The Breaking of the Covenant (Genesis 3:1-8)

So the people of Israel are camped at Mount Sinai, and God is training them for life and worship in the promised land. He has commissioned them to be a nation of priests. When they get to the land they really have two simple jobs to do: work the land, and protect it.

And we all want to know: protect the land from what?

Well, from outside influences. They are supposed to keep pagan ideas and practices from creeping into the country and corrupting their worship.

But we learned last week that they are also going to have to protect the land from inside influences. They have just finished 400 years in Egypt, where they picked up a lot of bad pagan ideas. So as they move into their new homeland they are going to have to make sure they don’t carry those bad ideas in with them.

And that is why God is taking this time to train his people. They have already been at Mount Sinai for one year; at the end of that first year is when they actually set up the tabernacle and began official worship. Now God is going to take another whole year to deprogram them and reprogram them, teaching them how to work the land and protect it and worship him properly.

And as part of that training program, Moses has been telling them the story of creation. They have met Adam, God’s first high priest, who is also living in a land that God gave him: a garden, a valley in the mountains. And they have learned that Adam’s job is also to work the garden and protect it.

And at that point we all wanted to know: protect the garden from what?

We understand that the Israelites are supposed to protect their land from paganism — but there is no paganism in Adam’s time! So what is he protecting the garden from?

Well, from the beginning Moses has been helping God’s people understand that some parts of creation are more developed than others. Some parts are extremely orderly, and they reveal who God is very clearly. Those things are in the center: the garden, the tree of life, the tree of knowledge, the man and his wife. But some parts, outside the garden, are less orderly. The existence of disorder is not evil, it’s not bad, it does reveal some truth about who God is — it just does not reveal God as clearly or as completely as order does.

So Adam is supposed to protect the pure, orderly garden of God from the disorderly wilderness outside. But he is also supposed to protect the garden from the (potentially) disorderly people inside: himself and his wife. God has told Adam, “Do not eat from the tree of knowledge.” In other words, if Adam eats from the tree of knowledge without God’s permission, he will be doing something out of its proper order; he will be doing something disorderly. He will be bringing disorder into the garden.

So what is Adam to protect the garden from? He is supposed to protect it from the disorder outside, and from the potential for disorder inside.

And that’s cool and all, right?

But: what is the connection between disorder and paganism?

Well, the ancient people of Israel, after 400 years in Egypt, understand two things very clearly:

First, pagan worship is disorderly worship. Pagans worshiped and feared the gods of Chaos. And so their worship often involved eating too much, drinking too much, and having sex with strangers: deliberately chaotic worship, designed to give glory to the gods of chaos.

And the second thing the people of Israel understand is this: pagan worship is all about acquiring secret spiritual knowledge from the gods. Pagans believed that the best way to open their minds to revelations from the gods of chaos was by entering into a chaotic trance state. And so their worship was designed to disconnect the rational mind so they could experience the gods directly.

So now we are seeing the parallels:

In Israel’s situation, God’s worship is orderly; pagan worship is disorderly. God’s revelation comes from spoken order; pagan revelation comes from speechless chaos. God’s worship says, “Do not try to gain secret knowledge for yourself.” Pagan worship says, “Do try to gain secret knowledge for yourself!”

So also, in Adam’s situation: God’s garden is orderly; the wilderness outside is disorderly. God speaks most clearly in the garden; he speaks less clearly in the wilderness. God tells Adam, “Do not take the fruit of knowledge for yourself.” But now, a serpent is going to say, “Do take the fruit of knowledge for yourself…”

And now we all want to know: why a serpent? Where did it come from? Why didn’t God stop it?

Well…let’s answer those questions in order:

First: why a serpent?

Because, just as some parts of creation are more orderly than others, so also some creatures are more orderly than others. Some animals are easier to tame, they submit to mankind’s order; some animals are wild, they resist order.

Guess which category the serpent fits into?

Moses tells us directly here in verse 1: Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.

The serpent, in the minds of ancient people, was a “crafty” animal. In other words: it was clever. It was good at slipping around the system and doing whatever it wanted. It was a solitary creature: it lived by itself rather than submiting to the rules and restrictions of a community. The serpent is an animal that resists order.

In fact, Moses has just told us that, of all the wild animals that resist order, the serpent resists it the most strongly.

Which leads us to the next question: where, then, did this serpent come from?

Well, you tell me: since the garden is a place of order and community, and the serpent is a creature that loves disorder and isolation, where do you think the serpent came from?

It came from outside the garden. The serpent of Egypt and the Middle East is a wilderness creature. It does not live among the trees, it lives in the desert, in the place of disorder and isolation and death.

And because the serpent was such a secretive creature that spent all its time in isolation in the wilderness, ancient pagan people thought the serpent must have picked up some special secret knowledge from the gods. Because remember, for ancient pagans, the best kind of revelation comes from chaos; so it makes sense that a creature that spends all its time in the regions of chaos must have learned some special revelation from the gods of chaos.

So for ancient pagans, the serpent was the symbol for secret knowledge from the gods. This is why pagan worship all over the world — from China to South America — has always involved serpents. Interesting, no? And this was especially true of ancient Egypt. If you doubt me, google “King Tut’s mask”. What is coming out of the center of his forehead? A serpent. Because the serpent was the source of secret spiritual knowledge.

In other words, for the ancient Israelites, the serpent is the living symbol of what pagan worship is all about: it is a creature of disorder, and a creature of secret knowledge. This creature’s influence is exactly the kind of thing that Adam is supposed to protect the garden from!

Which leads us to our third question: why didn’t God stop it? If the serpent was such an evil creature of chaos and secret knowledge, why did God create it in the first place?

Ah, but see: the serpent is not an evil creature. It is a crafty creature. It resists order. But remember: disorder is not necessarily evil, it is merely the state of being incomplete. The serpent is not evil, it just hasn’t been tamed yet.

And that was Adam’s job, wasn’t it? His job is to work the garden, to expand it, to bring ever-increasing order to the wilderness outside. And this work of bringing order to the world includes bringing order to the animals. That is what we learned last week, in Chapter 2. Adam’s job is to name the animals and put them all in their proper ecological niches. Some animals are domesticated, and they are supposed to live in orderly fellowship with mankind in the garden. Some animals are wild, and they are supposed to live in the less orderly parts of creation, like the skies, or the seas…or the wilderness.

So the serpent, as a creature that resists order, is supposed to live in the wilderness. That is not an evil thing. God created it to be a wild creature, a wilderness creature. That is its job, assigned to it by Adam in Chapter 2, when he named all the animals. Perhaps, in the thousands of years to come — as the garden gradually transforms the wilderness — perhaps the serpent will gradually become an orderly domesticated creature of the garden. But at least for now the serpent is meant to be a creature of the wilderness.

So when it shows up in the garden here — a creature of disorder, bringing the temptation of secret knowledge — what is Adam supposed to do?

He is supposed to protect the garden. He is supposed to rule over the serpent and send it back to its proper place in the wilderness.

So at this point we all want to know: why didn’t Adam do his job?

Well, as Moses just pointed out, the serpent was more crafty than all the other wild animals. So the serpent does not do the orderly thing: it does not approach the high priest, the one with the authority to bring order to the serpent. Of course not! The serpent does the disorderly thing: it approaches the priest’s wife, the one who was not directly commanded by God to bring order to creation.

And the serpent said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?

Clever, clever serpent!

It does not just come out and say directly, “God is not going to provide for your needs, do not trust him!” That would be blasphemy. That would be evil. And the serpent is not evil, it is simply a creature — created by God — that resists order.

So it doesn’t speak directly against God’s order. It asks a question, because asking questions is okay. It asks the woman, “So, just for clarification here, did I hear God say that he’s not going to provide for your needs?”

And quite naturally the woman, in verse 2, says, “Not at all! We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, [3] 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.’”

So the woman defends God. She says, “Of course God has promised to provide for our needs!” She is happy to clarify the serpent’s misunderstanding. That’s her job: she’s going to help bring order to this poor, disorderly serpent by helping it to understand God’s orderly revelation a little better. The woman’s speech here is actually the first recorded sermon in history! She is clarifying God’s Word for the serpent.

…but many people have noticed that she may have over-clarified something here as well. The man was told not to eat the fruit. The woman says, “we’re not even allowed to touch it!” Now, did she make up that part? Did her husband tell her that? We don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. The point is: somewhere along the line something extra has been added to God’s Word. And the story of the rest of the bible shows us clearly that, every time people add something extra to God’s word…disorder quickly follows.

So the woman says, “Of course God is going to give us what we need when we need it. And he has told us that we don’t need the fruit of special knowledge yet. If we eat it — or even touch it — we will certainly die.”

[4] “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. [5] “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Clever, clever serpent!

Once again: not lying about God or about God’s revelation. It is telling the truth at every point.

For instance, the woman just said that if they touch the tree they will die. But that is not what God said. So when the serpent responds with, “Mmmmm, no, touching the tree won’t kill you…” — that is actually the truth, isn’t it?

And when the serpent says, “God knows that when you eat the fruit you will see things you couldn’t see before!” — well, that is also the truth, isn’t it?

And when the serpent says, “God knows that when you eat the fruit you will be like God, having special spiritual knowledge!” — that is also the truth.

And now put yourself in the woman’s place. You have been told many times by your husband that your Father God made you both in his image, and that as you are obedient and continue to work the garden together you are going to become more and more like your Father.

So when this serpent shows up and tells you told that eating the fruit of knowledge will speed up the process and make you even more like your Father, well…what are going to think? What are you going to do? Are you going to ignore this opportunity to become more like the Father that you love?

Of course not!

So, [6] 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

who was with her!

her husband, who was with herand he ate it.

So her husband has been there the whole time? He heard the whole conversation? And he did nothing?

Why didn’t Adam do his job?

Well, as we have noticed, the serpent’s approach was very subtle, very clever. He asked for clarification on one hand, and on the other hand everything else he said had the ring of truth. So perhaps Adam was fooled also?

No. Adam knew what was going on. Paul, in the New Testament, tells us that Adam was not deceived. Eve was, but Adam knew what was going on the whole time.

After all, this is not the first time he has seen a serpent. In Chapter 2 he saw it, he studied it, he realized that this was a creature designed by God to live in the disorder of the wilderness outside, and so he named it and assigned it to its proper place. Which means that Adam has no excuse: he has known from the first moment that this serpent does not belong here in the garden. The moment he saw it he should have either ordered it back to where it came from or killed it if it refused to obey. He had that authority.

So the blame for this whole terrible disaster falls completely on the man.

And the truth is: we don’t know why Adam did not do his job. Moses does not tell us his motivation for just standing by quietly. All we get is this one hint that, somewhere along the line, God’s word was added to. The high priest, the guardian of God’s revelation, failed to protect God’s spoken revelation before he failed to protect God’s tree of revelation.

And that is Moses’ point. People of Israel are going to face the same temptation to change God’s law, and change the way God has told them to worship. They will be tempted to compromise with pagan ideas. So through this story Moses is alerting his people to the danger of adding or subtracting from God’s Word. It always, always, results in disorderly worship and the obsession of acquiring secret spiritual knowledge.

So they eat the fruit. And in an instant, everything changes for the man and his wife: [7] 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.

At the end of Chapter 2 they were naked and unashamed. They had nothing to hide. Their relationship was pure. Their worship was pure.

But now they have betrayed one another. They have cheated on one another, and on God. So they take the largest leaves they can find and they make loin-cloths for themselves.

And at this point everyone wants to know: why loin-cloths in particular? Why is there a sexual component to this shame?

This is a question that scholars have discussed for a long time. Some Jewish scholars, around the time of Christ, suggested that eating the fruit of knowledge was actually a metaphor for having sex — that sex was the forbidden knowledge — and from there they concluded that sex itself is sinful, even between married couples. And this very, very bad idea unfortunately spread to some parts of the Christian world and has caused many centuries of grief. Even to this day there are some churches and some Christians who believe that sex is a necessary evil to be avoided except when you’re trying to get pregnant.

That is not what Moses is trying to say!

Really, in order to understand this, we have to remember how Moses’ people would have understood this. Remember that, for them, Adam’s temptation is the original model for their temptation toward disorderly pagan worship and stealing secret knowledge from the gods. And we have to remember that disorderly pagan worship was extremely sexualized worship.

See, pagans would begin worship by eating too much and drinking too much. Drinking lowers inhibitions, allowing the worshipers to dance. After they have danced for long enough, the hypnotic combination of alcohol, exhaustion and repetitive movement brings on a trance. The trance lowers inhibitions still further and brings ecstatic spiritual knowledge. Ecstatic spiritual knowledge lowers inhibitions completely. At which point everyone takes their clothes off and starts having sex with everyone and everything they can.

So in the ancient pagan mindset there was this intimate link between disorder, spiritual knowledge and nakedness. Chaotic worship leads to special revelation which leads to enlightenment which leads to the loss of shame. This is why, historically speaking, many pagan holy men would go around naked, as evidence of their enlightenment. This is true even today: certain Hindu fakirs still practice this, and even in secular Europe certain cultures have decided that being naked is actually evidence of cultural advancement and superior enlightenment.

God disagrees. And so Moses, here, has taken a pagan concept — that his people already understand — and turned it upside-down. Moses is showing us that false spiritual knowledge results in shamelessness and the celebration of disorder. But true spiritual knowledge actually opens your eyes to your own disorder and results in shame.

Before this moment the man and the woman were not very orderly, but they didn’t see it and it didn’t matter because they were still obedient. They were like God’s little children: made in his image but just beginning their journey toward growing up to be like God.

But when they ate the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened. They experienced something new: they experienced disobedience, the ultimate disorder. Before, they lived in the reality that God is their loving Father and they are going to become more and more like him as they grow up. Now, they have discovered that they are different from God: he is Holy, Unchangeable, out of reach.

And a pagan priest, in this moment, would have told them, “See? Now you know the truth: compared to God you are like animals, you are no better than this serpent here! So just accept who you really are and refuse to be ashamed of that! Be shameless like animals are!”

So it is actually to their credit that the man and the woman feel shame. They have sinned, but at least they recognize it! Their conscience is still tender, and their act of trying to cover their nakedness symbolizes — to the Israelites — their refusal to give in to the continued temptations of shameless pagan worship.

So now their eyes have been opened. They are seeing themselves as sinners for the first time. And they deeply regret it.

And now they are about to see something about God for the first time: [8] Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.

Now, our translation of this verse suggests that God was strolling casually around in the garden in the “cool of the day”. But if you have a bible with you — either paper or electronic — it will probably have a footnote telling you that “the cool of the day” could be translated as “the wind of the day.” And that would actually be a better translation.

Because this word for wind is also the same word used in the very second verse of the bible: darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the wind of God — the Spirit of God, the breath of God — was hovering over the waters. And if you recall, this was Moses’ way of describing how God ruled forcefully over the chaos of the primordial cosmic ocean.

So the very first time Moses used this word he was talking about God’s domination of the chaotic proto-universe. And now this verse here is the second time Moses uses this word. So in context here, Moses is not describing a gentle evening breeze; he is describing the arrival of something truly terrifying: the chaos-dominating wind from the dawn of creation. And this idea is reinforced later on in scripture when the prophets describe, again and again, how God often arrives riding on the winds of the storm, riding on the thunderclouds of his glory.

And in fear, in terror of the coming judgement, the man and the woman hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Before this, God was their Father, the source of everything good and warm and gentle. Now he has become their judge, and they know it.

And to be clear: this is not the first time they have experienced God as a thunderstorm; the Hebrew grammar of this verse suggests that God’s arrival in a thunderstorm was a regular feature of their lives. The character of God has not changed — but they have. And now the storm wind that used to be invigorating and exciting, the glorious arrival of their loving Father…has become terrifying.

It’s just like how, when I was a kid, I used to listen for sound of my dad’s motorcycle coming home from work, and I used to race my little brother out the front door to open the gate for him. But on the days when I had done something wrong and my mom said, “You just wait ’til your father gets home!” — on those days the sound of my dad’s motorcycle was the sound of approaching doom.

And there is a final irony here in this verse: the man and the woman want to escape God’s judgement, so they hide “among the trees of the garden.” And the irony is this: that phrase is the exact same phrase used to describe where the tree of knowledge was planted: “in the middle of the garden.”

In other words, the man and the woman are hiding from judgement under the exact same tree that is the source of their judgement. They are like the child who breaks the glass of the coffee-table — and then hides under the coffee-table when dad comes home.

Now, what does this mean for us?

For the ancient people of Israel, this was a cautionary tale, warning them to leave God’s Word untouched, and — above all! — to reject the shamelessness and disorder of pagan worship.

Does this apply to our people, here, in the 21st century?

Well…yes. We are still subject to the same three temptations:

First, there is always a temptation to change God’s Word — and then, when we do, we tell ourselves that we’re doing it in order to “help” people be more obedient.

Second, there is always a temptation to redefine worship in a way that makes us feel good — and then we tell ourselves that by being less orderly and more spiritual we are actually becoming more like God.

And third, in the end, there is always a temptation to think that, by changing God’s Word and changing our worship, we are actually grasping some special spiritual revelation that makes us better than everyone else!

So it seems that nothing much has changed since the time of Moses.

So what is our solution then? How do we flee from these three temptations? How do we avoid changing God’s Word, changing our worship, and lusting after secret spiritual knowledge?

Well, quite simply, we can:

First, stay close to God’s Word and resist anyone who wants to change it.

Second, we can search God’s Word for instructions on how to practice orderly worship.

And third, we can trust God’s Word to give us all the knowledge we need when we need it.

But is it really that simple?

I mean, it sounds simple, but: is it doable?

Well, yes, it is doable. In the New Testament, Peter tells us that God’s divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life.

So, practical steps, then: how do we do these three things?

Well, at the very centre of this story the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge. In Moses’ account of the garden, the man and the woman interact with God’s revelation through these trees. In our age, we interact with God’s revelation through this book, God’s written word. This book, this bible, is our tree of life and our tree of knowedge. Our job is to protect God’s Word, just as Adam was called to protect the trees of life and revelation.

But, just like the trees in the garden, our bible is not magical or mystical or anything like that. Just like the trees in the garden, our bible points beyond itself to a greater reality. The trees in the garden were not God, but they pointed beyond themselves to God’s true character. In the same way, our bible is not God, but it points beyond itself to the ultimate revelation of God’s character: Jesus Christ himself.

Jesus is our tree of life. Jesus is our tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So the way we protect God’s Word is by protecting the identity of Jesus as he is found in this book. There is always a temptation to change God’s Word, in large ways and small ways; but ultimately the way we can tell if someone is changing God’s Word is when they add to or subtract from the gospel of salvation.

The gospel of salvation for Adam was very simple: don’t eat this tree. But somewhere between Chapters 2 and 3, someone added to it: don’t even touch this tree!

In the same way, our gospel of salvation is very simple: everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. If someone adds to it by saying, “Yes, call on the name of the Lord — and do this or that extra thing — !”…well, they are changing the gospel. Do not listen to them.

So also, worship for Adam was very simple: eat from the tree of life, and trust God to make you more like him. But the serpent came and added to it: eat from the tree of life, sure! but also eat from the tree of knowledge. Make yourself more like God.

Well, in the same way, worship for us is very simple: eat and drink of Christ, and trust God to make us more like him. If someone adds to it and says, “Love Jesus, but worship as your heart leads, do what feels right to you. Make yourself more spiritual!”…well, they are promoting pagan worship. Do not listen to them.

And, finally, knowledge for Adam was very simple: God is only the source of life and revelation. But the serpent came and suggested that Adam could seize life and revelation for himself.

In the same way, knowledge for us is very simple. As Paul says it in the New Testament: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ and him crucified.” So if anyone comes to us and claims they have discovered some deeper spiritual way to become super Spirit-filled or something like that…they are promoting a false pagan spiritual knowedge.

And one way we can recognize those who are obsessed with a false spiritual knowledge is by observing them in worship: if their worship is disorderly, if God’s Word is not clearly preached, if the worshipers seem to be in a trance or if their bodies are seized by strange contortions or repetitive motions — you are probably witnessing pagan worship. And, most telling of all, afterwards the worshipers are not ashamed of their behaviour, they will tell you it comes from God.

So false spiritual knowledge hides your sins from you, and results in shamelessness. True spritual knowledge reveals your sins to you. It results in shame. But this is not a bad thing: shame is a gift from God. Shame alerts us to the reality of God’s judgement; it alerts us to our need for his salvation.

So in the end here, how can we summarize all this and apply it to our lives?

Here goes:

As a community we are called to protect God’s Word. God’s Word is clear: our Father has not left us in doubt about how he wants to be worshiped, and how we are to become more like him. That was how the serpent tricked the woman: he made her doubt her original instructions. So let us pay close attention to the Word and how it is taught to us. Let us always keep on asking, “Is this teacher pointing us to Christ for our salvation?” If a Christian teacher is not ultimately pointing us to Christ, then that teacher is not a Christian teacher.

So let’s ask that question now: how does this sermon point us to Jesus? Right now we understand clearly what we are supposed to do for him. But where is our Good News? How does this passage point to what he has done for us?

Well, here is our Good News: we are called to protect God’s Word, but at the same time Jesus is entirely capable of protecting his own Word. Yes, he has commissioned us, as his Church, to do this work of protecting the Word, and that is a heavy responsibility — but ultimately Jesus has promised that his Word will endure unchanged for all eternity.

And someday he is going to arrive riding on the clouds to judge everyone who has distorted his Word. The bad news, of course, is that we all have distorted his Word somehow. Even Christians — despite our best efforts — sometimes end up changing and distorting God’s Word for our own purposes. We are all subject to judgement. But the Good News for Christians is that, on that day, when he arrives, everyone who has called upon his name will be saved.

The bad news for everyone else is that they are going to try to hide. And the miserable irony of it is that they are going to try to hide right under the evidence of all their sins. It is going to be obvious what they have done, and they are going to be left standing in the face of God’s judgement with nothing to say, no way to defend themselves.

So in the end, here, the simplest application of all is this: if you have not yet called upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, do so now. If you do, Judgement Day will hold no terror for you. If you do not know how to call upon the name of Jesus, turn and ask one of our members and they will tell you how.

For those of us who have called upon the name of the Lord, this is our simplest application: come now and eat of the tree of life, eat of the tree of knowledge, eat and drink of our saviour Jesus Christ, without fear and with great joy, knowing that we are going to live forever with our Father in the paradise of God.


Scroll to top