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Go to Bible: Genesis 3
Gen 3:1

“Serpent.” The “serpent” is the Devil. Here in Genesis 3, the Devil is called the “serpent” (snake) by the figure of speech hypocatastasis (comparison by implication). Calling the Devil a serpent is similar to calling a sloppy person “pig,” or calling an overly cautious person “chicken” (for more on simile, metaphor, and hypocatastasis, the three main figures of comparison, see commentary on Rev. 20:2). Calling the Devil a “serpent” compares him with a serpent (snake), and assigns the characteristics of a serpent onto him, implying that he is an ambush killer who is sneaky, crafty, and deadly. We can correctly identify the “serpent” as the Devil here in Genesis 3 from 2 Corinthians 11:3 and Revelation 20:2.

Also, however, as we will see later in this study, the Hebrew vocabulary allows for the Devil to have actually appeared to Eve and Adam as a glorious “Shining One,” a glorious and powerful angel, yet still be called “the serpent” to portray his crafty characteristics.

The Bible never gives us the actual personal name of the Devil; the name he was given when God created him. We know the names of important angels such as Michael or Gabriel, but when it comes to the Devil, all the Bible gives us are appellatives and descriptions that let us know about his evil nature and his power. Many of the names in the Bible are given as “mini-portraits” of the person, and that is the case with the Devil. The “names” of the Devil portray him very well, names such as “Slanderer,” “Adversary,” “Opposer,” “Wicked One,” and “Dragon.”

Unfortunately, God calling the Devil the “serpent” here in Genesis has given rise to the tradition that the Devil came to Eve in the form of a snake, but that is highly unlikely. The name “the Serpent” is a fitting name for the Devil, and the sneaky, crafty way he approached Eve in the Garden of Eden made “serpent” the right name for him in that circumstance. Then, God gave references in other places in the Bible so readers would know “the serpent” was the Devil.

There are a number of reasons for not believing that the Devil came in the form of a snake, but came as a powerful angel, a “Shining One.” For one thing, Genesis 3:1 says, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any animal of the field that Yahweh God had made.” The Bible does not say “a serpent” or “serpents,” as if snakes were more crafty than the other animals that God created, but “the serpent” (the Devil), and indeed “the serpent” of Genesis 3 was more crafty than any of the animals, including snakes, because this “serpent” was the Devil, the “anointed cherub” of Ezekiel 28:14, a gorgeous and powerful angel.

Also, it seems clear that snakes could not talk before the Fall just as they cannot talk now. Thus, especially since Adam was with Eve when they sinned (Gen. 3:6), they would have immediately recognized that a talking snake was an abnormality from God’s creation and been suspicious of this new creature. The Devil did not want to arouse suspicion, but on the contrary, would have wanted to acquire immediate acceptance and trust, so coming as a talking snake would have been a disadvantage. Also, why would a snake question God? At this time before the Fall of Adam and Eve, snakes were part of God’s animal creation and were “good.” Furthermore, no snake would have known that Adam and Eve would be “like God” if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thus the evidence is that the Devil did not appear in the Garden as a talking snake. In contrast to snakes before the Fall, the Devil was not good, already had characteristics that snakes would be known for after the Fall, and would have known about things about the spiritual world that Eve and Adam would not have known.

So while it is possible that the Devil could have taken on the form of a snake, why would he? Since he would have been recognized by Adam and Eve as not being one of God’s created animals, why come as an animal at all? Adam and Eve knew about the angelic world, so it is much more logical that the Devil would come as the “Shining One,” an angelic being that lived in the realm of God and would have had knowledge that other animals would not have had,

E. W. Bullinger, the author of Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, recognized that the Devil did not actually come in the form of a snake, but as a shining, glorious being. He points out that the Hebrew word normally translated “snake” or “serpent” is nachash (#05175 נָחָשׁ), and that the “serpent” was in reality “the Shining One.” Bullinger writes: “The Hebrew word rendered ‘Serpent’ in Genesis 3:1 is Nachash (from the root Nachash, to shine), and means a shining one. Hence, in Chaldee it means brass or copper because of its shining. Hence also, the word Nehushtan, a piece of brass, in 2 Kings 18:4.”a

The book of Corinthians gives us good evidence that the Devil did not come to Eve and Adam in the form of a snake, but as a glorious angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (ESV). But when in the Bible did Satan ever show up as an angel of light? He might have appeared that way to Jesus when he came to tempt him (Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:2). But it makes perfect sense that the Devil appeared to Eve and Adam as an angel of light, a “Shining One,” a glorious representative of the spiritual world, and as such he would have had immediate credibility and presumed authority when he spoke with Eve and Adam, and also in that form he certainly would have had knowledge of God and the spiritual world that Eve and Adam did not have.

So, Genesis 3:1 records an actual historical event. The Devil came to Eve and Adam as “the Shining One,” a powerful representative of the angelic world. But since in the Hebrew language, the word nachash (“shining one”) almost always means “snake, serpent,” God’s calling the Devil the nachash here in Genesis 3:1 both allows for the historical fact that the Devil appeared to Eve and Adam as a glorious “Shining One,” and is also represented in the text by the figure hypocatastasis as “the serpent,” the crafty and deadly ambush killer.

[For a list of the names of the Slanderer, see Appendix 14: “Names of the Devil.”]

“crafty.” The Hebrew root word is arvm, which is a homonym (two words that are spelled the same but have different meanings such as the “bark” on a tree and the “bark” of a dog). The two meanings of arvm that are important for understanding Genesis are “naked” (Gen. 2:25) and “crafty” (Gen. 3:1).

The original ancient Hebrew text did not have any vowels except the Hebrew letters aleph and ayin, which are both “a.” The pronunciation and meaning of the original text had to be passed down accurately from generation to generation or much of it would be lost. Between the seventh and tenth centuries AD, a way of using little characters, which were mostly dots and dashes, and putting them before, after, over, under, and between the letters in the Hebrew text, was instituted to help people pronounce and remember the words. These characters are known as “vowel points,” and for generations now they have been in the standard Hebrew text known as the Masoretic Text.

If we illustrated the problem in English, an oversimplified example might be if the letters “HT” were in a manuscript. What is the correct way to put vowels with those letters to make words? In the case of the five English vowels, each of them can be used to make a different word: HAT, HATE, HIT, HOT, HUT. The words are totally different, even though the root, HT, is the same. Putting the vowels in the words helps us remember and properly pronounce the words.

Although the Masoretic vowel points are mostly undisputed, a lot of time passed between when Moses, Samuel, and others wrote the original autographs and when the vowel points were added; in some cases, more than 2,000 years. So the vowel points are generally, but not universally, agreed upon, and they are not considered to have divine authority. This is one reason scholars often debate the meaning of a Hebrew word or phrase, and why translations of the Old Testament sometimes differ in places.

In the case of Genesis 2:25 and 3:1, the root word arvm is pointed with an “ō” when it is translated naked (#06174 עָרוֹם arovm “naked”) and pointed with a “ū” when translated “crafty” (#06175 עָרוּם aruvm “crafty”). Although many scholars say these two words are built from different trilateral root words, the spelling of the root words in Genesis is the same: ARVM; ayin, resh, vov, mem; as any good lexicon will show.

Clear verses like Genesis 2:25 and 3:1 are not problematic; no one thinks that before they sinned Adam and Eve were “crafty” and the serpent was “naked.” But there are verses where it seems clear that both meanings—naked and crafty—are meant at the same time (Gen. 3:7, 10-11). In those situations, we can see the wisdom of God in authoring the text the way He did and choosing its vocabulary. By using a homonym like arvm, God can put both meanings into one verse in a way that the wise and studious will see it, but someone who is not deeply reading the text will miss it entirely. This is in line with Proverbs 25:2 (REV): “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but it is the glory of kings to search out a matter.”

When Adam and Eve sinned, they took on the character of the Devil: they became “crafty,” like the Devil. Furthermore, they knew they were arvm, both “naked” and “crafty.” Today we call our inner craftiness the “sin nature,” and it is why every human has to be saved. We do not know the mechanism by which Adam and Eve took on the crafty character of the Devil, but we see its effect immediately. They became afraid of God, and they lied to Him. The books of Romans and Galatians have a lot to say about our human sin nature and why we need salvation through Jesus Christ.

[For more on our sin nature, our “crafty” nature, see commentary on Rom. 7:17. For more on man becoming both naked and crafty, see commentary on Genesis 3:7.]

Cp. Bullinger, Companion Bible, Appendix 19, “The ‘Serpent’ of Genesis 3.”

Additional resource:

Video expand/contractThe Serpent in the Garden of Eden (23:01) (Pub: 2019-10-25)

Was the serpent in the Garden of Eden a literal snake? Figures of speech in the Bible answer this question. The Hebrew word for snake, “nachash”, or shining one, also reveals the devil’s appearance. Through understanding the use of language, we learn that the Biblical account of the serpent in the Garden of Eden is an actual event and not a fable. The devil’s tactics then are the same he uses today.

Verses: Gen. 3:1-4; 2 Cor. 11:3, 13-14

Teacher: John Schoenheit

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Gen 3:2(top)
Gen 3:3

“You must not eat from it, nor are you to touch it.” In the Hebrew text the verbs are plural, “‘You all must not eat from it, nor are you all to touch it….” Eve thus understood that when God said not to eat it, “or” you all who ate it will die,” He meant it for everyone, not just Adam. Anyone who ate would die.

“or you will die.” The text is plural, “or you all will die,” That is, anyone who ate would die. The translation “or” is better than “lest.” In English, the word “lest” is generally about a possibility. “You might die.” The Hebrew is more like, “If you eat you will die.”

Gen 3:4

“You will not die.” The Hebrew text much more graphically shows the boldness of the serpent than do most English versions. Once the Devil knew that Eve was not clear on what God said, he blatantly and powerfully contradicted it, ending his sentence here in Genesis 3:4 with the same two verbs with the same verb tenses that God had used in His command in Genesis 2:17 when He said, “die, yes, die,” but the Devil changed God’s singular verbs to plural verbs to include both Adam and Eve and said that they would not “die, yes, die.” God used the figure polyptoton for emphasis in Genesis 2:16-17, and the Devil used it here to renounce what God had said. God said if they ate they would “die, yes, die.” The serpent basically quoted God but in the negative, saying, “You will not ‘die, yes, die.’”

The Devil’s lie, that Adam and Eve would not die, is still believed among many people today, that a person never actually dies. Many Christians believe that the “soul” (the real person) continues to live.

[For more on the figure of speech polyptoton, see commentary on Genesis 2:16. For more on death being actual total death, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.”]

Gen 3:5

“in the day.” The Hebrew text does not have the definite article. This is the same wording as Genesis 2:17 (see commentary on Gen. 2:17).

“” The Hebrew is a plural “you,” like “you all.” The Devil is not saying, “the day that you, Eve, eat, your eyes will be opened,” but rather, “the day that ‘you all’ eat,” i.e., that “anyone” eats their eyes will be opened. Thus, a more liberal way of translating the Hebrew text to catch the meaning would be, “in the day that anyone eats, their eyes will be opened and they will be like God.” The Devil was making it sound attractive: anyone who ate would become like God.

“your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Here in Genesis 3:5, we see the very first interaction between humans and the Devil, and from it, we learn a lot about how the Devil and his demons communicate with humans and feed them false information. Something that consistently occurs is that the demons give people a blend of truth and error. That makes sense because if everything that the Devil or a demon said by revelation, séances, or by divination was wrong, people would soon stop seeking information from those kinds of sources. But the Devil combines information that is true (like, “your eyes will be opened” and you will know “good and evil”), together with information that is false (like, “you will not die”). The Devil did the same to Jesus and said, “If you are the Son of God” which he knew was true, but then he quoted Psalms out of context, which would have resulted in Jesus’ death (Luke 4:9-11).

The constant mixture of truth with untruth means that people have to be diligent to know the truth and also be diligent to divide truth from error in what they hear. This can cause problems among church people because there are evil, Satanic ministers (cp. 2 Cor. 11:12-14), and there are also ministers who either do not know what the Bible really says or they do not have the courage to “go against the crowd” and speak the truth that they know, and so what they teach ends up being a blend of truth and error. In those situations, Christians who do know the truth and divide the truth from error when they listen to teachings are often accused of “being picky” or “not getting the heart of what they hear.” In spite of criticism, however, Christians are to be like Christ and divide truth from error, and not like Eve who did not or could not see the error in what she was hearing and ended up disobeying God and causing devastation for the human race.

“you will be like God.” The Hebrew word translated as “God” is elohim (#0430 אֱלֹהִים), and it can refer to God the Father, or “gods,” or “a god,” or to human or angelic representatives of God. It seems like the most natural meaning for elohim in this context is the true God, the same “God” that appears early in the verse. However, that meaning of elohim is debated, and some scholars feel that the Devil would not want to make Eve think she would be like her Creator, but that Eve would be more comfortable simply being like “a god.” The Septuagint reads “gods,” so there were Jewish scribes about 250 BC who felt that was the correct meaning.

Gen 3:6

“husband who was with her.” We might translate that more freely as, “who was right there with her,” because that is the likely implication of the Hebrew text. Everett Fox says Adam was “beside” Eve.a However, the Hebrew text does not demand that Adam be right there, so we have to allow for the possibility that he was not right there. Adam failed in his duty as Priest and Protector.

Fox, The Schocken Bible: The Five Books of Moses.
Gen 3:7

“knew.” This is the common word for “know” in Hebrew, yada (#03045 ידע), but in this case, it is being used in a full sense of both knowing and knowing the implications. It is not being used for simple intellectual knowledge, as if Adam and Eve were nude before but were somehow ignorant of it. They now knew all the implications of their nakedness, including the sin that had opened their eyes to their being naked, and so they were afraid and ashamed (Gen. 3:10).

“naked.” The Hebrew root word is arvm, a homonym, and it can mean “naked” or “crafty.” Adam and Eve were naked [arvm] in the Garden (Gen. 2:25), when the “crafty” [arvm] serpent came to them (Gen. 3:1). They disobeyed God and sinned, and knew they were arvm, but here in Genesis 3:7, should arvm be understood as “naked” or “crafty?” Actually, both, and the original unpointed Hebrew word can mean both. They knew they were naked (arvm), so they made fig-leaf coverings. If nakedness was their only problem, those coverings would have taken care of the problem, but it didn’t because Adam and Eve had also become arvm, “crafty,” and so they were also afraid and ashamed, which is why they hid from God—and their inner craftiness and serpent nature was a problem that would be with them until they died. Genesis 3 then goes on to show how both men and women are crafty, and how that shows up in human life. Adam blamed God for giving him Eve (Gen. 3:12), and Eve blamed the serpent when it was her own desire that caused her to sin (Gen. 3:13). After being ejected from the Garden of Eden, mankind continued to show its crafty nature—a nature that without God’s intervention, ends in everlasting death for each human. Paul wrote: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me out of this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:24-25). Jesus Christ is the way to everlasting life.

[For more on Adam and Eve being naked and now naked and crafty, see commentary on Gen. 3:1. For more on the sin nature that lives in mankind, see commentary on Rom. 7:17.]

Gen 3:8

“They heard the sound of Yahweh God walking around in the garden.” This is one of the times in Scripture that God came into human form to fellowship with His creation, in this case, with Adam and Eve. Anyone who has walked in the woods knows the “sound” (not “voice” as in some translations) of someone walking. There is a distinct rustling and crunching sound. Adam and Eve, who lived in the garden, recognized the sound of God walking in it and hid. The fact that Adam and Eve recognized the sound God made as He walked shows that He came regularly to the garden to fellowship with Adam and Eve.

The translation “walking around” comes from the fact that the Hebrew verb “walk” is a Hitpael participle and therefore means more than just “walk,” it means more like “walking around” (cp. NAB, NLT), “walking to and fro” (Rotherham); “walking up and down” (YLT), or “moving about” (NET). The Garden of Eden was a small plot of land, small enough for Adam and Eve to care for it and protect it by themselves, and it is a wonderful picture that God would show up in person and walk around in the garden He created.

[For more on God coming in the form of a human being, see commentary on Acts 7:55.]

“at the time of the evening breeze.” The Hebrew text is more literally, “at the ruach (spirit, wind) of the day.” In the evening in Israel as the sun goes down and the air cools there is a breeze (ruach, “wind”) that blows over the land and it is a wonderful time to relax after the heat of the day. So after a hard day tending and guarding the Garden of Eden (all the animals ate plants so the garden had to be guarded), Adam and Eve would relax in the cooling “breeze of the day” and God would come and fellowship with them.

Gen 3:9

“Then Yahweh God called to the man and said.” People discuss and debate about the existence of God. Believers are far beyond that. Believers know that God exists, and also that He does much more than that. God is involved with His creation. He loves people and interacts with them. God does not just exist, He speaks, just as He did with Adam and Eve. And it is important to notice that God speaks and interacts with fallen people, not just “perfect people.” Adam and Eve had just sinned, and sinned egregiously. Yet even in their fallen state God shows up and interacts with them, teaches them, and guides them. That God is involved in the lives of His people is a foundational belief and comfort in the lives of believers, as it should be.

“Where are you?” Here in Genesis 3:9, the “you” is singular. God called specifically to Adam. This was likely because the command to not eat went to him, and also where Adam was, Eve was likely to be as well.

Gen 3:10

“naked.” The Hebrew root word is arvm, and it is a homonym that can mean “naked” or “crafty,” and in this context, it means both. See commentary on Genesis 3:7. Since Adam apparently had a fig leaf loincloth on he was not technically “naked,” but he was expressing his feelings of shame. He knew the leaves were inappropriate coverings and he also clearly realized that God had created them without shame.

Gen 3:11

“naked.” The Hebrew root word is arvm, and it is a homonym that can mean “naked” or “crafty,” and in this context, it means both. See commentary on Genesis 3:7.

Gen 3:12

fruit from the tree.” The Hebrew text leaves out the word “fruit.” Adam just said, “she gave to me from the tree,” as if he was so aware and ashamed of his sin that he could not bring himself to say what it was he ate. In our fallen state we naturally have a very acute sense of our faults and failures, and generally don’t like facing them.

Gen 3:13

“The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” While it is true that the Devil, the “serpent,” lied to Eve, it is also true that in believing the serpent she disobeyed God’s commands. She should have known better. Lying is one of the Devil’s most original tricks, and the wise Christian knows that and obeys God even when others say that God is wrong. If Eve somehow doubted God and thought the Devil might be correct, she should have at least gone back to God and asked Him about the situation.

The word translated as “deceived” is not the most normal meaning of the word. Fox (The Schocken Bible) has “enticed,” which is likely included in the word’s meaning. Hebrew words can carry more than one meaning and sometimes more than one meaning gives a more accurate picture. The woman was “deceived,” but she was also “enticed” by what the Devil said. We get enticed into sin by our own desires (James 1:14-15).

Gen 3:14

“you are cursed.” The serpent is cursed. Eve is not “cursed,” and neither is Adam, but for Adam, the ground is “cursed.”

“on your belly you will go.” The serpent in the Genesis record is not a literal snake, it is the figure hypocatastasis for the Devil. In spite of that, however, God uses idioms that apply to a snake when talking to the Devil. Genesis 3:14 is a good example because the idiom “to crawl on your belly” is an idiom for oppression and humiliation, and even today that kind of idiom is used (Ps. 44:25). The only other use of this word for “belly” in the Bible is Leviticus 11:42.

[See commentary on Gen. 3:1, and also see Appendix 14: “Names of the Devil,” under “serpent.”]

“you will eat dust.” This idiom refers to being defeated; “utter defeat.” We can see it being used in Psalm 72:9. We still use the same idiom for being defeated today, although usually in the context of being a loser in some kind of race or contest. The Devil, that “ancient serpent,” will always be defeated. He wins minor skirmishes, but he has been defeated over and over for thousands of years now, and eventually will be totally defeated and destroyed.

Gen 3:15

“your seed and her seed.” The Hebrew word for “seed” can be singular or plural, like “seed” in English. That is why some translations say “offspring,” indicating more than one. Also, although used technically the female has an egg while the male has sperm or “seed,” the Hebrew word “seed” was used for offspring in general, as it is here in Genesis 3:15 (cp. Gen. 4:25; 9:9; 24:60; 46:6; Ruth 4:12; Esth. 9:27). The singular “seed” (offspring) of the woman, which was of primary concern to God at this time, was Christ, who would ultimately defeat and destroy the Devil (cp. what God said to Abraham; Gen. 12:7; Gal. 3:16), although the general nature of the prophecy would have included those among Eve’s “seed” (offspring) who were godly people and who throughout history have opposed the Devil and his minions.

The “seed” (offspring) of the serpent is all his children. For more on the children of the Devil, see commentary on Matthew 12:31.

“I will put hostility.” Once the Devil knew that he would be destroyed by one of the offspring of the woman, he started an aggressive campaign against them. At first, it was against all people, and resulted in God rescuing humankind by Noah’s flood. As the people who would bring forth the Messiah narrowed, the intensity against the progenitors of the “seed” increased; thus, for example, came the aggressive attacks on the Jews.

“He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” The Hebrew text uses the same word, shup (#07779 שׁוּף), two times, and so it is translated as “strike” in both places in the REV and many other English versions (some versions use “crush,” but that meaning is less likely). The fact that the Hebrew text uses the same verb for both what the serpent (the Devil) does to the seed of the woman and what the seed of the woman does to the serpent points to a genuine and hard-fought battle between good and evil. The Messiah will come and conquer the serpent, but it will not be an easy battle. Both sides will be focused and determined, and both will suffer from the battle. God revealed more and more about this battle as the books of the Bible, and ultimately in the book of Revelation, were written, so Bible readers eventually learned from the text that Jesus suffered torture and death but was raised from the dead and healed by God, whereas the Devil will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire.

Some versions translate the word shup differently, for example, the NIV says, “he will crush [shup] your head, and you will strike [shup] his heel,” but there is no justification in the Hebrew text for having two different translations of shup.

Victor Hamilton writes: “Presumably we should translate the verb the same way both times, there being no evidence in the Hebrew text to support divergent readings…. It seems unwise to translate the first shup as “crush” and the second as “strike at,” as is done in the NIV and JB. For this creates the impression that the blow struck at the serpent is fatal—its head is crushed—while the blow unleashed by the serpent against the woman’s seed is painful but not lethal—it comes away with a bruised heel. …The precedent for translating shup in two different ways is the Vulgate rendering. While the LXX [the Septuagint—the Greek Old Testament] chose to translate shup both times with [the Greek word] tereō, “to watch, guard,” the Vulgate uses [the Latin word] conterero, “to crush, grind, bruise” the first time, but shifted to insidior, “to lie in wait, to lie in ambush, to watch,” in the next phrase.”a

The Latin version known as the Vulgate was translated by Saint Jerome in the late 300s AD. Hamilton points out that it was because the Vulgate translated the Hebrew word shup in two different ways that scholars started suggesting that the verbs in the Hebrew text should be understood differently. Once the Roman Catholic Church adopted the Vulgate as its official Bible, there was a lot of pressure to understand the Hebrew text the way Jerome understood it. In fact, today some scholars suggest that the two uses of shup in Genesis 3:15 come from different verbal roots, in spite of the fact that there is no evidence for that being the case. Genesis 3:15 points to a titanic battle between the “seed of the woman” and the serpent, and that battle was described in more detail in later books of the Bible.

A noteworthy subtheme in the wording of the Hebrew text of Genesis 3:15 is that the word “heel” is part of the name of Jacob. There is good evidence that the original meaning of “Jacob” was “heel snatcher” or “heel grabber,” and the Hebrew can also mean “supplanter.” Genesis 25:23-26 speaks of the birth of the twins Esau and Jacob, who were born to Rebecca, and verse 26 says, “And after that [i.e., after Esau was born], his brother came out, and his hand was holding on to Esau’s heel, so he was named ‘Jacob.’” The Devil has bruised the heel of the seed of the woman for generations, culminating with bruising the Messiah himself.

Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 [NICOT], 197.
Gen 3:16

“increase, yes, increase.” The idea of “increase” is intensified by the figure of speech polyptoton, in which the verb “increase” occurs twice, the first time in the infinite form and the second in the imperfect form. Most versions do not double the verb as the Hebrew text does but translate the double verb as something like “greatly increase” or “greatly multiply. The doubling of the verb intensifies the meaning but also catches the attention of the reader and brings emphasis to the text by so doing.

[For more on polyptoton and the way it is translated, see commentary on Gen. 2:16, “eat, yes, eat.”]

“I will increase, yes, increase your pain and toil in childbirth.” The Hebrew word translated as “pain and toil” is atsabon (#06093 עִצָּבוֹן), and it has several meanings, including “pain, labor [toil], hardship, anxiety.” The problem with bringing Genesis 3:16 into English is that when God told the woman that she would give birth in atsabon, and that in atsabon the man would get his food from the soil, the word atsabon combined the different meanings. The woman would give birth in pain, and it would be hard work [toil] and there would also be anxiety involved. Similarly, the man would work hard to make the ground grow food, and there would be pain, and toil, and anxiety. The Hebrew does a marvelous job at using just one vocabulary word and showing all the pain, work, and anxiety that goes into childbirth and growing crops, but a single English word does not seem to do the job, thus the translation “pain and toil.” One interesting thing is that both Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and both had the consequences of “pain and toil” as a result of that disobedience—the woman in childbirth and the man in feeding his family.

Eve had broken God’s command for the sake of her earthly enjoyment and as a consequence, she now would have pain and anxiety in her pregnancy and childbirth. God had always intended that women would give birth, but now there is an unexpected consequence added because of Eve’s sin. In Eve and in all women we see that the sin nature in the body not only gives people a predisposition to sin, but weakens and sickens the physical body as well. In a sense, the single word “pain” is an understatement because the pain and danger associated with childbirth threaten both the life of the child and the life of the mother herself. There is a sad but important lesson we learn from Eve, that disobeying God for momentary earthly pleasure can result in long-term unpleasant consequences, and not just for the one who sinned, but for others as well.

“Your desire will be for your husband. ” God had created Eve to be a “helper corresponding to” Adam (Gen. 2:18), and God’s desire was that the two of them would work together and build a life, family, and society. But now, due to the sin of Eve and then Adam, the relationship between them was changed and perverted. Here in Genesis 3:16, God told Eve about the consequences of her sin and how the sin nature she had acquired by following Satan instead of obeying Him would show up in life. God described the consequences of Eve’s sin in two parts: the woman’s desire concerning her “man,” and that he would rule over her (in both Hebrew and Greek, the word “husband” is just one of the words for “man”).

The Hebrew word translated “desire,” teshuqah (#08669 תְּשׁוּקָה), occurs three times in the Hebrew Bible (Gen. 3:16; 4:7; Song of Solomon 7:10). Although it refers to a “desire,” the evidence in the text is that it has two different meanings, both of which are true. One meaning is “desire for,” which is the way most versions translate Genesis 3:16, e.g., “your desire will be for your husband” (NASB). That seems to be the way the woman in Song of Solomon 7:10 is using it when, speaking of her lover, she says “His desire is toward me.” Understood that way, Genesis 3:16 is speaking of the woman’s desire for a man in her life for any of a number of different reasons (some are mentioned below). However, a second meaning that teshuqah (“desire”) can have is a desire for the purpose of control. We see that only 15 verses later than Genesis 3:16, when sin has a “desire for” Cain, that is, a desire to control Cain. It is important to note that the Hebrew phrase “desire for” is the same in both Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 except for the change in person and gender (The Hebrew of Song of Solomon is a little different). If the meanings of the Hebrew text in Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 are the same, which seems reasonable given both the Hebrew text and the way couples have interacted since the Fall, then the text is implying that the woman, who has a fallen nature, has a desire to control her man. This idea is represented in versions such as the ESV, NET, and NLT. “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband” (ESV), and, “And you will desire to control your husband” (NLT. Cp. NET). Both meanings of teshuqah, “desire for” and “desire to control,” will be covered below. It is quite likely that God authored the Bible the way He did to allow the one statement about Eve’s “desire” to be understood both ways, and both are true.

When it comes to the normal use of “desire,” scholars have suggested many ways that Eve could have desired Adam and women in general desire men, especially focusing on the desire for sex and the desire for security and provision. Since the desire mentioned in Genesis is specifically a result of the fallen nature of Eve (and thus all women), the desire would be a craving or longing that was intensified by the woman’s sin nature. C. F. Keil writes: “she was punished with a desire bordering upon disease (from תְּשׁוּקָה שׁוּק to run, to have a violent craving for a thing).”a Certainly there are exceptions, but in general, women have a strong desire to have a man in their life in spite of the fact that throughout most of history that meant being domineered and often mistreated. Also, especially until very recently women also needed men in their lives because life was labor-intensive and dangerous, and it was important for a woman to have men in her life who could deal with much of the heavy work and who also could protect the family. Men desire women also, but due to a generally different mindset and their greater size and strength, they are less susceptible to abuse.

As was stated above, the second way that the Hebrew phrase can be understood is that the woman would have a “desire for” her husband, that is, a desire to control him, a desire that is contrary to him. The NET text note gives reasons why sexual desire is not likely the meaning of “desire” in Genesis 3:16, and then notes that “desire” in Genesis 4:7, “refers to sin’s desire to control and dominate Cain. …In Gen 3:16 the LORD announces a struggle, a conflict between the man and the woman. She will desire to control him, but he will dominate her instead. This interpretation also fits the tone of the passage, which is a judgment oracle.”

Susan T. Foh writes about a woman’s desire for her husband: “These words mark the beginning of the battle of the sexes. As a result of the fall, man no longer rules easily; he must fight for his headship. Sin has corrupted both the willing submission of the wife and the loving headship of the husband. The woman’s desire is to control her husband (to usurp his divinely appointed headship), and he must master her, if he can. So the rule of love founded in paradise is replaced by struggle, tyranny, and domination.”

In the same article, Foh gives reasons why that interpretation is sound. She writes: “It is consistent with the context, i.e., it is judgment for sin that the relation between man and woman is made difficult.” She also notes that understanding the text that way allows for a consistent understanding of the Hebrew word “desire,” and it recognizes the parallel between Genesis 3:16 and 4:7.b

It is also worth noting that the genuinely harmonious marriages that we would expect to be almost universal since God created man and woman to be together are in fact hard to find. Divorce is common and unhappiness in marriage is just as common. The fallen nature of humankind has made having a truly harmonious marriage difficult. The Apostle Paul, penned, “those who do marry will have trouble in the flesh” (1 Cor. 7:28) and the reason for that goes back to the sin of Adam and Eve and the consequences of that sin that God spoke about in Genesis 3:16. Marriages can work, but it takes truly spiritually mature men and women working together to make it work.

“and he will rule over you.” Another part of the consequence to women due to Eve’s sin was being ruled by the men in her life. Throughout history, men have generally ruled over women because they are bigger and stronger and also because many women spent most of their youthful years pregnant or nursing or caring for children. The fact that many men harshly domineered their wives was not a consequence intended by God or brought about by Him, but rather was a consequence of the sin nature in men showing up in their dominating women due to their greater size and strength.

It is worth noting that in Genesis 3:16, just as “desire” can be an unhealthy desire for a man and even a desire to control a man, it was also a consequence that man would “rule” the woman. But godly headship of the man was already part of the male-female relationship, as is stated in the New Testament (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23-24), so “rule” in Gen. 3:16 must include ruling in an ungodly way. So just as the woman “desires” in an ungodly way, the man “rules” in an ungodly way, rather than being a self-sacrificing leader as the New Testament directs (Eph. 5:25).

The consequences of sin that Adam and Eve received were not the design or desire of God, who warned them not to sin, nor were they proscriptive, they were descriptive. That is, what God told Adam and Eve were not commands about how to live but were descriptions of what would happen in life. For example, Eve was not commanded to desire her husband and let him rule her; instead, God gave her a description of how things would be in the now-fallen world. Those descriptions let Adam and Eve know what would happen as the sin nature outworked itself in them. Similarly, Adam was not commanded to work hard in order to eat, he was told that as a consequence of his sin he would have to work hard to eat.

Interestingly, the consequences that both Adam and Eve received as a result of their sin related in some way to the sin itself. Eve sought pleasure in eating the forbidden fruit, but got pain as a result. Also, she led Adam into sin, and as a consequence, she would now have an unnatural desire for her husband who would lead and rule over her, often harshly. Adam ate of the fruit he was forbidden to eat instead of the fruit he could freely eat, and now, because of his sin, eating would not be easy, but it would require hard work to produce food for himself and the family.

Thankfully, one day the Fallen World and sinful humankind will be redeemed by Jesus Christ, who will restore the earth to its Edenic state and restore humankind to mental and physical wholeness.

[For more on the coming kingdom of Christ on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”]

Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentateuch, 103, emphasis the author’s.
Susan T. Foh, “What is the Woman’s Desire?” Westminster Theological Journal 37 (1975): 376-83.
Gen 3:17

“To Adam he said.” This is the first time in the Bible the man is called by his name, “Adam.”

Gen 3:18

“It will produce thorns and thistles for you.” These plants cause hardship and take up ground that the edible plants would have taken up. The word translated “produce” is the same word translated “spring up” in Genesis 2:9. The now cursed ground will “spring up” thorns and thistles.

Gen 3:19

“face.” The Hebrew word translated as “face” is not the normal one for “face,” but it refers more specifically to the region of the nose, and is used for “face.”

Gen 3:20

“Eve.” The Hebrew word translated as “Eve” is related to the word “life,” and in the Septuagint, the Greek word is zōē, “life.”

Gen 3:21

“Yahweh God made tunics of skin for Adam and for his wife.” God had told Adam that when he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would die (Gen 2:16-17). Adam and Eve did not die the day they ate from the tree, but something did die; animals. The animals were most likely sheep or lambs—we will assume that for the purpose of this commentary—and God used their coats to clothe Adam and Eve. Everything in the Garden of Eden ate plants at that time (Gen. 1:29-30), so no animal was being killed for its meat (humans did not eat meat until after Noah’s Flood; Gen. 9:2-3). The sacrifice of the animals here in Genesis 3:21 was likely twofold: to provide Adam and Eve with proper coverings and also to make a substitutionary sacrifice that would atone for their sin before God, just as the later Levitical sacrifices atoned for sin (Lev. 1:4; 4:31, 35).

From what the Bible tells us about animal sacrifice as a covering for sin, and from knowing that Jesus, the “lamb of God,” died for our sin, it seems logical to conclude that God postponed the death of Adam and Eve and sacrificed an animal in their place to atone for their sin. Had Adam and Eve died the day they sinned, then God’s plan for a human race would have come to an end, so it makes sense that God would have planned for a way to save the human race and point to the Redeemer of the human race both at the same time, which an animal sacrifice did. The animal sacrifices that temporarily covered sin ultimately pointed to God’s great act of mercy in commuting the death sentence and granting everlasting life to everyone who accepted the death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, in place of their own death.

More evidence that at least part of the reason God killed the sheep was as a sacrifice to atone for sin is that the godly practice of sacrifice had to start somewhere, and the most likely place would be God’s example in the Garden of Eden. We see by Genesis 4:4 that Abel brought a sacrifice to God from his flock, but what kind of sacrifice could an animal be at a time when people did not eat meat? It almost certainly would have been some kind of burnt offering, which would have been burnt on the altar (cp. the burnt offering; Lev. 1:5-9). It is hard to imagine that the practice of godly sacrifice could start any other way than God establishing the practice Himself. After all, it would not seem logical that a sinful person could be made right in the eyes of God by killing an innocent animal. It is not logical that someone would think, “I have sinned, but I can become right in God’s eyes by killing an animal.” How could the death of an innocent animal atone for the sins of a human being? The idea of animal sacrifice to atone for human sin had to start with God. God would have known His long-term plan and that He would redeem humankind from sin by the death of a sinless human being. Thus, God would have seen the value of setting forth an example of how the death of one (an animal or sinless person) could atone for the sin of another person; and God made that example concrete by setting forth the practice of animal sacrifice. But no human would have known God’s plan of redemption, and no human would have thought that the death of an animal would atone for human sin.

Given that the idea of sacrificing an animal to atone for human sin had to start with God, it is likely, but unstated, that after God sacrificed animals for Adam and Eve, that they themselves then presented offerings and sacrifices to God, and that is where Cain and Abel would have learned about it. It is unlikely that God started the idea of a proper sacrifice with Cain and Abel, or that God had somehow personally or through an angel taught them about sacrifice and the proper way to do it. The idea for a sacrifice that would atone for human sin via the death of a sinless Savior was already in the mind of God before Cain and Abel were born (Gen. 3:15; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Rev. 13:8), and He started the idea when Adam and Eve sinned and they would have passed the idea down to their children, which would include Noah. The fact that Noah practiced animal sacrifice (Gen. 8:20) explains why almost every ancient culture practiced animal sacrifice, although as time passed the practice became quite perverted in many cultures.

It needs to be pointed out that the Hebrew can be understood to say, “God made tunics for the skin of Adam and for his wife,” and if this was the understanding of the text then what the tunics were made from is unspecified. This is more difficult translation and is not as likely as the common understanding.

[For more on the death of the animals atoning for the sin of Adam and Eve, see commentary on Gen. 2:17, “in the day.”]

Gen 3:22

“has become like one of us.” God is speaking to His divine council of spirit beings, pointing out that Adam, like them, now has full knowledge of good and evil. The council would have become very aware of evil when the Devil sinned and rebelled.

[For more information on God’s divine council, see commentary on Genesis 1:26.]

“knowing.” The Hebrew word translated “know” is the common Hebrew word for “know,” yada (#03045 ידע), and it means to know something intellectually, but it is also used of knowing something experientially, and it is also used idiomatically.

Here in Genesis 3:22, “knowing” does not refer to intellectual knowledge, that is, mentally comprehending what good and evil are. Adam and Eve intellectually knew the difference between good and evil when they were created, because they knew it was wrong (and thus “evil”) to eat from the tree that God had commanded them not to eat from. So before they sinned they “intellectually knew” good from evil, but now that they sinned they both intellectually knew and experientially knew good from evil.

Genesis 3:22 also lets us know that someone can experientially know good from evil by experiencing it through the words and actions of someone else. Before they sinned, Adam and Eve were innocent. They had never experienced evil in any form. But how could God say to His divine council that the humans had now “become like one of us, knowing good and evil”? How could God and His top angels experience evil? They had experienced it in the Devil and the angels that rebelled against God (cp. Isa. 14:12-16; Ezek. 28:12-19).

Besides intellectual and experiential knowledge, “know” is often used idiomatically. For example, it can mean “to care about,” “to act lovingly toward.” Thus, Psalm 144:3 (YLT 1862/87/98) says, “what is man that Thou knowest him,” while the NIV(2011) translates that in a way that recognizes the idiom: “what are human beings that you care for them?” Similarly, Proverbs 12:10 (YLT) says, “The righteous man knoweth the life of his beast,” while the NIV(2011) has, “The righteous care for the needs of their animals.” When a word like “know” is used with a more expansive meaning than just its dictionary definition, scholars sometimes say it has a “pregnant sense.”

The word “know” is also used idiomatically for sexual intercourse. For a man to have sexual intercourse with a woman was to “know” her experientially, and often deeply intellectually as well (see commentary on Matt. 1:25). Many words in the Bible are occasionally used with an idiomatic or pregnant sense, for example, “remember,” “look” and “watch” (see commentary on Luke 23:42).

“knowing good and evil.” The fact that humans have an inherent knowledge of good and evil is very important in understanding the responsibility that humans have toward God. God holds people responsible for finding Him and then showing love and honor to Him by serving Him.

The knowledge of good and evil can move from the inherent to the intellectual via some very basic things: for example, we know that it hurts if people steal from us so we know not to steal from others. We know that it hurts when people lie about us, so we know not to lie to others. The basic understanding of good and evil is why law codes from all ages and all cultures have a deep similarity—although it happens that people and leaders can become so hard and selfish that their conscience becomes cauterized and they follow a path of hurt and pain (1 Tim. 4:2). The inherent knowledge of good and evil is why even children know quickly if a person is good and kind or selfish and hurtful. The inherent and internal basic knowledge of good and evil is why God says that people can do “by nature” the things in the Law that He gave from heaven: “indeed when Gentiles who do not have the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are a law to themselves” (Rom. 2:14).

As a person is honest about life and follows their natural knowing of good and evil, they will become more aware of the world around them, how small and weak they are, and how big the world and universe are around them, and there is an instinctive knowing that a power bigger than themselves created the world. God says this plainly in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—are clearly seen, being understood through the things he has made, so that they are without excuse.” The fact that people have a natural, internal knowledge of good and evil, and a natural knowledge that there is a Creator is why God can righteously judge every human on the Day of Judgment. People instinctively know there is a power that is not human and that is bigger and wiser than themselves. That is why throughout the ages people have defied or ignored the direction of other humans but sought direction and guidance from a star, stone, stick, statue, crystal, or otherworldly apparition. Even atheistic cultures that supposedly deny God have hundreds of different superstitions in which invisible forces somehow affect what happens in life, so although they deny God intellectually, their actions testify that they bow to “invisible forces” that influence the world.

So although many proud and intellectual people deny it, human beings instinctively know good from evil at a basic level, and also know there is a creator. From that basic understanding, God expects people to use the wisdom He gave them and grow in their understanding and knowledge of Him. God said, “Wisdom is the principal thing, so get Wisdom” (Prov. 4:7), and He expects us to follow His direction and get wisdom. As we do, Wisdom says, “I will die.” Honest Curiosity asks, “What will happen when I die?” Then Logic suggests, “The Creator who created me in the first place likely has a plan for me after I die—another life. Otherwise, what was the point of my life in the first place?” At that point, often in many seemingly unlikely and impossible ways, the words of Jesus Christ come true: “Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and it will be opened to you! For everyone who keeps asking receives, and the one who keeps seeking finds, and to the one who keeps knocking it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8). God is powerful, imaginative, creative, and ingenious, and if a person truly and honestly seeks answers and seeks their Creator, and so keeps asking, keeps seeking, and keeps knocking, then the God of Truth will find them, and they will gain everlasting life.

“so that he does not reach out his hand and also take of the tree of life.” Adam and Eve now had a fallen nature, so God did not want them to eat of the tree of life. In the phrase “also take of the tree of life,” the “also” is important because Adam and Eve had just eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so God did not want them to “also” eat of the tree of life. The same root word translated “reach out” here is translated as “sent out” in the next verse, Genesis 3:22.

“and eat, and live forever….” God stops in mid-sentence, which is referred to as the figure of speech anacoluthon. The sentence and the thought are never completed. The consequences of living forever in a fallen state are too horrific to try to express.

[See figure of speech “anacoluthon.”]

Gen 3:23

“sent him out.” The verb is intensive, and in this form, the verb—given the context—shows that Adam and Eve did not leave on their own. God made them leave. For a similar use in context, see Numbers 5:3-5, where lepers were “sent out” of the camp of Israel. The lepers did not have a choice, they were forced to leave. Note that in Genesis 3:24, God “drove out” Adam and Eve from the garden.

Gen 3:24

“stationed.” The Hebrew word is more literally, “caused to dwell.” The cherubim were not just guarding the garden for a few hours or even a few days. They were “caused to dwell there” as long as there was a need. We do not know how long that was. Eventually, the garden likely became eaten by animals and overgrown with thistle plants.

“cherubim.” The Hebrew word “cherubim” is plural. There was not just one “cherub” guarding the garden, but at least two.

At this point in the biblical narrative, we know almost nothing about cherubim other than God uses them as powerful guards. We learn more as we read the Scripture. For example, we learn they have wings in Exodus and also in Kings and Chronicles where they are associated with the Ark of the Covenant, no doubt at least in part to represent God’s guarding it (cp. Exod. 25:20; 37:9; 1 Kings 6:27; 2 Chron. 3:11, 13). However, it is not until Ezekiel 1 and 10 that we have a more complete description. They are said to be living creatures, they have four faces on their heads and four wings each, and arms and hands like human hands under their wings. They would then grasp the flaming sword mentioned in Genesis with their hands. Their powerful fast bodies, faces that looked in every direction, and ability to carry weapons made them formidable beings indeed.

“with the flaming sword.” The Hebrew reads “and a flame of the sword,” but it is clear that the cherubim are holding and wielding the swords and the swords were what we would refer to as “flaming swords,” hence the translation in the REV.


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