How Humanity Chooses Death

Imagine we’re in heaven with God. No decay, no futility, and nothing of the world we know that contributes to human woes. Now, if I were to ask how many of you would rather die than live, we’d all look suspiciously at anyone who raised their hand. Yet, the first humans had heaven on earth, and they chose death. After God created the human (Gen. 2:7),[1] He planted a garden in the heavens and earth. In the Greek Old Testament, He planted paradise. Whenever you read about paradise in the New Testament, think heaven, or Eden. When Jesus said to the thief, “Today, you’ll be with Me in paradise,” He had Eden (lavish) in mind. When John told the Ephesians that if they overcame, it would be given to them to eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God, he had in mind Eden. We often call it heaven, but that’s where the tree of life exists.

Next to the tree of life is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is the tree from which humans are forbidden to eat (Gen. 2:16–17), but before this prohibition is given, they are placed in paradise to “tend” and “keep” it (Gen. 2:15). God had given humanity a royal function in Gen. 1:28–29, but He now gives them a priestly function in Gen 2:15 (cf. Exod. 3:12; Num. 3:7–10). We often read the “tend” and “keep” as agricultural, but that isn’t the case though it can be. The work they would have done would be what we call worship, yet, not in the sense that we think of it. Rather, their jobs in the garden would have been to maintain the sacred space. If you’ve ever seen Buddhist monks tending the compound of their monastery, that’s what we have in mind here. That’s the tending that would have gone on. They were meant to maintain the area as sacred, and to protect it from the profane, which was why the command was given to not eat from the particular tree.

God gives the human a companion, an ‘ezer kenegdo. The second term means “besides,” so she’s to be by his side. “Helper” may give us the impression that she’s to aid him, but that also suggests that he takes the primary role. That isn’t what’s conveyed here. Rather, she’s to be actively intervening on his behalf. At least, that’s how the term was used in a military context.[2] Imagine two soldiers who are privates: they’re equal, they look out for one another, and they step up for the other in mutual service. This is what’s in mind. Man isn’t in control of woman, and she’s not subordinate to him. That doesn’t appear until God curses them. They’re two soldiers equal to one another and equally subordinate to God.

Remember how God ordered creation out of chaos? The serpent that shows up in the Garden is a chaos creature. In Christian theology we learn that this specific being was Satan, but ancient Israelites did not have such a view here. God created this creature (Gen. 1:21), and in the ancient east, they were mischievous and destructive.[3] Were Adam (human) and Eve (life) to do their royal and priestly function as image-bearers of God, they would have preserved the sacred space and ordered the creature gone when he clearly led them astray with lies. Yet, they bore with his nonsense and it cost them greatly.

A Repeat

The story that follows is Cain’s murder of Abel. God accepted both produce and meat as an offering, but one thing that differentiated the sacrifices was that Abel brought the firstlings of his flock while it appears that Cain brought just anything (Gen. 4:4–5). We later see reflected in Moses’ Law the importance of returning the first fruits to God (Exod. 13:12; Lev. 23:10), so when ancient Israelites heard this story read, they would make the connection. Because Cain grew jealous and killed his brother, he too would suffer a punishment akin to his parents. They were expelled from the sacred space of Eden, so Cain too would be exiled from the presence of God. When we recall that the earth was God’s temple, we can easily conclude that Eden corresponded to the holy of holies. God’s original plan was for all humanity to occupy the holy of holies, to be with Him and in His presence. Sin forces us out, away from God, but the blood of Christ brings us back.

Did Adam and Eve die on the day they ate the fruit? Yes! Centuries later when Israel was exiled, a connection was drawn between exile and death. Ezekiel envisions a valley of dry bones that represents Israel, but Israel is not literally dead. They were exiled, in Babylon. God’s promise to Abraham to give them land, and that a descendant of David would sit on the throne forever was all lost when they were exiled. Exile was death. The vision of Ezekiel was that the bones were brought back to life which represented Israel returning from captivity (Ezek. 37:11–14). When they are reconnected to their ancestral homeland with God, they are brought back to life.[4]

Abel is dead, and Cain is exiled and settles in Nod (“Drifting”). In exile, Cain builds a city—which was what the gods did, build cities. Cain invariably behaves as a god and in an irreverent manner, and one of his descendents follows in his footsteps and kills and even believes he’ll be protected more so than his father (Gen. 4:23–24). Adam and Eve wouldn’t ever claim Cain and his descendants, and Abel didn’t have offspring, so they had another son, Seth (“Granted”). Seth and his son Enosh began calling upon the name of Yahweh, which meant that they began worshipping Him (Gen. 4:26). Next is a long genealogy, and we’re prone to skip right over that part, but it bears some significance to the reading of this section. The genealogy reads from Adam to Seth, overlooking Cain and not able to claim Abel since he bore no offspring. The entirety of the genealogy of Genesis 5 is to set us up for the next section, and it does that by taking us from a righteous Seth to a righteous Noah. He was actually born to reverse the curse of Adam (Gen. 5:29).

[1] Adam is the Hebrew term for “human,” and adamah is the word for “ground.” It’s a play on words that’s used here.

[2] Alter, Books of Moses, 22.

[3] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 132–33.

[4] Peter Enns and Jared Byas, Genesis for Normal People: A Guide to the Most Controversial, Misunderstood, and Abused Book of the Bible (n. p.: The Bible for Normal People, 2019), 49–51.

Author: Steven

Minister at Glendale Road Church of Christ (Murray, KY)

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