3rdSunday after Pentecost
Adam and Eve
June 30, 2019
Christ Church Gardiner
If you ask people about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, you will often hear something like this…
That’s the story of the first man and woman and original sin. The woman is tempted by Satan to eat an apple, then convinces Adam to do so, and then God gets mad and kicks them out of Paradise.
But here are some problems with that retelling of the story…
- Satan doesn’t appear in this story. In fact, the concept of the devil likely wasn’t developed until years after the writing of this story. You’ll notice as we read through Genesis this summer, that Satan never makes an appearance.
- Apples didn’t grow in the ancient Near East where the Garden of Eden was supposed to be. We don’t know what particular fruit was on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but it probably wasn’t an apple.
- Sin isn’t mentioned in the story.The word sin doesn’t appear in the scriptures until the next chapter. One could argue that sin, as defined by anything that separates us from God, is implied by eating the forbidden fruit. But the idea that this story tells of “original sin” meaning everyone is born sinful with the urge to do bad things and disobey God because of what Adam did wasn’t put forward until after the time of Jesus. And…
- Eve didn’t have to “convince” Adam to eat the fruit. Despite popular belief, she was not a temptress. The text says, “she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” Adam was with her all along. So if anyone tempted him, it was the crafty Serpent, not Eve.
So, if this story isn’t about Satan and temptation and the sinfulness that we are born with, then what’s it all about? There isn’t a simple answer to this question. There rarely is when it comes to the biblical stories. Jews and Christians, alike, have argued over the meaning of this story for generations.
Unlike the first creation narrative that we heard last Sunday. The one where the world is created in an orderly and logical manner in seven days. The one that was likely written while the Israelites were in Exile in Babylonia. This creation story sounds different. And it was written earlier. Probably during Israel’s years living under the rule of kings.
This second creation story is about humans being tempted to disobey God in order to gain knowledge. But it’s perplexing because we generally think of wisdom and knowledge as things that we SHOULD seek. Why would God refuse those things to Adam and Eve?
It only makes sense if we think about what knowledge brings when it is pursued for its own sake—when wisdom is wanted for the power that it brings. This creation story insists that it is honoring one’s boundaries and being obedient that leads to well-being. (Peter Enns, Genesis for Normal People, 51)
God gave Adam and Eve the garden and all that was in it to enjoy. God only asked for this one restriction on their freedom–that they not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But they didn’t trust God. They allowed themselves to be seduced by the serpent. The serpent which was a symbol of shrewdness and cunning. Whose very presence opened up a world unlike the garden created by God. The world of a cunning serpent is a world where people must play games and manipulate to gain power. Adam and Eve have clearly become a part of that world after eating the fruit. Because when God asks them if they have eaten from the tree, they blame and try to manipulate God. First, Adam blames Eve and then she blames the trickery of the serpent. They deflect their own complicity in an effort to stay out of trouble.
The serpent had convinced them that knowledge of good and evil would make them like God. That by eating its fruit, they could know everything and therefore be above any limitations.
But what happens when we order our lives without any limitations? If this was indeed written during the time of the Israel’s Kings, we can just look back to how most of those kings behaved in the Hebrew Scriptures for a clue. Think Saul and David and Solomon and Ahab. God knew that kings would not bring the Israelites the protection they desired. Because kings get corrupted by their access to power—by their lack of limitations. They make decisions for their own advancement and pleasure rather than for the good of the people. When the people of Israel begged the prophet Samuel for a King, God asked him to warn the people about how dangerous that would be.
And in the First Book of Samuel, Chapter 8, we hear this warning:
“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen…. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards…. 16 He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle[a] and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (Samuel 8:10-18)
Kings will take and take and take. The Israelites should have listened to Samuel. But they would learn that the hard way.
And Adam and Eve should have listened to God and told that wily serpent to get lost. They, too, learn the hard way, when they are driven out of the garden of Eden.
I might be helpful to see Adam and Eve in this creation story as representing the nation of Israel. (Enns). Just as Adam and Eve spurned God’s instruction and restrictions and tried to take a shortcut to get the knowledge of good and evil, the Israelites ignored God’s warning and rejected godly kingship, preferring a human, flawed, king instead.
The sin for both Adam and Eve and the Israelites, was striving for more than what God had already provided for them. They wanted wisdom that would make them like God. God wanted their trust. As the present-day biblical scholar, Peter Enns, puts it, “Pursuing wisdom God’s way leads to a ‘tree of life’—for Israel and for Adam. Failure to follow God’s path to wisdom, leads to death, the estrangement from God, exile for Israel and for Adam.” (36)
But as we see in all the stories of disobedience in the Bible, they don’t result in God’s abandonment. The defiance of Adam and Eve is a foretaste of Israel’s unsteady journey with God throughout the scriptures. But the blessing of God extends to them even when they have been disobedient and are punished. Just think back to the end of this story. Before Adam and Eve are turned out of Eden, God makes them garments of skins to clothe them. To protect them. And as we continue to read these Genesis stories, we will see how God is always moving to bring them back to paradise. Because theHebrew scriptures may, all too often, be the story of the disobedience of the people of God, but it’s also the story of God’s persistent invitation to bring them back into relationship, back to their covenant.
Where are the places in our own lives that we fail to trust God, seeking to secure our own well-being without concern for God’s wisdom—a wisdom that always places the desires of the individual within the boundaries of what is good for the community? Where are the places that we fail to follow God, instead pursuing things that only benefit ourselves? We live in a world that tells us we deserve all that we can attain and accumulate. And we see the results all around us of that kind of selfish living: poverty, war, and the destruction of our earth. The story of Adam and Eve reminds us that we cannot seek and secure our own well-being. Seeking security for only ourselves is not enough. So to trust and be faithful, we will follow the greatest commandments. We will love and follow God with all our heart and all our minds and all our strength and love our neighbors as ourselves—because that is what God desires. When we learn to listen to God and to follow God’s ways—to live within God’s limitations…then, and only then, will we live abundantly and all of creation around us will, too. Amen.