is the reason they had hidden, then confesses to their disobedience in eating from the forbidden tree but blames it on the woman, who blames it on the serpent. (The serpent seems to have lost his voice.) God curses the serpent and explains that from then on human beings and snakes will be enemies. Then God tells the woman the consequences for her: she will bear children in pain, but will nevertheless want to be with the man, which seems to have given him some advantage over her.
Upon the man (and by association, the woman as well, and all living things) is pronounced the sentence of death: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
20-21: Life and death is bound up in these two verses. First, the man seems to lightly rebuke God by naming the woman Eve, which is related to the word for “alive.” But notice the irony, for then God rebukes the man by giving them both the skins of dead animals to take away their nakedness. After all, that was the reason they hid from God, wasn’t it?
22-24: God had told the man that if he ate the forbidden fruit he would die. Now God moves to enforce that sentence. The man and Eve are banished from the garden and the tree of life is forever protected by cherubim with a flaming sword. Interestingly enough, the cherubim is said to lock access to the tree of life, not to the garden itself. Still, the man and Eve have been banished from the garden, never to return.
God and human beings are involved in a relationship that God has chosen. There are no rules to begin with, except with regards to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Once Adam and Eve have gained that knowledge, they are banished from the Garden, which means they are banished from living a perfect and immortal existence. We, living today, are participants in that imperfect life. We, too, will not live forever.