We will understand as we proceed through Genesis that God was not caught unawares by this rebellion, and that he already, as we have seen in previous studies, had a plan in place to undo the death and division, and the curse and the condemnation of Genesis 3. Even here, right in the midst of Genesis 3, we find the expression and anticipation of this redemption factor.
The Saviour, Jesus Christ, is here, right here at the beginning of sin and death: Jesus, whose death would rescue us from ‘the law of sin and death’, vanquishing the Accuser who here took us captive. Jesus, whose blood would cover our all our sins. Jesus, who says to us ‘I am … the life’ and of whom the apostle says ‘he who has the Son, has life’. He is here in ‘the seed of the woman’, he is here in the covering provided through the death of an animal, he is here in the tree of life, to which he restores our access by his death.
A. THE SEED OF THE WOMAN – GENESIS 3:15
What does Genesis 3:15b promise about the ‘offspring’ or ‘seed’ of the woman?
Read Isaiah 7:14. What does it teach?
Read Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38. How important is that fact that Mary was a virgin?
Read Romans 5:12 and 1Corinthians 15:22. Why could the promised Saviour not be the ‘seed’ of the man?
Read Hebrews 2:9-14a. Why is it important that Jesus be a real human being?
In what way do John 12:31, Colossians 2:15, Hebrews 2:14,15, and 1John 3:8b fulfil the promise of Genesis 3:15?
While there is a broader meaning included in Genesis 3:15 [in that all who reject God are children of the Devil (John 8:42-47] and all who believe in Jesus Christ are ‘children’ of Christ or of God [Hebrews 2:13; John 1:12, 1John 3:1] ], for the purpose of this study our focus is on the one ‘seed’ – the ‘he’ – to whom Genesis 3:15 specifically refers.
Here in this verse we have what is called the protevangelium – the ‘first gospel’. Satan, under the guise of the serpent, has just plummeted the world into sin and suffering. By manipulating the humans to reject God and his word, Satan has usurped dominion over the humans and thus over the world over which they had the responsibility of dominion. It is not without reason that Satan is called ‘the prince of this world’ [John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 by Jesus], ‘the god of this world’ [2Corinthians 4:4 by Paul], and ‘the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient’ [in Ephesians 2:2 by Paul]. Jesus, the seed of the woman, came and disempowered Satan. By his substitutionary death he frees us from Satan’s authority. Everywhere the Gospel is proclaimed and believed the dominion of Satan is eroded, and human beings are rescued from his dominion and transferred back to where they belong – into the kingdom of the Son of God [Colossians 1:13].
In addition to the victory of Christ over Satan through his death, note also: Although Satan tried to wrench dominion from Christ, just as he did from Adam, he did not succeed [Matthew 4; Luke 4]. There he pressured Christ with food, with twisted reference to God’s word, and with position, just as he did to Eve in the garden. And he failed. The Son of God, the second Adam, though pressured just as we were in the first Adam, did not sin. He, the Word made flesh, who in his baptism identified himself with us sinners, here in the temptation reverses, on our behalf and for our righteousness, our Genesis 3 failure.
This, and much, much more, is included in this statement of the victory of the seed of the woman over Satan.
B. THE COVERING – GENESIS 3:21
Read Genesis 3:7. What did Adam and Eve do?
What do Isaiah 59:6 and Matthew 22:11-14 teach about our own efforts?
What did God do in Genesis 3:21? What did this involve?
This is the first death in the Bible. Why did it happen? Read Hebrews 9:22.
Read Isaiah 61:10. How does it look ahead to the covering provided by Jesus Christ?
What is the final covering for sin? Read Galatians 3:27 & Colossians 3:10.
What was necessary for this covering? Read Revelation 1:5; 5:9; 7.14; Heb 10:19.
In Genesis 2:25 we read that the man and his wife were both naked and felt no shame. At that point, everything was still ‘very good’. The ‘knowledge of good and evil’ had not begun. All they knew was the great good of living in a perfect world in perfect relationship with God, with each other and with themselves. In 3:7, after their rebellion, after they had eaten from the tree of the ‘knowledge of good and evil’, they now know and experience ‘evil’. Their ‘eyes were opened’. They are aware of their sin; they are aware of their disobedience; they are aware that something undesirable, something terrible, has happened to their relationship with God. In the presence of each other and of God, they are both ashamed [3:7] and afraid [3:8-10]. They are no longer at ease, no longer at peace in God’s presence. If they could have avoided this meeting with God they would have. They hide from him, but their hiding is pointless. They are about to learn something of the persistent, unrelenting love of God.
As David understood, there is no hiding from God [Psalm 139].
As Jesus taught, the pursuit of God after his own is relentless [Luke 15:3-7].
And the Father heart of God provides a covering for his errant child [Luke 15:11-32, NB v22].
Francis Thompson has captured this grace of God in his poem The Hound of Heaven. The first and last stanzas are reproduced here:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
'All things betray thee, who betrayest Me'.
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
'Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.'
Here in Genesis 3:8-13,21 God comes into a situation of shame, fear, hiding, self-justification and blame-shifting, and, having pronounced the judgment, also provides a covering.
For what purpose?
Was it because human sexuality was now corrupted and an area of temptation and perceived inadequacy and threat? Possibly, and this would be an act of grace on God’s part.
Was is because in the now cursed earth, and no longer enjoying God’s constant Fatherly protection, the now mortal human body was also now subject to injury and attack, and therefore needed protection by something stronger than fig-leaves? Possibly – God made them ‘coats’, rather more effective than their fig-leaf ‘aprons’. This too would be an act of grace on God’s part.
Did the physical covering, provided by the death of an animal, constitute a symbol for forgiveness, which, according to God’s later revelation, could only be obtained by the shedding of blood? Very likely. As we have seen, the Scripture testifies that the Lord Jesus was the Lamb without blemish or defect chosen and slain from before the foundation of the world. An act of immeasurable grace [Ephesians 1:7-8]. From his one final ultimate sacrifices all prophetic sacrifices derive their efficacy. His blood is the ultimate blood which alone can achieve real, as opposed to ritual, forgiveness [Hebrews 9:9-14].
This provision of covering, like the reference to seed of the woman, is prophetic of the death of Jesus Christ by which our sins are forgiven, and of the covering of his perfect righteousness with which those who believe in him have been clothed.
Were Adam and Eve saved by this covering supplied by God? Was this physical covering symbolic of spiritual covering (forgiveness) for them? The Scripture does not tell us. We are told that Eve attributed the births of Cain and Seth as God’s gift [Genesis 4:1,25], and that around the time of the birth of Seth’s son, Enosh, ‘men began to call on (or proclaim, or be called by) the name of the LORD’ [4:26]. Adam, who lived till he was 930, would have been 235 at the time of Enosh’s birth. Other than God himself, who would have told ‘men’ about God? Only Adam and Eve.
C. THE TREE OF LIFE
Where was the tree of life? Genesis 2:9
What are the contrasting results of eating from each tree? 2:17, 3:22
What happened to access to the tree of life in Genesis 3:22-24? Why?
Read Exodus 26:31. What was embroidered on the curtain preventing access to the Most Holy Place?
What happened to the curtain at the very moment Jesus died? Matthew 27:50.51.
Where is life found? Read John 3:36; 17:3; 1John 5:12.
Read Revelation 2:7; 22:2,14. What is the significance of the tree of life in these texts?
Genesis 2:9 tells us that ‘the tree of life’ was with ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ in the middle of the garden of Eden, in the middle of Paradise. Prior to Genesis 3 it was freely accessible. There were no stated provisos regarding it. But now that they have disobeyed God the death that God said would surely happen is upon them in all of its aspects:
They have cut their relationship with God … and so have died spiritually [3:1-13]
They are now subject to physical pain, suffering and the constant difficulty of survival [3:16-19a]
They are now mortal [3:19b]
Just as the significance of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not in the tree but in the man’s obedience or disobedience to the Word of God, so the significance of this tree of life lies not in itself but in man’s relationship with God.
Having rejected God, their access to the tree of life is now prohibited by God. Its availability is not consistent with their fallen state or with the judgment of God. To reject God is to reject life. To chose death is to reject God. And that is what they have done. In choosing to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they have chosen death, not life, they have, in effect, chosen exclusion from the tree of life. So their access to the tree of life is prohibited by God’s decree, but also by their choice. Their choice in which they ate from the one tree, of necessity excludes them from access to the second tree. The one brings death, the other gives life. They are mutually exclusive.
The original choice confronts man again and again right through the scripture:
Deuteronomy 30:19: ‘I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life…’
Joshua 24:15: ‘choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve …But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.’
Proverbs 8:35,36 – ‘he who finds me finds life …all who hate me love death’
Exekiel 18:31 – ‘why will you die, O house of Israel?’
John 3:18,19: ‘Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light …’
John 3:36: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.’
But there is here, despite the fatal choice and its penalty, the presence of grace.
Firstly, at a purely pragmatic level, this judgement of God, like so many of his judgements, contains a hidden grace: that man, as a sinner, man the sufferer, man in his despair and degradation, is not permitted to physically live forever. God does not let us live for ever thinking up and implementing more and more wickedness, inflicting unending suffering on others. And God does not let us live forever with the pain and the suffering we brought on ourselves by the choice we made in our ancestor Adam. This imposition of death, this removal of the tree of life, is, at this pragmatic level, an act of compassion and grace. By this grace he limits our sin; by this grace he limits our suffering.
But at a deeper, spiritual level, look again at these verses. Did you notice that God left the tree of life there? He did not destroy it. Access was barred, but it was still there. That is grace. That is prophetic of the great reality that one day the Son of God would come and by his death demolish the barrier that sin had erected between man and life, between man and God.
[Never mind that the actual physical tree was destroyed in Noah’s flood; let its real deep meaning impact you! And never mind worrying about people who lived and believed in God before Christ – all that he did applies retrospectively to all who truly believe. Were not the disciples told they had already crossed over from death to life even before he had died? Read John 5:24. And are we not told that the Old Testament believers were waiting for and blessed together with us in the fulfilment of the promises in Christ? Read Hebrews 11:39,40.]
The Book of Exodus includes instructions that God gave to Moses for the Tabernacle (the Tent of Meeting where God met with his people and where the substitutionary sacrifices and intercessory priesthood provided grace in the midst of sin and judgement). Among these instructions is a description of the great curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (the symbolic presence of God). This curtain was part of both the Tabernacle and the Temple. It prohibited entrance into the symbolic presence of God. On it were embroidered golden cherubim – the same celestial beings that barred the way to the tree of life in Eden. At the precise moment Jesus Christ died on the cross this curtain was torn in two from top to bottom by the hand of God [Matthew 27:50,51].
By the death of Jesus the prohibition is removed. By the death of Jesus access to life, access to God, is restored for those who believe in him. Thus the promise of the Gospel is life, eternal life. For this reason, when Revelation describes the new heavens and the new earth, in which the effects of the fall are permanently and totally reversed, the tree of life is there, watered by a river of life flowing out from the throne of the Lamb, and there is no more curse [Revelation 22:1-3]. As far as our spiritual life, our relationship with God, is concerned this truth is already effective for those who are in Christ Jesus.