Why did God send Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden? I always thought they were kicked out because of sin. Then, some months ago, someone pointed out Genesis 3:22-23 to me:
“Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever’ — therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.”
Oh, what a glorious, gracious, merciful God! I knew that these two verses revealed much more than I understood at first glance, so this is my attempt to reveal something of the depths buried in the brevity of Scripture.
A Kingly Conversation
Wait — whom does God speak to here? Of course, he is talking to Jesus. There is that plural pronoun “us” also found in Genesis 1:26. Then there is John 1, which declares that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The Lord in Three Persons is talking about us in Genesis 3:22-24. And what do they say? It’s like an age-old parental conversation — “we’ll just move that vase out of our kids’ way” — only on an exponentially bigger scale.
If my daughter had climbed up to where I had put a vase for safe-keeping and then pulled it down, the vase would be broken, its contents spilled and perhaps wrecked, and she might have been injured.
The verses from Genesis 3 above are a response to the potential for eternal destruction. All creation was already broken thanks to the first sin. Yet, even after Adam and Eve had committed the first trespass, God and Jesus were discussing our protection.
It wasn’t too late to fix everything. But as our children know, the solution doesn’t come right away. There are consequences.
Consequences and Responsibility
Let’s just say my daughter knew it wasn’t right to touch the vase, even if she didn’t know why. Maybe from here on in, I would display pretty objects on extremely high shelves.
If my daughter cut herself, I would bandage her up, but that wouldn’t take away the sting of her injuries, or of my displeasure.
There would be suffering, some of which would fall onto her. But a lot of responsibility would also fall onto me — making a safer environment by moving things up or taking them away. Remembering my little girl’s bleeding hand.
Even though I might be stern with her, I would not (ideally) discipline her out of anger. I would determine a reasonable course of action derived from good sense. The same is true of God.
He was angry, but that doesn’t mean he responded out of anger, and his anger is never unjust. He had every right to be angry, even to kill his creation, but he did not.
Meanwhile, although a human being would need to think about what to do, the first sin did not take God by surprise. He already knew what he was going to do. Being thrown out was right, it was redemptive, even loving.
Adam and Eve felt the sting of their sin. They were aware of their shame. They were kicked out of the Garden for their own good. But God also took responsibility for protecting his wayward creation.
After driving his children out of Eden, the Lord set up a guard against re-entry. No one would ever be able to come here again before all things were made new.
He already had a permanent plan of redemption in store for people to be saved through Jesus Christ. The more I think about this spot at the end of Genesis 3, the more God’s merciful goodness jumps out.
He Understands our Weakness
Adam and Eve wandered near the site of their temptation. With all those trees, and they had to hang around this one? We do that; we know a person or a substance or an activity is bad for us.
We like our sin, and it hasn’t led us into serious consequences so far, so we carry on until the cost of sin is noticeable. Or we think “why stop now? It’s too late. I’ll just mess up again anyway.”
Sometimes, I have lingered close to temptation in order to test my resolve and my strength. Eve was so close to the tree that the serpent easily got her attention, and Adam “was with her” (3:6) so he was no better.
We don’t have the strength. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Jesus is our strength here, not against the might of men, but against the power of sin.
There is no verse in Genesis to suggest that the fruit of the Tree of Life was forbidden. Yet rather than give the pair a new rule — don’t eat this fruit — God knew temptation would be strong. He gave Adam and Eve a way out.
Where Do We Run?
Where do we run to when temptation calls? I don’t always run to the fortress. Proverb 18:10 says “the name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”
But, when they heard a question from Satan — “did God really say” — the first people turned inwards, to their own faulty reasoning, and that’s no fortress at all. I’ll admit that I don’t always run for safety because:
- Either I don’t see the danger or
- I think I’m strong enough to handle it.
I’m so thankful the Lord knew this for our sakes. Eviction from paradise makes more and more sense.
What Would Have Happened if They Had Stayed?
C.J. Ellicott’s commentary on Genesis 3:22-23 explains that “if an unending physical life were added to the gift of freewill now in revolt against God, his condition and that of mankind would become most miserable. [...] The Divine mercy, therefore, commands Adam to quit it, in order that he may live under conditions better suited for his moral and spiritual good.”
If Adam and Eve had become immortal (which would have been the result of eating from the Tree of Life), God would have turned his face away from them forever.
Their state would have been miserable indeed because our hope comes from the relationship we have with God through Jesus and our hope of a restored, sin-free existence in Heaven with the Lord for eternity.
But This Was Exile!
Genesis 3 marks the first exile of God’s people. Verse 24 says God “drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword.” The word “garash” means “drove out, cast out.”
You see it in Exodus when God tells Moses he will cause Pharaoh to “drive [the Jews] out of his land” (6:1). Joshua 24:18 uses the same verb: “And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land.” God was pushing his people out of paradise.
I want to imagine God ushering his kids outside so he could tidy up a mess we’ve left. “Go out and play, come back at supper.” But this was no ordinary mess: Israel often experienced the echoes of this first exile after they disobeyed God.
Israel was periodically sent away from a land they had come to believe was theirs, or usurpers came and claimed authority. They frequently forgot that the privileges they enjoyed, including the opportunity to occupy a land and rule over their own people, came from God.
What Does This Mean for Me?
We pray for illness to go away, for family members to come to Christ for salvation, for financial distress to be relieved, for victims of abuse or natural disaster to recover from their terrible loss. These aren’t bad longings, yet sometimes God holds longed-for things out of reach, and we don’t know why.
I can trust the Father, though. He has always gone to great lengths to keep his children away from destruction. Not pain, but separation from him. I can think of times when I wanted something, I got it, and the consequences were terrible.
If the Lord is keeping something out of my reach, and I believe that God is always good, always right, completely perfect, and loving, then I have to also believe that, in such cases, what I wanted wasn’t good for me. I might not know why, but he does.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.