you're reading...

The Fall

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

February 26, 2023

Click to join our Meeting for Worship

Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Genesis 2:15–17 (ESV)

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 3:1–7 (ESV)

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.

Over the past few years, I have spent many hours reflecting on this story in scripture. I do not fully know why, but for some reason I feel that if we understand this story, if we are able to see this story in completely, then maybe we might begin to understand what redemption means. Not to mention it is usually the first story that you read to your children when you open a story book bible.

I remember many late nights nine years ago when I would sit with Albert after either him needing to eat or just not being able to sleep, and I would rock him in the chair and read this story among others, I would continue to rock and think long after Albert had fallen asleep. I would whistle, “What Child it this” and “Be thou My Vision”. I would sing “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop.” And I would think about the story we read in today’s scripture.

More than once as I have presented my various messages, I have taken us back to our first parents as I like to call them. I do not know why I began to refer to them in this manner, but I like it. It reminds me that these two individuals in some way are related to me and to each of you. These are not just figures in an ancient story set in Hebrew scripture, but these are our ancestors. They may have lived eons ago, but they are still our first parents. And Everything that happened to them all the good and all the bad, is part of our inheritance as their offspring.

We begin just after the narrative surrounding Creation. In the beginning, Moses wrote to us, God created the heavens and the earth. We get this step-by-step narrative, and every time I stop and contemplate creation, I am still left in awe. I have a degree in Crop Science and because of this I have studied various things from microbiology, to genetics, to milling science. I have been bombarded with theories, and I will confess, these theories have merit. But then I will take a step back and wonder. How did mutations in the genome not cause harm? So, I might understand the theories of Evolution, but this does not prevent me from the wonder of creation.

If we follow the creation narrative. We see a cycle life moving from simple to complex. And then on the sixth day of creation we are told that God, after He had created all the animals had a conversation, “Let us create man in our image.” And when all the creation was done God said that it was very good.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden.” This fifteenth verse causes me to pause. Do you notice that God put the man in the garden? For many years I had believed that the Garden was the entire earth, but if we are going to trust scripture, we are told that God created man outside the garden, and then put him into it. You might not think much of that, but to me this is significant. Our first parents, were created and then brought into communion with God. We were brought in to serve God in his garden, to work it and keep it.

The imagery of the Garden is something profound in ancient near east cultures. They often regard the throne of the divine to be on the top of a mountain, but many ancient myths also say that this place of divine residence is also a garden. This is significant because many of these cultures were semi-arid climates. Water was scarce and most families were one drought away from starvation. To them the realm of the gods would be up on a mountain. But on the mountain in the clouds the gods would live in a place where water and food were always abundant. When scripture says that God took the man and put him in the garden, it is saying that God brought humanity into his dwelling place. He created us on the outside, and brought us in.

In the ESV translation, we are told that we were brought to this garden to work it and keep it. Many translators struggle with this translation because it appears to contain grammatical errors. The words we translate as “work it” and “keep it” are feminine words and garden is masculine. In English we do not always understand this because much of our language does not make use of masculine and feminine words. In many other languages, like Spanish, this is important. The reason translators struggle is because they do not fully know what words these are attached to. But there are exceptions in the rules of grammar. If the word happens to be an infinitive. In English an infinitive verb is usually identified because it has the word “to” prior to the verb. And this is what we have here “to work it” and “to keep it”. But there is something about infinitives, at times they may refer to a continuous state or something that is to be on going. It is confusing, because usually if it is in a continuous state the verb ends with an “ING”. We do not have this here, nor does the Hebrew expressly state that it is an infinitive. And I am acting like I understand this but I do not. Grammar has never been something I have gotten a grasp of, but some scholars believe that this should be rendered, “God took the man and put in the garden of Eden for serving and for keeping it.” They see this as a continuous state of the infinitive verb because of what many might regard as a grammatical error.

We were place in God’s Garden, the place where God lives, to continually serve and keep it. We were place in this garden to serve God. “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘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, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’”

The trees mentioned in Genesis are also interesting. There are two special trees in the Garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,  and the tree of life. Just a quick side note, when they say things like knowledge of good and evil, it is a way of saying everything. It is the tree of the knowledge of everything. You might call it the Tree of 42, but that would be ridiculous.

 These trees are unique to the Hebrew narratives among the near eastern cultures. There are other cultures that have a tree, the mythologies of the Norse have a tree, but of all the tree references in mythology there is usually only one, the tree of Life. Even in Christian tradition, in Revelation, we come across a tree again, and it is the tree of life. So why is this tree of knowledge here? I will get back to this, but for now we should move forward.

Last week I mentioned this story. I mentioned that the word translated as serpent could mean shining or shining one. So when this crafty creature comes to Eve I want us to stop and consider something. Eve has a conversation with this entity. Our first parents named all the animals, they knew the characteristics of these beasts, and yet Eve is talking to this serpent. Either Eden is like Narnia, or this is more than a mere serpent.

The snake has a checkered past in human history. The image of a serpent can be both positive and negative. We see this in some of the common symbols we still use today. The staff with the snakes wrapping around it has long been a symbol of medicine. The symbol comes from Greek mythology and represents the god of  healing, and those that worshiped this god used snakes in their rites. I do not know why. But the funny thing about this symbol is we use the wrong one. The god of healing was represented by a staff with one snake but often the symbol used for medicine is a staff with two snakes and wings. This symbol does not represent medicine but the messenger of the gods, Mercury or Hermes.

The serpent in ancient mythology has many meanings, usually it represents eternity or continual renewal of life. This symbolism most likely emerged from observing the shedding of snake skins. And the use of the serpent in mythology is one of the oldest symbols ever used. But when we couple this with the other mythologies and symbols, we get something spectacular. The term in Hebrew translated as serpent can also mean bronze or shining, the symbol of the serpent can mean eternal, and is used to represent a messenger of the gods. And Eve had not qualms speaking to this being, in the garden where God lived. I mentioned last week that it was likely that Eve knew this serpent as a spiritual being or angel and as I continue to study this passage and contemplate the words as I pray, I fully believe that Eve knew this being as one of the beings within the Garden that served God, as a member of God’s council.

This serpent was crafty. God brought the man into the garden to serve and tend to it. God brought in the man. The angels were created to serve God in the spiritual realm, and now God brings in man to do the same. Do you sense some tension? There is a bit of jealousy brewing in the garden.

The serpent speaks to Eve and says, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” I want us to consider this question. The wording of the question is important. The serpent does not outright say did God tell you not to eat of a particular tree, but he says any tree. Eve is forced to explain. “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said that you shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden.”  Right here we get some confusion and I hope we can understand why Eve gets confused. “In the midst” can have one of two meanings and this is what the Serpent is preying on. It can mean in the middle, or in. The serpent was leading by saying in, “you shall not eat of any tree in the garden.” Eve counters by saying in the middle. This twisting of a word has Eve questioning, “is that what God said?” This messenger, this angel is causing Eve to be confused. And remember Adam and Eve are both here, Adam does not speak but later in verse six we are told that Adam is with her. He is silent as Eve struggles with this snake. So in her confusion she adds, “neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”

The serpent has her where he wants her. She is questioning God. In her confusion, fear begins to creep in. Does she really know the truth? And the forked tongued messenger continues, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like god, knowing good and evil.”

This is where grammar comes in again. The Hebrew word for God in this place is Elohim. This is a plural noun. Because it is plural it can mean a couple of things. When early Quakers emerged in England, one of their protests dealt with pronouns oddly enough, but not like today. It dealt with the pronoun, you. You, at that time, was plural and thee was singular. The early Quakers refused to use a plural pronoun for any singular person, because they felt that all people were equal. Social convention at that time was that the nobility were referred with a plural pronoun, mainly because they represented both themselves and all that were under them. I bring this up because Elohim is plural. We often regard it as a name for God, but in Hebrew it can mean any spiritual being, from God the most high, to an angel, or a disembodied human spirit. So when the serpent begins to speak he is using Elohim singular and Elohim plural in the same sentence. God, singular most high, knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, plural angels, knowing good and evil.

This crafty serpent is using Eve’s confusion and envy against her and Adam. They see the shining ones and know of their power and position. Adam and Eve are terrestrial creatures, they are bound to the earth, and these spiritual beings are different, seemingly more. Our first parents began to think we could be more. We could be like angels.

She saw 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 is staring at the tree. Contemplating it. This one tree out of the many. God had given them all the trees of the garden, even the tree of life. All the trees but this one. This is God’s tree.

Scripture tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. And God said not to eat of this one tree, the tree of the knowledge of everything. The symbolism here is vast. God is not only giving them a commandment, but an invitation to relationship. He is setting boundaries to establish a healthy relationship between them. This story is more than a story of the first sin, but it is a story of every relationship we have had, and will have in our lives.

It was not that God was denying our first parents knowledge and wisdom, instead God was asking them to come to him for that wisdom. God was asking them to gather fruit in all the garden and come to his tree to eat with him under the shade of his branches. He is letting them know that they will grow and mature, they will have a deeper understanding of the world around them as they tend to his garden, but there will always be something that they will not understand. It is ok to seek understanding, but slow down and take it in step do not rush in too quickly because there is always something more that we have not considered.

Our first parents look upon this tree. A tree they have passed many times, a tree they had not considered before because it was God’s tree, not theirs. And suddenly they begin to question God. Why would God withhold knowledge from us? Why would God not want us to become like the angels? Why is God being unfair? With cleverly crafted words this serpent gave a message of confusion and all at once our first parents lost trust.

This is the fall. This is sin. Often our theological books will call this the original sin, but oddly the word for sin is not mentioned until the next chapter of Genesis, when Cain is contemplating murder and God tells him sin is crouching at his door. The original sin is breach of trust, it is a broken relationship. Our first parents were living in the garden with God fully entrusting their lives to him. But when the serpent spoke, we began to question God’s motives. We began to think that maybe God could not be trusted. Eve looked at the fruit, she thought “I cannot trust God so I will trust in myself.” And she took the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. And their eyes were opened, and they knew they were naked. This speaks to vulnerabilities and trust as well. Immediately, when they lost their trust of God, they could no longer trust each other. I am soft and squishy; you might hurt me if I do not cover and hide myself.

The teachers of the law one day came to Jesus and asked him what the greatest commandment was. And Jesus answered, to love God with everything you have and all that you are, and the second is like the first, love your neighbor as yourself. The greatest commandment is to trust and entrust. It is to put God and others before your own self-interest. The greatest commandment is relationships. And this goes all the way back to a tree.

The crafty serpent did not completely lie when he spoke to Eve. The truth is they would not die if they ate from the tree. The reason we die is because God could no longer trust us. He could not trust us, and we could no longer trust him or those around us. We die because God banished us from the garden and removed our access to the tree of life. We were banished because through our short-sighted desires, we flippantly threw our relationship away and once trust is broken it becomes difficult to restore. Our child tells a lie to avoid punishment and now we cannot trust them. Our spouse failed to mention something and now we do not trust that they will be where we think they are. We begin to push and probe until eventually we break trust completely. “Sin is crouching at our doors. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

Will we trust? Will we return and restore our relationships, or will we lash out in fear and envy? Will we wait for God to reveal knowledge, or in our selfish ambition will we take matters into our own hands? Will we love God, embrace the Holy Sprirt, and live the love of Christ with others? Or will we continue in the cycle of neglected and broken relationships? The beginning of wisdom is respect of God, will we return to trust Him?

To Donate to Willow Creek Friends Church Click here:

To donate directly to Pastor Warner click here:

About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply


Meeting Times

Meal at 6pm
Bible Study at 7pm
Bible Study at 10am
Meeting for Worship 11am
%d bloggers like this: