Genesis II. 15 to end, and III.
N last lesson we learnt the Creation story, as the old
child-races of the world received it many thousands of
year ago, with its two great
(1) God created the heaven and the earth.
(2) Man was the crown and blossom of all His creation.
Man was akin to God, with God's nature in him. He thus stands apart from all the rest of Creation. "God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul."
At the same time, we should be mistaken in thinking that man was absolutely Godlike on account of his being made "in God's image, after His likeness." If he were, he could not have fallen. The meaning is plain. God had just made the brute creatures, who were not "in His image." Now comes a great step upward—a being with personality, consciousness, freedom of will, and, therefore, direct moral responsibility. And thus man was like his Maker "in His image, after His likeness."
But innocence is not the highest stage of goodness. INNOCENCE is a lower thing than RIGHTEOUSNESS. And God will not be content without righteousness, which means innocence maintained in the presence of temptation. INNOCENCE belongs to the untried baby who has never known evil. RIGHTEOUSNESS belongs to the developed saint, who knows evil, and has been tempted by evil, but by the grace of God has resisted it.
God desired RIGHTEOUSNESS for His creatures. But for this there must first come to them the "knowledge of good and evil"—the knowledge of it even as God knows it. For God surely knows evil; as a something hateful and revolting; as a thing outside of Him altogether. And man must also know it thus, else he can never make a deliberate choice of good; never rise into the glory of moral manhood. Unless one knows both good and evil, and deliberately chooses the good, it is clear that there can be no real character.
Make no mistake here. Men sometimes say "a man must know life," "must sow his wild oats," etc., which means that he must know evil by partaking of it. God forbid! "Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die." For all growth of character it is necessary to have to keep choosing between good and evil, and, therefore, to know evil; but the evil must be known as God knows it—as a thing external and to be detested.
It is most important to
keep in mind this distinction between Innocence and
Righteousness. Earnest, godly people often talk
sentimentally about the innocence of
childhood; of their regret for it, as compared with
their present state of temptation and struggle. We find
the sentiment frequent in
poetry. You remember
"I remember, I remember
The fir-trees dark and high,
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky.
It was a childish ignorance,
But now 'tis little joy
To know I'm farther off from heaven
Than when I was a boy."
Perhaps he was, but perhaps he was not. At any rate, character can only be formed by means of temptation. That is God's will for man, and there is no use in trying to avoid it. You know how a mother would like to keep her boy always in her sight, that no evil should ever be seen or heard by him. She is afraid of school life; afraid of business life. She wants to keep her darling in the innocent stage always. It is very pathetic, but she must learn that her child, too, must come to the knowledge of good and evil, though she will pray that he may come to it by conquering the wrong. He must know good and evil. He must choose. This is God's will. All she can do is to spend her soul in prayer and effort that her boy may be nobly trained against the days of temptation.
Now we return to our story. The ancient writer or teacher has to deal with the fact patent, alas! to us as to him that the beings made by God for a high destiny are sinning and rebelling against God. So he writes his story. The parents of our race are pictured before us in the lovely world that God has made for them. They have got a fair and beautiful start in life, more so than any of us who are already tainted. They have good dispositions, good desires, no knowledge of evil, or temptation to it. They are like happy children in the presence of the great Father. But their testing-time must come. God is too desirous of good for them to spare them that. And so immediately following the story of their creation comes the story of their testing, and, alas! their fall. Look at the picture. Adam and Eve are in a beautiful garden. In the midst of it is a tree with a mystical name—the Tree of Life, and, more prominent still, for the purpose of the story, another mystical tree—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; and lurking near this tree a serpent which speaks to them words of temptation to sin and doubt about God. Nobody can read that story without feeling there is something meant more than the mere literal story. The talking serpent and the trees with their mystical names suggest at once that, though it is a narration of facts of vital importance to each of us, yet that these facts are presented to us under an allegorical shape so prevalent in Eastern teaching. What is meant by the serpent? We get no hint in the story that it is anything but an ordinary serpent; but the Book of Revelation tells of "that old serpent the devil." It tells us also of a Tree of Life, which means eternal life and eternal communion with God. "Blessed are they who do His commandments, that they may have a right to the Tree of Life."
And what is the meaning of the other tree? What we have already said will suggest it at once. In some way—perhaps by forbidding them to eat of a literal tree; perhaps in some other way—the alternative of right and wrong is presented to the minds of Adam and Eve, and they are forced to make a choice of good or evil. In the presence of this alternative, the old childlike innocence is no longer possible. They must rise into conscious right-doing, or fall into conscious wrong. They never again now can be just as they were. A new consciousness has come into their lives, the discernment of good and evil.
Now you will probably see less difficulty in the question why God did not save them from this temptation of the serpent. No human life can grow into righteousness without temptation. From the childlike innocence in which man was created he must pass into the higher condition of moral manhood. He must no longer merely do good instinctively. He must rise into the doing of good in the presence of evil; keeping his innocence unstained in the face of temptation. Alas! that this rise should be only possible at the risk of falling! But that seems the great law of the spiritual life. Gains are always won at the risk of corresponding losses; victories at the risk of corresponding defeats. Every temptation that comes to us is an illustration. It is an opportunity of gain at the risk of a loss; an opportunity of victory at the risk of defeat.
Alas! that our first parents chose the wrong! By that "disobedience sin entered into the world, and death by sin." Shame and sorrow came into their lives; and conscience, latent, perhaps before, sprang into conscious existence in their wretched self-condemnation, as it might otherwise have sprung into existence in their glad self-approval.
It is some comfort that the enticement by itself was not sufficient to tempt them. The great evil being, who has been the curse of our race since, was at their side. No man when he is tempted must excuse himself by putting the blame of his sin on Satan; yet it is some comfort to think that all the evil thoughts and suggestions that come to us are not entirely from within. We might well despair of ourselves then. Satan, the great fallen angel, is ever watching. The test of the knowledge of good and evil had, it would seem, in long past ages come to the angels too. Some of them resisted; some of them fell (Jude, v. 6). And the first and chief of those who fell was Satan. Evil seems to have begun with him by his choosing to try the evil; and then he seems to have gone on from bad to worse until he came to the fearful crime of the seduction of man. Did this seal his fate beyond recovery? Is that the meaning of the terrible curse: "Because thou host done this thing, . . . on thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life"? Never again shalt thou rise erect in thine ancient dignity to look into the face of God. Thou shalt be for ever a degraded, crawling thing, down in the dust of the earth.
However that may be, our concern is with our own race, and our own selves, on whom the curse of Adam's sin has fallen. How does it affect us? Does the doctrine of Original Sin mean that we are to be punished for what Adam and Eve did many thousands of years ago? Surely not. Original Sin is "the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam." We know how a child inherits the good or bad qualities of its parents or ancestors. We are most anxious to warn young people to keep life pure and noble, in view of the future days of fatherhood and motherhood, since the character of little children will be influenced by theirs. Thus it was. The first sin was the beginning of many sins. Early mankind became sinful; therefore it was easier for their children to become so, and then for theirs again. The infection spread like a plague. It was not that God devised a legal figment to condemn us; nay, but that He devised a way of deliverance from what was no figment, but an awful dread reality which clings to us all.
After the sin came the shame—the consciousness that they were naked, stripped of the innocence that made them walk unabashed before God and each other. Do not we all know when we have fallen into sin how marvellously true is that old inspired picture of the shame, and the hiding, and the fruitless effort to cover the shame with a few fig-leaves? Do we all understand equally the loving mercy of God, who did not want His poor, shamed, hiding creatures to be shamed and hiding for ever, and so has Himself provided a covering for them?
Try to learn carefully this Lesson about the Fall. Try to make it very real, and of concern to each pupil. The idea has been much obscured by religious cant and unreal phrases. Teach to the children what you think they will understand of it, and last, but by no means least, when you hear the silly, flippant, sceptical talk about Eve eating an apple, and God unfairly condemning the whole world for it, do your utmost to discourage it, by explaining the Church's meaning of original sin, and by showing the wonder, and beauty, and solemnity of this story of the Fall of Man.
Read Genesis III
This is the most important Lesson in Genesis. Prepare well for it. Let the whole be carefully planned. You cannot afford to lose any time, nor to lose the interest for a moment. I have written a very full Lesson, so that you can pick out what suits the age of your class, and leave the rest. Be very careful to make the Lesson solemn and real, and let the pupils feel that it is no mere old-world story, but that it has a close interest for them. Each one is suffering from the evil brought thus into this beautiful world many thousands of years ago. Read Milton's Paradise Lost, and Bunyan's Holy War.
V. 5. "As gods," R.V., "as God" (Elohim).
V. 8. They heard the voice of Jehovah. This very ancient history of Creation and Fall is full of such expressions—i. 26, 31; ii. 2, 8, 19, etc. All this corresponds well with the simple, childlike character of the early portions of Genesis. The Great Father, through His inspired Word, is teaching His children in infancy of the race in simple lessons.—Speaker's Commentary.
V. 15. The seed of the woman. The promise is not only (1) general, i.e., that Satan and his servants shall always fight with Eve's descendants, that ultimately mankind shall, by God's help, conquer (even that is a glorious hope for the race); but also (2) particular and personal—a personal contest and a personal victory of that one Seed of the woman, who had no earthly father, and who "was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil."
I want to tell you an old story that I read long ago. It is about a war—the Holy War it is called—and in this war is the siege of the city of MANSOUL. The great king of the country had built this city for his own use. He committed the guarding of it to the inhabitants. And he had so cleverly built the walls that they could never be broken down without the consent of those within.
The city had five entrance-gates—Ear-gate, Eye-gate, Mouth-gate, Nose-gate, Feel-gate; and they, too, were so cleverly made, that, like the walls, they could never be forced open without the consent of those inside. I have not time to tell you about the defenders. Amongst them were the brave Captain Resistance and the wise old Judge Conscience, who was so well read in the laws of the king, and so brave and faithful to speak them forth at all times. I have only time to tell you the story of the trick by which the black giant Diabolus got into the town. He called a council of war, and when his generals wanted to smash down the walls and gates, "Oh, no," said he, "you cannot do that, for Mansoul is so strongly built that no one can conquer it but by its own consent. If you attack it openly, they will send to the king for help, and it is all up with us." "What shall we do, then?" they asked. "I will tell you," said he. "Let us hide our intentions with flatteries and lies; let us pretend things that will never be; let us promise that which they shall never find; and soon we shall coax them to open the gates."
So they came down next morning with friendly words, and coaxed, and promised, and lied to the soldiers. And the gates that could never have been forced from outside were opened to them by the deluded guards. The enemy rushed in and took possession of the town, and MANSOUL fell into abject slavery. The king was terribly vexed and disappointed; and the guards were utterly disgraced and shamed when the king demanded why his town had been taken.
Do you think that story has any hidden meaning? Explain: Man's Soul, Conscience, Resistance, Diabolus (Devil). Eye-gate, Ear-gate, etc. What is meant by the statement that the walls and gates could only be opened from inside? What is meant by Diabolus deceiving the garrison? Who is meant by the king? What do we call that sort of story? A parable or allegory. It is one of our Lord's favourite ways of teaching truth. Name a few of His parables.
Now, long, long ages ago, in the very early days of the world, God inspired men to teach the world this simple, wonderful story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Delight, and the serpent talking, and the two trees with the strange names. What names? First tell me the story. (Get the story told rapidly and spiritedly by the children in rotation, or else question rapidly through the chapter. Have your questions prepared beforehand. Do not exceed ten minutes. Do not let the interest flag.)
Divide into sections for
(1) Vv. 1-7. Temptation and Fall. Serpent suggesting doubt of God? Eve's defence of God? Serpent contradicts God? Accuses God of evil motive? His temptation to Eve? Pleasantness of sin in prospect? Result of the sin?
(2) Vv. 7-14. Shame and hiding. Effect of sin, shame and hiding, as contrasted with pleasantness beforehand. So with sin always. God's stern rebuke? The cowardly excuses? Adam's implied charge against God? (v. 12.)
(3) Vv. 14-24. Sentence on Adam? On Eve? Serpent? —Specially emphasize v. 15, promise of Messiah. Expulsion from Eden.
Is there anything in this story like the siege of MANSOUL? What was the MANSOUL here being attacked? By whom? Could the serpent have conquered without their consent? How did he conquer at last? (v. 13.) Whose fault, then, was it that this wrong thing was done? Was it the serpent's fault? Was he punished? How? But Adam and Eve were punished, too. Were they to blame? Yes, terribly so. Why? Because the serpent could not have forced them to sin. He could only whisper to them bad thoughts—that the forbidden fruit was nice; and that it was unkind of God to forbid it; that what God said was not true, etc. Were they awfully ashamed of their wickedness? How do you know? (v. 8.) They might well be. Think how very good God had been to them. Spent thousands and thousands of years making the earth, and the sea, and the trees and flowers, and animals, all for sake of man; made man after His own likeness. And then to treat Him like that after all! And to let that sneaking serpent, God's enemy, trick them into doing it!
Now, some people think that this story is meant to be an exactly literal account of the way Adam and Eve sinned; that there was really a serpent talking, and the two trees with the curious names. And other people think that while it is meant to be a true account of the sin of our first parents, it is told in a sort of parable form, like "The Prodigal Son," or "The Siege of Mansoul"—that the serpent and the trees are but parables and pictures of greater things. We may not be perfectly sure from the Bible account which is the true notion—and it does not matter in the least. The meaning is perfectly clear in either case, that early man, by wilfully choosing sin, by trying what sin was like, brought sin into this world. How does it concern us? Does God punish you and me for something that Adam and Eve did thousands of years ago? Certainly not. And yet every child in this class has a close concern with this sin of Adam and Eve. How? It brought wrong-doing into this world, that God had made so beautiful; and it has made it harder to this day for any of us to be good. Try to understand this.
When God had breathed into our first parents the breath of life, and they found themselves here in His lovely world, what sort of character had they? It was innocence like that of a little baby who does not know anything about evil, and has not ever had to choose between good and evil. Which is the higher sort of goodness: the innocence of the baby who does not know about evil, and has never been tempted, or the strong, brave righteousness of a noble woman or man who does know about evil, and has been tempted by evil, but who, by God's grace, has bravely conquered, and refused to do the evil? Which is the higher, and braver, and stronger? Which does God most value—Innocence or Righteousness? So every innocent baby must one day come to the "knowledge of good and evil." He must see the good and the evil, and deliberately choose; otherwise his innocence is of little value. That is the use of temptation. Every temptation to temper, or laziness, or disobedience, or any sin, is like a call from God, saying: Choose between good and evil. That is the way that God makes character. By the "knowledge of good and evil," and deliberately choosing the good, righteousness, nobleness of character, is formed, which God so values. Therefore Adam and Eve had to be tested—tried. They had a fair, beautiful start in life, with no knowledge of evil—holy innocence, no taint of sin. But it was still only Innocence, and God wanted Righteousness (i.e., Innocence preserved in the presence of temptation ). Therefore, the "knowledge of good and evil" had to come to them; and so, in this wonderful old-world picture, we see the man and woman in the Garden of Delight with everything, it would seem, to keep them in union with God for ever.
And then we see the testing. There stands before them this mystic "tree of the knowledge of good and evil;" and God forces their attention to it by a command that they should not eat of it. They must only know evil by looking at it, not by sharing in it. They must know it in the way that God Himself knows it—as a possible thing, but a hateful thing. In the presence of that tree and that command the old childlike innocence must change either into a higher thing or a lower. Can you explain that? They have now a choice; they must obey or disobey; do good or do evil; and so the knowledge of good and evil has come. Conscience has begun to act. If they can resist this temptation, they will rise up into the path of righteousness of life—into a noble condition of moral manhood.
Now God is watching His new creatures to see what they will do. He has spent thousands of years in preparing for this moment. Do they love Him enough to do what He asks, or will they give Him deepest pain by yielding? Perhaps they might have conquered if no enemy near. But they have a terrible enemy. Who is it? He was once an angel of God; but when his testing-time came, as it comes to all, he "abode not in the truth" (John viii. 44). He rebelled against God, and other angels rebelled with him (Jude, v. 6). And now he is miserable and angry, and wants to drag everybody else down. So in our picture we see next a creeping, cunning, crawling serpent—a horrible, uncanny thing that could creep through any hole, and twine around one, where an open enemy could be kept out. What is meant by the serpent? (Revelation xii. 9.) How does he conquer? By power and strength? No (v. 13); beguiled, just as in story of Mansoul. It is this old story in the Bible that taught the writer of "The Siege of Mansoul" how to represent the devil.
Tell me how he lied and deceived? Yes. What did Eve do? Did she run away, or get angry with him? No; stood and listened, and looked, and the more she looked the nicer it seemed to eat of the tree, What does v. 6 say? What does this mean? That sin, before it is done, seems often pleasant to people; that is why they do it; and if they keep on thinking how nice it is, they will very likely do it. They must resist at once or flee from the temptation.
And so at last—oh! the misery, and shame, and horror of it!—Eve reached forth, and broke the good, loving God's command, and then she got Adam to do the same, and so they were both in rebellion; and so the cunning devil had triumphed, and God was sorrowful and disappointed, and in that moment "sin entered into the world, and death by sin."
Does it matter to us that the first of our race turned to wrong instead of right? How? Does God punish us for what a man and woman did many thousands of years ago? Certainly not. But the evil thing got "into our blood," as people say. You know how people notice that there is a likeness between parents and children; a likeness in appearance; a likeness in character and ways also.
Sometimes people say when a boy has a bad temper, or a cowardly spirit, or some mean little tricks, "Oh! he inherited that from his grandfather, or father, or some ancestor of his." That is an awful thing, but it is true. Character is handed down like that. And so the badness got into our race; and it is harder for us to be good now, and easier to be evil, because mankind, at the beginning, did wrong, and kept on doing it. (This is what the Church means by doctrine of original sin.)
Now, do you know why this story is so very real to us? Because that very thing is frequently happening to us all. God wants us all to rise to Righteousness. (Give definition of it.) Has the "knowledge of good and evil" come to any of you? Have you sometimes chosen the good—sometimes the evil? Will you remember next time how solemn these choices are, and that God is watching, as long ago in Eden—lovingly watching for you to conquer, and standing by to help you? And if you fail, and the great shame and sorrow come, and you hear a still small voice inside you asking, "What hast thou done?" will you remember something like that told in the story (v. 8)? What did they do? Hide. Aye, just as you want to do when you have sinned; all the courage and the bright, glad confidence go out of your life, and you feel ashamed and degraded, and want to hide from God. Could they hide from God? Can anyone hide? No; better come right off and tell Him all; not make beggarly excuses like Adam and Eve.
There are a great many lessons in this story—too many to mention. Just think of two.
1. The way in which this mean, slimy, crawling devil tries to cheat you. You remember how often he has done it; and how angry you were with him, and with yourself afterwards. Pray for more anger against him and against yourself, and more love to the good Father above whom we so continually disappoint.
2. A very touching lesson. This is the touching lesson: That when this man and woman had done the devil's bidding, and grieved and disappointed the good God; and when, in the shame of their sin, they felt no longer fit for God's eye—tried to cover their nakedness with a few leaves—then who was it provided a covering to clothe them, that they might venture to live in His presence without terror and degradation? Who? God Himself (v. 21.) It shows that God was too kind, and noble, and loving to keep His anger against them, or to banish them for ever. This is the lesson, that it is God Himself who relieves man's shame, and comforts him; and that if you are ashamed, and miserable, and afraid, on account of sin, God has taken care for you, as for Adam and Eve; that through the blood of Christ your iniquity should be forgiven, and your sin covered. Tell me the great promise of God in cursing the serpent (iii. 15). What does it mean? Seed of woman? Bruise his head? Bruise his heel? This is the loving promise. When men have disappointed and grieved God sorely, and must suffer what they have brought on themselves, God says, "I must go down to them, and not let them suffer alone. I must suffer for them myself, to undo their terrible evil." And so our Lord Jesus Christ was to come, who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.
Tell story of the siege of Mansoul?
Tell story of Adam and Eve and the Serpent?
Names of the two trees?
Who was first tempted?
Whom did she tempt?
What do you think the whole story means?
What good use have temptations?