Bible Studies on Genesis 1–11 Lesson 10: In Wrath He Remembers Mercy (Part Two)


After the woman and the man ate the forbidden fruit they became the objects of God’s penetrating interrogation and then sentencing. Already in judging the serpent, God makes known to the reader (and thus to all subsequent history) that He has established a covenant of grace. In this covenant He will cause the ultimate defeat of the serpent and his seed (followers). The woman will bring forth the One in history who will crush the evil one’s head. In His hatred of and wrath against sin, God shows undeserved mercy and grace. The end of history will see the victory of our God. But God has more to say in this sentencing phase of man’s trial.

The woman sentenced (3:16)

In approaching verse 16 we are coming to a text that has, admittedly, provoked much comment and discussion. The LORD God turns to her to describe first how something that belongs to the woman’s nature and physical being (childbearing) is now affected by sinfulness. God says, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.” Genesis 1:26–28 says that mankind is both male and female and is blessed in such a way that they are fruitful in order to fill the earth with other God-glorifying image-bearers. But now that grand blessing (and mandate) is carried out in a painful way. Children are God’s rewards (Ps. 127:3), and some women are fruitful in bearing children (Ps. 128:3), but bearing them and raising them can sometimes cause much pain and heartache because they are conceived and born in sin.



But God has more to say, and the last half of verse 16 typically provokes discussion about what God’s word means here. One very responsible discussion of this text may be found in Susan Foh’s book, Women and the Word of God. The two critical words under consideration are desire and rule. The word desire is used in only three places in the Old Testament (Gen. 3:16b; 4:7b; and Song of Songs 7:10). This word in English suggests sexual urging, and that is plausible at a first reading of Genesis 3:16. Song of Songs 7:10 would support a sexual understanding.

However, the usage of desire in Genesis 4:7b is clearly not sexual. Furthermore, a related word in Arabic has the sense of “to urge, drive on,” but not in a sexual way. In fact, human experience shows that sexual desire is generally more easily aroused among men than it is among women. So understanding the woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16b as sexual is open to question.

Comparing Genesis 3:16b with 4:7b (comparing Scripture with Scripture) shows that similar phraseology is being used in both passages. In the case of Cain, sin is crouching at the door, and it desires to have him. But in what sense? Certainly not sexually! Rather, sin wants to master him, to dominate him, to control him. Cain would have to wrestle with sin to overcome it. In other words, he should rule it. But in fact he does not rule over sin.

The woman too will want to master the man (desire in the sense to wish to have control), but instead he should rule her. The word rule here is related to the word used to describe what the sun and moon do with the day and the night, respectively. That is to say, the word rule need not at all have a negative meaning. It does not mean to domineer as a tyrant. Mastery or lordship is not inherently evil.

In other words, God is here reasserting the Biblical relationship of man’s headship (he is created first, he identifies her as woman, he is the covenant head of the human race) with respect to the woman He gave the man. But in her sinful condition she will desire to make herself the head or ruler in this relationship. It is not what God has created that has led to the “battle of the sexes.” Rather, our sinful rebellion and fallen natures have led to such sad conflicts.

Groaning ground, sweat, and dust (3:17–18)

Genesis 3:17–19 record the LORD God’s judgment on Adam. the head of the human race. God repeats a lengthy statement of his sin (the charges before the Judge and the court): the man had listened to his wife and eaten from the tree concerning which God had commanded that he not eat. He was called upon to be the head of his wife, but instead, he submitted to her sinful lead.

Furthermore, the ground is now said to be cursed. The peaceful connection that had existed between the human couple and the ground (all creation is implied) is characterized by divine judgment and curse. If blessing suggests fruitfulness and productivity, then curse brings barrenness and a difficult struggle to bring forth from God’s creation food and everything else that is useful. Where God’s curse exists, then death must come eventually. The disobedience at this one tree, that of the knowledge of good and evil, has now brought evil and disaster. This is felt in painfully personal but also in cosmic ways (Romans 8:16ff).

Man’s work becomes painful toil in order to obtain food. Bringing forth life and support for life are hard. Thorns and thistles will grow in the presence of the man. Fulfilling his calling and his office in this old creation now becomes painfully difficult. Through labor that brings forth his sweat he may yet eat in order to sustain his physical Hfe, but in the end he still dies and returns to the dust from which he is made. The beasts will also die, and man dies like the beast, and yet with a difference (see Psalm 49). When the man and the woman ate the forbidden fruit, they died spiritually, and their bodies began the process of dying. God was not lying in His warning!

The woman’s new name (3:20)

At the end of Genesis 2 the man had rejoiced at the LORD God’s presentation of the suitable woman made from his side (rib). He called her “woman” because she was taken from “man.” But woman is still not a personal name as such. Now in Genesis 3:20 the man names her Eve.

We should see this as a bright spot in an account that is otherwise very sobering in its depiction of human rebellion and God’s divine judgment. When God had come into the Garden to seek the human couple, they had hid. When God asked His questions during the prosecution of the trial, if you will, the man and the woman had acted by blaming everyone else. Adam had accused the woman (and God, who gave her!) of being at fault. But here all that interpersonal enmity, blame-shifting and mutual accusation give way to naming. Adam calls her “Eve” (she who gives life), because she is the mother of all the living (in the original language, the name Eve is related to a word meaning “life, living”). Genesis 2:24 viewed the woman as wife, while Genesis 3:20 sees the woman as mother.

This verse anticipates Genesis 4:1, where Adam and Eve will have children. But it also looks back to the gracious promise of God in Genesis 3:15, where God said that the woman would bring forth seed (children, descendants). There will be death and a return to the dust, it is true, but Adam is acting in faith in giving her this particular name. He is laying hold of God’s Word of promise. The victory over the serpent and over the sin that has now poisoned all, will result in life ultimately and not death. Therefore, the woman’s name must fit her office in redemptive history. Adam was covenant head who was responsible for the fall of the whole human race, but it is through the woman that life-giving Savior would come.

Sin, as We have already observed, both alienates and isolates, but at this point in the Biblical account, we are greatly encouraged to see that God’s promise of seed has enabled Adam to receive his wife back to himself again. There will be no divorce here.

God the clothes-maker (3:21)

The man and woman had earlier created clothing from the fig leaves of the Garden. These would hardly last, to say the least! They could never serve to provide adequate covering of their sinful nature before the all-seeing and all-knowing God. So in another act of divine mercy the LORD God provides the human couple with a set of clothes, animal skins, so that they could exist in community with each other, but more importantly so that they could exist before God. God in His holiness cannot look upon sinners, and He will not allow sinful nature to have exposure in His presence. Thus Adam and Eve are now properly “vested” before the Lord.

Adam had been given the office of priest in the Garden in the sense that he had permission to come close to God and minister to Him. Adam was always to offer his own life and service in devotion to God. But later on in redemptive history, God would separate one man and his family, namely, Aaron, to serve as priests. The priests too would receive very detailed instructions in the proper vestments and clothing to wear when conducting their official duties. The high priest would later wear “glory-garments” that would cover him from head to toe so that he could minister in the tabernacle and the Temple, and especially in the Most Holy Place, once a year on the Day of Atonement.

Perhaps we run the danger of pressing this too hard, but is it not possible to hear already here a sound, however faint, of something that anticipates the outline of the fuller Gospel message? By killing an animal to prepare clothing for Adam and Eve, we see that these two sinners are 1) covered by something alien to them, 2) the clothing is derived from the shedding of blood, and 3) it is the result of God’s action, not the action of the sinner. The Lord Jesus Christ was not. an after-thought in God’s grand plan of salvation. He is indeed the Lamb of God. slain to take away the sins of the world, “slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8; d. I Peter 1:20).

Eviction from the Garden-home…and into history (3:22–24)

The guilty pair is soon driven out, evicted from our original home, but not until a certain divine deliberation has occurred. In the original language, verse 22 is grammatically incomplete (the NIV has smoothed out the expression). Just as we heard in Genesis 1:26–27 a divine consultation regarding man’s creation, so now we hear another divine consultation about what to do with the rebellious couple.

God realizes that the snake’s promise was true, in part. Now the man knows both good and evil (like God, although God is absolutely not evil in any sense of the word). God is profoundly concerned that the man might now reach out for the tree of life. Should he eat from it now, it would have only prolonged his physical existence, but it would not atone for his sin. It would not be able to provide salvation in the fullest sense of the term. Mere existence is not life, nor is it communion with the living God. To continue existing in a state of sin would be everlasting misery. God, in His rich mercy, bars the way to the tree of life by expelling the man and his wife out of the Garden of Eden. The way to everlasting life will be through God’s plan, not through man’s efforts and his own work. Salvation is of the LORD!

The unifying theme of this last portion of Genesis 3 is the expulsion of man. While he was made from the material of the earth, yet he is now homeless following the expulsion. He is no longer at ease, not at the intended “center,” but now Adam and Eve are “off-center,” in misery and in “disease.” This perfect Garden-temple-home that God made is now cleansed of all unclean and evil personnel. Who now may ascend the hill of the LORD? See Psalms 15 and 24.

Heavenly guards to the tree of life (3:24)

Genesis 3:24 introduces the reader to cherubim (a plural word for cherub). The word cherub has come to mean in today’s parlance those pudgy, winged infants that grace many a painting of the Middle Ages. Such pictures and images have made their way into many a modern-day Christmas card and thus into popular Christian imagination. But were medieval artists correct in what they painted? Was the Garden of Eden and the tree of life guarded by sweet-looking, pudgy, winged infants?

Read Ezekiel 1:4–28 and Ezekiel 10. These two passages give a much fuller description of what cherubim are like. A cherub has four faces (Ezek. 1:10; 10:14): that of a man, lion, ox and eagle, the great creatures who rule in creation. Cherubim have four wings (the seraphim of Isaiah 6 have six wings!), and they move at the speed of lightning (Ezek. 1:14). When the cherubim fly, they create an awesome sound (Ezek. 1:24; 10:5). There are wheels associated with these cherubim, giving additional mobility to the heavenly throne they bear, and these wheels are full of eyes, representative of divine knowledge (Ezek. 1:18; 10:12). Ezekiel sees in his vision of God that above these cherubim is a sparkling, crystal-clear expanse (or pavement). Above that is the throne of heaven (Ezek. 1:26; 10:1). One like a Man is seated upon it (see Isaiah 6:1ff; Dan. 7: 13ff). Such a description takes us some distance away from think-ing of little, winged children!

Later on in redemptive history cherubim were placed in the Temple. Just within the veil that separated the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place two large cherubim were situated. In addition cherubim were placed upon the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. their wings stretched toward each other. Cherubim designs were on the veil of the Temple. All of this symbolized to Israel later that we cannot approach the throne of God on our own terms or in any casual way. God’s throne has sentinels to keep all sinners away from His glorious majesty and holiness.

But there is more here. Man is driven out the front gate of the Garden, one might say, toward the east for it is at the east side that the cherubim with their flaming swords are placed. The Temple later would have its front door or courts toward the east. The first Garden of Eden had the precious tree of life. The Temple had a lampstand (a menorah). shaped like a tree, along with the table of showbread (food). The artwork of the Temple (palm trees, lions, cherubim) suggested to any observer the Garden, our first home. The Garden of Eden required from the very beginning faith and obedience, holiness and avoidance of all sin. The Temple required the very same from all its personnel and worshipers in attendance. Note these parallels.

In the fullness of time a second Adam came to this Temple (Luke 2:41ff). But its personnel would reject Him. They took Him outside the city of God, Jerusalem, and they crucified Him. But when He died, the veil (with its cherubim designs) was torn from top to bottom. Now the children of Adam’s fallen race may have access to the divine throne of grace. The Old Testament’s mercy seat is now located in heaven where it still is a mercy seat (a throne of grace; see Heb. 4:16). The cherubim now must stand aside as sinners come forward with boldness to this throne to seek help and grace in time of need. How vast the benefits divine which we in Christ. the second Adam, possess!

The tree of life is also located in the new creation (see Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19). But our access to it must travel to a “tree” of another sort on Calvary’s hill, where Christ died under the wrath of God and the sentence of a Roman governor. This makes the cross of Jesus Christ another “tree of life” for God’s elect. The food available there—Christ’s body and blood—is real food and drink. Whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. will live forever in the Garden of God that is in the Paradise He is even now preparing for all who love His appearing. Through Jesus Christ there is a Way back home (John 14:1–6)!


1. When couples marry, the groom and the bride often vow “to love and to cherish” one another, but often it turns out to be a relationship of manipulation and domination. Some husbands are tyrants (rule with cruelty), or they are absent (emotionally uninvolved, physically “too busy”). How can Christians present the Biblical teaching on male headship in a winsome, convincing way, given the situations we see in society today?

2. Man was sentenced to work by the “sweat of his brow.” Yet today in North America one can work in the comfort of air-conditioned offices, homes, even tractors, utilizing many elements of technology to make life in general and work in particular, much easier. Do people in our North American context still work by the “sweat of their brow”? If so, how? What does this mean today?

3. Work was originally a blessed calling, but now we encounter “thistles and thorns,” making our efforts difficult. Yet work by individuals and by communities of peoples (employing a division of labor) has produced much more leisure time and more leisure goods in many parts of the world. Is this a good thing, a bad thing, or a mixed blessing? Explain your answer (remembering that man’s nature as a sinner is still in evidence).

4. Eve is the “mother of all the living” because God fully intends to work out His covenant of grace. In the Jewish Passover the mother in the home is to light the first candle and to offer the first prayer because through the woman will come the Messiah, the “light of the world,” say the Jews. In the history recorded in the Bible, what other women gave birth to very important people of the covenant? How many women in the Bible are initially barren, but then they give birth through the power of the Lord?

5. Read Galatians 3:27. What does it mean that in baptism we become clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ?

6. If cherubim are these awesome creatures as described by Ezekiel, what then are angels in the Bible? Who is that figure in the Old Testament known as the “angel of the LORD”?

7. The tree of life has a long history in redemption history, even though it is mentioned relatively little. Yet it appears at the beginning of the Bible in Genesis and then again at the end in Revelation. It provides food for those who persevere and conquer now. What kinds of Biblical connections can we make between the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord’s Supper, the tree of life in Paradise (Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19), and the Messianic banquet yet to come?

Mark D. Vander Hart