Sunday October 6th 2019
Pastor Galen Zook
Genesis 3:1-7; 2. Cor. 15:20-26
Here in the month of October we are starting a series which I’m calling “Greatest Hits: Revisiting the Bible Stories that you Grew up With.”
If you grew up attending Sunday School then you probably heard many of these stories over and over again. If you didn’t grow up in church or Sunday school then some of these stories may be new to you, but many are probably stories that you have least heard referenced in popular culture or movies. The stories of Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, Queen Esther, Joseph and the coat of many colors (or the “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”), have taken on a life of their own and captured the imagination of children and adults for thousands of years.
And yet sometimes we may tend to think that we’ve outgrown these stories. As we grow older we’re tempted to believe that we’ve learned all of the moral lessons there are to learn from these stories.
But, for the next couple of months we’re going to revisit some of these favorite stories, to see if there might be an angle that we may have missed, to see if it might be a moral lesson for us to learn that may relate to us as teenagers or adults in perhaps a slightly different way than they did when we were children. So come along with me on this journey as we start today near the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis chapters 2 and 3, with the story of Adam and Eve.
Adam and Eve
In Genesis 2, God created the first man, called Adam, and placed him in the Garden of Eden to take care of the Garden. God said that he could eat of every tree in the garden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But God saw that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, so God created all of the animals and birds and fish, but none of them were a suitable partner for Adam, so God caused a deep sleep to come over Adam, took one of Adam’s ribs out of his side, and created a woman. When Adam saw the woman, Eve, he said that she was “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;… And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:23-24).
Sounds great, right? But in the very next chapter, we see that the serpent came to them and tempted them to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which they did. Immediately they realized that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together to hide their nakedness. Soon after that they heard God walking in the garden, and they hid, but of course God found them. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and they were all cursed and banished from the garden, but not before God made clothes for them out of animal skins.
Now this story, at its simplest and purest form, teaches us that we ought always to obey God’s instructions. We learn that God wants the best for us, and even if we don’t understand why God tells us to do or not to do something, we should always obey God.
We also learn through this story that God wants us to have free will — not to be robots who are forced to do what God tells us to do. God created people with the choice to do good or evil, to follow God’s instructions or to go their own way. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and chose to do what they thought was best for themselves, but they ended up bringing death and destruction upon themselves.
Distortions of the Story of Adam and Eve
Now in addition to these moral lessons, the story of Adam and Eve has often been used throughout history to argue for or against any number of different social or political agendas — unfortunately it has often been abused and misinterpreted to argue for the suppression of the rights of women. Since the story indicates that Eve was the first one to partake of the forbidden fruit, some throughout human history have used this story to argue for the moral inferiority of women, even claiming that Eve seduced her husband into sinning as well.
Others, including a prominent Christian preacher who I heard on the radio not too long ago, blame Adam, claiming that he failed to live up to his God-given responsibility to be the “head of the household” and that he is at fault for not correctly and accurately delivering God’s commands to his wife Eve. This is a particularly vicious interpretation of the story since it seems to indicate that women were created from the very beginning to be subservient to men and that men were supposed to be the mediators between God and women!
Made In God’s Image
But if we look more closely at the Genesis narrative, we see that the story of Adam and Eve is actually one of two stories back-to-back in Genesis chapters 1-3 about the creation of the universe. The first story, found in Genesis chapter 1, makes it abundantly clear that men and women were both made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and proclaims that men and women were given the mandate to care for all of creation. Men and women were meant to be co-laborers, coregents — ruling over creation, being fruitful and multiplying and filling the earth (Gen. 1:28).
In the story of Adam and Eve, although it is true that Adam was created first, it’s important to note that Eve was taken from a rib from Adam’s side, connoting equal partnership, rather than a bone from his head, leg or foot.
It’s also important to note that the story clearly states that Adam and Eve were together when they chose to disobey the Lord (Gen. 3:6). They both seemed to know God’s instructions, and they both knowingly decided to go against God’s command, enticed by the serpent who caused them to question God’s intentions.
Our Help in Times of Trouble
One of the most significant phrases that has so often been misinterpreted and misapplied by those of us who’ve never read the text in its original Hebrew language is the word often translated “helper” or “help meet” in English. In Genesis 2:18 the text says, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”
To us, this seems to indicate a subservient relationship. But nothing could be further from the truth! In actuality, the Hebrew word ‘Ezer often translated “helper” is most often used to describe God throughout the Hebrew Bible, as in Psalm 115 where the Scriptures say, “O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield” (Psalm 115:9). In fact, every other time that this word is used in the positive in the Hebrew Bible it refers to God! (see for example Deut. 33:26, Psalm 33:20, Psalm 121:2: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”)
God is our helper, or an even more helpful way of thinking about it might be “rescuer.” God rescues God’s people from their enemies, from danger and natural disasters, just as Eve rescued Adam from his loneliness. Rather than a pattern for hierarchical marital relationships or indicative of who is supposed to be in charge in the household or in society, the story of Adam and Eve shows that we were made to be in equal partnerships and to live together in community, that it is not good for any of us to be alone, and that God has given us the blessing of other people to be in our lives so that we know we are not in this by ourselves.
Of course, we see in Genesis 3 that after Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, they were punished. God told Eve that her pain would be increased in childbearing, that her desire would be for her husband, and that her husband would rule over her (Gen. 3:16). God tells Adam that he will have to work hard and toil to survive, “by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).
But the curse found in Genesis 3 is descriptive, not prescriptive! In other words, it is a realistic depiction of the way life would be for Adam and Eve now that they deviated from God’s plan. It is in no way a prescription of the way things are supposed to be.
And so we work to overturn the effects of the curse. We search for ways to make life better and easier, we seek to lessen the effects of pain and sickness, we seek to prolong life and make things more equitable and just in our society, just as God intended from the very beginning.
The Story of All of Us
Now it’s easy for us to shake our heads in disgust at Adam and Eve, to blame them for all of the pain and death and destruction that we see in the world. Adam and Eve had everything they could have ever wanted and needed. Why did they have to disobey God and mess everything up for the rest of us?
But in so many ways, the story of Adam and Eve is the story of every single one of us. Every person in the world is born naked and unashamed. Every single one of us is born with freedom of choice. We are born with the potential to make a positive or negative impact in the world.
But each and every one of us at various times in our lives doubt the goodness of God and question God’s intentions for our lives, and we disobey God’s commands. And each of us in large and in small ways, every single day, choose to go against God’s plan, to do the things that we think are best for us but that in the end hurt us and those around us, and sometimes those who come after us. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of each one of us.
But the story of Adam and Eve is also the story of God’s desire to relate to us as human beings.
In the story of Adam and Eve we see that even after they ate the forbidden fruit, God still came to walk with them in the cool of the evening. When they hid, God called out to them and searched for them. And when God saw that they were ashamed of what they had done and were afraid to stand before God, God clothed them with animal skins to take away their shame.
Throughout the Bible we see God continue to search and seek out God’s people. God continually sent prophets, judges, kings, and others to call the people back to God.
Ultimately God sent Jesus, to give his life for us, to show us the way to God. Jesus demonstrated God’s love, grace, and mercy to us, even to the point of giving his life for us on the cross.
This is what we remember and celebrate when we partake in communion. We remember God’s love for us, and that even though we have not loved God with our whole heart, even though we have broken God’s law, still God forgives us. Still Jesus gave himself for us.
Galatians chapter 3 says that those of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been clothed with Christ! (Gal. 3:27) That’s so much better than fig leaves or animal skins! Now we can stand before God without fear and without shame because we have been forgiven and cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The effects of the curse are being reversed! God has forgiven us and made us new and restored us in relationship with God and with one another, and God is in the process of forming us and transforming us more and more into the likeness of Christ. Of course, we still mess up, we still go our own way, but we have been given the Holy Spirit to live inside of us, to convict us when we’ve gone astray, and to draw us back to God.
As we read in the book of Lamentations, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; [God’s] mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness”! (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV)