We saw that G-d created man His Image, but that image was corrupted. How did this occur? The Torah records that Adam and Eve ate from the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’. That tree represented a free choice to remain faithful to G-d or not. They had been created by G-d and placed in the Garden. But they had had no choice in these, so G-d allowed them to choose regarding their friendship with Him. Just like the choice to stand is not real if sitting is impossible, the friendship and trust of Adam and Eve to G-d had to be chosen. This choice centered on the command to not eat from that one tree.
How did this happen? Genesis in the Torah describes their conversation with a ‘serpent’. The serpent has always been understood to be Satan – a spirit adversary to G-d. In the Bible, Satan usually speaks through someone. In this case he spoke through a serpent.
The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”
“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”
“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis3:1-7)
Their temptation (and choice) was to ‘be like God’. Up to this point they had trusted G-d for everything, but now they could choose to become ‘like God’ – to trust in themselves and be their own independent god.
In choosing to become independent they were changed. Right after they ate they felt shame and tried to cover up. The account highlights further changes
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:8-13)
The account implies that G-d came regularly to meet with Adam&Eve as friends do, but this time they were hiding from Him. When G-d confronted Adam, he blamed Eve (and G-d who made her). She blamed the serpent. Neither accepted responsibility.
As descendants of this changed Adam we have this same disposition. Some misunderstand the Bible and think we are blamed for Adam’s choice. The only one blamed is Adam but we live in the consequences of his decision. We have inherited this independent nature of Adam. We may not want to be god of the universe, but we want to be gods in our settings, separate from G-d.
This explains so much of human life: we lock our doors, we need police, and we have computer passwords– because otherwise we will steal from each other. This is why societies eventually collapse – because cultures have a tendency to decay. This is why all forms of government and economic systems, though some work better than others, they all eventually breakdown. Something about the way we are makes us miss the way things should be.
That word ‘miss’ sums up our situation. A verse from the Tanakh gives a picture to understand this better. It says:
Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judges 20:16)
This describes soldiers who were slingshot experts and would never miss. The word in ancient Hebrew translated ‘miss’ above is יַחֲטִֽא .
Just after the giving of the 10 Commandments, the Torah states that:
Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Exodus 20:20)
The ancient Hebrew word translated ‘sinning’ is תֶחֱטָֽאוּ. It has the same root as the ‘miss’ for the expert soldiers. The soldier shoots to hit the target. If he misses he has failed his purpose. In the same way, we were made in G-d’s image to hit the target in how we relate to Him and treat others. To ‘sin’ is to miss this purpose, or target, that was intended for us.
This missed-the-target picture of us is not happy or optimistic. People sometimes react strongly against the Bible’s teaching on sin. A university student once said to me, “I don’t believe because I do not like what this is saying”. But what does ‘liking’ something have to do with truth? I do not like taxes, wars, or earthquakes – no one does – but that does not make them untrue. We can’t ignore them. All the systems of law, police, locks, security, failed peace treaties that we have built into society to protect us from each other suggest that something is wrong. At least this Biblical teaching on our sin should be considered in an open-minded way.
Mankind has a problem. We are corrupted from the image we were first made in, and now we miss the target when it comes to our moral actions. But G-d did not leave us in this predicament. In the sentences that follow in the Torah’s account of the Garden, Israel’s coming is prophesied using a riddle. Understanding that riddle will help us make sense of the Tanakh and understand G-d’s role for the people He made an “everlasting covenant” with. We look at this next.