Today, we are finishing our discussion of one of the most dramatic chapters in the Bible – indeed, one of the most dramatic chapters in entire human history.
Punishment or Protection?
22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
We all have seen paintings portraying Adam and Eve as they are leaving the Garden of Eden – sobbing, wringing their hands, desperate in their misery and sorrow. Have you ever thought of this simple fact: with all these tears, with all this wringing the hands, they are going to the very same place where you and I now live – where humanity has lived ever since! Their misery is our misery, we live in the same dark place, the only difference is that we don’t know anything else – but they knew very well what they just had lost. From their sorrow and frustration upon leaving Gan Eden and going to the only place you and I know, we can only imagine how different and how wonderful that lost place felt. Why did God banish them?
It is traditionally thought that by exiling Adam and Eve, God simply punished them: they disobeyed His command, and He punished them by banishing them from the Garden of Eden—but that’s not what Scripture tells us.
From the verses we just read, we clearly see God’s concern: now that they are exposed to the knowledge of good and evil, if they now eat of the “Tree of Life”עֵץ הַחַיִּים (etz hachayim), also located in the Garden, they will remain in that state of misery forever – estranged from God – they and their posterity. God didn’t want that to happen, therefore it is for their own protection and hope that God now banishes them. Exiling them from the Garden was not disciplinary, but merciful and protective.
So He drove out the man…
I want to show you how much we can learn from Hebrew, even in this short sentence from verse 24. First of all, the Hebrew word translated “drove out” in verse 24, is גָרֶשׁ (garesh). In Modern Hebrew, most words referring to the divorce of a married couple are derived from this root. Of course, modern Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew are very different – we can’t read biblical sentences through the lens of modern Hebrew – nevertheless, modern Hebrew can sometimes bring an additional facet to our understanding. In a sense, we can say that God “divorced” humanity from the Garden of Eden, and from Himself, because of the clear danger that the Tree of Life now presented to them.
Sometimes people ask: why did God only drive the man out? Does that mean that He held only Adam responsible for what had happened in the Garden? After all, God never told Eve not to eat of the tree – He told Adam before Eve was even created. Was that the reason that God only drove the man out? Or might there be another explanation?
Of course, the explanation, as always, should be sought in the Hebrew language. I mentioned in this series previously that the Hebrew word “adam” doesn’t refer to a male only. In fact, in Hebrew, the term for “human beings” is Benei Adam – ‘the children of Adam’. The first time the word “adam” occurs in the Bible is Genesis 1:26, when God says: “let us make adam” – and in the next verse, Scripture clarifies: “male and female He created them”. Later, in Genesis 5, we find the same idea: “He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them adam.” Thus, the Hebrew word “adam”, first of all, simply means “human” – and answers the quandary of Genesis 3:24: if “adam” here refers to “human”, it means that both humans, Adam and Eve, were driven out from the Garden.
We will conclude this article with the very last sentence of this fateful chapter:
He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
Finding this verse at the very beginning of Torah, one just cannot imagine that this would be the end of the story, and this “flaming sword” solution, the final one! It’s impossible to imagine that the One who created us for the Garden of His fellowship, would leave us outside forever, and not reopen a door for us to return. God had to have a plan to remedy this situation; He had to have solution – better than the flaming sword! There is a Hebrew expression, “Tikkun Olam” (literally: “repair of the world”), and after this chapter, one cannot doubt that this book is all about that: about Tikkun Olam, about “repairing the world”, about healing the ills of creation. Of course, one’s understanding of tikkun olam depends on where one stands and what one believes; it depends, first of all, on faith—but all who read these first three chapters of the Bible would know that somehow, mankind has to be restored to the Garden – and that this is what this whole book will be about it.
 Gen. 3:24
The insights you read on these pages, are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion) classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for the new students) regarding our amazing courses (firstname.lastname@example.org) .
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