The Fall and Camelot

Try to think about what it must have been like to live before the fall.  Of course that is impossible to do because all of our experience has been one of an acute sense of corruption, depravity, evil, and loss.  We do not know anything else.  We simply cannot relate to a world that is without these things, a world that is not filled with heartache, frustration, suffering, pain, hatred, turmoil, and disintegration.  In a word, we have no idea what it is to live without the presence of sin.

The opening song in the musical Camelot, nevertheless, gives us an idea—at least in terms of the weather—of what an ideal world would be like.  King Arthur sings:

"It's true! It's true! The crown has made it clear.  The climate must be perfect all the year.
A law was made a distant moon ago here: July and August cannot be too hot.
And there's a legal limit to the snow here/In Camelot.
The winter is forbidden till December/And exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September/In Camelot.
Camelot! Camelot!
I know it sounds a bit bizarre,/But in Camelot, Camelot

That's how conditions are.
The rain may never fall till after sundown.  By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there's simply not/A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot."

Camelot was pictured as a kind of Utopia, a sort of second Eden, over which King Arthur and his wife, Guinevere, would reign in perpetual peace and harmony throughout the realm.  It was to be a model for what life could be like.

But, sadly, it did not remain that way.  The affair between Guinevere and Sir Lancelot, and the wars that followed, destroyed the kingdom.  King Arthur’s hopes and aspirations were shattered.  Now, much later, all the sad monarch could do was to sing the glories of what used to be, Camelot now reduced to a distant memory.

In Eden, it was not just that the weather was perfect; everything there was as it should be.  There were no flaws or defects.  There was no devastation.  There was no strife.  There was no violence.  There was no death.  Seven times in Genesis 1 we are told what God thought of the world he had made.  Six times he looks back on what he had done, and declares it to be good.  Then at the end of his creative work, he takes in all that he has made, together, as a created whole, and describes it as very good.  And at the pinnacle of creation was man, fashioned as male and female in the image of God.  They were sinless people, always doing what was right, and consequently enjoying the very fellowship of God himself in the garden he had given to them.  

Prior to this summary of approval, God had given two commands to Adam and Eve, which were both positive in nature.  First, they were to multiply and fill the earth.  Second, they were to rule over the rest of creation.  These were both to be done in the good and holy manner that characterized life in God’s garden. 

There was a third command, given when God gave Adam a job, that of working and keeping the garden.  This third command was different from the first two.  It carried with it an imperative in the negative.  There was one thing in the garden they could not have.  Thus it became a matter of obedience or disobedience.  It was only one rule, and seemingly easy to keep, given all the fruit trees available.  But it proclaimed God’s total sovereignty over his garden: “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’” (Gen. 2:16-17).  Well you know how the story ends.  Adam and Eve broke the rule.

Some have looked at this story of the fall and concluded that it sounds too fanciful to be true, that it is meant to be understood figuratively or symbolically for the general human situation.  But if the fall is not a historical fact, then we have no biblical explanation for how the world got to be the way it is.  There is no explanation for how we got from Genesis 1 to Genesis 4, from the goodness of creation to murder.  In addition, the New Testament treats Genesis 3 as historical, and for the purpose of teaching about salvation.  The reason that Adam and Christ can be compared as they are is because both are real people who lived.  If Adam is only a symbol, but Jesus is not, then Paul’s careful argument in Romans 5 clearly breaks down.  There are massive implications stemming from what we believe about the historicity of Genesis’ first three chapters—involving, among other things, salvation, the trustworthiness of God, and even the nature of divine revelation itself.   

The Serpent in the Garden

The account of the fall, in Genesis 3, begins in a way that strikes us as very unfamiliar.  Living post-fall as we all do, I have to say that the idea of a snake coming up and engaging me in conversation absolutely freaks me out.  What an utterly creepy prospect!  No one could possibly be that starving for discussion.  But of course, at this point in the story, there is no sin in the world, and so there is nothing here to indicate that Eve is at all disturbed by any of this.  This chapter, marked by such tragedy, begins with the introduction of this serpent that was responsible for all of it: “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?”’”  The first half of v. 1 says that the serpent was crafty, and the question he posed to Eve proved just how crafty he really was (and is).  He began his conversation with Eve by misquoting God’s instruction, and then making God sound unreasonable for giving such an unfair demand.  But there is even more to it than this.  The serpent is attacking not only God’s words, but also his character, which produces those words.  He is trying to cast doubt in Eve’s mind over the most basic of realities: whether or not God is good.

Eve recognizes that the serpent has it wrong, and so she tries to set the record straight in vv. 2-3: “And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 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.”’”  How did she do in remembering God’s words? Was it the right response?  Certainly, she got the gist of the command correct, but there were some differences between God’s words to them and now her words to the serpent.

For one thing, she leaves out the name of the forbidden tree.  For another, she responds that they can eat of the fruit of the trees, but omits that she and Adam may eat of “all” except just this one.  She also leaves out both uses of “surely” in 2:16. God told them they may surely eat of every tree of the garden.  In his grace God gives the invitation and welcome to freely eat from all of these.  But if they eat from the one tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then God said “you shall surely die.”  The word “surely” is an intensifier; here it strengthens or underscores both the freedom to eat of all the trees, as well as the penalty for disobedience in taking from the one tree that is denied them.

There is one other part of Eve’s answer that is noteworthy.  She leaves out a number of elements from God’s instruction, but she also adds something to her reply.  Concerning the forbidden tree, she told the serpent that God had said they were not even to touch it.  But God did not say this.  It seems that in this addition and in what Eve leaves out, already the serpent’s plan is starting to work.  This one tree becomes big in Eve’s mind.  There is now something about this tree that gets her attention more than all the others.  They had perhaps hundreds of trees they could eat from.  Only one was off-limits.  Yet in the prohibiting of this one tree, it seems that its fruit appeared bigger and juicer and best of all the others they could have. You get the idea that in Eve’s mind, God is not as good as she thought he was.  Like the ring in Tolkien’s trilogy, this tree is beginning to take hold of Eve as it had not before.

In vv. 4-5 the serpent decides to go for the jugular by picking up on the last thing Eve said: “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘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.’”  Notice that the serpent does not waste any time about what God did or did not say, or about how well or poorly Eve is remembering God’s instruction.  He directly denies God’s word: God said you will die, but, in fact, you will not.  More than that, if you eat of this one tree you will become like God.  The serpent gives the impression that God is not so good after all.  “If God is so good, why would he try to keep something like this from us?”  “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know what God knows?”  “Why can’t we be like God?  And who does God think he is to try to prevent us from reaching our potential?”  One wonders if some of these ideas are starting to float around in Eve’s mind.

The serpent presents himself as another authority in the garden.  He said if you eat of the fruit of this one tree, you will become like God.  But God said if you eat of it you will surely die.  Same tree, but two different results issue from it.  Who is telling the truth?  Who should Eve believe?  She decides it would be a good idea to let the tree decide for her.

Eve’s Tests

Eve gives the tree an examination, beginning in v. 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.”  The first test she gave to the tree was concerning its nutritional value.  Did it look like the other fruit she had seen and eaten before?  She put a very practical test to it, and it passed!  It did apparently look like other fruit that could be trusted to satisfy her.  So far so good.  While it is true that God said it would result in death, as far as Eve could tell it looked more like it was capable of sustaining life rather than ending it.  Maybe this serpent knows what he is talking about.

The second test was an aesthetic one.  It might be good for good, but how does it look?  Even if the value of the fruit is the same, most people want their fruit to look the way it does in a painting.  Eve looked at this fruit—whatever it was—and she found it to be “a delight to the eyes.”  It looked the way fruit in a sinless world is supposed to look.  There was everything about its appearance that told Eve there was no good reason in the world why she should not have it.  Maybe by this time the fruit even began to look like something Eve thought she could not get along without.  At any rate, the tree passed this second test.

The third test was one of intelligence.  Could it make one wise?  Could it enable one to know things one did not know before, things that only God knew?  Of course there is nothing wrong with learning new things and becoming wiser.  We should be doing that.  They are assets to be pursued rather than liabilities to be avoided.  But this pursuit was treading into God’s territory.  Not only is there subject matter about which we should remain ignorant; but in this case, such offers of wisdom were to be turned down because at stake was obedience or disobedience to God himself.  Wisdom was promised by the serpent, when in reality to eat of it was foolishness.  Fulfillment was promised, but death and ruin, in all of its forms, would be the end result. 

But Eve did not process these things in her decision.  She did not start with God and his word.  She started and finished with the serpent and his word.  There was nothing in the appearance of this fruit that proved to her it could impart wisdom.  We are not told that it looked any different from the other fruit in the garden.  When it passed her third test, it was simply because she believed that the serpent was telling her the truth and that God was not.  The first two tests, then, became the set-up questions for the tree’s supposed ability to grant her a change in her character and thus in her relationship to God.  She was no longer content to remain submissive and dependent upon God and his dealings with her.  She wanted God as an equal, but not as an overlord.

Once this tree had passed these three tests, she did the only thing she could.  Given the means she had chosen to use to decide that this tree was worth her attention, eating of it became the most logical move in the world.  But the problem was she used the wrong methods.  She asked of it the wrong questions.  Had she begun and ended with God, it would have been a question of obedience or disobedience.  But from the very beginning of this conversation, the serpent had wanted to divert her attention away from those categories.  And he succeeded.  The tree passed her examination, and so what the serpent said must be right.  So she ate of its fruit, and also gave some to Adam. 

One gets the sense that Adam was not here during this whole episode.  Not only is Adam silent during this conversation between Eve and the serpent, but Scripture makes a distinction in guilt between them.  Paul writes in I Timothy 2:13-14: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”  Of course Adam also became a sinner.  Paul is not denying that.  But they are not at fault for the same reason.  It seems that Eve broke the law of God because she was deceived by the serpent.  She was tricked; she was led astray by a smooth and crafty enemy.  As the story unfolds in Genesis, it seems that Eve ate and fell into sin first, by the serpent’s deception.  Adam, following her, became a transgressor as well, but not because he was deceived by the serpent.  Instead, he ate of the forbidden fruit in direct disobedience to God because he believed what Eve said and he wanted to enjoy its fruit.  Like Eve, he too wanted to become like God.

The tree was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Presumably Adam and Eve knew something of evil in an intellectual way.  Now, they come to know it experientially.  If they had not eaten of this one tree, good is all they would have known in their experience.  Now they come to experience both.  Good was not gone.  It did not disappear.  But now evil will exist alongside of it; indeed, we can perhaps even say that evil will overshadow it.  Evil will appear larger just as that one tree seemed larger than all the other ones that brought blessing.

A Price to Pay

Sin brings consequences.  It was true for Adam and Eve, and because of them it is also true for us. We all painfully know that.  In their case, what did their punishment look like?  The first part is that their holy innocence is gone.  In response they start building a wardrobe.  There is a sense of shame that they never knew before, not only between each other but also toward God.

Verse 8 continues the story: “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”  They had not tried to avoid God before.  Apparently they always sought God out when they heard him coming.  But not this time.  Not only did their sin bring shame, but now, because of this, for the first time they were afraid of God.  Their perfect fellowship with God was ruined. 

They had been warned that the wages of sin is death.  Now they knew what that felt like.  In a tragic way, part of what the serpent said was true.  They did come to know things they had not known before.  But it was not at all to their advantage as the serpent said it was.  It was not at all for their good. 

God of course knows everything; he knows perfectly well what happened.  But now, in a kind of cross examination, he finds out from Adam and Eve themselves what he already knows.  He knows their sin, just as he knows ours too.  God said to Adam and Eve, the pinnacle of his whole creation: “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat” (v. 11b)?  Note their defense, beginning in v. 12.  It is not very good, but it is also no worse than the bad excuses we make for the wrong we do: “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’  Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’  The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” 

They did everything they could to escape from the awful reality they had brought upon themselves.  They tried to cover up their sin (literally) with fig leaves.  They tried to hide from God.  They tried to shift the blame from themselves to someone else.  Adam blames God for giving him such a poor wife.  There is no way that could have gone over well with Eve, creating what must have been a very bad case of marital tension that made for a very unpleasant walk home.  Eve blames the serpent for his role in all this.  One wonders, though, if this was an indirect criticism of God for letting such a destructive creature into the garden in the first place.  Covering up their sin.  Hiding from God.  Shifting blame.  People have been doing the same things about their sin ever since. After all, the apple does not fall very far from the tree.

That brings divine reckoning on God’s creation.  He is going to issue a series of three pronouncements.  The first one is on the serpent.  While some of it is against the creature itself for serving as an accomplice in the fall of Adam and Eve, the main part is against Satan.  God declares in v. 15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  We will come back to this at the end, but for now notice that there is injected into the created order a spiritual war.  There is now an enmity—a strife, an antagonism—between the godly and the ungodly.  And Satan is going to spend the rest of history striking at God’s people, especially at that unique seed of the woman who will go on to crush Satan’s head.

As Adam and Eve hear this, imagine what is going through their minds.  They probably know their turn is next.  What is going to be their punishment?  God had said it would be death, but what would that be like?  The serpent’s punishment was pretty severe.  How would God’s punishment fit their crime?

The second pronouncement is against Eve: “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.  Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you’” (v. 16).  The first part is easy to understand; the second part may not be so obvious.  The woman’s desire for her husband, as Dr. Philip Ryken explains, refers to her interest in gaining control over him.  Although she wants this kind of authority, in response to this, the man will rule the woman.  Here, the word “rule” is not the word for servant leadership.  Instead, it suggests that the man will try to dominate, to dictate, and to defeat the woman’s will in order to get his own way.  This explains a lot about the battle of the sexes—in the home, in society, and even in the church.  So women try to manipulate and control; men try to dominate and subjugate.  Both attitudes, as Dr. Ryken concludes, are accursed.[1]

This brings us to the third pronouncement of judgment, beginning in v. 17: “And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’”  Adam is now destined to spend all of his life laboring and toiling to earn his living.  He still has the same job God gave before the fall, but now it is going to be marked by trouble, hardship, and frustration.  And at the end of all this difficulty, what is Adam’s reward?  What does his retirement package look like?  Death.  He dies and goes right back into that same ground that owned him all his life.

What happened to Adam and Eve, and the rest of creation, because of their sin?  Let’s recap the tragic results.  Their holy innocence was lost, replaced by a wretched shame and fear.  Their relationship to one another disintegrates.  There is strife, tension, and competition.  Women grasp for authority and men rule with an iron fist.  Life becomes hard.  There is pain in childbirth for the woman, and for the man work becomes frustrating and unfulfilling.  Creation also changes.  Serpents are now reduced to crawling on their belly.  Death now has the final word, and it touches everything.  Worst of all this, Adam and Eve’s fellowship with God is ruined.  They are driven out of their garden home, left as it were to struggle in the undeveloped wilderness.  

Till One Greater Man

We come back now to God’s judgment against the serpent, specifically to the promise that is contained in it.  The English poet John Milton captured the meaning of Genesis 3 as well as anyone at the beginning of Paradise Lost:

               "Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit

               Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste

               Brought death into the world, and all our woe,

               With loss of Eden, till one greater Man

               Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,"

In the midst of the worst story in the world we find a glimmer of hope from the gracious God who will not give his creation over to death.  He will not allow the serpent in the garden to have the last word.  It is not Satan’s garden; it is God’s garden.  And though he comes in righteous judgment, still in that judgment he comes in mercy and restoration.  In Genesis 3, the first man, as Milton describes him, disobeyed and from there brought death and every other woe into the world.  However, Milton also writes of a greater Man who is coming; and when he comes he will restore us and gain for us the “blissful seat” of Eden once again.

Here in v. 15 is what theologians call the protoevangelium—the first announcement of the gospel.  Not only will there be strife between the serpent and Eve, and between her godly and ungodly offspring; but the battle will culminate between Satan himself and the promised offspring of Eve who is both God and man.  In his life and in his death on the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ will both strive with and defeat the spiritual forces of sin and death.  And though Jesus’ death appeared to be the triumph of Satan and the failure of the prophecy from Genesis 3:15, his subsequent resurrection demonstrated with power that Satan’s scheme in the garden will one day be undone.    

We said above that Genesis 3 is the worst story in the world.  But found in this story, in v. 15, is the promise that for all who come to God through Jesus Christ, this story can have a happy ending.  The spiritual death and ruin that Adam has caused can be reversed for all who will repent of their sins and trust in Christ—this seed of the woman once promised in Genesis, and now revealed in the pages of the New Testament.  Everyone, apart from Christ, carries Adam’s DNA of death.  There is nothing anyone can do on their own to undo its deadly effects.  But this Second and Last Adam has come to complete the work of obedience that the first Adam failed to do.  And as Milton expressed it, all those who by the grace of God are transferred from being in Adam to being in Christ will eventually find themselves to be truly restored, having regained, through the merits of Christ, the blissful seat once again, and this time forevermore.

[1] Philip Graham Ryken, Discovering God in Stories from the Bible (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1999), 150.


Michael Roberts