“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1).
The first ten words of the Bible reveal God to be separate and distinct from creation, and therefore invisible, omnipresent, omniscient, uncreated, infinite, and incomprehensible. Given that creation is both His work and His idea, we know He’s an intelligent, immutable, communicative, eternal being who possesses a real and independent volition. That our universe springs out of His boundless free action and imagination means He’s not only supremely powerful, but in possession of unlimited wisdom. We also know from our conscience that God is unflinchingly, uncompromisingly, unquestionably good, and from this follows that all the works of His hands are good, and that He can neither permit nor excuse evil.
But although the world as it was created teaches us much about God, the fallen one we now live in teaches us more. Much more. Before the fall we could know what God is like, but after the fall we can know who God is. It’s the difference between reading a biography about someone and being married to them for 50 years; the difference between having a color described to you and seeing it for yourself. And because joy comes from knowing Him, a fallen world which unveils more of His attributes is a vastly more joyful place then one which never fell into sin to begin with. So although God knew it would cause us grief, He nevertheless permitted us to condemn ourselves to futility rather than predestine us to continue in the good state in which we were created.
The instigator of this fall was the angel Satan. Scripture does not say when he himself rebelled, although it was probably after God pronounced His creation “very good” (Gen 1:31). Nor does Scripture even say why. All the Bible reveals is that by the time Eve spoke with him Satan had become the father of lying (John 8:44) in order to cause the rest of creation to become as he was. He tricked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, used her to convince Adam to eat it, and thus plunged all creation into ruin. As a result, when God called the three of them to account for their actions against Him, He spoke to the devil first (Gen 3:14-15):
“Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field. Upon thy belly shall thou go, and dust shall thou eat all the days of thy life.
I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; He shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise His heel.”
There are two parts to this judgment. The first concerns the fate of Satan, the second the fate of the eternal covenant he tried to break.
In verse 14 God tells the serpent he’s cursed above all the other animals under man’s dominion and will be doomed to eat the dust of the earth. This isn’t a physical punishment so much as a spiritual one, just as Adam’s fruit eating wasn’t so much a physical act with physical consequences as it was a spiritual act with spiritual consequences. It wouldn’t make sense to tell Satan he’s going to slither around on his stomach eating dirt from then on because Satan is an angel of light, not a reptile, and snakes don’t eat dust in any case. Instead, the message is, “I will strip your dignity and the reasons for your pride. I will humble and humiliate you. For attempting to take My glory for yourself, I will take away the glory I’ve given you and you will be lower than the lowest animal. You will continue to be a creature who does My will, but now you will do so without My blessing.”
Worse, because God’s revelation of Himself is the only source of joy in the universe, and because Satan had not only rejected his appointed place in the eternal plan but the very plan itself, he would now be condemned to eternal torment. He and all the angels who followed him would one day be cast into hell, a place created specifically for them (Matt 25:41).
Yet because God’s will is invincible, the fall did not shroud His glory, it only ushered in more of it. Instead of humbling God, mankind’s fall humbled Satan. This is why verse 15 isn’t a promise to mankind that someone would fix everything for them, but a promise to the devil that God would crush his uprising. One day a man—the very being despised as inferior—would put an end to both him and the angels who followed him. This man, born to a human mother (but not a father, since there’s no mention of one) will successfully destroy Satan’s work, though he will suffer to do so. As 1 John 3:8 says, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” Or stated differently, this is an objective promise with regards to mankind, not a subjective one. Whether or not Adam and Eve like it, whether or not they accept it, and regardless of anything else that would happen to them, God would fulfill His purpose of showing Himself to creation by sending the triumphant Son of Man.
However, even though the work of Christ is seen here to be first and foremost objective, a proper understanding of objective truth always leads to a subjective application of it. In this case, that God promised to send a man to destroy the sinful work of the devil indicates that Adam and Eve wouldn’t be separated from Him forever. The prophecy not only indicates it’s possible for them to still be on His side, it clearly states He’ll treat them differently than the fallen angels. For Satan there’ll be no mercy, but for men there will be mercy in abundance. This idea is strengthened by verse 21: “unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them” because it indicates God would not leave them in a helpless state. He may have rejected their own covering as unacceptable, but He would also step in and fix it for them with a sacrifice.
Again, this isn’t a physical lesson so much as a spiritual one. The message is not, “Animal skins are larger and work better for clothing” but “I find your good works to cover your sin and shame unacceptable, and though you cannot undo what you’ve done, though you don’t deserve it, I will provide something better for you. If you would live then another must shed their blood for you and pay with their life. But do not fear, I will rescue you with a sacrifice. So remember what I say. Kill the animal to remind yourself that you have brought death into the world and are helpless to stop it. Bear children, and when you do remember that a man is coming who will fix everything. Wait upon Me, and look to Me, for I will deliver you.”
It’s no surprise then that when Eve gave birth to a son she said “I have gotten a man from the LORD” (Gen 4:1), believing Cain would fulfill the prophecy against Satan. Nor is it strange to see Cain and Abel bringing sacrifices (Gen 4:3-4) as instructed. But while Adam, Eve, and their children were right to believe God wouldn’t abandon them, even so the point of the prophecy was not that God would save them as much as it was that He’d send a just vengeance upon His foes.
At first glance this looks as if the Lord is cold and unconcerned for people, quick to put Himself first and eager to display His wrath. But after some consideration it becomes apparent that this is the most loving thing He could have done. God wanted men to spend their time meditating on the coming of His champion, the man who would punish sin, not brooding over their own fallen feelings. He wanted them looking to Him and asking themselves, “What does this teach me about God?” rather than looking inward and asking, “How is this good for me?” For it’s only in looking to God and beholding His works that anyone or anything has life.
This truth is evidenced in the preaching of Enoch, seventh from Adam. His was not a message of blessings, but a warning to be mindful about the coming Son of Man. He didn’t lure his listeners toward blessing by promising to fulfill their inner desires, he proclaimed a message of repentance. “Behold” he admonished, “the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 1:14-15). Enoch believed the promise of Christ, expanded on the objective nature of it, and thus pleased God. In fact, it so pleased Him that He quite literally took Enoch to heaven: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him. For before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Heb 11:5). His disappearance is an affirmation that his preaching was approved. It reinforces the truth that God’s word isn’t firstly a book about human genealogies or moral requirements but a message about the Promised One, given to teach us who God is.
Unfortunately for the people who ignored Enoch’s message, their reckless disregard for holiness would soon bring God’s wrath in the form of a cataclysmic flood. But fortunately for us, this judgment forms the backdrop for the first explicit covenant in the Bible, and is therefore a major insight into the work of Christ.
Next: the covenant with Noah