Exiled from Paradise and First Children (Genesis 3:21–4:7)
Lectionary2nd Monday of Great Lent
This entire pericope (3:21–4:7) is read during Vespers on the second Monday of Great Lent, but it has been subdivided on this page for the purpose of providing more organized commentary.
Genesis 3:21–24 (ENGLXXUP), altered
21 And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin, and clothed them.
22 And God said, Behold, Adam is become as one of us, to know good and evil, and now lest at any time he stretch forth his hand, and take of the tree of life and eat, and so he shall live forever— 23 So the Lord God sent him forth out of the garden of Delight to cultivate the ground out of which he was taken. 24 And he cast out Adam and caused him to dwell [oppositea] the garden of Delight, and stationed the [cherubimb] and the fiery sword that turns about to [guardc] the way of the tree of life.
a Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated ἀπέναντι as “over against.”
b Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated χερουβὶν as “cherubs.”
c Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated φυλάσσειν as “to keep.”
21: Hobbes & Bray translated the Hebrew for “garments of skin” (כָּתְנֹ֥ות עֹ֖ור / kattenōt ōwr) as “tunics of leather” (which is also a good translation of the LXX’s χιτῶνας δερματίνους / chitōnas dermatinous). The fathers associate the garments with human mortality and frailty.
Samuel L. Bray and John F. Hobbins, Genesis 1-11: A New Old Translation for Readers, Scholars, and Translators (Wilmore, KY: GlossaHouse, 2017), 124.
“A kuttōnet is always worn by one in authority showing that, however diminished their standing, they still act with divine authority.”
- David W. Cotter, Genesis, ed. Jerome T. Walsh, Chris Franke, and David W. Cotter, Berit Olam Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2003), 36.
There is further an allusion to priestly service in the clothing, and the potential killing of an animal to provide these garments of skin may also be an allusion to animal sacrifice related to atonement. However, due to verb indicating that God “made” the garments, he may have created them (i.e., without killing any animal).
The language of the verse alludes to tabernacle setting and worship. “Garments” (kūttōnet) and “clothed” (lābaš) are reminiscent of the Pentateuch’s description of priestly garments, particularly for Aaron as high priest. This is another lexical link with the symbols of the tabernacle, where the priest must be properly clothed before God in the administration of his service (Exod 20:26; 28:42).
K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 254–255.
- God clothed humanity’s nakedness as an act of mercy and does so even further in Christ. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27, BTV). In Christ, “you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9b–10, BTV). “I counsel yoʋ to buy from me gold refined by fire so that yoʋ may be rich, and white garments so that yoʋ may clothe yoʋrself and the shame of yoʋr nakedness may not be revealed, and eye salve to anoint yoʋr eyes so that yoʋ may see” (Revelation 3:18, BTV). “For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53, BTV). Christians are “further clothed” in Christ and are a “new creation.”
2 Corinthians 5:1–5, 16–17 (BTV)
1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not made by human hands. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to be further clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now he who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has also given us the Spirit as a guarantee….
16 So from now on we regard no one according to the flesh. Even if we have known Christ according to the flesh, we no longer know him in that way. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Even as God drives Adam and Eve from the garden, however, He provides better clothing for them (v. 21). This is important. Man’s sin created the problem of nakedness, and hence the solution of clothing, as described here in chapter 3. In the Bible’s final book, nonetheless, when man’s sin has in every last sense been conquered, we do not see the human race returned to the nakedness of its primitive, unfallen state. The new man in Christ is clothed. We are described in the Book of Revelation as wearing the white robes of glory. Grace, that is to say, does more than reverse the effects of sin; it transforms the effects of sin. Our new innocence in Christ is not to be identified as simply the earlier innocence of Adam. The effect of sin is not merely removed; it is assumed into a more ample transformation.
Patrick Henry Reardon, Creation and the Patriarchal Histories: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Genesis (Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2008), 43.
22: The fathers generally indicate that Adam & Even did not receive the knowledge (nor godlike status) promised by the serpent. They also view their banishment from paradise and the tree of life as an act of mercy to prevent them living eternally in suffering and futility.
24: Humanity was exiled from the presence of God, but God continued to provide means for humans to be in His presence, albeit in limited and provisional ways, until the coming of Christ to provide a path for all God’s people. We continue to pray and worship facing the East, awaiting His second and final coming for our full re-entrance to paradise and the tree of life. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give the right to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God” (Revelation 2:7, BTV).
The second Adam, Jesus Christ, points out that through the water of the bath of rebirth, the flickering flame—by which the cherubim guardian blocked the entry into paradise when the first Adam was expelled—would be extinguished. Where the one went out with his wife, having been conquered by his enemy, there the other might return with his spouse (namely, the church of the saints), as a conqueror over his enemy.
Venerable Bede, “Homilies on the Gospels” 1.12, in Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, eds., Genesis 1–11, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 102.
- St. Ephrem the Syrian associated the sword guarding the tree of life with the spear that pierced Jesus’ side in John 19:34: Christ “was pierced and so removed the sword from the entry to Paradise” (Hymns on Paradise 2.1).
John 19:34 is a key verse for St. Ephrem’s symbolic theology, seeing that it serves as a focal point for a great deal of his typological exegesis. The lance and the side of Christ, the Second Adam, both point back to the Genesis narrative, to the cherub’s sword and to the First Adam’s side which gave miraculous birth to Eve. The side of Christ, whence issue—or flow—water and blood, also looks forward to the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, and, at the same time, to the equally miraculous birth of the Church.
St. Ephrem, Hymns on Paradise, trans. Sebastian Brock, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990), 64–65.
Apparently then, man did not die on the day he ate of the tree. But in the closing verses of the chapter, sanctuary symbolism and language reappear (3:21–24). God clothes the human couple and then expels them through the east-facing entrance to the garden where cherubim are stationed to guard the tree of life. These features anticipate the design of the tabernacle and the regulations associated with it. Like the garden of Eden, the tabernacle was a place where God walked with his people. To be expelled from the camp of Israel or to be rejected by God was to experience a living death; in both situations gestures of mourning were appropriate (Lev 13:45–46; Num 5:2–4; 1 Sam 15:35). The psalmists, too, held that in the house of God men could “drink from the river of the delights [עדן], for with thee is the fountain of life” (Ps 36:9–10 [8–9]). Only in the presence of God did man enjoy fullness of life. To choose anything else is to choose death (Prov 8:36). The expulsion from the garden of delight where God himself lived would therefore have been regarded by the godly men of ancient Israel as yet more catastrophic than physical death. The latter was the ultimate sign and seal of the spiritual death the human couple experienced on the day they ate from the forbidden tree….
The symbolic dimensions of the story linking the garden with the later sanctuaries support a paradigmatic reading. Water, gold, jewels, cherubim and so on link the garden of Eden with the tabernacle and temples described later. The curses pronounced on the guilty for disobeying the divine instructions anticipate those pronounced on those who disregard the law. These elements give the story a universalistic flavor, or at least a pan-Israelite setting. “Adam” is every man in Israel.
Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1987), 90, 91.
Genesis 4:1–7 (ENGLXXUP), altered
1 And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and brought forth Cain and said, I have gained a man through God. 2 And she again bore his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And it was so after some time that Cain brought of the fruits of the earth [an offeringa] to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought of the firstborn of his sheep and of his fatlings, and God looked upon Abel and his gifts, 5 but Cain and his sacrifices he regarded not, and Cain was exceedingly sorrowful and his countenance fell. 6 And the Lord God said to Cain,
Why art thou become very sorrowful
and why is thy countenance fallen?
7 Hast thou not sinned if thou hast brought it rightly,
but not rightly divided it?
to thee shall be his [recoursec],
and thou shalt rule over him.d
a Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated θυσίαν as “a sacrifice.”
b Brenton / ENGLXXUP did not capitalize “be” following the question mark.
c Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated ἀποστροφή as “submission.”
d Following the lead of Alter, I’ve arranged God’s response to Cain poetically.
1: The serpent promised that Eve would know good and evil. Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and knew they were naked. And now, Adam knew his wife, Eve. The fathers discussed coitus as a form of knowledge and a practice that began after the Fall, but are somewhat divided on this.
The Hebrew has a wordplay (assonance) between “Cain” (קַיִן / qayin) and “gained” (קָנִ֥יתִי / qaniti). To retain some similarity in sound (homonymy) between the words, I’ve retained Brenton’s translation of “gained” rather than opt for “acquired” which might be a slightly clearer translation. Cain’s name might mean “smith” in the sense of “blacksmith,” but this is uncertain.
There are a number of parallels between this account and that of Adam and Eve in chapter 3, including patterns and similar language, with some notable contrasts indicating humanity is falling further away from God.
2: The Hebrew name “Abel” (הֶבֶל / Hevel) means “breath,” “vapor,” or “emptiness.” This is the same word used throughout the book of Ecclesiastes (Qohelet) which is frequently translated as “vanity.”
3: Some unspecified period of time has passed—at least enough for Cain and Abel to grow older. The Hebrew word for “offering” or “gift” (מִנְחָה / minḥah) may imply a grain offering (cf. Leviticus 2), but does not preclude animal sacrifice.
5: The verb λυπέω (lypeō) is (correctly) translated as “exceedingly sorrowful,” but the Hebrew חרה (ḥarah) refers to anger, which is also the sense understood by many of the fathers.
5: There is a lot of speculation amongst the fathers and other commentators about why Abel’s gift was regarded but Cain’s was not. Theories include:
The common theme in Genesis of subverting primogeniture.
Cain did not offer the best/firstfruits whereas Abel did. This is suggested by the contrast between Abel offering from his “firstborn” and “fatlings” with no corresponding terms applied to Cain’s offering. It also appears to be the understanding of the author of Hebrews: “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous when God gave approval to his gifts. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4, BTV).
Cain’s attitude / heart was wrong, whereas Abel truly offered to God from a position of gratitude.
A greater regard for herdsmen (shepherding/pastoral work) than for farmers (agricultural work).
2–5: Several commentators have noted a chiastic structure in these verses:
- Abel, Cain
- Cain, Abel
- Abel, Cain
- Abel, Cain
7: The Hebrew MT has considerably different text for v. 7: “If you do well, won’t it [(your countenance / face)] be lifted up? If you don’t do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, but you are to rule over it” (WEB).
- This is the first mention of sin in the Bible.