God found them hiding in the garden, the man blamed the woman, the man learned he would have to work hard now and sweat, the woman found out she would find sorrow in childbearing, and most importantly they were exiled from the garden. But they did not die on the day they ate of the fruit.
I want to give you some ways of seeing this story that you may not have before. The Hebrew writers were skilled storytellers. In this case they tie nakedness and not being ashamed to the crafty serpent who gets them to disobey God and then suddenly they are still naked but now they are ashamed. And it all happened after they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
You’d think God would want them to have that knowledge, wouldn’t you? But he told them not to eat of it because they were not ready for it. The serpent said “you will be like God.” Is that a bad thing? No, it’s what God wants for us. He wants for us to become like him: “be holy for I am holy” (e.g. Leviticus 19:2). But they weren’t ready for it. They had to grow into it.
That’s what the Old Testament is about. It aims to give its people the knowledge of good and evil and how to live wisely. Wisdom is crucial. But just as we teach our children different things as they grow up, so does God. For instance, a stove is a great thing. But you don’t want your 3-year old touching it yet, do you? You wait until they can understand how it is to be used.
The same with the knowledge of good and evil. The man and woman were naïve and innocent at the end of chapter 2. In 3:1 they are tricked into taking part in something they are not yet ready for.
“That’s right. But wait,” you say. “They didn’t die. Why did God tell them they would?” I’m glad you asked. To the Israelites who had experienced and maybe were experiencing exile when this was written, this is a story that tells how they came to be. Not so much how humans came to be, but how Israel came to be.
Isn’t the history of this man and woman the history of Israel? And isn’t it the history of humankind—which by the way in case you’ve already forgotten is what “man” or “Adam” means. If we obey God we get to live in his land, with him. If we disobey God, we are exiled.
The man and the woman were in the garden with God. They disobeyed and were exiled. God’s people had a history of being brought to his land. Then when they disobeyed they would find themselves in exile. Metaphorically exile is the place of death.
And isn’t that our story too? We want to make sense of our world: how it began, where we come from. We are either going to believe in some theory that excludes a creator and still be left with questions, or we are going to believe that behind the creation we see is a Creator. We may not get all the answers we would like to every question we might have, but we have an answer. Where did this all come from? A good and loving and powerful Creator.
And isn’t the man and woman’s story ours too? When we obey God’s guidance we find ourselves living in his land, with him, where things are good. And when we disobey we eventually find ourselves dying a slow death. Something isn’t right. We’re in exile.
When you sense that, you need the rest of the story. Even though Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden, God clothed them so they would not have to be ashamed, and he gave him a different place to live. He moved them away from the knowledge they weren’t ready for so they could learn and grow into wisdom. In other words, even though they disobeyed he still loved them and cared for them.
And he loves you too. You may have left Winnie the Pooh behind as you grew older. Don’t leave these stories behind. They are your stories and mine. The human story. And it begins with a powerful Creator who loves and cares for his creation.
That’s not a bad start to this story.