Innocent Blood Spilled

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Genesis 4:8-16 ESV

As a child of Adam and Eve, Cain had inherited the mandate given to them by God. Like his mother and father, he was to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). The Hebrew word for dominion is רָדָה (rāḏâ), and it conveys the idea of rule or reign. God had created mankind with the expectation that they would rule over and care for the world He had created for them. That capacity to serve as His designated caretakers was to reflect their close association with Him. They bore His image.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” – Genesis 1:26 ESV

But once sin entered the world, man’s ability to reflect the glory of God became dimmed and diminished. At the core of man’s problem was the desire to rule according to his own standards. By eating the forbidden fruit, Eve had fulfilled her longing to be like God, knowing good from evil. She sought autonomy, the freedom to run her own life on her own terms. But she soon found out that she couldn’t even “rule over” her base desires. “She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it” (Genesis 3:6 NLT). 

Now, her first-born son, Cain, finds himself struggling with his own incapacity to control his inner desires. After having his offering rejected by God, Cain became filled with rage and consumed by bitter jealousy against his brother, Abel. And God warned him, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7 ESV).

God described sin as a deadly predator, waiting to pounce on its unsuspecting prey. And Peter would later describe Satan in similar terms.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. – 1 Peter 5:8-9 NLT

It’s interesting to note that God told Cain he must “rule over” sin. The Hebrew word is  מָשַׁל (māšal), and it means “to rule, have dominion, reign.” Like the rest of creation, this deadly “beast” crouching at Cain’s door should have been under his dominion. Cain had been given “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26 ESV).

But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Cain had no ability to control the raging beast that crouched outside the door of his heart. Rather than be the subduer, he would become subdued and find his life consumed by the “desires” תְּשׁוּקָה (tᵊšûqâ) of sin. What happens next is the first recorded occurrence of premeditated murder.

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. – Genesis 4:8 NLT

The oldest extant manuscripts of the book of Genesis (Smr, LXX, Vulgate, and Syriac) record this brief but extremely insightful statement from Cain to his brother Abel. He had a plan in mind. Sin had already consumed his heart and was had taken full control of his faculties. At that moment, he had become a slave to sin. Any hope he had of experiencing autonomy and the free expression of his will was gone. It was Jesus who told the self-righteous Pharisees, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34 ESV).

And the apostle Paul echoed the words of Jesus when he warned the believers in Rome, “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living” (Romans 6:16 NLT). Then Peter provides another sobering statement regarding sin: “whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19 ESV). The proof of these words is lived out in the life of Cain.

And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. – Genesis 4:8 ESV

The text provides no indication as to how much time had passed since Cain’s offering had been rejected by God and his decision to commit this heinous crime. But enough time had passed for him to calm down and regain control of his overheated emotions. Yet, instead, Cain had grown increasingly more incensed over the rejection of his offering and what appeared to be his brother’s favored status with God. So, he took matters into his own hands and made a determination to eliminate the competition. In taking his brother’s life, Cain exhibited his desire to “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV). He had designated himself the sole arbiter of right and wrong. Cain had become the judge, jury, and executioner. And it’s interesting to note that, at his birth, Cain’s mother had declared, I have created a man just as the Lord did!” (Genesis 4:1 NET). She had taken credit for giving her son life. Now, that very same son had given himself the prerogative to take life. Cain spilled the innocent blood of his brother.

And, once again, God steps into the scene, posing a simple, yet illuminating question.

“Where is Abel your brother?” – Genesis 4:9 ESV

God was not looking for information. He was seeking a confession. He wanted Cain to take responsibility for his egregious actions. But instead, Cain feigns ignorance and displays a fair amount of insolence.

“I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” – Genesis 4:10 ESV

Cain’s response to God is filled with irreverence and pride. He displays no fear of or respect for the Almighty. In fact, he actually questions God’s divine capacity to care for His own creation. By stating, “am I my brother’s keeper,” Cain was suggesting that the guardianship of Abel was God’s responsibility, not his. In a way, Cain was blaming God for Abel’s death. He was accusing the Almighty of failing to keep track of His own creation.

But, unwilling to play Cain’s little game of rhetoric, God posited a second question: “What have you done?” (Genesis 4:10 ESV). Once again, God is not asking for insight or information. He knew exactly what had happened and why. This question was meant to cause Cain to consider the ramifications of his actions. In Cain’s mind, with the killing of his brother, he had accomplished his objective. But now, God was letting this overconfident, self-obsessed man know that his actions would have long-lasting and devastating consequences.

“Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.” – Genesis 4:10-11 NLT

As the sins of man increase, so does the intensity of God’s curse. This indictment from God against Cain and his descendants is an extension of the curse God had leveled against Adam.

“…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…” – Genesis 3:17-19 ESV

Because of Adam’s sin, God had cursed the ground. But now, God was cursing Cain and banishing him from the ground. This man, who had been “a worker of the ground” (Genesis 4:2 ESV) and had “brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground” (Genesis 4:3 ESV), would now find the ground unproductive and unfruitful. The one who had placed all his faith in his capacity to provide for himself would now be ejected from the very land that had met his needs. He was cast out.

Just as Adam and Eve had been banished from the garden because of their disobedience, Cain was exiled from his family because of the murder of his brother. He was cast adrift and doomed to “be a homeless wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12 NET). In murdering his brother, Cain had destroyed his relationship with his mother and father. He had forfeited his right to benefit from the bounty of God’s creation. This imagery of being cast from the land is found throughout the Old Testament. In the book of Leviticus, God provided Moses with a series of sober warnings concerning the land of Canaan, the land of milk and honey that He was giving to the people of Israel as their inheritance.

“So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out…” – Leviticus 18:28 NLT

Cain had defiled the land by spilling his brother’s blood. Now, he was having to pay for it. And, in a statement of regret, but not repentance, Cain declared his punishment to be more than he could handle.

“My punishment is greater than I can bear. – Genesis 4:13 ESV

Cain feared retribution. He distinctively knew that there might be payback for his crime against Abel. But God assured Cain that his punishment would be far more difficult than death at the hands of an avenger. God was going to spare Cain and allow him to live with his guilt and condemnation for the rest of his life. In a rather strange turn of events, God pledges to become Cain’s “keeper.” In His infinite grace and mercy, God would spare the murderer and prolong his life. He would protect the guilty one who had chosen to take the life of the innocent one. And all of this points to the coming of a future Son of God whose innocent blood would be spilled so that condemned sinners might find life.

For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:25-26 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Banned for Life

20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.  Genesis 3:20-24 ESV

Up until this point in the story, the woman, whom God had fashioned from and given to the man, remained nameless. The man, אָדָם (‘āḏām), had given her the more generic name of “woman.” The Hebrew word, אִשָּׁה (‘iššâ), carries the sense that she was the “opposite of man.” Genesis 5 reveals that immediately after creating the man and woman, God had referred to them as Adam (‘āḏām).

Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man (‘āḏām) when they were created. – Genesis 5:1-2 ESV

God called them “humanity” or “mankind.” He had always intended for there to be more of them. They were simply the first two who would multiply and fill the land with more of their kind – more “humanity” made in the likeness of God.

But, in the immediate aftermath of the fall, Adam decided to provide his mate with a name.

The man called his wife’s name Eve – Genesis 3:20 ESV

In Hebrew, her new name was חַוָּה (ḥaûâ), which means “life” or “living.” Although God had placed a curse upon the woman, there was still hope. While she was doomed to experience pain during childbirth, she would still be able to fulfill God’s kingdom mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). And, in naming his wife, Eve, Adam displayed his belief that God was not done with them yet. They had violated the one prohibition God had given them, and yet, He was still going to graciously allow them to keep His command to fill the earth. Their decision to eat the forbidden fruit had not destroyed their ability to be fruitful and, for that, Adam was grateful.

Moses provides his readers with a brief note of explanation concerning Eve’s new name.

The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living – Genesis 3:20 ESV

In Hebrew, there is a clever wordplay going on in this verse. The name “Eve” (ḥaûâ) is pronounced khavvah in Hebrew. It sounds remarkably similar to the Hebrew word for “living” (ḥay), which is pronounced khah’-ee. In a sense, Moses is stating that Eve’s God-given destiny would be that of “life-giver.” Though flawed and brokern, she would be the vessel through whom God would bring the “offspring” who would bruise the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15 ESV).

The apostle Paul provides a compelling description of those who have placed their faith in Christ, and it could easily apply to Eve in her fallen–but-not-forgotten state.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… – 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 ESV

Eve was a damaged clay jar and, yet, God was going to use her to bring about the ultimate solution to the problem she had helped to create. Adam and Eve had rebelled against a gracious and holy God. They had violated His command and directly disregarded His good and perfect will for them. But God had known from the very beginning that this would be their fate. He had already made provisions for their failure of faith. The fall of man should never be viewed as a wrench thrown by Satan into the well-tuned engine of creation. The Scriptures teach that this entire scenario had been pre-ordained by God “from before the foundation” of the world. He had made plans for it.

In the high-priestly prayer that Jesus offered up to His Father on the night He would be betrayed, He alluded to God’s pre-determined plan.

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. – John 17:24 ESV

Jesus had always enjoyed an eternal relationship with the Father. It had not begun on the night He was born in Bethlehem. He had been sent to earth by His Father to accomplish a very important mission, and the details of that mission had been developed long before God created the universe. The apostle Peter reminded his fellow believers of the unique and unbelievable nature of this pre-creation plan of God.

…you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you… – 1 Peter 1:18-20 ESV

It had always been God’s plan to send His Son as the sinless sacrificial lamb to pay the debt incurred by mankind (‘āḏām) at the fall. And the apostle Paul picks up on this theme in his letter to the believers living in Ephesus.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will – Ephesians 1:3-5 ESV

Over and over we read that God had planned all this “before the foundation of the world.” In other words, long before He created the universe or had formed man out of the dust of the ground, God had a well-developed and infallible plan prepared for dealing with the inevitable fall of mankind.

“To put it very simply, the Cross of Christ was not an ambulance sent to a wreck. Christ was the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world because God knew all the time that Vernon McGee would need a Savior, and He loved him enough to provide that Savior.” – J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible: Genesis through Revelation

We know that the sin of Adam and Eve had serious consequences.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

Paul goes on to note that “everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses” (Romans 5:14 NLT). God had cursed the first man and woman with death.

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.” – Genesis 4:19 ESV

In Romans 6:23, Paul records that “the wages of sin is death.” And he pulls no punches in assigning the ultimate blame for this problem.

For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. – Romans 5:15 NLT

Adam’s sin led to condemnation – Romans 5:16 NLT

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. – Romans 5:17 NLT

Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone – Romans 5:18 NLT

Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. – Romans 5:19 NLT

Paul is relentless. He heaps all the responsibility on Adam. And yet, we know from the Genesis account that “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” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). And, in his first letter to Timothy, Paul acknowledges Eve’s primary role in bringing sin and death into the world.

For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. – 1 Timothy 2:13-14 NLT

They were both guilty. All mankind (‘āḏām) stood before God as condemned and deserving of death. But Paul went on to write, “women will be saved through childbearing” (1 Timothy 2:15 NLT). This is most likely a reference to the fact that childbirth can be a death-like experience, bringing intense pain and suffering, but resulting in new life. Adam, all by himself, would have only death to look forward to. But because God had given him Eve, there would always be the hope of new life and the continuation of the human species.

God was not done with Adam and Eve. In fact, Moses reveals that God replaced their hand-made garments of leaves with “garments of skins” (Genesis 3:21 ESV). There is a foreboding sense to this verse. The Hebrew word for “skins” refers to the hide of an animal. What this somewhat innocuous-sounding verse conveys is that a sacrifice had been made. Blood had been spilled. An innocent animal had been slain in order to cover the shame and sin of two guilty humans. This entire event foreshadows a divine reality that would be canonized in God’s Law.

…according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 NLT

And it would also be modeled in the sacrifice of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 NLT).

But while properly clothed with the sacrificial garments provided by God, Adam and Eve still stood in a state of fallenness. The author of Hebrews reminds us “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 NLT). Adam and Eve still stood condemned before God. The animal God had sacrificed to make their garments had not cleansed them from their guilt or alleviated their sense of shame. Those things would remain with them till death and be passed on to their progeny. Again, the author of Hebrews describes the inadequate nature of animal sacrifices to fix mankind’s problem.

If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. – Hebrews 10:2 NLT

The next phase of God’s judgment of Adam and Eve came in the form of their expulsion from the garden.

the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. – Genesis 3:23 ESV

And Moses provides the reason for their ban from the very place God had created for them.

“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever…” – Genesis 3:22 ESV

God had given them the freedom to eat of any tree found in the garden, save one. That means they had full access and permission to eat of the tree of life. It seems that the tree of life had been provided as a source of eternal sustenance. As long as they ate it, they would live. But, in contrast, if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die. It’s interesting to note that the tree of life appears again in the book of Revelation. John was given a vision of the New Jerusalem, the place God will provide as humanity’s future home – the eternal residence of all those who place their faith in the Lamb of God.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. – Revelation 22:1-2 ESV

The tree of life reappears and, once again, it will be a source of life. But in Adam and Eve’s fallen state, God did not want them to eat of the tree of life and “live forever.” So, He ordered them out of the garden and then stationed angelic sentries to deny them any further access. And thus begins what will become an ongoing theme of man’s perpetual movement away from God and His presence. The rest of the book of Genesis will chronicle mankind’s steady migration from the beauty of the garden and into the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Costly Choice

16 To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
    but he shall rule over you.”

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;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 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.” Genesis 3:16-19 ESV

God cursed the serpent and, by extension, Satan, the one who had been behind the entire forbidden fruit incident. But now, He turns His attention to the two VIPs of His creation. Adam and Eve had been formed by the very hand of God and given the exclusive privilege of bearing His image. Not only that, they had been given the distinctive responsibility to act as God’s vice-regents, ruling over and caring for all that He had made. They were to have been stewards over the vast and diverse earthly domain God had created.

Eve had succumbed to the serpent’s temptation and eaten the fruit of the one tree God had decreed as off-limits. And it wasn’t so much the act of fruit consumption that got Eve in trouble. It was the motivation behind the act. When Eve heard the serpent promise that eating the fruit would not lead to death, she had believed him.

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. – Genesis 3:6 NLT

Eve was out to satiate a hunger that had nothing to do with food. She wanted to “be like God, knowing both good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 NLT). Eve’s brief exchange with the serpent had left her with a seemingly insatiable desire for sovereignty and autonomy. Eve didn’t suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. She wasn’t born with a forbidden fruit fetish. No, she had an authority problem. She wanted to be in control. And it seems that her mate shared her predisposition for independence and self-rule because he quickly joined her in eating the fruit. And, according to the book of James, they had no one to blame but themselves.

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15 NLT

This raises a somewhat disconcerting question. Why did God place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden in the first place? It seems that, in so doing, God provided a form of “temptation” for Adam and Eve. It seems only logical that had the tree not been there in the first place, Eve would not have been tempted to eat of its fruit. But this is an overly simplistic deduction. According to the Westminister Confession of Faith, God had preordained the potential for sin because He had also preordained the solution to the problem it would cause.

Our first parents, begin seduced by the subtlety and temptations of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory. – Westminster Confession of Faith, 6:1

By placing the tree in the garden, God established a test, but not a temptation. Notice what the text states about the tree and its fruit.

…the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes… – Genesis 3:6 ESV

There was nothing inherently wrong with the quality of the fruit. It was not poisonous or potentially deadly. In fact, after Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they remained fully alive. Satan had been partially correct when he stated, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4 ESV). The tree and its fruit were not the problems. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not, in and of itself, evil. It was as holy and pure as any other tree that God had placed in the garden. But God had set it apart and declared it off-limits to Adam and Eve. He deemed one tree as forbidden. And that one tree would become a test of Adam and Eve’s obedience. Would they obey God’s command and refrain from eating the fruit of that one tree? God knew the answer to that question because He had already come up with the solution to the problem it would cause. As was revealed in God’s curse of the serpent, He had already pre-ordained the coming of the offspring who would eventually bruise the serpent’s head.

God had created the universe and all that it contained, and He had declared it all to be “very good.” Then He had placed Adam and Eve in that perfectly holy and sinless environment. Hermann Bavinck provides us with a somewhat head-scratching analysis of the situation in which Adam and Eve found themselves.

“The possibility of sinning is from God. The idea of sin was first conceived in his mind. God eternally conceived sin as his absolute polar opposite and thus, in that sense, included it in his decree, or else it would never have been able to arise and exist in reality. It was not Satan, nor Adam and Eve, who first conceived of the idea of sin; God himself as it were made it visible to their eyes. By means of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the probationary command, he clearly showed human beings the two roads they could take. And before the fall he even permitted an evil power from without to insinuate itself into Paradise, using the snake as its medium, and to discuss with Eve the meaning of the probationary command. There is therefore no doubt that God willed the possibility of sin.” – Hermann Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics

Notice his emphasis that God “willed the possibility of sin.”  God did not force Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. They made that decision on their own. God had provided them with more than enough food options to fulfill their daily nutritional requirements. But they wanted the one thing they were told they could not have. They made a choice. In choosing the forbidden fruit they were really choosing to doubt and disobey God. Their decision revealed their unwillingness to trust God and submit to His will for their lives.

God had created Adam and Eve with the capacity for reason and self-determination. They were not automatons, operating by pure animal instinct. Created in God’s image, they bore an intelligence unequaled by any other living creature. They could speak, discern, process information, and make rational decisions. In other words, they had the ability to choose what they would do. Built into the kingdom mandate God had given Adam and Eve was the possibility that they might decide to disobey it. He had commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. But they could have chosen to disobey that command. The rest of the creative order procreated according to instinct. The other living creatures lacked the God-given capacity to think for themselves.
They did as God had designed them to do. But Adam and Eve had been equipped with the God-ordained capacity to obey or disobey.

And because they had chosen to exercise their option to disobey, they were doomed to suffer the consequences. The painful lesson Adam and Eve learned that fateful day was that, as finite creatures, they were completely dependent upon God for their very existence. They owed Him their lives and they were reliant upon Him for all their needs. And yet, they had chosen autonomy over dependency – a decision that would cost them dearly.

God communicated His displeasure with Eve by explaining the “fruit” of her sin.

“I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy,
    and in pain you will give birth.
And you will desire to control your husband,
    but he will rule over you.” – Genesis 3:16 NLT

From this point forward, the woman would find obedience to God’s command to be fruitful and multiply marked by pain and suffering. And the complementary and co-equal relationship God had given her and Adam would be replaced by a competitive and sometimes combative spirit. With the introduction of sin, the “one flesh” nature of the husband and wife relationship would be difficult to maintain. Selfishness would replace the symbiosis God had originally planned for marriage.

But God saved His harshest words and strongest punishment for Adam. Because Adam had chosen to listen to his wife and eat of the fruit that God had forbidden, he would find his role as steward of God’s creation to become a burden rather than a blessing.

“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
    whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
    All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. – Genesis 3:17 NLT

God had always intended for Adam to labor. Work was always intended to be a blessing, not a curse.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. – Genesis 2:15 ESV

But because Adam chose to disobey God, he would find His God-ordained mandate to be burdensome and back-breaking. God actually cursed the ground, causing it to sprout thorns and thistles. Planting would become difficult. Harvesting would be hit or miss. The ground would still provide the food man needed, but it would not release its bounty easily. God warned Adam:

“By the sweat of your brow
    will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
    from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
    and to dust you will return.” – Genesis 3:19 NLT

For the first time since God placed Adam in the garden, He reveals the invading presence of death. He had warned Adam that eating the fruit of the forbidden tree would result in death. But the fruit would not be the source of Adam’s demise. His body would now suffer the consequences of living in a fallen world where the ravages of time and toil would take their toll. Man, whom God had formed from the dust of the ground would return to from whence he came. The breath of life would be removed and his body would be returned to its original state.

This section of the creation narrative paints a bleak and sobering picture. And with it, Moses provides the backdrop for all that will follow. The rest of the book will detail the subsequent and far-reaching ramifications of that one fateful decision. Sin had entered the world and its influence would be felt for generations to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Far As the Curse Is Found

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
    cursed are you above all livestock
    and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.
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.” Genesis 3:14-15 ESV

Adam and Eve refused to accept responsibility for their actions, choosing instead to cast themselves as innocent victims. Their desire to “like God, knowing good and evil” had not turned out quite the way they had expected.  Their newly acquired “intuition,” or what they had believed would be god-like insight, had only left them feeling ashamed, dealing with guilt, and attempting to hide from their Creator.

But their efforts to avert God’s wrath by passing blame and avoiding His presence would prove ineffective. God was not fooled. He knew exactly what had taken place and the role that each participant had played. And He began the deliverance of His righteous retribution by focusing on the one who had instigated the entire affair: The serpent. Addressing the serpent for its role in Eve’s rebellion and Adam’s willful compliance, God pronounced the first of three curses. But before looking at the nature of these curses, it’s important to note that they have a direct correlation to the three blessings that God had pronounced earlier upon His creation.

So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” – Genesis 1:21-22 NLT

So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” – Genesis 1:27-28 NLT

So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation. – Genesis 2:1-3 NLT

On three separate occasions, God had blessed His creation. He had repeatedly deemed it good and pleasing to His sight. With the forming of the man and woman, God had declared His creation to be “very good.” But in one moment of time, through the deceptive lies of the enemy, God’s good creation had become marred by sin. With Eve’s self-willed decision to become like God, she allowed the darkness of sin to enter her heart and diminish her image-bearing and glory-reflecting capacity as a child of God. And like a contagious disease, her decision had infected her husband and would eventually spread throughout the creation. In a sense, what God had blessed, Adam and Eve had cursed. What had been a purely selfish decision would turn out to have long-lasting and far-spreading implications for the rest of the creative order.

“…morality makes sense only when it is grounded in the personhood of the triune God and the subsequent relationship that his image-bearing creatures have with him. Adam’s sin drove a wedge first and foremost between God and man. Then it severed the harmony between man and man, as well as man and creation.” – Scott Christensen, What About Evil: A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory

According to Herman Bavinck, sin is a “fundamental reversal of all relationships, a revolution by which the creature detached himself from and positioned himself against God, an uprising, a fall in the true sense, which was decisive for the whole world and took it in a direction and on a road away from God” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics).

When God had told Adam, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Genesis 2:17 ESV), He had meant it. The Creator had given His creation a clear-cut command that He expected to be followed. And it had come with a warning of serious consequences if disobeyed.

“…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:17 ESV

Perhaps Adam had no way of processing God’s words. He had no mental category for processing the concept of death because He had never experienced it. Adam was surrounded by living creatures and lived in a garden filled with nothing but signs of abundant life. There is no indication that he had ever seen anything die. It would seem that, in those halcyon days of the pre-fall creation, death played no role. Everything had been blessed by God so that it might be fruitful and multiply. Death is nothing more than the expiration of life.

“There is no such thing as cold, only lower degrees of heat (or the complete lack of it).…Death is not the opposite of life, but its privation. A cloth can exist without a hole, but the hole cannot exist without the cloth.…A shadow in nothing but the obstruction of light – not light, no shadow.” – Randy Alcorn, If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil

Satan, disguised in the form of a beautiful and beguiling serpent, had directly refuted the word of God. Adam had clearly heard God say what would happen if he ate the forbidden fruit: “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17 ESV). But Satan declared God to be a liar by promising Eve, “You shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:4 ESV). Satan’s denial of God’s word and his denunciation of any punishment for disobeying it would prove to be costly for all the parties involved. And God’s indictments started with him.

“Because you have done this, you are cursed
    more than all animals, domestic and wild.
You will crawl on your belly,
    groveling in the dust as long as you live. – Genesis 3:14 ESV

First, God curses the serpent for its role in the fall. Whether this creature had been possessed by Satan or the enemy had somehow taken on the form of a serpent, God held it accountable. There are some who believe that, according to this passage, snakes must have had created with legs, but were doomed to crawl on their bellies because of this curse.  For the original readers of Moses’ book, the idea of groveling in the dust was intended to convey the idea of humiliation and subjugation. This same imagery is used elsewhere in the Scriptures to convey a defeated and demoralized people.

For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
    our belly clings to the ground. – Psalm 44:25 ESV

The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might;
they shall lay their hands on their mouths;
    their ears shall be deaf;
they shall lick the dust like a serpent,
    like the crawling things of the earth… – Micah 7:16-17 ESV

But God had far more than humiliation in mind for the serpent. This is where Satan’s nefarious behind-the-scenes role is exposed. He had been the one behind the whole affair, and he would pay dearly for his actions.

“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.” – Genesis 3:15 NLT

There has never been a love affair between snakes and humanity. But there is far more to this curse than a mutual and perpetual disdain between these two species. God is addressing Satan, and warning him of a future form of retribution that will result in his demise. This passage has been called the protoevangelium or first gospel. In delivering this curse upon Satan, God was declaring His intention to bring about a future seed of the woman who would fulfill the role that Adam had failed to carry out. Adam’s participation in the eating of the fruit had brought death to humanity. But there would be a second Adam, who would ultimately defeat death and destroy the enemy. The apostle Paul would later reveal the far-reaching implications of Adam’s sin.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

But Paul clarifies that will be a second Adam, another man, who will bring forgiveness and replace the condemnation of death with the hope of eternal life.

Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:14-15 NLT

Adam and Eve listened to the lies of the enemy and rebelled against their good and gracious creator, and their capacity for sin was passed down to their descendants. And sin resulted in separation from God – both spiritually and physically. And yet, according to the protoevangelium, God already had a remedy in place.

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. – Romans 5:17-18 NLT

The book of Genesis records the story of how sin entered the world. But as dark and depressing as these opening chapters of God’s Word may appear, they are marked by hope. God was not done. He had not been caught off guard or taken by surprise. The actions of Adam and Eve did not cause God to come up with Plan B. The “offspring” of Adam and Eve had been the plan all along. God had always planned to send His Son to pay for the sins of mankind. Even before He had made the world, God had intended to send His Son to be the Savior of the world. The apostle Peter reminds us of the preordained nature of God’s redemptive plan when he writes:

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. – 1 Peter 1:18-20 NLT

Satan thought he had thrown a wrench into God’s plans, but he was wrong. The fall was inevitable because humanity was incapable of remaining faithful to its calling. But God had a plan in place that would restore order, renew His fallen creation, and redeem His disobedient children. And it would all take place through “Christ’s one act of righteousness” (Romans 5:18 NLT). The apostle Paul describes the difference between the first and last Adam.

“The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 15:45 NLT

Jesus was destined to deliver fallen humanity from death to life, from cursed to blessed, and from the role of the enemy to that of an heir. And the third stanza of the Christmas carol, Joy to the World, sums it up well.

No more let sins and sorrows grow
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Rupture in the Cosmic Order

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. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 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.”  Genesis 3:8-13 ESV

The fruit that God had clearly forbidden, Eve had deemed as “good for food” and “a delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). Under the nefarious influence of the serpent (a.k.a. Satan), Eve had rejected the divine prohibition concerning the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both she and Adam went with their gut instinct and gave in to their base desire for self-satisfaction. Moses reveals that at the core of Eve’s decision-making process was the faulty understanding that “the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “wise” is שָׂכַל (śāḵal), and it can also mean “to give insight.” Eve was hoping to acquire an intuitive understanding of all things. Dictionary.com defines “intuition” as “direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process.” She desired an immediate and inner apprehension of right and wrong. In other words, she was not interested in adhering to God’s predetermined standard for obedience. William Ernest Henley could have been quoting Eve when he penned the last two lines of his poem, Invictus.

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

Eve was dissatisfied. Everything God had made and had deemed as “very good” was not good enough for Eve. She wanted more. She wanted what she could not have. She had an innate desire for that which had been denied. She and Adam had no need for additional food. There was no shortage of edible plants and fruit-bearing trees in the garden. But the one tree that God had declared as off-limits became the one tree Eve couldn’t stop thinking about.

“The heart wants what it wants. That’s as far as we get. That’s the conversation stopper. The imperial self rules all. The inquiring into the causes of sin takes us back, again and again, to the intractable human will and the heart’s desire that stiffens the will against all competing considerations. Like a neurotic and therapeutically shelf-worn little god, the human heart keeps ending discussions by insisting it wants what it wants.” – Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 62

It wasn’t so much the fruit that Eve desired as the promise of autonomy it supposedly held. She wanted to be wise – like God. She desired to be intuitively intelligent and capable of making her own determinations of right and wrong.

J. I. Packer describes sin as “essentially the resolve – the mad, utterly blameworthy, but nonetheless, utterly firm resolve – to play God and right the real God. Sinners resolve to treat themselves as the center of the universe and so they keep God at bay on the outer circumference of their lives” (J. I. Packer, “The Necessity of the Atonement,” in Atonement, ed. Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer). Eve had resolved to replace God’s standard with her own and, sadly, she convinced her husband to follow her lead.

And it’s interesting to note that the first “insight” Adam and Eve gained from eating the forbidden fruit was an awareness of their own nakedness. They made the sudden determination that what God had deemed as “very good” was unacceptable. Their decision to cover their bodies with make-shift garments reveals their new capacity for making self-determined moral judgments.

“…there is a never-ending drive to replace the triune God with infinitely inferior and more palpable gods along with a set of degenerate moral precepts as a further means of suppressing the truth. The unregenerate host of humanity hate the light of divine moral truth. They cannot bear to allow it to shine on them lest it expose the blackness of their shame, their dishonor, their guilt and rebellion (John 3:20).” – Scott Christensen, What About Evil: A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory

It should not be overlooked that the very first thing Adam and Eve did, post-sin, was cover their “nakedness.” They inherently knew that they were exposed to the eyes of God, and they feared that He would see them for what they were. So, Moses indicates that the first couple attempted to hide from the presence of the Lord. In an almost humorous aside, Moses states that they hid “among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 ESV). Their newly acquired “wisdom” prompted them to seek shelter from God in the very place where they had committed the crime.

One of the ironic things about Satan’s offer of god-like wisdom is that it immediately renders any takers illogical and irrational. Adam and Eve really thought they could hide from God. And when He showed up, asking, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9 ESV), Adam reluctantly responded, ““I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10 ESV).

Fear, shame, and hiddenness. Those are just a few of the unhealthy byproducts of sin. They also reveal what Satan was really offering when he had declared that the forbidden fruit would make Eve “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV). His promise of god-likeness was a lie. What he was really offering was the anthesis of godliness. By eating the forbidden fruit, Eve and her easily manipulated husband didn’t become like God, they actually found themselves exhibiting characteristics that were diametrically opposed to God: ungodliness, unrighteousness, injustice, and lawlessness.

“…to fall short of the glory of God is to bare a shattered imago Dei. The reflection of the moral image of God within the fallen creature is irreparably broken apart from divine intervention. ‘Sin is a radical disruption in the core of our being.’” – Scott Christensen, What About Evil: A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory

Notice that God began the conversation with His disobedient children by inquiring about their location. He knew where they were and He was fully aware of what they had done. But He seems to place the emphasis on their broken relationship with Him. They were in the garden, hidden among the trees, but they were actually far from God. Their sin had separated them from the very one who had made them. And notice that, when Adam heard the voice of God, he immediately confessed his nakedness, but not his sin. And, in an attempt to garner a full confession from Adam, God asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11 ESV).  Once again, God knew the answer to His own question. He was simply giving His disobedient son an opportunity to own his actions. But rather than admitting his culpability, Adam passes the buck. He blames his wife.

“The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” – Genesis 3:12 ESV

He attempts to shift the blame by pointing out that Eve had been God’s idea. Had God not made Eve, none of this would have happened. Adam was declaring himself to be an innocent and unwitting victim in this disastrous affair. Playing along with Adam’s faulty line of reasoning, God asked Eve, “What is this that you have done?” (Genesis 3:13 ESV). To which she replied, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13 ESV).

Neither the man nor the woman took responsibility for their actions. They had both desired the benefits the fruit offered, but neither wanted to accept accountability or face the liabilities that came with their actions. Sin always has consequences. It offers an assortment of tempting perks, but they all come with a hefty price tag. And, as will become readily apparent, there was plenty of blame to go around. God would render judgment against all parties involved. He would hold everyone accountable for their actions.

Adam and Eve had been created as God’s image-bearers, but in choosing to disobey God, their ability to mirror His goodness and glory was shattered. On that fateful day, the light of God’s glory diminished in the lives of the two people He had created. Darkness entered the scene once again. Evil entered the garden. And as Os Guinness so aptly put it, “Evil is therefore in essence that which was not supposed to be, a rupture in the cosmic order of things, a cancer whose malignancy has spread to every part of life, a form or red-handed mutiny against life as it was supposed to be” (Os Guinness, Unspeakable: Facing Up to Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Short Journey from Doubt to Disobedience

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’?” 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.’” 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.” 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. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Genesis 3:1-7 ESV

With the opening of chapter three, the story takes a sudden and decidedly dark turn. The preceding chapter ended with the first marriage ceremony, officiated over by God Himself, as He joined together as “one flesh,” the man and woman He had created. It had been an idyllic scene, as Adam welcomed his new wife.

“At last!” the man exclaimed.

“This one is bone from my bone,
    and flesh from my flesh!
She will be called ‘woman,’
    because she was taken from ‘man.’” – Genesis 2:25 NLT

And Moses ended that chapter by noting that “the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25 NLT). They enjoyed a relationship built on innocence, transparency, and complete trust. They were just as God had intended them to be and, together, they enjoyed the bountiful and beautiful environment He had prepared for them. Yet, their state of unadulterated innocence and intimacy was about to change – forever.

One day, as Eve walked in the garden, she was confronted by one of the other “living creatures.“ In a scene straight out of a Harry Potter novel, Eve is confronted by a beautiful and particularly beguiling serpent. Surprisingly, Eve does not seem to be shocked at the creature’s capacity to speak. Due to her recent arrival on the scene, Eve may have not yet interacted with any of the other animals, so she would have been unaware that the capacity of speech was solely restricted to humans. The fact that the serpent spoke to her does not seem to surprise her. But the words that come from the mouth of the serpent will have life-altering implications.

It is interesting to note the wordplay that takes place between verse 25 of chapter two and verse 1 of chapter three. In Hebrew, the word for “naked” is עָרוֹם (ʿārôm), and the word used to describe the craftiness of the serpent is עָרוּם (ʿārûm). Moses, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uses these two words to differentiate between Eve, the innocent protagonist, and the serpent, the clever and cunning antagonist. The serpent is going to make a full-frontal assault on the child-like innocence and inexperience of Eve.

But before preceding, we have to address the issue of the serpent’s identity. Was this just another snake in the garden? It would seem that the answer is no. This serpent displayed the capacity to reason and speak. Moses describes it as being “more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). This statement could indicate that the serpent was not one of God’s creations. Then where did it come from? Most biblical scholars agree that the serpent was a manifestation of Satan himself. The prophet Ezekiel describes Satan as being in Eden.

You were in Eden, the garden of God;
    every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
    beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
    and crafted in gold were your settings
    and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
    they were prepared.
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created,
    till unrighteousness was found in you. – Ezekiel 28:13-15 ESV

And Ezekiel describes the ignominious fall of this “anointed guardian cherub” who had been “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezekiel 28:12 ESV).

Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
    you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
    I exposed you before kings,
    to feast their eyes on you. – Ezekiel 28:17 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah provides further insights into Satan’s epic fall from grace.

“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.’” – Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV

Satan, desiring to be as God, had led an angelic insurrection against the Almighty. But his attempt to overthrow and replace God had failed and he was cast down to earth. In the book of Revelation, John provides an apt description of this former ministering angel. He refers to him as “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9 ESV). Jesus described Satan as “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44 ESV). With this statement, Jesus seems to indicate Satan’s role in the fall. He played the part of the deceiver, using lies and half-truths to persuade Adam and Eve to rebel against God. And Jesus went on to explain that Satan “does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 ESV).

It seems clear that the serpent was merely a tool, a deceptive prop in the hands of Satan. It could be that Satan even disguised himself in the guise of a serpent in order to infiltrate the garden and catch the unsuspecting Eve off guard. The apostle Paul, when calling the false teachers who were deceiving local congregations, he described them as “deceitful workman, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13 ESV). Then, he went on to explain the source of their deception.

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. – 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 ESV

It doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination to consider Satan as disguising himself as a serpent. In that form, he was able to approach Eve and raise questions about the integrity and trustworthiness of God. He may have been cast down, but he had not yet given up his desire to replace God. This time, he chose to attack God’s chosen image-bearers in an effort to dissuade them from the kingdom mandate they had been given. And his weapon of choice was deceit, designed to produce doubt, which would eventually lead to disobedience. He began his conversation with Eve by asking a cleverly worded question:

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” – Genesis 2:1 ESV

He was testing her knowledge and understanding of God’s command concerning the trees of the garden. But he was also subtly encouraging Eve to doubt the integrity of God’s word.

But Eve calmly responded, “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’” (Genesis 3:2-3 ESV). But Eve exposed her ignorance of God’s command by adding the inaccurate prohibition against touching the tree. Her answer was only partially correct, and this opened the door to Satan’s next salvo.

“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.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

With this one statement, Satan planted the seeds of doubt that would soon spring forth into full-grown disobedience. He blatantly refuted the word of God by declaring that eating the fruit of the forbidden tree would result in life, not death. He insinuated to Even that God was holding out on them. The Almighty was trying to prevent them from experiencing all that they were meant to be. He asserted that if they actually disobeyed God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would be like God. In other words, the fruit would give them the capacity to determine right from wrong. They would become autonomous and self-governing. In a sense, they would be like God in that they would be able to determine what was best for themselves. They would no longer have to live by God’s restrictive and repressive rules.

Satan portrayed God as the deceiver. He turned the tables and cast God as the villain in the story. It was Yahweh who was keeping them from enjoying their well-deserved freedom and right to self-determination.

And Eve quickly succumbed to Satan’s tempting ploy. Moses states that “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” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). She immediately experienced what the apostle John would later describe as “a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT). She fell in love with the fruit and all that it could offer. And she ate. She gave in to the temptation. Not only that, she shared the forbidden fruit with her husband. Yes, Adam was there. He had been the entire time. He had heard the entire conversation between Eve and the serpent and had never spoken up. It had been to Adam that God had given the original warning concerning the tree.

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.” – Genesis 2:16-17 ESV

He knew exactly what God had said and should have refuted the lies of the serpent. But, instead, Adam followed his wife’s lead and accepted her offer of the fruit. He too, doubted God’s word and made the fateful decision to disobey God’s command. And the rest, they say, is history. Moses sadly states, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7 ESV). They got exactly what the serpent had promised: Their eyes were opened. But what they saw disturbed them. Rather looking on one another’s innocence, they viewed themselves in the guise of guilt. They had sinned and they knew it. And they immediately tried to cover their nakedness and hide themselves from the all-seeing eyes of God.  

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Wake-Up Call to the Spiritually Weak

17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” 2 Peter 2:17-22 ESV

It seems readily apparent that Peter was influenced by the letter written by Jude or perhaps it was the other way around. Both men had strong opinions concerning false teachers and there are a number of noticeable similarities between the way they describe them. Jude wrote:

…these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. – Jude 10 ESV

And the same unflattering assessment is found in Peter’s letter.

But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction… – 2 Peter 2:12 ESV

Both men used stories from the Old Testament to highlight the judgment awaiting these false teachers. Peter and Jude each included the judgment that came upon the angels who chose to join Satan in his failed coup attempt against God.

…the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day… – Jude 6 ESV

God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment… – 2 Peter 2:4 ESV

Jude was unsparing in his criticism of these men, describing them as “hidden reefs…waterless clouds…fruitless trees…wild waves of the sea…wandering stars” (Jude 12-13 ESV). And Peter, while using a few less metaphors was equally as critical. He referred to them as “waterless springs and mists driven by a storm” (2 Peter 2:17 ESV). And both men declare the same fate for these deceptive and unreliable purveyors of falsehood. 

For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. – 2 Peter 2:17 ESV

for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. – Jude 13 ESV

Peter and Jude both believed that these false teachers were guilty of something far more egregious than sharing opinions that differed from their own. According to Jude, they were “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4 ESV). Peter accused them of having “eyes full of adultery” and of being “insatiable for sin” (2 Peter 2:14 ESV). And he wasn’t done.

“They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!” – 2 Peter 2:14 ESV

Like the apostles, the false teachers’ tool of the trade was words. They propagated their opinions through the use of their powerful oratory skills. That’s why Peter opened his letter by stating, “we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV).

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminded his audience that he had not come to them with “lofty words and impressive wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1 NLT). He proudly confessed: “my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5 NLT).

When Paul had first arrived in Corinth, he had not tried to impress his audiences with his oratory skills or rhetorical acumen. In fact, he didn’t rely on human wisdom or his own personal speaking skills at all.

…we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. – 1 Corinthians 2:13 NLT

Peter accused the false teachers of doing just the opposite. Their words were “loud boasts of folly” with which “they entice by sensual passions of the flesh” (2 Peter 2:18 ESV). The Greek word that is translated as “loud boasts” is ὑπέρογκος (hyperogkos), and it literally means “over swollen” or “extravagant.” They used high-sounding language that was meant to impress and their listeners. And Jude used the very same word when describing the false teachers

These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters [hyperogkos], showing favoritism to gain advantage. – Jude 16 ESV

But Peter points out that their over-inflated words were nothing but meaningless vanity. The Greek word is ματαιότης (mataiotēs), which means “what is devoid of truth and appropriateness.” While their words may have been impressive to hear, they were empty of beneficial content. Like waterless springs, they contained no life. To borrow from Shakespeare, the words of these false teachers were nothing more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

And Peter pointed out the folly of their self-proclaimed wisdom.

They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. – 2 Peter 2:19 ESV

They were the enslaved promising freedom to their fellow captives. They were the blind leading the blind. And as Jesus so succinctly put it, “if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14 NLT).

What made these men so dangerous was their ability to coerce and convince others to walk away from the truth. Yet all the while, they were overcome by greed, lust, and the need for power and authority. And Peter knew that, if left unchecked, their powers of coercion would eventually drag others down with them.

many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. – 2 Peter 2:2 ESV

This was Peter’s greatest concern. He feared that a steady diet of false promises and blasphemous teaching would eventually persuade weak-willed and spiritually immature believers to abandon the faith. Peter knew this was a very real possibility and he even described what it looks like when it happens.

…when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. – 2 Peter 2:20 NLT

It’s important to note that these false teachers were plying their wares within the local congregations. They were not disseminating their false doctrine among the lost, but among those who had placed their faith in Jesus Christ. They had targeted the body of Christ. Like the Serpent in Eden, these individuals had “crept in unnoticed” (Jude 4 ESV), and hidden within God’s garden – the church, where they were subtly and slyly asking, “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). They were questioning the veracity of God’s word concerning Jesus, salvation, sin, and future judgment. They were encouraging infidelity and even immorality, and, ultimately, they were instigating open rebellion against God. And Peter warns his readers how devastating it would be if some of them bought into the lies and turned their backs on God.

It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life. – 2 Peter 2:21 NLT

There is a very real and serious question raised by Peter’s language. Is he promoting the idea that believers can somehow lose their salvation? What about once-saved, always-saved? Is Peter inferring that all those who buy into the lies of these false teachers will forfeit their citizenship as sons and daughters of God?

There are two possibilities here. First, Peter is suggesting that there are those within the local fellowship who have claimed to be Christ-followers, but whose faith was not genuine or sincere. Their willing association with the body of Christ had given them the false assurance of salvation, but they had never truly placed their faith in Christ. This made them highly susceptible to the lies of the false teachers.

But the second possibility is that there were within these local congregations, weak and immature believers whose faith was not yet strong enough to withstand the attacks of the enemy. They were those whom Paul referred to as “weaker brothers” (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8). Within every local congregation, there will be those who are strong in their faith and able to stand against the enemy’s relentless attacks. But there will also be those who are spiritually immature and prone to fall back into the old, ingrained habits they embraced before coming to faith in Christ.

Peter opened his letter by reminding his readers that God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). Then he went on to encourage them to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…knowledge…self-control…steadfastness…godliness…brotherly affection…and… love” (2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV).

In other words, Peter expected every believer to grow up in their salvation, continually adding to their character the attributes of Christ through the fruits of the Spirit. To not grow was unacceptable and, ultimately, dangerous.

For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. – 2 Peter 1:9 ESV

Peter went on to remind them, “if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:11 ESV). This means that if they failed to practice these qualities, there was a very real possibility that failure was in their future. Falling away does not necessarily mean a loss of salvation. It can simply refer to a lack of fruitfulness in the life of a believer. It can and does happen all the time. When a believer fails to supplement their faith with the character of Christ made possible through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, they run the risk of remaining spiritual infants. The apostle Paul revealed that these weak and vulnerable believers were part of the local congregation in Corinth.

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. – 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 NLT

Peter was addressing local congregations that were having to deal with the influence of false teachers. His concern was that the weak and spiritually immature among them might fall prey to the predations of these men. He wasn’t worried about believers losing their salvation. But he was concerned that they could be easily persuaded to embrace their former pre-conversion lifestyles. Peter knew that the old sin nature remained actively alive within every believer. And his greatest concern was for those who lacked the spiritual strength to resist “the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16 ESV).

Peter had a strong desire to warn the weak and vulnerable within the local congregations because they were the most susceptible to the relentless attacks of the enemy.

With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. – 2 Peter 2:18 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Inevitable and Inescapable Judgment of God

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. 2 Peter 2:4-10a ESV

Peter has made it clear that those who heretical doctrines and lead God’s people astray will not go unpunished. God’s track record of disciplining the rebellious, ungodly and immoral is well established and the false teachers will suffer a similar fate.

God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. – 2 Peter 1:3 NLT

To prove his point, Peter reached back into history and brought forward three significant examples of rebellion against God that each ended poorly for all those involved. And he presented the various scenarios by utilizing a conditional statement, each sentence beginning with the word, “if.”

if God did not spare angels when they sinned – vs 4

if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah… – vs 5

if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction – vs 6

In Greek, these sentences are in the first class condition, which assumes for the sake of argument, that what Peter has written is true. You could replace each “if” with the word, “since.” Peter is not questioning whether these events happened. Instead, he is claiming that they did and, as a result, they provide proof of how God deals with the rebellious and unrighteous.

Peter begins with a case that involved angels, heavenly beings created by God who determined to rebel against His authority. Some scholars believe that Peter was referencing the same event described in the book of Jude.

…the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day… – Jude 6 ESV

And many of the same scholars believe this brief verse was an allusion to the fall of Satan from his place of glory and prominence in heaven, as described in the book of Ezekiel.

On the day that you were created
    they were prepared.
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created,
    till unrighteousness was found in you.
In the abundance of your trade
    you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
    and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
    from the midst of the stones of fire.
Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
    you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
    I exposed you before kings,
    to feast their eyes on you. – Ezekiel 28:13-17 ESV

In the book of Isaiah, there is another reference to this angelic rebellion against God, led by someone designated as “Day Star, son of Dawn” (Isaiah 14:12 ESV).

“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.’” – Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV

Peter appears to be picking up on this story of Satan’s fall from grace, prompted by his ill-fated decision to make himself like the Most High. Evidently, Satan convinced a host of angelic beings to join him in his rebellion against God and, as Peter points out, God punished them all. And Peter’s inference is quite clear. Since God did not refrain from judging angels who bought into the lie of Satan and attempted to overthrow Him, He most certainly would not spare human beings who chose to follow the lies of the false teachers and reject the truth of His Word.

The second conditional statement involves the destruction of “the ancient world” at the time of the great flood. Peter is clearly referring to the story found in the book of Genesis.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. – Genesis 6:5-8 ESV

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, the state of affairs on earth had degraded to the point where God was no longer willing to put up with mankind’s sinful disregard for His glory. They had completely abandoned their God-ordained mandate to be His image-bearers. And, once again, Peter points out that God did not spare them. Their rebellion against God resulted in their destruction at His hands, and His divine judgment took the form of a worldwide flood that destroyed all humanity – except for Noah and his family.

Peter brightens the dark news with a reminder that God spared Noah because he was “a herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5 ESV). Through his faithful fulfillment of God’s command to build the ark, Noah proclaimed the righteousness of God to his unbelieving neighbors. By obediently constructing the massive boat that God had ordained, Noah was “preaching the gospel” to those facing God’s wrath. Noah’s actions display his faith in the undeserved and unmerited salvation that God had ordained and, as a result, he and his family were spared. It seems evident that Peter was reminding his readers that they too had been spared from God’s judgment by placing their faith in the unmerited salvation provided by God through Jesus Christ. He had become their ark of sanctuary and salvation. But just as Noah’s unbelieving neighbors had ridiculed his ark, the false teachers of Peter’s day were attempting to downplay the judgment of God and minimize the saving nature of Jesus Christ.

The third conditional statement involved the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, two ancient cities that suffered the righteous judgment of God for their blatant and egregious immorality. Peter reminded his readers that God refused to spare these two cities, choosing instead to turn them both into a heap of ashes. And Peter doesn’t hide the point of this story.

He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people – 2 Peter 2:6 NLT

The people who lived in those two cities got what they deserved. But, once again, Peter points out that God spared one man and his family.

God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. – 2 Peter 2:7 NLT

Lot was the nephew of Abraham. And while he had made some poor decisions in his life, Peter makes it clear that Lot was “a righteous man” who was grieved over the immorality and decadence of his neighbors in Sodom. Yet, against his better judgment, he had chosen to remain within the walls of the city. He had compromised his convictions and, as the story recorded in Genesis makes clear, he exposed his daughters to the effects of Sodom’s immoral culture. But Peter wanted his readers to know that God still spared Lot. He rescued this righteous, yet flawed man, providing him with a way of escape and sparing him from the judgment to come. And that is the hope of every follower of Christ. While the world in which we live faces the coming judgment of God, we have been exempted from that inevitable fate because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, false teachers would have us believe that a loving God would not destroy mankind. Instead, they would refute the reality of sin and reject any need for a Savior.

But Peter’s whole point in retelling these three stories was to remind his brothers and sisters in Christ that God cannot and will not spare the unrighteous and ungodly. The rebellious, ungodly, and immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But God will rescue those who remain faithful to Him.

…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials… – 2 Peter 2:9 ESV

God spared all those angels who refused to join in Satan’s rebellion. God rescued Noah and his family from the deadly effects of the flood. And He graciously removed Lot and his two daughters from the city of Sodom before His righteous wrath was poured out on its immoral inhabitants.

Peter has in mind two groups of people: Believers and unbelievers. And his primary point seems to be that there are two kinds of suffering. The temporal suffering of God’s children as they experience the trials associated with life in a fallen world, and the eternal suffering of all those who reject Jesus Christ as the sole source of salvation and the means of reconciliation with a holy God. Peter points out that the unrighteous will be kept “under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9 ESV). In other words, they will remain under God’s holy and righteous wrath until the final judgment comes. This doesn’t mean that all unbelievers always get their just desserts in this life. Many of them seem to prosper while God’s children suffer. But while they may appear to be living the good life now, they remain under God’s pending and inescapable judgment to come.

One day, their temporal joys will be replaced by eternal suffering. And Peter adds that God’s judgment lies “especially hard on those who follow their own twisted sexual desire, and who despise authority” (2 Peter 2:10 NLT). This appears to be a direct attack on the false teachers who Peter will go on to describe in highly unflattering terms:

They commit adultery with their eyes, and their desire for sin is never satisfied. They lure unstable people into sin, and they are well trained in greed. They live under God’s curse. – 2 Peter 2:14 NLT

These people were immoral, ungodly, and rebellious. Like Satan and the angels who follow him, they despised the authority of God. Like the people of Noah’s day, their wickedness was great. And like the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, their love of immorality was insatiable and incorrigible. Yet while the wicked may appear to live charmed lives, they will all one day face the righteous judgment of God. But, as Peter points out, the Lord will rescue the godly.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

An Ever-Present Danger

1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV

Peter has just stressed the superiority of the Old Testament prophets and the God-ordained nature of their messages.

…no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:20-21 ESV

And Peter has confirmed that he and his fellow apostles had seen the validity of their words confirmed in the life of Jesus. In fact, Peter and his companions had received a personal lesson on Messianic prophecies from the lips of Jesus Himself. In one of His many post-resurrection appearances, Jesus surprised His followers by showing up unexpectedly in the room where they had gathered behind locked doors.

Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.” – Luke 24:44-48 NLT

Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, using books of the law, the prophets, and even the Psalms, revealing every passage that had been written about the coming Messiah and how He had fulfilled each of them.

The prophecies found in God’s Word could be trusted because they had been proven true. But even during the days of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the other prophets of old, there had been other men who claimed to be speaking on behalf of God. They had declared themselves to be divinely-appointed messengers but their words were contradictory to those of God’s chosen prophets. And the prophet Ezekiel delivered God’s stinging indictment against these charlatans.

Then this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, prophesy against the false prophets of Israel who are inventing their own prophecies. Say to them, ‘Listen to the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: What sorrow awaits the false prophets who are following their own imaginations and have seen nothing at all!’” – Ezekiel 13:1-3 NLT

God exposed them as fakes and frauds. Their messages may have been clever, creative, and even convincing, but they were not from God. In fact, God went on to declare that their messages had been detrimental rather than helpful.

“They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the Lord. Instead, they have told lies and made false predictions.” – Ezekiel 13:5-6 NLT

These men were nothing more than liars and deceivers, and their false prophecies were giving the people of Israel false hope. While God’s true prophets were warning the people of Israel of pending judgment for their unfaithfulness and calling for repentance, the false prophets were declaring, “all is peaceful” (Ezekiel 13:10 NLT). God accused them of “whitewashing” the wall of rebellion that the people had built against Him. In other words, they were guilty of trying to put a positive spin on a very negative situation. And God warned them that they would suffer severely for their lies.

“Because what you say is false and your visions are a lie, I will stand against you, says the Sovereign Lord. I will raise my fist against all the prophets who see false visions and make lying predictions, and they will be banished from the community of Israel. I will blot their names from Israel’s record books, and they will never again set foot in their own land. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 13:8-9 NLT

With all that as a backdrop, Peter’s words take on a much more forceful tone. Just as God had not tolerated the lies and deception of the false prophets, Peter was not about to put up with the fakes and frauds of his day. He knew that whenever the truth of God was proclaimed, it would be accompanied by lies. Yet those who propagated the lies would claim to be speaking the truth.

But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. – 2 Peter 2:1 NLT

It wasn’t a matter of if, but only when. Peter knew that when the truth of God was opposed or contradicted by lies, Satan was behind it all. He could still remember the words that Jesus had spoken to the religious leaders of Israel.

“…you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

The enemy hates the truth and will do everything in his power to refute it with cleverly-worded counterclaims that are meant to confuse and mislead. That’s why Peter warns that these self-proclaimed truth-tellers “will cleverly teach destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1 NLT). They will promote ideas that are inconsistent with the gospel of the Kingdom, as preached by Peter, Paul, and the rest of the apostles. But they won’t stop there. They will even “deny the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1 NLT). For Peter, this was the most egregious aspect of their deceitful plan. During Peter’s lifetime, he would hear of heretical teaching infiltrating the church that denied the deity of Jesus. These people taught that Jesus had been a man and nothing more. He simply lived an exemplary life that could be easily emulated by His followers. Others taught that Jesus had been divine and had only appeared to be a man. So, according to this teaching, His suffering and death had been simulated and not real.

All of these heresies were attempts to explain away Jesus’ claim to be the God-man, a truly unique individual who was 100 percent God and, at the same time, 100 percent human. Because men found it difficult to resolve this seeming contradiction, they began to use their imaginations to develop more feasible explanations. But in doing so, they were denying the clear teachings of the Word of God, and they were contradicting what Jesus had claimed about Himself.

In essence, they were teaching “a different Jesus,” which is exactly what the apostle Paul had warned the believers in Corinth about.

You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. – 2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT

And Paul was appalled to find out that the churches in Galatia had fallen prey to the same heretical teaching.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:6-9 NLT

The enemy had been busy. Satan had raised up a host of false teachers who were disseminating his imaginative but wholly fictitious version of the truth. And Peter expressed his concern that “Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality” (2 Peter 2:2 NLT). He knew these false teachers would find a ready and willing audience to embrace their heretical ideas. The early church was filled with immature believers who were easily susceptible to falsehood. As Peter revealed in his first letter, many of these people were suffering persecution for their faith and struggling with doubts and fears concerning the gospel. Following Christ had turned out to be far more difficult than they had expected. So, when these self-proclaimed apostles or messengers showed up with their more reasonable and acceptable version of the truth, they were all ears. 

But Peter warned that these men were motivated by greed, not the gospel. They were marketing their pseudo-gospel for what they could get out of it. These prophets of profit were users and abusers, and Peter warned thatGod would hold them accountable for their actions.

In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. – 2 Peter 2:3 NLT

But it was not just the false teachers who would suffer. Peter wanted his readers to know that buying into their lies would lead to apostasy, a sin that has always resulted in serious and even deadly consequences. This matter was not to be taken lightly, and false teachers were not to be treated politely.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Faith, Forgiveness, and Fruitfulness

1 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” – Luke 17:1-6 ESV

Jesus has been unrelenting in His judgment of the Pharisees. He has castigated them relentlessly and even accused them of refusing the heed the words of their own Scriptures.

“…they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” – Luke 16:31 NLT

Their hatred for Jesus had reached such a fevered pitch that they had become incapable of recognizing Him as being the fulfillment of all that the law and the prophets foretold. Jesus was the Son of God, making Him not only the law-giver, but the perfect law-keeper. In His sermon on the mount, He declared of Himself:

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.” – Mathew 5:17-18 NLT

But while the Pharisees and their fellow religious leaders were outwardly committed to the law, they failed to recognize Jesus as its fulfillment. And their rejection of Him was causing others to question the validity of His identity and mission.  After all, if the religious leaders of Israel refused to accept Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, maybe He wasn’t really  who He claimed to be. Perhaps He did cast out demons by the power of Satan. Maybe He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, leading the gullible and the innocent to fall for His cleverly disguised lies. But Jesus had refuted these accusations, arguing, “if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Matthew 12:28 NLT).

Jesus would later accuse the Pharisees of acting as road blocks to the good news of the kingdom. It was one thing for them to reject Jesus as the Messiah, but it was another altogether for them to persuade others to turn down God’s gracious offer of salvation and entrance into the kingdom.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. – Matthew 23:13 NLT

But as Luke begins this section of his gospel, he portrays Jesus focusing His attention off of the religious leaders and on to His followers. He wants them to understand that they too can become stumbling blocks to the gospel. They all ran the risk of losing hope in His identity as the Messiah. The days were coming when the pressure against Jesus would reach a fever pitch and He would become the focal point of the Pharisees’ rage and the enemy’s wrath. Satan was going to unleash his entire arsenal of weapons against the Son of God, all in a last-ditch effort to thwart the redemptive plan of God.

Even on the very night when Jesus would share His final Passover meal with the disciples, they would get into an argument over which of them was the greatest. This would take place after He washed their feet and described the death He was about to endure. And then, Jesus would turn to Simon and deliver what had to have come across as a rather a disturbing message:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32 NLT

Simon was going to be tempted. He would find himself faced with the choice of admitting His relationship with Jesus or denying it to save his own skin. He would choose the latter. In doing so, Peter sinned. He let his fear of men overcome His faith in Jesus. But in Luke 17, Jesus encourages His disciples by acknowledging the reality of the temptations they would face. He knew the days ahead would be difficult and filled with opportunities to turn their back on Him. Even on the night when Jesus was arrested, Mark records that “all his disciples deserted him and ran away” (Mark 14:50 NLT).

The days ahead would be filled with temptations to turn their back on Him, and all of them would dessert Him in some form or fashion. Only Peter and John would follow Him to His trials. Of all the disciples, only John is described as being at His crucifixion. But Jesus wanted these men to know that their abandonment of Him would be forgiven. Their loss of faith would not be held against them. But if their lack of faith caused another to reject Jesus, the consequences would be serious.

The context is critical to understanding this passage. Jesus had been hammering away at the religious leaders and their lack of compassion for the people. These arrogant and prideful men viewed themselves as spiritual superior to everyone else. And in their highly educated and religiously savvy opinion, they deemed Jesus to be a fraud and phony. He was a wannabe Messiah who lacked the proper credentials, pedigree, and education to serve in such a prestigious and prominent role. And these men were leading others to sin against God by rejecting His anointed Messiah.

So, Jesus was warning His disciples to not follow the example of the Pharisees. In the days, ahead, when things got dark and all looked lost, he wanted to them to remain faithful and not allow their doubts to cause others to dismiss Him as Savior. And He gave them some sobering words to consider:

It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin.” – Luke 17:2 NLT

He forewarns them: “So watch yourselves!” (Luke 17:3 NLT). Things were about to get dark and deadly. His earthly mission was going to culminate with His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. But it would be followed by His miraculous resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. And despite of His victory over death and the grave, the temptations would continue for the disciples. That is why He continues to encourage them to live in a constant state of preparedness, because the enemy was defeated but far from dead. Satan would continue to attack the disciples long after Jesus was gone. They would face ongoing temptations to sin and would need to avail themselves of the forgiveness Jesus made possible by His death on the cross.

Sometime after Jesus had returned to His Father’s side in heaven, the apostle John would later:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 NLT

Forgiveness would be an ongoing commodity because sin would be an ever-present reality. Jesus’ death provided the payment for mankind’s sin debt, but it did not eradicate the danger of sin’s presence. That’s why Jesus warned His disciples:

“If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.” – Luke 17:3-4 NLT

When Jesus departed from earth, He left His disciples on their own, but He did not leave them defenseless and helpless. He provided them with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. He promised His disciples that He would not leave them as orphans, alone and on their own. No, He assured them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you” (John 14:16 NLT). The Holy Spirit would provide them with all the power they needed to fulfill the Great Commission and survive in a hostile environment in which the enemy still “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 1:8 ESV). The tempter, though defeated,  would still be alive and well and working overtime to distract and destroy the followers of Christ. Temptations would come. Believers would sin. And forgiveness would need to be extended.

All this talk about temptation, trials, sin, and forgiveness left the disciples wondering if they were up to the task. In their simplistic way of thinking, they believed they would need additional faith in order to survive what was coming their way. They didn’t want to flake out or run the risk of causing a brother or sister to stumble. So, they asked Jesus to increase their faith. It was like asking for more energy to survive a particularly strenuous task. But Jesus pointed out that it was not the quantity of their faith that mattered. Nor was it a matter of quality.

“If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you! – Luke 17:7 NLT

To the disciples, faith was the missing ingredient. But in their defense, on more than one occasion, they had heard Jesus say, “O you of little faith” (Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31). That sounds like a declaration of need or an accusation of lack. In their minds, they simply presumed that more faith was the answer. But the amount of faith is not the issue here. It is the object of our faith that matters. A little faith placed in the right source will produce staggering results. It was Paul expressed in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Jesus was going to ensure that they had all the strength they needed to endure what they were destined to face as His disciples. And Jesus would later assure His disciples that they would have all the faith, power, strength, wisdom, and words they needed to accomplish even greater works than He had done.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” – John 14:12-14 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson