How did God treat Adam and Eve after they first sinned? Did he immediately carry out the ordained punishment for eating the forbidden fruit – “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die?” Did he show himself to be a God of wrath, of fury, of righteous indignation?
Instead, Adam and Eve found God “walking in the garden in the cool of the day”. What scene could be more pleasant? This is not the setting that comes to mind when we think of judgment. When Adam responded out of fear, it was not the sound of God walking that frightened him, but rather the realization that he was naked. His sin brought on fear.
God’s interaction with Adam was a conversation: God asked; Adam responded; God asked again; Adam responded again. When Adam blamed the woman, God respected Adam by taking him at his word and turning His attention to Eve. He also respected Eve with conversation: God asked; Eve responded; and God took Eve at her word when she accused the serpent. With the serpent, however, there was no conversation, no questioning, no back and forth. Perhaps this was because the serpent was a creature to be ruled over, not one created in the image of God to exercise dominion over the earth. Perhaps God knew the spirit in the serpent was the father of lies, not to be trusted, not worthy of conversation, never to die, never to be redeemed.
God cursed the serpent: “On your belly you shall go.” He declared enmity between the serpent and the woman, and between their offspring: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel”. Here the passage most clearly highlights God’s message of salvation: God’s judgment on the serpent is salvation for the woman, and that salvation is through her seed, her offspring.
This brings us to the judgment given Eve. The wages of her sin is death; in mercy she will live to bear children, to be the mother of all living, albeit in pain. Whereas the serpent tempted her to be like God, God declared her desire to be like her husband. That, however, could never be – male and female God created them – and the result of this desire was Adam’s rule over her.
As for Adam, he also received pain, not in childbearing but rather in bringing forth bread from the dust from which he came and to which he shall return. This declaration of Adam’s mortality was the judgment for his sin but also God’s plan for his redemption. It would be necessary for one man to die for the people, and those who partake in the crucifixion of that one man also partake in his resurrection and thereby gain life eternal. God rehearsed His salvation plan by killing a substitute – a scapegoat – in order to cover the nakedness – and the sin – of His beloved man and woman. By His mercy, God set an angel with flaming sword to ensure that his beloved would not miss their salvation by eating uninvited the fruit of the tree of life, by which they – like Satan – would continue forever separated from God and unable to receive the redemption found through the death of Eve’s offspring. Praise the wisdom and mercy of God!