The Temptation of Adam
Big Idea: Adam couldn’t bear temptation, but God could redeem it
When I was a kid, we came into possession of a big hardbound book of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. Now these weren’t the sanitized, G-rated stories, but the really depressing and sometimes gruesome old-school tales. Obviously, reading them warped me for life.
One story in particular always stuck in my mind, which was The Garden of Eden. In it, there is a prince who’s desperate to find the Garden and sad that it’s been lost to humanity for so long. At the beginning of the tale he says, “Oh, why did Eve pluck from the Tree of Knowledge? Why did Adam eat of the forbidden fruit? If it had been I, it would not have happened; sin would never have come into the world.”
Well, the prince is finally taken to the Garden of Eden – which is now hidden underground – by the east wind and left to explore its wonders for a hundred years. The fairy that lives in the Garden tells him to enjoy himself, but there’s one condition: he must resist her calls at night to come to the tree of knowledge and kiss her.
When the night falls, the fairy beckons him and the prince follows her, telling himself that he can go along with it because he’s strong enough to resist temptation when the moment comes. Naturally, he ends up kissing her on that first night and is banished from the garden forever, crying out, “What have I done?”
This fairy tale sticks with me because at some point all of us read the account of the Fall in Genesis 3 and think to ourselves, “If it was me, I wouldn’t have eaten that fruit. I would have been stronger. I would have been able to bear temptation.” The point that Andersen aptly makes is that, no, all of us would have fallen. Adam and Eve were the best of humanity without sin in their heart, and yet when temptation beckoned, they failed the test.
As we begin a two-week look at the temptation of the two Adams – the original Adam and the new Adam of Christ – I want to encourage all of us to study Genesis 3 at least once a year lest we forget the roots of our fallen condition and need for salvation. Let’s open our Bible to Genesis 3 right now.
The allure of temptation were more than they could bear
In Genesis 2:15, you see that God gives Adam two jobs as the caretaker of the garden: he’s to work the garden and keep it – or more accurately in the Hebrew language, to guard it. Guard it from what? Well, we see the answer to that in the very first ominous note of chapter 3: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made.” Of course, this not any regular snake, but as Revelation 12:9 puts it, “that ancient serpent called Satan, who leads the whole world astray.”
The sanctuary of the garden is invaded by the God-hating presence of Satan, who is described as crafty, or cunning, or full of guile. Satan almost never prefers to attack God’s people head-on, but to lure them into a false sense of security and then strike from our blind spot. It’s why temptation is so effective: Like the prince in Andersen’s story, we think we will be safe and strong enough to toe the line without falling in. And Satan waits patiently until we’re close enough to nudge into his trap.
It’s an important detail here that Satan targets Eve – not because she’s weaker, somehow, but because it undermines the marital relationship that God established. Remember, Adam and Eve’s marriage is a perfect one up to this point, without any conflict or disagreement. Married people, can you even imagine that? Not one fight, not one snarky comment, not one moment where one rolls their eyes at the other for leaving the toilet seat up.
Note here how Satan lies to Eve with his first question: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Satan’s focus here is tearing down the authority and truth of God, and his method is to take the truth and twist it. To her credit, Eve does stand up for God’s truth in her response: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
This is how we respond to the lies of Satan and the world: We accurately relay God’s words, knowing that he will be faithful to keep them. Truth isn’t open to personal interpretation or relativity. It is fixed, it is from a holy source, and it is universal.
But Satan presses on and opens the door to temptation in verse 4: ““You will not certainly die. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” There it is. There is the lie with just enough truth to swallow without choking. Satan appeals to our wanting to be like God, to have God’s knowledge, and to live our life as we please, not as God pleases. He outright denies that there will be any negative consequences, calling God a liar.
And that allure of temptation, of autonomy from God, tips Eve over the edge and she eats, then gives to Adam who eats as well. This moment in history is its greatest catastrophe, as the beings created in God’s image rip themselves away from him and invite sin to become the new master of humanity. The world is broken and the relationship is shattered. All because that allure of temptation was more than they could bear.
The consequences of temptation were more than they could bear
Have you ever had that type of horrible moment in your life where you made an extremely bad decision and then instantly realized what you had done and what the consequences would be? That feeling of a sinking sensation in your stomach, the wave of despair that crashes over you, and the hopelessness that arrives?
Having been there, I can empathize with the reaction of Adam and Eve starting in verse 7. Yes, their eyes are opened to some of the knowledge that only God had previously, but it is not a wondrous revelation. It’s an awful realization that they broke the only rule God had given them and that they were now awash in sin. Right away, we see three consequences of temptation that were more than they could bear.
First of all, they become aware of their nakedness and craft some leafy outfits to wear. The language here suggests humiliation and shame, that they needed to cover up. Second, when God comes through the garden, they flee and hide from him instead of running out to embrace their creator. I’ve seen plenty of kids – my own and others – do this when they get into trouble, to run away and try to hole up somewhere to ride out the storm. Maybe there’s a legend of an FBI safehouse where kids can get a new identity so they don’t get grounded. I don’t know.
Third, when God accuses them of eating the fruit, they play the blame game instead of assuming responsibility. Adam points a finger at Eve – “she gave me the fruit!” – and here we see that their marriage, their union has been irrevocably damaged as they turn on each other.
It’s a terrible moment that’s about to get worse. Our God is a God of justice, and he cannot abide sin. God pronounces three curses that show the effect of sin: one on the snake, one on Eve, and one on Adam. To the man and woman, pain and suffering was to come into the picture. Giving birth would be agonizing, marriages would be an eternal struggle, working would be difficult, and death would await them both. Then the two people are banished from the garden, and the job of guarding it is passed off to a cherubim with a flaming sword.
We are still trying to bear the consequences of temptation today. Not one of us has a life untouched by suffering, by damaged relationships, by the ever-presence of sin. One of the biggest lies that I ever hear commonly repeated is that “people are basically good.” Let me ask: If we are basically good, why is sin so universal and so prevalent our lives? As Jesus said in Mark 10:18, “No one is good – except God alone.”
Instead of fleeing from God and the truth, instead of pointing fingers at others for our failure, instead of trying to cover and hide our sins, we need to run, walk, or even crawl to the one who is good, because while we cannot bear these consequences, he can.
The redemption of temptation was what God could bear
Make no mistake: This is one of the darkest, most depressing chapters in the entire Bible. It makes for a tough go on a Sunday morning when you come in here looking for encouragement and validation. When we read Genesis 3, we are faced with a mirror to our own failures, our own sins, our own moments in which we’ve surrendered to temptation. As Adam fell, so did we, with all humanity tethered together, sinking fast.
And yet, there is hope. There is hope in this chapter, even amid the pain and the curses and the broken relationships. You see, the redemption of temptation was something God could bear, and even as he was delivering justice, he was also hard at work on a plan to save these beloved children of his.
The first inkling of hope comes in verse 15, where God says to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”
This is the “protoevangelion,” the first gospel, the very first mention of the coming Messiah. God is telling Satan, “You have hurt my people but I will save them. I will send my son to come between you and them, and while you may hurt my son, he will end you.”
Then we see even more hope in how God treats Adam and Eve. In verse 21, God upgrades Adam and Eve’s pathetic fig-leaf fashion to outfits made of fur and leather. This act of clothing them is a mercy and is indicative of God’s nature. For the whole of the Bible, we see that while God dispenses justice, he also freely gives mercy to those he loves. Even as Adam and Eve have turned their backs on him and sinned against him, God still cares for them and looks out for their well-being.
When Napoleon was judging a case in which a man repeated the same offense twice and had to be put to death, the man’s mother came into the court and pleaded mercy for him. “He doesn’t deserve mercy,” Napoleon boomed. The mother looked at him and quietly said, “It would not be mercy if he deserved it.” Napoleon paused, and then let the man go free. Mercy is never deserved or earned, but given.
I would also posit to you that Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden is also – in a weird way – an act of mercy. God says in verse 22, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
Here God isn’t threatened by man somehow becoming a rival, but concerned that a fallen, sinful, cursed man would also attain immortality and remain in his fallen state forever. In the garden, there is no redemption, just an awful ongoing existence of hiding from God and dwelling in sin. Outside there might be death, but there is also the promise of redemption and the end to our suffering and struggles.
It is the most glorious, comforting thought of them all that when people sinned, God did not sentence them to die and be cast away from his presence for all time, but instead he looked for mercy and redemption while upholding his righteous standards.
Adam’s story didn’t end with the fall and neither does ours. We have hope. We have the one who could face temptation and succeed where Adam failed. We have a God of love who beckons us to return to his arms even as we are covered with the filth of our sins. We have a Lord who will wash us clean with his own blood.