The human story is a common story
When reading the story of Adam and Eve, it is important to know that the Hebrew word, “Adam,” means “man,” or “humankind.”
With that in mind, here’s how the story is told.
God created this wonderful world for humans to inhabit. Then, God took some dust of the ground and formed man — Adam — and breathed life into him.
Then, God planted a garden and put the man there. He planted trees, including the tree of life and tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told Adam that he could eat of any tree, except from the tree of knowledge, and gave him a warning: that on the day he ate of it, he would die.
God had man name all the animals. As each one passed by, there was not one found that was fit to be man’s companion. So, God put him into a deep sleep, took one of Adam’s ribs, and formed woman. The chapter ends with this line: “Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.”
The next chapter opens with this line: “Now, the serpent was the craftiest of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made.”
“Naked” and “crafty” come from the same root word in the Hebrew language. Hang onto that for a moment.
The woman told the serpent, “We can eat of any tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If we eat it, or touch it, we will die.”
The serpent countered with, “You won’t die. God knows when you eat of it you will be like him. You’ll know good and evil.”
So, she ate some, shared it with her husband, and their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked. (There’s that word again.)
God found them hiding in the garden. The man blamed the woman. The man learned he would have to work hard now and sweat. The woman learned she would find sorrow in childbearing. Most importantly, they were exiled from the garden. But, they did not die on the day they ate of the fruit.
The Hebrew writers were skilled storytellers. In this case, they tie nakedness and being unashamed to the crafty serpent who gets them to disobey God. They are still naked, but suddenly, they are ashamed. And, it all happened after they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
You’d think God would want them to have that knowledge, wouldn’t you? But, he told them not to eat of the fruit because they were not ready for that knowledge.
The serpent said, “You will be like God.”
Is that a bad thing? No. God wants us to become like him — “Be holy for I am holy.” But, they had to grow into it.
Just as we teach our children new things as they grow up, so does God. For instance, a stove is a great thing, but you don’t want your 3-year-old touching it yet, do you? You wait until they can understand how it is to be used.
The same applies to Adam and Eve and the knowledge of good and evil. The man and woman were naïve and innocent at the end of chapter 2. In chapter 3, verse 1, they are tricked into partaking in something they are not ready for.
“That’s right,” you might say. “But wait — they didn’t die. Why did God tell them they would?”
I’m glad you asked.
To the Israelites who had experienced, and maybe were experiencing, exile when this was written, this is a story of how they came to be. Isn’t the history of this man and woman the history of Israel? Isn’t it the history of humankind — which, by the way, in case you’ve forgotten, means “man,” or “Adam.” And isn’t the man and woman’s story ours too?
The Old Testament aims to give people the knowledge of good and evil and how to live wisely.
When we follow God’s guidance, we find ourselves living in his land, with him, where things are good. If we disobey, we eventually find ourselves dying a slow death, thinking, “Something isn’t right. We’re in exile.”
When you sense that, you need the rest of the story.
Even though Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden, God clothed them so they would not have to be ashamed and he gave them a different place to live. He moved them away from the knowledge they weren’t ready for so they could learn and grow in wisdom.
Even though they disobeyed, God still loved and cared for them. Part of wisdom is remembering he loves you too.