Among all the creatures of the “field” that YHWH God made, the serpent is described as being more clever or crafty (‘arúm). It may be that the reason for this description was the deceit with which the serpent became associated, for all creation was good and so no part of it could fittingly be identified as clever, crafty, or deceitful. Targum Jonathan (considered to date probably from the second century CE) refers to the serpent as being wiser respecting evil. The serpent is portrayed as asking the woman, “Did God indeed say that you must not eat from any tree of the garden?” This question implied that God was depriving her of partaking of the fruit from all the trees and that it was unfair for him to prohibit her from enjoying even a little of the abundance of available fruit. She responded correctly to the cleverly worded question. “Of the fruit from any tree of the garden, we may eat. But from the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God said, You must not eat from it and you must not touch it, lest you die.” Although the woman was fully aware of God’s command regarding the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” the question led to her focusing her attention on that very tree and preparing her for an answer respecting the reason for the prohibition regarding it. The answer was a lie that slandered God who had provided everything needful for her enjoyment and that of her husband. “You will certainly not die (literally, “dying, you will not die”), for God knows that, in the day of your eating of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God in knowing good and evil.” According to Targum Jonathan, she was told, “You will be as the great angels, who are wise to know between good and evil.” Completely deceived by the words coming from the serpent, the woman saw the tree in a different light, not as something to be avoided. It was good for food, pleasant to behold, a tree to be desired and having the capacity to make one wise. She then ate the fruit. Later, when her husband was with her, she gave him fruit, and he also ate it. (3:1-6)
Prior to partaking of the fruit, the woman and her husband had no knowledge of evil on the basis of personal experience. She and her husband had conducted themselves in a good way, and the thought of doing evil by transgressing the command they had been given apparently did not even occur to them. At the time she chose to eat the fruit, however, the woman determined that God’s command was not good. In this manner, she elevated herself to be like God in establishing what was good and what was evil for her personally. The result was not what she expected. Her eyes and those of her husband were opened, and they experienced the disturbing effect from having chosen to do evil. They became uncomfortable in the presence of one another because their conscience condemned them. Perceiving their naked or exposed state, they covered their private parts with fig leaves. Targum Jonathan says that “they knew they were naked, divested of the purple robe in which they had been created.” (3:7)
The ancient view among the Jews regarding this narrative appears to have been that the serpent possessed the capacity to speak and to express thoughts. First-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote: “All the living creatures had one language.” At that time, the serpent lived together with Adam and his wife. At seeing them living happily and in obedience to the commands of God, the serpent manifested an envious disposition. Imagining that, if they were to disobey the commands, they would fall into calamities, the serpent “persuaded the woman, out of a malicious intention, to taste of the tree of knowledge.” The serpent told the woman “that in that tree was the knowledge of good and evil, which knowledge,” when obtained, would lead to a happy life — a “life not inferior to that of a god.” By this means, the serpent “overcame the woman, and persuaded her to despise the command of God. Now when she had tasted of that tree, and was pleased with its fruit, she persuaded Adam to make use of it also. Upon this, they perceived they were naked to one another.” Being ashamed thus to be seen abroad, they invented coverings for themselves. The tree had “sharpened their understanding, and they covered themselves with fig leaves.” Tying these leaves together, “out of modesty, they thought they were happier” than they had been before, as they had discovered what they lacked. (Antiquities, I, i, 4)
Early Christians understood the serpent to have been more than a talking snake. They considered the serpent to have been the instrument the Devil used to deceive the woman. In John 8:44, Jesus Christ is quoted as identifying the Devil as a murderer, a liar, and the “father” or originator of lies, and Revelation 12:9 refers to the one called “Devil and Satan” as the “ancient [or original] serpent.”
Just like the woman long ago, many people since then have been deceived by the same lie, imagining that their best interests are served when they set their own ever-changing norms or standards respecting what is good and what is bad. They prefer to make themselves like God, or the highest authority, with no accountability for rejecting what is set forth as the “word of God” in the “holy scriptures” that have been preserved throughout the centuries. Often those who disregard the “word of God” ridicule what is set forth in Genesis, never recognizing themselves as having adopted a course like that of the woman.
During the windy part of the day (literally, the “wind of the day) or the “late afternoon” (deilinós [LXX]), the man and his wife heard the “sound of YHWH God walking in the garden.” It appears that the one whom the man and his wife heard walking was the direct representative of YHWH or the “angel of YHWH,” the one who many centuries later spoke to Abraham and who is referred to as YHWH and as one of three “men” or angels whom Abraham met. (Compare Genesis 18:1, 2, 16, 17, 22, 33; 19:1.) In view of their guilt-ridden conscience, the man and his wife went into hiding “from the face [or the presence] of YHWH God among the trees of the garden.” (3:8)
YHWH God called out to the man with the question, “Where are you?” The man admitted that he had heard his sound (apparently of his walking) in the garden and had hidden himself, being afraid on account of his nakedness. Targum Jonathan represents God as saying, “Is not all the world that I have made manifest before me — the darkness as the light? How did you think in your heart to hide from before me? Do I not see the place where you are concealed? Where are the commandments that I commanded you?” The Jewish historian Josephus added that the man had previously been pleased to respond to God and to converse with him whenever he came into the garden. He then quoted God as saying, “I had before determined about you both, how you might lead a happy life, without any affliction, and care, and vexation of soul; and that all things which might contribute to your enjoyment and pleasure should grow up by my providence, of their own accord, without your own labor and pains-taking; which state of labor and pains-taking would soon bring on old age, and death would not be at any remote distance.” (Antiquities, I, i, 4) Questioned as to who had told him that he was naked and whether he had eaten from the prohibited tree, the man, just like many people today, failed to acknowledge personal responsibility for his sin. He framed his answer in a manner that implicated God in his transgression and placed the blame for his sin on his wife. “The woman you gave [to be] with me, she gave me [fruit] from the tree, and I ate.” Faced with the question as to what she had done, the woman also did not take full responsibility for her deed but said that the serpent had deceived her. (3:9-13)
YHWH God first pronounced judgment on the serpent. Among all the animals, the serpent would be cursed, move on its belly, and eat dust “all the days of [its] life.” There would be enmity between the serpent and the woman, between the serpent’s seed or offspring and the woman’s seed or offspring. The offspring of the woman would bruise the serpent in the head, and the serpent would bruise the woman’s offspring in the heel. Targum Jonathan represents this to mean that the serpent’s means of locomotion changed and that it became a venomous creature. “Upon your belly you will go, and your feet will be cut off, and you will cast away your skin once in seven years. And the poison of death will be in your mouth, and dust you will eat all the days of your life.” The Jewish historian Josephus likewise made a literal application to the serpent. He indicated that God, out of indignation at the serpent’s malicious disposition toward Adam, deprived it of speech, had poison inserted under its tongue, made it an enemy of man, had its feet removed, and made it to drag itself on the ground. Additionally, God suggested to men that they should direct their strokes against the head of the serpent (the source of its malicious designs toward men). (Antiquities, I, i, 4) Of course, a serpent does not have legs, and it may be regarded as appearing to eat dust because of the proximity of its flickering tongue to the ground as it moves on its belly or rib cage. (3:14, 15)
Besides making a literal application to the serpent, Targum Jonathan includes, in God’s pronouncement of judgment, the prospect of a Messianic hope. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between the seed of your son, and the seed of her sons; and it shall be when the sons of the woman keep the commandments of the law, they will be prepared to smite you upon your head. But when they forsake the commandments of the law, you will be ready to wound them in their heel. Nevertheless, for them there will be a medicine, but for you there will be no medicine. And they will make a remedy for the heel in the days of the King Meshiha.” In view of their understanding that the serpent was an instrument of Satan or the Devil, early Christians considered the judgment to incorporate the messianic hope. The time would come when the “seed” or offspring that would come through a woman would crush the Devil, triumphing over him and all the powers of darkness, and liberating humans from sin and its baneful consequences. Accordingly, the reference in Genesis has been applied to Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah who came to be “out of a woman” (Galatians 4:4) and who through his sacrificial death destroyed the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8), making it possible for humans to be reconciled to God as his approved children by having their sins forgiven. Jesus Christ’s being killed was comparable to his having a heel wound inflicted on him, for he recovered upon being resurrected from the dead. There is no such recovery for the Devil after he is totally crushed and God’s approved children find themselves in a completely sinless state like that of his unique Son, the resurrected Jesus Christ. (3:15)
As a consequence of the woman’s sin, her life would not be as it could have been. Bearing children would be a very painful experience. Her longing or desire (apostrophé [returning, turning back, or inclination], LXX) would be for her husband, apparently wanting his help and support, and he would lord over her. The Hebrew word for “longing” or “desire” is not limited in its application to women. In the Song of Solomon (7:10), the Shulammite said respecting her beloved that his “desire” (epistrophé [turning or attention], LXX) was for her. Sin would have effected a change in the close relationship of the man and the woman, causing him to regard her as less than a fellow partner. He would exploit her need for him and act as a master. (3:16) Targum Jonathan indicates that he would rule over her “unto righteousness and unto sin.”
The man’s failure to obey God is attributed to his listening to his wife’s words. According to Josephus, she persuaded Adam. (Antiquities, I, i, 4) In his letter to Timothy, however, the apostle Paul said that Adam was not deceived. (1 Timothy 2:14) The man made a choice to cast in his lot with his wife, making himself responsible for the entrance of sin into the world and his becoming the progenitor of only sinful or morally flawed humans. (Romans 5:12) His eating of the forbidden fruit had serious consequences for him personally. Cultivating the cursed ground to grow plants for food would prove to be an arduous task. The land would produce thorns and thistles, greatly diminishing the results from his labor. He would perspire as he worked the land. In this way, he would eat bread “in the sweat of his face.” The time would come when he would die, returning to the ground or the elements of the soil from which he had been taken. He had been taken from the dust and would return to the dust. (3:17-19) Targum Jonathan includes the thought that, in the future, the man would rise from the dust to render an account “in the day of great judgment” for all that he had done. After the divine judgment had been pronounced, the man called his wife “Eve,” meaning “Living One,” for she would become the “mother of all living” persons. (3:20)
Animals had to be slaughtered to obtain skins to clothe the man (Adam) and his wife Eve. Apparently, therefore, it would have been the first time for them to see the loss of life by a violent act that would not have occurred had they heeded God’s command. This must have made a deep, if not also highly disturbing or shocking, impression on them. Whether they discerned that a covering for the effects of sin required a sacrifice, one involving the pouring out of blood, is not stated in the account. It is, however, a conclusion many have drawn from the incident. Targum Jonathan presents a very different version of this event. For the man and his wife, God made garments of honor from the skin of the serpent that it had shed instead of the adornment (the purple robe in which they were created) that they lost when they sinned. (3:21)
YHWH God is quoted as saying, “Look, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” According to Targum Jonathan, God spoke to the “angels who ministered before him.” The quotation continues as an incomplete statement, “lest he [Adam] put forth his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live for limitless time —” Apparently the implied thought appears to be that preventive action needed to be taken. YHWH God expelled Adam and Eve from the garden in Eden. Outside the garden, Adam would have to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken in order for him and his wife to have food to eat. Access to the garden was barred on the east entrance, where cherubs were stationed to guard “the way to the tree of life.” Seemingly, between the cherubs the “flame of a sword” turned continually. This description fits the time when swords existed, but the reference likely is to a revolving brilliant flame that resembled the turning of the bright blade of a sword. (3:22-24)
Neither the tree of the knowledge of good and evil nor its fruit contained the essential properties for imparting knowledge. Disregard of God’s command respecting this tree made it possible for Adam and Eve to experience or come to know evil and the accompanying disturbing emotions. Prior to their transgression they had only known good. Through their disobedience, they had elevated themselves to the level of gods as persons with no authority over them to establish for them what was good and what was evil. In reality, though, they were not like God. As was the case with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil concerning the imparting of knowledge, the tree of life seemingly did not inherently have the needed properties to grant never-ending life to persons who were entitled to eat fruit from this tree. Instead, the tree served as a tangible means to assure all who were entitled to eat its fruit that they would continue to enjoy life as persons with an approved standing before God. Therefore, when Adam and Eve transgressed God’s command, they lost the right to partake of the fruit from the tree of life. Expelled from the garden, they were prohibited from access to the tree of life and any attempt to reverse the judgment of death that had been pronounced against them. They had forfeited their life, and a reversal was impossible.