Temptation and the garden


All our temptations are garden temptations.

I don’t usually talk much about gardening when I lead Bible studies, but recently during our study on Genesis 3, I asked, “What does the Garden of Eden show us about God?”

The answer? God is abundantly generous. He didn’t give Adam and Eve a dry loaf and a cup of water; he gave them a beautiful garden brimming with varied, wonderful fruitful plants to eat and enjoy (Gen 2:9).

And what was God’s word to the people he’d made? “Eat! Eat freely from every tree in the garden!”1 There was only one tree they weren’t to eat from, and that was “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:16-17). In other words, the only thing they weren’t to do was to rip God’s authority away from him, and decide good and evil for themselves.

But that’s not the way Eve saw it.

“Did God really say …?”, said the serpent. You can hear the unstated question: “What was God thinking?! Why is he withholding this good thing from you?” (Gen 3:1).

What’s Eve’s answer? “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’” (Gen 3:2-32). She changes God’s generous “We are free to eat fruit from any tree”, to the grudging “We may eat fruit from the trees”. She changes God’s protective command—“You must not eat”—to the restrictive: “You must not touch”. And as for “you will die”, “No you won’t”, whispers the serpent’s lie (Gen 3:4-5).

God gives us good things, but we want the one thing he hasn’t given us. God gives us guidelines, but we fence them around with legalistic restrictions. God warns us, but we repress his warnings. God is lavishly generous, but we see him as grudging.

Driving home from the Bible study, it occurred to me that I imitate my mother Eve every time I sin. God gives me so many good things. But I can’t see his generosity. All I can see is the thing he hasn’t given me.

He gives me the precious ministry of teaching and training our children; I want the glory of a more public, recognized ministry! He gives me food and possessions; I want more than is good for me—more than we can afford! He gives me a secure home and a loving family; I want a husband who treats me like that woman’s husband, children who act more like that woman’s children and a beautiful house like that woman’s house!

In the back of my mind, God is a grudging tyrant who is trying to keep good things from me. The result is foolish idolatry, unwise decisions and grumpy service. The result is discontent, envy, despondency, anger, anxiety and fear. The result is broken relationships and shame.

God is no grudging tyrant; God is abundantly generous. God isn’t trying to keep good things from me. In all that happens, God wants only my good (Rom 8:28-30). God isn’t trying to restrict my happiness; God’s ways are good ways.

Next time I’m tempted, Lord, help me to see things the way they really are!

1 The NIV says “freely”; the ESV says “surely”. In the original, it’s the emphatically generous “eating you do eat”.

2 Gordon Wenham observes that Eve changes God’s words—“You may freely eat of every garden tree”—to the less generous “We may eat of the fruit …” (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1: Genesis 1-15, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1987, p. 73).

4 thoughts on “Temptation and the garden

  1. Thank you for such a clear and refreshing exegesis and application of Genesis 2-3. I look forward to sharing it with others.

    This is a red herring, but I can’t resist the temptation(!): Do you believe that Eve was a real historical individual? The reason I ask is that I am interested in how Reformed-Evangelical people who don’t believe in the personal identity of Adam and Eve (i.e. theistic evolutionists) treat the text as if they were real, without mentioning otherwise.

  2. Hi Andrew! I’m glad you found the post helpful.

    Yes, I do believe that Adam and Eve are historical figures. Apart from any issues in the interpretation of Genesis, the Bible makes it clear that Adam is as real as Jesus in Romans 5:12-21 – and if Jesus is not a real historical figure, my whole faith falls apart!

  3. Hi Jean,

    Thanks for the post. I was going to day that the fall makes us ‘glass half empty’ rather than ‘glass half full’ type of people, but thats not quite right is it. Its more that God is abundant in his blessings (glass more than half full) but we still see the ‘empty’ bit. And sometimes I suppose we might even try to fill up what we see as missing?!


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