From Eden to Babel
By Don Ruhl
What do the first two chapters of Genesis show? The world was a wonderful place in which to live. Nothing bad existed. It was everything we dream of the perfect life being like. Yet, what we see in Genesis 1 and 2 does not look like what we see today! What happened? Chapters 3 through 11 of the Book of Genesis gives the answer. These chapters reveal the first sin and the consequences of that sin.
Genesis 2 shows that in the beginning, God gave man freedom, with one limitation. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Gen 2.16, 17).
For some reason, Adam and Eve did not resist the temptation to be around the tree. They lingered there or walked by when another creature in the Garden of Eden used this one limitation to exploit the first humans and turn them against God, at least momentarily and then their offspring, through the ages, not only against God also, but against one another. By breaking that limitation, humanity was now at odds with God, nature, one another, and self.
How often do we see the picture of Adam and Eve with the serpent in literature, movies, art, and other forms of communication? Genesis 3 shows what happened to heaven on earth, “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden”?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Gen 3.1–5).
The next two verses show Eve breaking God’s one limitation upon them, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Gen 3.6, 7).
What happened? Why did she decide to eat the fruit? It looked good to her for food. It looked good to the eye. It looked good for making her wise. She either forgot God’s prohibition or she did not accept it. Therefore, she ate the fruit and gave some to her husband who was with her.
What was the fruit? Common belief claims an apple. Where did the idea arise that it was an apple tree? “One reason is that the Latin for evil is malum and the Latin word for apple is also malum. In the fourth century a.d., the word malum appeared in the Latin Vulgate translation of Genesis in the phrase “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” From that time on people began to associate the apple with the fruit which Eve ate” (Creation Ex Nihilo 6(4):21 May 1984; http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/magazines/docs/v6n4_apple.asp)
With sin came death. With death comes much suffering. Genesis 3.14–19 shows God placing a curse upon the serpent, the woman, and the man because each was accountable for his own sin and for influencing others. The Testament of Christ confirms the association of death with sin, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—” (Rom 5.12).
What other things come with death? Whatever those things are, they all got their start with that first sin in the perfect paradise. Another consequence of their sin happened when God cast the pair out of the Garden of Eden and made it impossible to return, “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’—therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3.22–24).
Eden is that old-fashioned House
We dwell in every day,
Without suspecting our abode
Until we drive away.
How fair, on looking back, the Day
We sauntered from the Door,
Unconscious our returning
But discover it no more.
Interestingly, we use an expression that references Adam’s sin. What do we call the ridge of the thyroid cartilage at the base of the throat, which is more prominent in males? We call it “Adam’s apple,” because people say the fruit he ate lodged there.
What do we mean by “Adam’s rib”? This is a way of referring to women or to a man’s wife. Why is that? Genesis 2 shows the creation of woman from Adam’s rib.
From Eating Forbidden Fruit to Murder
Did Adam and Eve have other problems? We do not know. Nor do we know of any problems between their children with one exception, and it was a huge exception! We go from the creation of the world to life in the Garden of Eden, to a small incident at a tree with worldwide consequences, to the first murder between the children of the first humans! Just as Paul said in Romans 5.12 and as the rest of the Bible testifies, sin and its associates spread quickly, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—” (Rom 5.12).
After God did not respect Cain and his offering, this happened, “So the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 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.’ Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (Gen 4.6–8).
John Steinbeck used Genesis 3 and 4 as the basis for his novel East of Eden, and he explained the power of the narrative, “I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one…Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity, too—in a net of good and evil…this one story [Cain and Abel] is the basis of all human neurosis—and if you take the fall along with it, you have the total of psychic troubles that can happen to a human” (Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters).
If you understand what happened in the first several chapters of Genesis, you can understand the rest of the Bible and be thankful for God’s merciful dealings with man. Why have so many writers, artists, and others used the narratives in the Bible as a base for their own work? The teaching of Scripture has formed our culture. It is also familiar to us. It best describes the human condition, because the Bible is the truth.
After Cain’s sin, God confronted Cain and his response has been used countless times since then, “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Gen 4.9).
How does the rest of biblical literature answer Cain’s question? To know just how much the Bible answers affirmatively, ponder what answer Jesus gave a lawyer about the greatest commandments, “But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’” (Matt 22.34–40).
Jesus explained that everything about the Hebrew Scriptures are summarized as God getting us to love Him and to love our neighbor. That means we are our brother’s keeper. If we fail to know about our brother, we walk in the steps of Cain and risk alienation from God and man.
He received from God, both exile and mercy even as his parents did. God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, but He also made them clothes and let them live, although they would still die. God drove Cain away from the family, but God also did something to keep others from killing Cain, placing a mark on him (Gen 4.10–15).
Was the mark that the Lord put upon Cain good or bad? Typically, it has been interpreted as something bad. However, why did God say He put the mark on Cain? If anyone killed Cain, vengeance would be taken on that person sevenfold. This sounds as though God used the mark to warn others not to kill Cain. What was the mark? We do not know!
From One Murder to Many Murders
Many kinds of people descended from Cain, “And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son—Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad begot Mehujael, and Mehujael begot Methushael, and Methushael begot Lamech. Then Lamech took for himself two wives: the name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. And Adah bore Jabal. He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute. And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron. And the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah” (Gen 4.17–22). With Cain, civilization and sophistication grew, but so did violence (Gen 4.23, 24). Violence kept growing until every man and woman filled the earth with violence (Gen 6.5, 12, 13).
God decided to start over, not only with humanity, but with all the animals of the earth. Only one family did not live in violence. God would use that family to preserve some of every animal by having them all enter a large ark as God wiped cleaned the earth with a massive, global flood. Therefore, God told Noah, “Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks” (Gen 6.14–16).
Do you picture a ship that moved through the waters or a barge-like, even box-like, vessel that merely floated on the waters? There was no need for a moving ship, because the ark was not designed to go anywhere. It only had to ride out the storm. Therefore, it was a barge-like vessel.
From Devastation to a Rainbow
Everything changed when Moses revealed this, “Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided” (Gen 8.1).
Because God remembered Noah, we are here today. After this, Noah sent out a raven and then a dove (Gen 8.8–11). The dove with an olive branch has become symbolic of what? It symbolizes peace. In this case, the peace was between what two parties? There was peace between God and His creation, namely, man. As a further indication of the peace, God said the following,
“I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.
While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat,
Winter and summer,
And day and night Shall not cease.
…Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth…and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Gen 8.21–9.1, 12, 13, 15).
From Eight People to Billions
The descendants of Noah began to multiply as the Lord commanded. However, they were all one family and one language. So then, how did the many peoples happen on the earth? The Bible also supplies the answer in Genesis 11.1–9. After this, the Bible does not show God dealing with the whole of humanity, but it shows Him dealing with one family that later became a nation. He did not ignore the rest of the world, but truly through that one family He blessed the world.