Adam enjoyed the companionship of his wife and the company of God. His work was fulfilling. His whole life was one of blessing and joy. But soon Adam found himself struggling to make a life in a very different world. The man and the woman were outside the place where God had blessed them—with no way back. They experienced pain, fear, and guilt, and they no longer saw God. Something had gone terribly wrong. Genesis 3 tells us the story.
The Bible never gives us a full explanation of the origin of evil, but it does indicate that the devil was an angel who became inflated with pride and tried to usurp the position of God (Isaiah 14:12–14).
Satan’s rebellion led to his being excluded from the presence of God and cast down to the earth. So right from the beginning of the human story there was an enemy bent on destroying the work of God.
This enemy, known most commonly as Satan, the devil, or “the father of lies” (John 8:44), attempted to recruit the human race into his rebellion. And his first aim was to introduce the man and the woman to the experience of evil.
A good coach will study an opponent’s plays, so that he or she can plan an effective defense. Satan used his best plays in the garden, and once you learn these plays you will be able to defend against them.
Satan’s first play is to pose a question: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). God had given one simple instruction, and Satan’s first action was to question it. By questioning what God said, Satan makes it easier for the man and the woman to disregard the Lord’s command.
Whenever Satan tempts you to sin, his first strategy will be to create confusion. He will try to lower your defenses by suggesting that maybe a sin you want to commit is not really forbidden by God, or at least that the Bible is not clear about the matter.
God had made it clear that sin would result in death (2:17), but Satan suggests to the woman that the consequences of sin have been greatly exaggerated: “You will not surely die” (3:4).
It’s not hard to see where this strategy is heading. He wants the woman to presume on the grace of God. “After all, God loves you,” he is saying, “so how could He allow anything bad to happen to you?” When Satan tempts you to sin, he will lower your defenses by suggesting that you can do this and get away with it.
Adam and Eve were made in the image of God, but Satan suggests that they could now go one better: “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5).
This is one of the enemy’s most subtle strategies. He loves to suggest that we should take the place of God, not because he thinks highly of us, but because of his deep hatred for God. He appeals to our pride when he suggests that we do not need God to tell us what is good and what is evil. His message is still the same: “You can be your own god. You can decide what is right for yourself!”
God’s first law was, like all His commandments, a wonderful expression of His love: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (2:16–17).
God made everything good, and when He told Adam not to eat from this tree it was for his protection: “Adam, you already know about good, but you also need to understand that there is another reality in the universe called evil. I don’t want you ever to experience it, so don’t eat from this tree!” But Adam and Eve felt that they would like to have this knowledge of evil, and we have all lived with it ever since.
Evil has no place in the presence of God, so God banished Adam and Eve and placed angels called cherubim at the entrance to the garden, barring the way to the tree of life (3:23–24).
Adam and Eve were outside the place of God’s blessing. Their perfect marriage became strained, and their work became frustrating. They experienced pain, fear, and loss. And death was a terrible reality they could no longer avoid. Worst of all, they were alienated from God and alone in the world. Paradise was lost and there was no way back.
After God drove the man and the woman out, He “placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (3:24). The flaming sword flashing back and forth speaks of the judgment of God. Getting around it was impossible. This sight must have been terrifying for Adam.
So here is the Bible’s diagnosis of the human condition: We have a knowledge of evil, and we are excluded from the presence of God. We can’t get free from this knowledge of evil, and we can’t get back into God’s paradise. That is the diagnosis, so what is the prescription?
Hope began on the day that Eve and Adam sinned, and it began with a curse! God said to the serpent, “Cursed are you” (3:14).
A curse is an “utterance of deity, consigning a person or thing to destruction.”1 So when God cursed the serpent, He was announcing that evil would not stand. Satan would not have the last word. Adam and Eve must have been overjoyed at hearing this news.
We can thank God for His curse on evil. Without the curse, we would be stuck with the knowledge of evil forever. But this curse opens the door of hope for us. If God did not consign evil to destruction, who else could? Throughout human history we have tried and failed. Our news continues to be dominated by violence and abuse. We can’t get free from it. But God said to Satan, “cursed are you.” And from that moment on, our enemy was consigned to ultimate destruction.
Then God pronounced a second curse. Turning to the man, He said, “Cursed…” Adam must have held his breath. God had cursed the serpent, and now He was looking straight at Adam as He spoke that dreadful word. Adam must have thought that He was going to be utterly destroyed, but he was in for a surprise. Instead of saying to Adam, “Cursed are you,” God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (3:17).
Here we discover one of the most important things that we need to know about God. He announces that He will destroy evil, but at the same time He deflects the curse so that it falls on the ground and not on the man or the woman directly, creating room for them to be reconciled to God.
God is just, and the curse must go somewhere. So at the right time, God sent His Son and directed the curse of our sin onto Him. That is what the cross is all about. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.
One day the effect of Christ’s triumph will transform the whole planet. By diverting the curse to the ground, God has subjected the creation to frustration, but He has also promised that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
Then the Lord God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
“Enmity” sums up the relentless battle against evil that has gone on through the generations of human history. We are always trying to get rid of evil, but we simply can’t get beyond frustration, pain, disease, and death. We are stuck with the knowledge of evil. But God promises that a deliverer will come and engage in a great struggle against the evil one. He will inflict a fatal blow by stamping on the head of the enemy, and in the process, the enemy will bite the heel that crushed him.
Imagine standing on the head of a venomous snake. It bites you and inflicts a wound, but then your wounded foot bears down on the snake and brings its destruction. In the same way, through His death, Christ inflicted a deadly wound on the enemy and opened the way for men and women to be delivered from his power (see Colossians 2:15).
Christ came from heaven, not only to overcome the power of evil, but also to open a way back into paradise for us. Try to imagine yourself standing outside the paradise of God, looking back at the cherubim and the flaming sword of judgment. As you look, someone comes out of the presence of God and stands with you. Then He turns and advances towards the flaming sword. You cringe as you watch. The flaming sword is flashing back and forth, and you can see what will happen to Him when He gets there. But He keeps walking forward, steadily, relentlessly.
The sword strikes Him and kills Him. It breaks His body, but in breaking His body, the sword itself is broken and lies shattered on the ground. By His death, a way back into the presence and blessing of God is opened for you.
We can only begin to make sense of our world when we understand that we live with the knowledge of evil and are excluded from the presence of God. But God has not abandoned us. He sent His Son into our ongoing battle with evil. Through His death on the cross, He broke the power of the enemy and opened a new and living way into the presence and blessing of God.
1. Concise Oxford Dictionary, 6th ed.
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
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