Farewell to Paradise: Cast Out That We Might Someday Return
June 16, 2002
Have you ever said something, and the moment the words flew from your lips, you said to yourself, “Oops”? To ask the question is to answer it because we’ve all had those moments when we knew even as the words left our lips that we should not have said them. Have you ever done something stupid and the moment you did it, you thought to yourself, “That was really dumb?” The only acceptable answer is yes. We’ve all done and said a whole bunch of things we knew at that moment (or soon thereafter) we shouldn’t have said or done. To err is human, right? “Oops” and “Uh-oh” are part of our vocabulary for a reason.
I wonder if Eve said “Oops” (or something worse) after Adam ate the fruit. Clearly, it didn’t take long for the world to totally change. From innocent beauty, the world suddenly was transformed into a very dangerous place. Did Adam say to himself, “Why did I just stand there? Why didn’t I kill that snake? Why did I let Eve talk me into eating the fruit? I’m a fool.” He must have had thoughts like that.
It is a fact of life that words once spoken can never be unspoken and deeds done can never be undone. Try as you might, you can’t erase the record or make the words or deeds disappear. You can say “I’m sorry” till the cows come home, but the words you said and the unkind things you did will still be on the record. And even if you cry a river of tears and beg for forgiveness, and even if you are forgiven, nothing can alter the reality of what you said and what you did.
The “Magic Mouse”
It would be great if life had a “Delete” button or a “Backspace” button like computers have. That way, if you said something stupid you could just hit the Delete button and your words would be erased from the memory of those who heard them. Or even better, how about a magic computer mouse that could highlight a whole section of your life, say, last weekend, or maybe the last six months of your junior year in college, or maybe the last five years or even the last 30 years. You could highlight whatever part of your life you didn’t like and then hit the Delete button and it would disappear.
But life doesn’t work that way. There is no Delete or Backspace or Magic Mouse that can wipe away the mistakes of the past. We have to live with the consequences of what we say and do. I’ve been trying to imagine in my mind’s eye this scene: Breakfast the first day after Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden. Not a fun time. “Why is this toast burned?” “You’re lucky to get anything to eat, Buster.” “Oh, so we’ve got an attitude, do we?” “Nice guess, Sherlock.” “Before you get all worked up, just remember whose fault this is. Who ate the fruit first? And by the way, what were you doing talking to a snake anyway? Everyone knows you don’t talk to snakes.” “Very funny, Mr. Spiritual Leader. Thanks for being there when I needed you. If you had all the answers, why didn’t you step in and help me? And come to think of it, if you’re so smart, why did you eat the fruit if you knew it was wrong?” There is no recorded answer to this question! And so it goes, the first morning after paradise.
As we come to the closing verses of Genesis 3, it’s worth noting that this is the end of the Garden of Eden. Though it will be referred to a few more times in the Old Testament, Eden disappears as a scene of human activity. That is, it just vanishes from the biblical story. And it is never mentioned at all in the New Testament. When we get to the end of our passage, the door has been slammed shut on paradise. Innocence is gone and the happy days in Eden are just a distant memory. Now Adam and Eve are like “boat people” who watch from the deck as their steamer pulls away and the beautiful shoreline disappears across the horizon. Soon it is gone forever. I’m sure they must have told their children and their grandchildren amazing stories about those days in Eden, how the animals would play together, how no one ever got hungry or tired, and how no one ever got sick and no one ever died. It must have sounded like a fairy tale as they told of six days in which God made the heavens and the earth, how it was all “very good” and how God made Adam from the dust and Eve from Adam and how they got married and lived together in perfect bliss. They must have spoken about how real God seemed to them, how he liked to walk with them in the cool of the day. And surely, with some reluctance, they told the story of the serpent, the temptation, the Forbidden Fruit, and the first sin. “How could you?” the children would say. And they told about the judgment on the serpent, and what God said to Eve, and how God told Adam he would now earn his living by the sweat of his brow, and that eventually he would die. Death was the end of the story of Eden. The last chapter was always Paradise Lost.
With that as background, let’s take a look at the final moments in the Garden. When we are done, Eden will be gone forever. These verses are rich with meaning and very instructive for us. They speak of faith, grace, judgment and mercy.
I. Adam’s Faith
“Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20).
After all the talk about judgment, suffering and death, it may come as a surprise to read verse 20, which in context must be seen as a powerful statement of faith. The word “Eve” means “life.” This was the second name Adam had given his wife. First, he called her “woman” because she was taken out of man. Now he calls her “life.” The name signifies Adam’s confidence that despite their sin and consequent judgment, despite the pain that they had brought into the world, all was not lost and the future was not bleak. They found a ray of hope in the promise of God that the “seed” of the woman (Eve) would someday crush the serpent’s head. Of course, they could not have dreamed how it all would eventually work out, but at this critical early moment in history, it doesn’t matter at all. They didn’t need to see the big picture and they wouldn’t have understood it if they had seen it. All that matters is that Adam believes God’s Word.
In every man’s life there comes a moment–or many moments–when he must stop, sit down, and take stock of his life. Those moments usually come after he has made a series of stupid mistakes that have gotten him in big trouble. Maybe he broke the law, or maybe he cheated at work and got caught, or perhaps he cheated on his wife and now his affair has been exposed, or maybe he got angry and punched someone, or perhaps he lost his temper and said some very foolish things. It may involve his wife, his children, his friends, other church members, his family, his neighbors, or the folks where he works. But sooner or later, a man needs to take stock of the situation and realize that he’s blown it big time and there is no way to undo what has been done. In those moments the truth dawns very clearly and you see what you must do. There is no going back and there is no covering up.
Years ago I developed a series of statements I call the First Law of Spiritual Progress. I believe it is critical that every Christian grasp these three truths:
I can’t go back.
I can’t stay here.
I must go forward.
Adam could not go back and undo the original sin. And he could not stay forever in paradise. The deed was done and the wreckage was all around him. The only option left for him was to go forward. All of us have to come to grips with that sooner or later. We can moan and groan and complain and gripe and blame and dither and dally and hope for a miracle to deliver us from our troubles. Or we can stand up straight, face the music, and say, “I’ve blown it. I was stupid in what I did and I offer no excuses. And whatever comes, I’ll accept it. But I will not wallow in self-pity or spend any more time blaming others. By God’s grace I’m going to make the best of this miserable situation.”
They Could Still Make Babies!
So Adam named his wife Eve. Remember, God had severely judged them and soon they would be expelled from the Garden. But they could still make babies! That’s the good news. God could have halted the human race then and there, but he didn’t. So now Adam and Eve will have to raise children in a fallen world. It won’t be easy, but easy or hard, they will have the joy and burden of having children and leaving a legacy behind them.
So Adam names his wife “life,” which is a statement of his faith in God in the midst of all the pain and punishment. It was his way of saying to his wife, “Sweetheart, don’t worry. We have a future together. God has willed it so.” It brings to mind the words of Jeremiah 29:11 that God intends for his people to have “hope and a future.” Adam hoped in God, and as proof of that hope he and Eve will soon have their first child.
By the way, in my mind this helps answer the question about Adam and Eve being in heaven. I think Adam’s faith shines forth clearly in this example. Later, we will see Eve’s faith when Seth is born (Genesis 4:25-26). After the fall, I believe both Adam and Eve developed a true faith in the living God that was seen in their desire to obey him, especially in the matter of bringing children into the world. Because salvation is always by faith, I believe we will see them in heaven.
II. God’s Grace
“The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).
The next thing we learn is that God became the world’s first clothing designer. If you think about it, this was inevitable since the fig leaves were never going to be a long-term solution. They were only a temporary solution at best. There are so many problems with fig leaves. They fall apart easily, they itch, it’s hard to find the right size, and every day or two you’ve got to get a new outfit. Plus you can’t do much plowing or planting or serious cooking if you’re wearing fig leaves. I’m smiling as a write this but there is a deadly serious point underneath it all. Man’s puny attempt to cover his sin is always doomed to failure. First there is sin, then there is shame, and then there is a desperate attempt to cover the shame. We don’t use fig leaves today but other than that, nothing has really changed. We use religion, money, sex, power, and a veneer of good works to cover the guilt within. We stay busy, we work hard, we go to church, we try to be good neighbors, we get along with others if we can, and we hope that somehow our meager efforts will calm the voice of a stricken conscience. It works for a while but nothing we do ever works forever. Sooner or later, we have to face our guilt and admit that nothing we do or say can adequately cover our sin and our shame.
That’s where God steps in. The emphasis of verse 21 rests on the fact that God takes the initiative to meet the need of Adam and Eve. Without waiting to be asked, he provides some nice leather jackets made from animal skins. Now if you think about it, in the normal course of things, in order to produce animal skins, animals have to die. You can’t very well wear live animals because they won’t like being tied around your waist. So the animals have to die, which means that God had to put them to death. And that death (implied in the text, not directly stated) involves suffering, sacrifice and blood. This is the first foregleam of the biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement. Centuries later the Jews will learn more about it when they are told to sacrifice a lamb and apply its blood to the doorposts so that the death angel will “pass over” them (Exodus 12). And in the Mosaic Law God specifies a number of animal sacrifices that were required as a part of their worship. If you read Leviticus, it seems like they were slaughtering animals left and right. Lots of killing, lots of blood. The message was clear: God must be approached by way of sacrifice because your sins are so great that you dare not approach him on your own. Either come with the blood of a sacrifice or don’t come at all.
What starts with a little hint in Genesis 3:21 comes to full flower when Christ died for our sins on the Cross. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). His death was the ultimate sacrifice, the just dying for the unjust, the Holy One dying for the unholy that he might by his death bring us to God.
I’m not suggesting that Adam and Eve understood all of this. They couldn’t have known what it all meant. But everything I have said is true, and all of it is resident in the little kernel of truth in Genesis 3:21. All they knew was that God has provided a permanent solution for their needs. But those little leather jackets pictured the grace of God at work to rescue a fallen race through the death of Jesus Christ.
III. God’s Judgment
“And the LORD God said, ‘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.’ So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken” (Genesis 3:22-23).
But sin must still be judged. And that is why Adam and Eve are forcibly evicted (the Hebrew terms in verses 23 and 24 are very strong) from Eden. They were pushed out, kicked out, booted, ejected, removed forever.
The reason given is fascinating. The serpent had said to Eve, “When you know good and evil, you will become like God.” That was a half-truth. By sinning, Adam and Eve now know evil on a personal basis. They know evil like a cancer patient knows cancer. They would give anything to be cured of their sin just as a cancer patient wants to be cured of cancer. Sometimes personal knowledge leads to destruction, not to enlightenment. By dabbling in sin, they have entered a realm of experience that has cost them dearly.
So now God must cast them out. He really has no choice. If they stay in Eden and eat from the Tree of Life, they will live forever in their sin, separated from God. What do you call a place where you live forever in sin, always separated from God? Hell! For them, Eden would be like hell itself. Paradise is not only lost, it is now transformed into a prison. It is for their own good that they are cast out. As humiliating as it was, it was also a “severe mercy” of the Lord. If God lets them stay, they are both doomed and damned.
Imagine how terrible it would be if sinners never died. What if Hitler lived forever? What if child molesters lived forever, unchanged, always molesting? What if murderers and rapists could never die? This earth would quickly become unbearable. And unlivable. It is judgment indeed that sinners should die, but it would be much greater judgment if they lived forever in their sins. In this life there is always the opportunity to come to Christ. It is only after death that the door is finally closed.
So now Adam is sent back to where he came from–somewhere “east of Eden,” to the hard earth now filled with danger on every hand. As bad as it is, Adam is better off in the jungle, so to speak, than to be in paradise separated from the Lord.
IV. God’s Mercy
“After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24).
At first blush this verse appears to be one final crushing blow. How can we find God’s mercy in verse 24? We need to think carefully about the details. Cherubim are a particular class of heavenly angels. It appears from the rest of the Bible that they have a special assignment to guard the throne of God. They are the Heavenly Secret Service, if you will, standing guard around the throne, preventing any unwanted person from coming near to God. It’s also worth noting that when God gave the design for the tabernacle, he instructed that a thick veil be hung between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. That veil contained figures of the cherubim woven into it. Inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant, with a golden lid called the Mercy Seat. Over the Mercy Seat were the two golden cherubim whose wings almost touched. Once a year, and only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, one man, and only one man, the high priest, entered the Holy of Holies, carrying with him the blood of the sacrifice. When he sprinkled the blood on the Mercy Seat, it was consumed by fire from heaven, signifying that the Lord had covered the sins of the people. If anyone besides the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, or if the high priest entered on any other day than the Day of Atonement, or if he did not bring the blood of the sacrifice, he would be put to death. The cherubim were there to symbolically say, “You can’t come to God on your own. You can’t make it up as you go along. You must come to God in his way, or you can’t come at all.”
So now Adam and Eve have been cast out of paradise. They are gone forever, never to return. The flaming sword flashed in all directions to remind them (and anyone else who might come later) that the way back to paradise was blocked. The door was closed and they could never return on their own. As a result, man is now separated from God because of sin. The progress of the human race will move in two directions from this point. Man will make great strides in the realms of science and technology, and at the same time he will be utterly unable to conquer his own sinful heart. As he climbs out of the pit, he will slide back down again and again and again.
All appears hopeless and lost until we consider one important fact. As the curtain lowers for the final time on Eden, our last view is of the cherubim and the flaming sword guarding the entrance, and somewhere in the distance stands the Tree of Life. Make a note of that. The tree is guarded but it is not destroyed. The whole truth of salvation hangs on that point. If God had destroyed the Tree of Life, none of us would ever be saved. We would live, die, and enter eternal punishment.
Guarded But Not Destroyed
I’ve already mentioned that Eden as a place disappears after Genesis 3. No one ever goes there again. It vanishes from the face of the earth, apparently destroyed in the great flood of Noah’s day. But what about the Tree of Life? What happens to it? To get the answer to that question, we have to go all the way to the last chapter of the last book of the Bible. This is how Revelation 22 begins:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2).
When John gets his final glimpse of the heavenly city of God, he sees the throne of God, and from that throne a mighty river of water–the water of life!–flowing through the midst of the city. And there on each side of the river stood the tree of life. One tree? Many trees? Who knows? The Tree of Life is now everywhere. Each month it brings forth a fruit. And its leaves are for the healing of the nations, meaning that God intends that vast multitudes should come to this tree and find strength, life, help, hope and healing. What was once a single tree for just two people to
enjoy has become a vast heavenly orchard with fruit for billions of people.
And where are the cherubim? They are gone.
Where is the flaming sword? It is nowhere in sight.
Now the Lord has opened the way to the Tree of Life. Anyone who is hungry or thirsty, come and eat and live forever. Anyone who wants a new life, come, this tree is for you.
How has this happened? What made the difference? When Jesus died on the cross, the great veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. That veil–the one with the cherubim on it–the veil that constantly reminded the Jews that they could not come into God’s presence on their own, was torn in two. The message is clear as crystal. Through Jesus Christ, the way to God is now open to anyone, anywhere, any time.
That’s why the Tree of Life appears at the end of the Bible. Christ has opened the door to heaven, and through him and by him and in him anyone who wants to, can come in.
Now we see clearly the message of Genesis 3. We were cast out for our own good, to protect us and to teach us that we could never go back in on our own. We were cast out so that some day we might return through Jesus Christ. Paradise Lost has now become Paradise Regained.
Learn from this that our God is a God of justice. He takes sin seriously and judged it sternly. But he is also a God of mercy, who in the midst of judgment, closes a door for our own good so that in his time, he might make a way for us to return. Just as he provides the garments for Adam and Eve, he now provides for us the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. And where once the cherubs barred the way into his presence, in Christ the door has been thrown wide open.
Let the message go out to the ends of the earth. The door to heaven is now open!
You who were banished, the Father calls you home.
You who were rejected, heaven waits for you.
You who were condemned by family and friends, and you whose conscience condemned you all the more, stop your running. Cease from your tears. The Tree of Life with all its fruits is yours for the taking.
Let all the sinners come.
Let all the failures come.
Let all who have blown it big time come and be forgiven.
Let the wretched and despised come.
Let the hated and rejected come.
Let the worst sinners come to the Tree of Life.
Were you cast out? Were you called a Hopeless Case? Did you lose everything because of your own stupidity? Join the club. We’re all in the same boat, if the truth were told. And to all of us who fit the label “sinner,” there is good news today. The Tree of Life is waiting, the door has been opened, the Son of God has shed his blood, the price has been paid, the sacrifice made, atonement has been accomplished.
Fear not. And don’t wait another moment. Heaven waits for you. Rejoice as you come to Christ, but come quickly and come now, in this very instant. Welcome him into your heart. Then come and eat from the Tree of Life. Why will you die when you could live forever? May God give you wings of faith to fly to Jesus for your salvation. Amen.