Here we have the Bible's first sermon. This is what Abel heard, believed, and submitted to. The same instruction merely informed Cain.
Adam and Eve were the first sinners to stand before God and be called into account. In this passage are four elements that apply to what Abel believed. The first element is that, in order for a sinner to stand before God, nakedness must be covered. Nakedness, both spiritual and physical, has wide usage as a symbol. At its best, it indicates innocence, child-like simplicity, and vulnerability. At its worst, it indicates humiliation, guilt, shame, and punishment. Adam and Eve were attempting to hide their humiliation, guilt, and shame when they grabbed a few fig leaves to provide covering.
An interesting spiritual lesson comes in understanding an application of the symbolism here. Adam and Eve threw together as a covering whatever was handy at the moment. What they chose to cover themselves with physically was totally inadequate as a spiritual covering. God immediately rejected their effort, which is the main instruction of this vignette.
A secondary teaching is that many carnal people today think it does not matter what they physically wear when they come before God at church services. Oh, yes, it does! These days, people arrive at church to worship wearing all kinds of casual clothing. In fact, many churches invite them to do so, advertising themselves as "casual"! Sometimes this reflects a matter of ignorance; they just do not know any better. At other times, it reveals a serious matter of disrespect for the primary covering—Christ's sacrifice, as we shall see shortly.
It is good to remember the overall principle to appear before God covered with acceptable covering. The symbolic instruction carries through to both physical and spiritual applications, and the person who cares what God thinks will do his best to conform to Him. God covered Adam and Eve with truly fine clothing. That is our example.
The second element Genesis 3 reveals takes us a step further spiritually in regard to the covering: What humans devise in terms of covering spiritual nakedness is, in reality, worthless. The third element clarifies this further: God Himself must supply the only covering that is spiritually adequate.
The fourth element is that the only adequate spiritual covering is by means of death. As in the first element, there are two lines of instruction. The first leads to the necessity of the second, if life is to continue. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The underlying principle is that we are always to give of our best to the Master. When we fail, the death penalty is imposed. This, then, brings forth a second teaching: In a spiritual sense, the entire human race sinned in Adam and Eve, who represented all mankind at the time. Since the wages of sin is death, and all have subsequently sinned, all of us must receive that wage—or another, an innocent One on whom death has no claim because He never sinned, must substitute for us.
However, we find it clearly spelled out in Romans that there must be a link between us and the Substitute (Romans 4:1-4, 11-12, 16, 19-20, 23-25; 5:1-2).
Faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the link between us and God's forgiveness, which provides the acceptable spiritual covering necessary to be received into God's presence and receive the gift of life.
The second aspect of the fourth element also involves another death—ours. In this case, it is not a literal death but a spiritual one:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? . . . knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. (Romans 6:1-2, 6-8)
This death is achieved through repentance because one believes he is a sinner in need of God's forgiveness, having broken His law and earned death.
What we have just reviewed must have been taught to Cain and Abel, probably by Adam. How do we know this? Because Hebrews 11:4 tells us that Abel offered by faith, and faith comes by hearing. He heard the divine words given by God to Adam and Eve, which were passed to him, and Abel believed. Cain heard the same words, but did not believe as Abel did.
More proof is recorded following Cain's rejection. God says to him in Genesis 4:7, "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it." God clearly indicates a choice between right and wrong. Good and evil faced Cain and Abel. The one brother by faith chose what was right in God's eyes, while the other chose what was right in his own eyes. In essence, he chose death.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Three)
This account of Adam's and Eve's reaction to their sin demonstrates that sin destroys innocence.
Were two people ever more innocent at the beginning of their lives than Adam and Eve? Immediately after sinning, though, they felt shame because of their nakedness, and they doubly showed their guilt by hiding from God. Do the truly innocent have any need to hide? Do the innocent need to feel shame?
Sin leaves a tarnish on a person's mind so that he does not look at life in quite the same way anymore. David expresses how this tarnish affected him in Psalm 40:12, "My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up." Paul later explains, "To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled" (Titus 1:15).
A well-known series of scriptures, beginning in Matthew 18:1, touches on innocence and its destruction. It starts with a question from the disciples: "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Jesus replies that unless we become as little children, we will not be in the Kingdom of Heaven. Is not the beauty of their innocence and the harmless vulnerability of little children a major reason why we find them so adorable? They produce no harm, shame, or guilt. But what happens as they become adults? They become sophisticated, worldly, cosmopolitan, cynical, suspicious, sarcastic, prejudiced, self-centered, cool, uninvolved, and many other negative things. They also seem to lose their zest for life. Sin does that.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Sin Is & What Sin Does
This event illustrates why there are so many false conceptions of God. Once Satan and sin enter man's life, man hides himself from God, and God must seek him out before a relationship and revelation of true knowledge of God can even begin.
Because it suits His purpose, God has permitted Satan to continue what he began in the Garden with Adam and Eve. Despite the fact that Adam and Eve literally saw God, they sinned because they really did not know Him.
Since eternal life lies in the relationship with God, it is extremely important how frequent and accurate our thoughts about Him are. Many influential people in this world are convinced that He does not even exist. By definition, agnostics are not sure, so how does their uncertainty affect their worship of Him?
This is a major reason why Jesus says in John 6:44 that no one comes to Him unless the Father draws him. He adds in Matthew 11:27 that no one "knows the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." Only true believers, those to whom God has specifically revealed Himself, have truth and thus eternal life.
Adam and Eve's summary dismissal from the Garden was among the most serious punishments ever inflicted on mankind because it severed contact with God. Without contact with God, a true conception of Him was impossible, and wholesale sin followed. We can conclude that what one knows about the true God Himself and how one uses that knowledge are the two most important issues in life. Seeking God is the most serious challenge of our lives! The quality of our present lives and the continuation of those lives everlastingly hinge on these two factors.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Seeking God (Part One): Our Biggest Problem
A reason God asked the questions of Adam is to make those of us reading this think about the subject of nakedness as it applies to its scriptural use and thus to our spiritual life. The answer is obvious: Nobody told them. Before their sins, they were naked, but they were not aware of their nakedness. They simply accepted it as normal; they saw nothing unusual about it because they were naked from their first awareness of being alive.
This contains a vital lesson, one that is either never learned or quickly forgotten after being made aware of it. When Adam and Eve sinned, the first apparent result to them, the sinners, was that they were immediately aware of their nakedness. In this novel way, their proclivity to sin was exposed to them. Their innocence was forever destroyed.
A change happened in their minds or hearts, with no effort on their part. God created this reaction in them to bring an awareness of sin to their consciences, and guilt and fear became part of their “normal” makeup. Knowing immediately that God was aware of what they had done, fear entered their perception of themselves and their relationships. They no longer looked at others and events with their former innocence. Their reaction to all this was pathetic, making clothing of fig leaves, as if to cover their sin, and hiding from God after hearing His voice.
God teaches this object lesson to those who are part of His new spiritual creation so they can be aware of their spiritual deficiencies. Consider the typical reaction people have when exceeding the speed limit on the highway and suddenly discovering a patrol officer with a radar gun clocking the speed of those passing his position. Similarly, most people resent the cameras that governing authorities have installed throughout cities to enable them to watch what is going on. Psychologists tell us most people become irritated when stared at.
Why do people react this way? Those under observation, believing their lives are being inspected, fear what the observers will learn. They feel exposed; they may even feel naked, though they are fully clothed. Yet, rioters have no qualms about breaking into a store and looting whatever is not nailed down because they know they can easily get away with their thievery since the authorities' attention is elsewhere. It is as if they and their sins are invisible. Many people steal because they believe no one is watching. How wrong they are! Not only is God watching, but their own conscience is too.
Before Adam and Eve sinned, they had done nothing wrong. They had nothing to be embarrassed about, even before God. This points to a safe conclusion that God had instructed them thoroughly about the Two Trees. If they had not been taught, they would have had no understanding that their actions were wrong (Romans 3:20). The moral perfection of both was erased in an instant.
We can deduce another effect of their sin: It changed their attitudes toward each other. Besides God and the Serpent, Adam and Eve were the only ones around, and when they sinned, God was nowhere in sight. Despite there being only the two of them, the awareness of their nakedness motivated them to cover up in the presence of each other. Before their sins, they were not aware of either their own or the other's nakedness. If there was no sense of shame or embarrassment between them, why cover up? Yet, with sin, their attitudes toward each other had changed. It is as if each felt their nakedness needed to be hidden from the other. Humiliation, too, now appears to be a part of their relationship. Their untainted feelings for each other that had existed since their creation began to turn immediately.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Seven)
Genesis 3:7-10 illustrates how no one is ever quite the same after sinning with knowledge. Notice Adam and Eve's sin occurs after God had instructed them (Genesis 2:16-17). Nobody had to tell them they had done wrong—they knew! Now they looked at things differently than they had before; a sense of wrong rushed in on them immediately. Just moments before, all had been friendly and joyful. All of nature seemed obedient to their every wish, and life was good. Suddenly, however, they felt guilt and fear, and it seemed as if every creature in the Garden had witnessed their act and condemned them. Feeling exposed, they sought to hide, illustrating that separation from the purity of God began immediately. The virtue of their innocence began to lose its luster.
David writes in Psalm 40:11-13:
Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O LORD; let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me. For innumerable evils have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart fails me. Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me; O LORD, make haste to help me!
Sin creates a sense of estrangement from God, leaving a tarnishing film on a person's mind. Paul reminds Titus, "To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled" (Titus 1:15). Sin perverts the mind so that one does not look at life in the same way as before. Jeremiah 6:15 describes a sickening end to repeated sin:
"Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time I punish them, they shall be cast down," says the LORD.
Some children are adorable because we love to see the beauty of their innocence. But what happens on the trip to adulthood? Sin alters the way a person looks at life and the world. With maturity, people become distrustful, sophisticated, competitive, cosmopolitan, cynical, suspicious, sarcastic, prejudiced, self-centered, and uninvolved. It is sin that drives people apart and creates fear.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Seven): Fear of Judgment
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 3:9:
1 John 1:3