17. Genesis 3:20-21

I.  continued

C. Life Without the Covenant

1.  God’s First Intervention: Making Clothes  (Genesis 3:20-21)

We now get a view of what life was like without a covenant between God and the world. The original covenant determined relationships, person to person, people to nature, and nature to nature, but it had been abandoned. Obviously that does not mean that there were no relationships. Even between God and the creation, between God and humanity, we are not to imagine that there was no relationship at all. The restrictions placed on death after the Fall made it clear that some kind of relationship was to be maintained. That God creates and maintains us means that existence itself is a relationship of some sort. To have no relationship to God is to not exist; existence is relationship to God.

Not only did God insist on maintaining some relationship with the creation even without a covenant, not only did God promise a Hero to rescue the creation from the Fall, not only did He set limits on the expression of death, but He Himself became an active participant, eventually even a victim, in the horror of the Fall. God does not change, we are to be told later, and nowhere is this more evident than in the events succeeding the Fall. God’s commitment to His creation was unaltered. There may have been adultery, to use the most readily available covenantal language, but God never filed for divorce, as it were. He maintained communication in an uninterrupted, if not unaltered, manner.

God took three immediate steps, which we can consider one at a time, that reveal a lot about His character and intentions. His very first act was to make clothing for Adam and Eve out of animal skins. This intervention had a two-fold purpose. On the one hand, Adam and Eve needed to be taught some basic skills in order to survive in the new world that was coming to be. Things wouldn’t just work out for them anymore. They would have to figure out how to get food; and they would eventually get cold and be in need of some covering. Besides, the “fig leaves” wouldn’t last long. When God made clothing for them He was also teaching them how to make clothing for themselves. It was an act of mercy, helping them get started, and it showed again that death was not to be allowed to be the end. Life, albeit of a marginal and contingent sort, would go on waiting for a better. For the first time, provision had to be made for the future and God had to be the one to do it; no one else knew what was coming.

Clothing also was a symbol for redemption, corresponding to nakedness as a symbol of shame and death. God used the death of an animal to cover over the effects of death for Adam and Eve, planting a glimpse of the idea of sacrifice in their minds. It hinted that the way out of death would have to be through death. The shame of their nakedness was to be hidden under the cover of an innocent victim, an animal. The New Testament picks up on this theme when it describes us as being clothed in Christ’s righteousness; and repentance, turning to Christ for salvation, is described as putting off the old rags and putting on new robes. Our spiritual shame is hidden under the cover of an Innocent Victim, the Messiah. From the beginning God has been clothing us. If we discern the truth and pay attention, merely getting dressed in the morning can be a sign to us of God’s mercy and our hope, a sacrament of sorts.

God’s making clothing for them was also a deliberate act of involvement in the mess that had been made of creation. Violence, death, and pain were not part of the original scheme for the creation, but if the universe was to continue to exist they were the price that must be paid. If death was not to be the final word, if all things were not simply to collapse back into nothing, then existence was going to be a dirty affair for a while; and if life was to be a messy affair from here on, then God Himself was willing to get His own hands dirty. So the very first act of violence in the world was  committed by God Himself against the very creatures that He had just pronounced as good and whom He loved. It was a high price to pay, but it only hinted at the actual price God was willing to pay.

There is something that Adam did at this point which deserves some comment: he named his wife “Eve”, which means “life”, because she would be the mother of all the living. When Eve had been created, he had given her the name “woman”, but at this point he gave her a personal, as opposed to a “generic”, name. Calling her “woman” was not disrespectful, as we might imagine; after all, a personal name becomes significant only when there are many individuals of the same kind.  If there were no other women in all of creation, then “woman” is a perfectly individual and personal name; as soon as there were other women, then further naming became important.

But it was not merely that now there might have been other women around (no doubt you are asking, “And where did they come from?”) When Adam named his wife Eve, Life, I think he was apologizing to her. He had tried to make her his life at the Tree and by so doing he had brought everything down into death. At the very least, it is fair to say that he owed her an apology. Ironically, though she could never have been his life, now she was his hope of new life as the mother of the coming Deliverer, and her personal name would remind them both of God’s promise that her seed would crush the very head of death.

Adam giving her another name does suggest that there might have been other women by this time. Since Eve was the mother of all the living, this may mean that daughters had been born to her. The revelation is silent as to whether there were other people created besides Adam and Eve or whether Adam and Eve had had children before the Fall. The  fact that Adam seemed to need no personal name, but continued using his generic name, could mean he was the only male human. On the other hand, when sons were finally born to them, Adam continued using his generic name, so it is very possible that giving Eve this new name had nothing at all to do with other women being present.

So if the new name was not a numerical indicator, then what was its meaning?  And were other people created than just this one couple? That Eve was the mother of all living suggests that there were no other women than a possible unmentioned daughter or two, but it might mean that only those who were descended from her were properly called human. Ancient mythology hypothesized that in Genesis 1 the female human was Lilith, and the account of the creation of Eve in chapter 2 was an entirely distinct event. In this  interpretation, the “sons of God” mentioned in chapter 6 were descendants of Lilith and Adam, not fully human. What happened to Lilith? The idea is that she turned to evil before the fall happened and departed the scene; it is all rather unsatisfying. This mythology may have derived from Canaanite sources, and we do well to be cautious of ideas from outside the flow of revelation.

Perhaps the least complicated interpretation is that Eve was called the mother of all the living in a spiritual or a metaphorical, or more exactly a prophetic way, as the ancestress of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In this view, Adam gave Eve her name because of God’s promise to her through the serpent. A related interpretation hypothesizes that she was given her name because it was through her descendants alone that the warfare against the people of the serpent was to be carried on (and the people of the serpent were descendants of Lilith?).

Most interpretations, including the most likely one that she was called Eve because of the promise of the Messiah, leave room to believe that other people besides Adam and Eve were present, if not before the Fall, then very shortly afterwards. The women that Cain and Seth married could have been their sisters, of course, merely from necessity, but it is not an appealing idea that the human race began with a necessary incest. Personally I think the strongest hint that the original creation included more than a single couple is found in Genesis 5, which we will get to soon.

Let me add one last comment along this avenue of speculation. Hypothesizing the existence of other people than Adam and Eve does not compromise their position as covenant bearers responsible for the Fall. That the Hebrew word “adam” means “man” generically leaves open the possibility that it was a collection of people that God created in Genesis 1. It was not the uniqueness of Adam, it was not the fact of his being the one and only man, that made him the agent representing the Covenant at the temptation. We imagine that because we call him “the head” of the Covenant that there could only have been one like him, but that is a trick of the English translation. It is the way things work in the world of our experience but not in God’s preferred order.

Our world is a world dominated by death, by the principle of competition, and by the principle of individualism. Headship in the original creation would have been untainted by such principles. Adam was the representative of the Covenant, not because he was the only one, not because he was male, but because he was human, created in the image of God. Eve was also a representative of the Covenant. And if God created hundreds of couples of people in Eden that we are not told about, they would each have been equally representatives of the Covenant. Any one of these hypothetical people could have been the one to ruin it all, to pull done the whole of existence; it happened to be the one we call Adam, or else he is the one we call Adam because he is the one who represented the whole Covenant in the Fall. Perhaps, after all, we have arrived at the reason Eve took a new name after the Fall and Adam did not. His name underscored that he was the representative of all mankind; it represented his responsibility. But her name underscored the future hope.

Another reason we commonly assume that Adam and Eve were necessarily the only people at the time is that it violates our sense of justice that others would have suffered death for Adam’s sin. This ignores the fact that we also inconsistently allow their descendants to suffer for Adam’s sin, and Eve as well. However it feels, though, the one individual is portrayed as causing the misery of absolutely everything else, and it really matters not at all if there were other independent branches of the human race or not.

Whether or not there were other people, only one person was required to make that fatal decision, and so death spread to all men, to all his descendants, to all the animals, to all the world. And because God set up the universe in a covenantal way, death would have spread to all people even if they were separate biological creations, as it did to all creation, even if they were unrelated to Adam. As descendants of Adam, we are the “innocent” victims of his choice; if there were others, they also were the innocent victims of that same choice. Indeed the whole of this creation is an innocent victim of the choice in the garden. Covenants are like webs of relationship and when the web breaks everyone tied into the web is broken with it. Even God Himself was broken by Adam’s choice because God had woven Himself into the Covenant.

One Comment on “17. Genesis 3:20-21”

  1. godanalytics Says:

    “to pull done the whole of existence; it happened to be the one we call Adam,” (done=down). Know that when writing a large volume it is hard to get words right with auto-spell check.
    Up until very recently, I had never really thought that hard about the beginning of time, nor had I closely read the Genesis account of creation. But now that I’ve read it a few times through, it does seem to me that the creation of “man” was more than one man. But I have nothing really to base that on, other than my simplistic reading of ONE version of the Bible. No commentary. No nothing.

    And today before I read this particular post, the thought came to me, that perhaps Eve was like Mary in some way? It is only AFTER the fact, that it seems, or it is only in reading the scripture as it is arranged as a whole in the Bible, that it seems God chooses those He blesses. Perhaps Eve was a chosen “mother” just like Mary was a chosen “mother?” It doesn’t say specifically, but why would it, if it is a mythological or story telling account of “the beginning of time.”
    I’m with you on not wanting to believe that we all came from the necessity of “incest” for procreation. If that is the case, then I think a really in depth study of how we got from there to where we are now, (sexual boundaries) is due.

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