Bible Studies on Genesis 1–11 Lesson 9: In Wrath He Remembers Mercy (Part One)


The serpent had promised that Adam and his wife would receive the “knowledge of good and evil.” What he had not told them is that they would in fact become evil. They would acquire more in this deal than what they were told by the evil one. Beyond getting more knowledge, they get moral guilt and corruption. So it is with all temptations. How often we allow the lure of evil to blind our own hearts to what is in the fine print of the deal.

Trying to hide (3:7–9)

Sin brings guilt and a guilty conscience. Guilt is an objective matter: one stands before the law as one who has broken (or transgressed) that law. But a guilty conscience is a subjective thing: one has the psychological sensations of embarrassment, of wrongdoing, of unease in the presence of others. The man and the woman both ate fruit from the tree forbidden to them. This made them guilty before God and His word of prohibition, but this also had the effect of making them self-conscious of their own nakedness. Now they try to hide from each other by taking the large leaves of the fig tree to sew coverings for themselves. Now begins the long history of mutual alienation. The Garden is no longer a comfortable home. It has become instead a place where fear, insecurity, and hiding are the norm.



But in addition when the LORD God comes to the Garden to have fellowship with the human couple, they also hide from Him among the trees. But “you cannot hide from God,” says the song. He is both everywhere (omnipresent) and all-knowing (omniscient). It is interesting that God’s first recorded words after the fall into sin are 1) a question and 2) directed to the man. The crafty serpent had opened his diabolical dialogue with a brazen question to the woman. Here God opens His investigation into the sinful situation with a question directed to the man, the head of the woman.

Of course, God knows where the man is. So what is the nature of the question God asks? It comes off almost as indirect accusation: “Adam, where are you?” The man is not at his task, his job. He is not fulfilling his office of ruling and having dominion over all things. The man is not developing the creation-kingdom and its potentialities. In short, when God comes calling upon His beloved image-bearers, it appears that there is “no one home.” Initially then, there is no longer a voice of human joy that greets the divine voice of the Creator LORD. ‘Where are you?” God asks. What a stab of pain and terror must have filled the soul of the man and the woman at the sound of their Maker’s voice! The Garden is about to become a courtroom.

Passing the blame (3:10–13)

The man’s answer to God’s question is pathetic. The man claims that he hid from God because he was naked. This is a pitiful response because it is not at all accurate. Before the man and the woman fell into sin, they were both naked. They had no shame because they had no sin. So to claim the reason for hiding from God is based upon one’s body being unclothed misses the point. The problem with humanity is not that we are human! Being a creature is not in itself a sinful thing at all. We often hear it said, “I just couldn’t help it. I’m only human.” This kind of statement assumes that humanity is inherently sinful, including both guilt and pollution (the corruption of the human nature). But the Bible clearly informs us that our deepest problem is not that we are human, but rather that we are sinners. Because of sin the wrath of God comes in all its awesome fury and strict justice. God’s wrath must be feared, not our own bodies or any other aspect of being creatures. Our sin must be avoided and repudiated; it is not what we were created to be as image-bearers of God.

So often our fears are greeted in the Bible with the precious words of comfort: “Don’t fear!” or “Don’t be afraid!” But such warm words of reassurance are not heard here in Genesis 3.

When God answers Adam’s statement, He asks more questions. The reader should notice that God does not simply ask (verse 11), “Have you eaten from the tree?” Instead He asks, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The operative word is “eat” because the command focused upon “not eating.” Furthermore, the LORD reminds the man that the tree had God’s word of prohibition surrounding it. It was the word of God that Adam had violated and transgressed. God’s question drives that point home in a painful way.

Adam’s response is to say that the onus of responsibility for this tragic tum of events lies upon the woman that God put with him. In other words, there are two culprits in the man’s view of things: the woman (“bone of his bone”) and God Himself. But God made Adam the responsible head of the human race. The man took the fruit freely and willingly; the woman did not force-feed him.

The painful effect of sin was earlier to cause the man and the woman to hide from each other as they make fig leave coverings. But now they face off against each other in God’s courtroom, mutual opponents, and God too is blamed as being ultimately responsible for the evil that has invaded the creation-kingdom.

God puts a similar question to the woman in verse 13: “What is this you have done?” Like her husband, she will not face up to her own responsibility in the sinful deed. She blames the serpent as a deceiver. Misery loves company, and there is enough blame to pass around to all concerned!

The wages of sin

As was said earlier, the serpent-tempter did not tell the woman that eating the fruit that God had placed off-limits would take the human couple beyond a knowledge of good and evil to actually becoming evil. But the evil one knew that this would be the case. In addition, God was crystal clear in saying that when they ate, they would certainly die.

Consider what the tragic effects of sin are in our world, effects that are already seen in Genesis 3:

1. Guilt and a loss of innocence

2. Pollution and corruption of the human nature, including the will

3. Alienation from God and from one another

4. Accusation and the shifting of blame to everyone except oneself

5. Painful living, unpleasantness, unhappiness, disease, and all kinds of human calamities

6. Power plays and manipulation to get what one wants

7. Death, the “wages of sin,” experienced in body and soul, now and forever

You can perhaps add even more to this list. But this also suggests what the ultimate results of God’s redemption and salvation will be. God’s grace will, in time, overcome all sin and its ugly effects, “far as the curse is found.” The Triune God’s grace will bring the following gifts (corresponding as a remedy to what sin has introduced):

1. Perfect innocence and complete righteousness

2. Wholeness and health in every aspect of our human nature

3. Reconciliation with God and with others

4. Forbearance and mutual acceptance

5. Peace, joy, wholesome pleasure

6. Ability and willingness to live responsibly with others in community

7. Life, even life more abundant for His elect, as well as a renewed creation

Sentencing the primary culprit (3:14)

The serpent entered the text first in Genesis 3:1, and he is the last to be addressed by the Lord. But the serpent, in distinction from the man and the woman, is not asked any questions. The Lord immediately launches into pronouncing sentence.

What is rather striking about the Lord’s sentencing of the serpent is that God declares the evil one to be cursed above all the other animals. The ground is also cursed (see 3:17). But the technical word for curse is not used for the woman or for the man. All are sentenced and punished, but only the serpent and the ground are cursed.

We also note that with the serpent’s, the woman’s, and the man‘s sentencing there are two areas affected: 1) an essential life function within creation; and 2) a relationship with another being. Note the following:

1. Regarding the serpent:

a. Crawling on belly with dust as its “food”

b. His seed versus the woman’s seed, with her Seed (Jesus Christ) to crush the serpent’s head

2. Regarding the woman:

a. Bearing children becomes painful

b. Her desire is toward her husband, although he should rule her

3. Regarding the man:

a. Working the ground will become difficult toil as man seeks to get the food he needs

b. In the end he will return to the dust (ground) from which he was made

Sin has introduced all these painful realities and disruptions in relationships. God’s words in Genesis 3:14–19 make all of this pointedly explicit.

The key words and phrases in verse 14 are crawling and eating dust. Both of them speak of humiliation, subjugation, and eventual defeat (d. Lev. 11:42; Ps. 72:9; Isa. 49:23; 65:25; Micah 7:17). Crawling does not presuppose that prior to this point. the serpent moved about on legs. Crawling is symbolic of craftiness and being a “low life.” The evil one remains a trickster that employs his wiles to defeat God’s people (d. I Peter 5:8). Eating dust is not a description of a snake’s diet. Rather it is a Biblical idiom for death (d. the modern expression, “bite the dust”). Dust, both here and in verse 19, reminds us of man’s origin and destiny when the spirit of life departs. Dust thus becomes, in the Biblical framework of thinking, a symbol of death.

The “mother promise” (3:15)

In the context of cursing the serpent for what he has done in tempting the woman and the man, God reveals something of incredible significance. He promises that He will put enmity into history between two kinds of seed (i.e., people). This presupposes that the serpent and the woman were in some kind of alliance or partnership. In a very significant way they were partners in the early part of Genesis 3. This is because the one you obey is your master.

The Apostle Paul writes, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). The woman and the man offered themselves to the serpent to obey his suggestive ways, and in doing so they made themselves slaves of the evil one. The alliance between the serpent and the woman, however, is not a relationship of peace and friendship. It is slavery! The evil one does not have kind intentions in mind for any human being who follows his ways.

God breaks that unholy alliance by placing or inserting enmity between two groups of people. Here we see divine initiative; God is the first to make a start. In addition to this initiative we note that it is enmity, hostility, division, that the LORD God is bringing to the earth and into history. This is not a pleasant prospect, for this means that history will be marked by spiritual (and other kinds of) conflict. Even our Lord Jesus Christ reminded us that He came to bring a sword to the earth and not peace (Matt. 10:34). Spiritual division spans all of history, both Old and New Testament eras.

Part of our salvation is coming to the awareness that the devil is not our friend. He had tried to present himself as such to the woman, but the truth is that he was then, and he remains today, a most poisonous enemy and a very cruel taskmaster. The evil one was a liar and a murderer from the start. God is sentencing the serpent, but the message being conveyed to the sinful pair is that God is the true friend of sinners, including the first two sinners in history, our original parents.

This spiritual division is often called the antithesis. This is a spiritual separation that God installs. We are not permitted to remove this antithesis, nor may we blunt its ramifications in any area of life. A false kind of ecumenism in church life and elsewhere tugs at our hearts and conscience when we hear the cry, “Can’t we all just get along? But unity for Christians comes from a true spiritual unity in the faith, created by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. All other bases of unity (racial, economic, cultural, national) fail ultimately to provide such unity.

The fact that divine judgment plays so dominant a role in this section of Genesis 3 should not cause us to miss something else that is most astonishing. We have in Genesis 3 the revelation of the covenant of grace. In disclosing His wrath against the sin of man, God is also revealing His mercy. The evil one is going down to crushing defeat! Thus mankind’s willful rebellion is not the last word, and therefore, it should not receive the loudest emphasis, even here in Genesis 3.

The serpent’s seed here is obviously not a reference to literal snakes. Our spiritual enemy is not the reptile! It is the evil one himself and all who are spiritually allied with him. Similarly the seed of the woman is prophetic of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. He will deliver a deathblow (striking the head) to the serpent, while in the process He Himself will be wounded (striking the heel). God and Satan will do battle via their respective agents in history, in time and space. Thus Christ is the chief agent of God, the Suffering Servant of the LORD, who enters our history, taking on our own nature, to win the cause for God our Father. Jesus Christ will do as the last Adam what the first Adam failed to do, namely, guard the Garden from crafty invaders, rebuke the tempter, and kill him. Therefore, because of what Jesus Christ would later do for us, the remarkable thing about the message of Genesis 3 is not so much that the sinner will die—God assured us of that—but that through the promised Seed there will be life!


1. In Genesis 3:10 the man points to a symptom (ashamed because he was naked) but not to the real cause of his flight from God. The man appears more embarrassed that he was caught than that he willingly and knowingly broke the commandment of God. Why does this sound so familiar? Why do we so often respond in a similar way?

2. Blaming someone else has a long history, as we have seen in Genesis 3. Why is it so hard to face up to our own responsibilities in situations, especially in situations where our mistakes and sins are involved? Why is blame~shifting especially reprehensible among our leaders in church and society?

3. Read James 4:4 and I John 2:15–17. Why is it so hard to convince people that evil will, in the end, lead to disaster and judgment? What does it mean that “friendship with the world is hatred toward God”?

4. Genesis 3:15 is known as the “mother promise” or “first gospel” (protoevangelium). How does this connect with the work and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ? Does the Old Testament already proclaim a Christian message, or does the Old Testament’s message differ significantly from that of the New Testament? See Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 6, Q/A 19.

5. The word antithesis is not very often discussed in modern Christian circles. Do you agree? Why might this be the case? How should the antithesis show itself in the area of education? Politics? Entertainment?

6. Genesis 3:15 is a prophecy of the effective work of the Lord Jesus Christ in defeating the evil one (and all evil as well). Yet Romans 16:20 reads, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” Read Malachi 4:1–3. What is the relationship between Christ’s work of crushing Satan’s head and Christian activity in history against Satan and his realm?

7. Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (see Matt. 10:34–39). It is easy perhaps to talk about the antithesis in areas of life that are somewhat distant from our daily lives. But how should the antithesis affect even dating, marriage, family life, and relationships within congregations and denominations?

Mark D. Vander Hart