(Chapter 4)

BIBLICAL APOCALYPTICS

Milton Terry
©1898 by
Eaton & Mains, New York
Reprinted 1988 by
Baker Book House
ISBN 0-8010-8888-7

EDENIC APOCALYPSE OF SIN AND JUDGMENT

    THE third chapter of Genesis is closely connected with the sec­ond, so that in the plan of the compiler its contents are brought under the heading of the “generations of the heavens and the earth.” It is the influence of dogmatic prepossessions that leads some to persist in treating this scripture as a prosaic history. “There is no other Eastern book in the world,” says Farrar, “which we should have dreamed of understanding literally if it introduced speaking serpents and magic trees. Even the rabbis, stupidly literal as were their frequent methods, were perfectly aware that the story of the fall was a philosopheme—a vivid pictorial representation of the origin and growth of sin in the human heart. The inspired char­acter of the narrative is to me evinced by the fact that all the litera­ture of the world has failed to set forth for human warning any sketch of the course of temptation which is comparable in insight to this most ancient allegory. The effect of a prohibition in producing in man’s free will a tendency to disobedience; the peril of tampering with temptation and lingering curiously in its vicinity; the promptings of concupiscence, reinforced by the whisperings of doubt; the genesis of sin, from the thought to the wish, from the wish to the purpose, from the purpose to the act, from the act to the repetition, to the habit, to the character, to the necessity, to the temptation of others; the thrilling intensity of reaction in the sense of fear, shame, and of an innocence lost forever; the certain and natural incidence of retribution; the beginning of a new life of sor­row and humiliation; the working of deathful consequence with all the inevitable certainty of a natural law—all this, and the awful truth that death is the wages of sin, and the fruit of sin, and that death is sin, has been set forth since then by all the loftiest litera­ture of the world. Yet all the literature of the world, even when it speaks through the genius of a Dante and a Milton, has added and can add nothing essential to the primeval story of Genesis, which it can but illustrate and expand.”[1]

    1. The apocalyptic elements of the chapter appear most notice­ably in the latter portion (verses 14-24), but the remarkable picture of temptation and sin is presented in verses 1-8. It shows how sin entered into the world through disobedience of moral law, and is the result of a misuse of personal freedom. We behold in symbolic outline the development of the sense of guilt in human conscious­ness. The opened eye of the soul perceives the nakedness of the flesh, and there follows a speedy effort to conceal the shame. The threefold form of the temptation is profoundly comprehensive, and symbolizes all possible methods of Satanic assault. “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and to be desired to make one wise.” These three appeals of temptation are addressed to what John calls the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1st John 2:16), and it is notable that when our Lord, “the second Adam,” was tempted of the devil his adversary employed the same threefold manner of assault.

    2. The anthropomorphic concept of “Jehovah God walking in the garden in the cool of the day,” and calling unto the man with the inquiry, “Where art thou?” suggests an idea of judgment com­mon to all revelations of the coming of the Lord. He comes to bring to light the works of darkness, and we note how the searching words of the Judge reveal the sin and guilt of the transgressors, and contain the several sentences of divine judgment. Then, says the Targum of the Pseudo-Jonathan, “the Lord God brought the three of them into judgment.” Verses 14-19 embody three prophetic oracles of condemnation, namely, (1) on the serpent (14, 15), (2) on the woman (16), and (3) the man (17-19). We should observe that the divine judgment bases itself on the evil desert of sin. The penal visitation must take place, not for the cause of expediency, nor for the good of the criminal, but because moral beings have trans­gressed and deserve retribution. And so, in all subsequent revelations, punishment comes because of evildoing. The secrets of all hearts mast be revealed, and retribution is in proportion to moral desert.

    3. The tempter is presented under the symbol of the serpent.[2] He appears as the father of lies (comp. John 8:44), and is the first of the three to receive the sentence of judgment. His accursed future is to be connected with a terrible conflict in which he himself is destined to be the greatest sufferer. Two lines of posterity are referred to, the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. His offspring are the ungodly of every generation. “He that doeth sin is of the devil” (1st John 3:8), and all such evildoers are character­ized by Jesus as serpents and offspring of vipers (Matt. 23:33). The seed of the woman, on the other hand, are the long line of godly souls that keep the commandments of God and struggle to maintain the truth. Its fullest ideal, as brought out in later revelations, is the great company of whom Christ is head and chief. They suffer with him, and with him also shall be glorified (Rom. 8:17). The final triumph of the woman's seed will not be won without the bruise and pain of many a wound. The old serpent is ever striking at the heel. His modes of attack are always stealthy and despicable; but the godly seed are wont to strike boldly at the head of the enemy, for they know the conflict to be a life-and-death struggle. The end will not be finally consummated until the con­quering seed shall have put all his enemies under his feet and abol­ished death (1st Cor. 15:25, 26).

    4. The sentence upon the woman foretells the pains and anxieties of motherhood, and also woman’s instinctive devotion and subjec­tion to her husband. That upon the man announces for him a life of toil, the sorrow of eating the herb of the field instead of the fruits of paradise, and the doom of returning to the dust of the ground. Thus “through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). And thus we have another prophetic phase of the woes that must attend the long conflict already referred to.

    5. It is worthy of notice that in each of the oracles of judgment there is a fourfold curse. The serpent is (1) cursed above all cattle and beasts; (2) he is to move prostrate and eat dust; (3) he is to suffer the continual enmity of the woman’s seed, and (4) ultimately be crushed beneath his conquering heel. The woman is destined to suffer (1) the pains of conception, (2) the labor of childbirth, (3) the yearning for a husband, and (4) subjection to the man’s authority. The curse of the man is (1) sorrowful eating of herbs, (2) the plague of thorns and thistles, (3) the sweat and toil for food, and (4) return­ing to the dust. So in other analogous scriptures it will be seen that apocalyptic judgments move in fourfold strokes, or phases. Witness the four plagues of locusts in Joel (1:4), the four horns, the four smiths, and four chariots of Zechariah’s visions (Zech. 1:18, 20; 6:1).

    6. The naming of the woman (verse 20) has a logical connection with the promise touching her seed (verse 15). While the name woman, already given (Gen. 2:23), was significant of her origin from man, the name Eve (Hebrew Hawwah) means life, life-spring, or quickener of life, and may be regarded as a symbolical name, suggestive of the hopeful destiny of the race as then foreshadowed. This giving of a new name immediately after the sentences of sor­row and death suggests a living world to come. It need not be regarded as farfetched or fanciful to adduce here the analogy of the sealing of God’s servants on their foreheads in the apocalypse of John (Rev. 7:3). The name there written was the name of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 14:1; 22:4): “my new name” (Rev. 3:12). And as, in the visions of John, the sealing of a new name on the foreheads of the elect Israel was followed by the sight of “a great multitude, clothed with white robes,” so this naming of Eve is followed by the clothing of “Adam and his wife” with garments made by God. But without laying stress on the analogy with the vision of John we may see a symbolical significance in the clothing divinely prepared for these prisoners of hope. As an impressive object lesson it is adapted to illustrate the divine provision of redemption to cover human guilt and shame. Certainly the whole picture, as here presented to our thought, is to be understood as the symbolism of apocalyptics rather than the record of actual history.

    7. Verses 22-24 are a vivid representation of the purpose and execution of divine judgment. First, there is a council in heaven, as if between Jehovah and his holy ones (comp. Gen. 1:26). No events occur on earth which have not been previously the subject of divine counsel. Similarly, in the Book of Job, we have first the scene in the presence of Jehovah and the sons of God, where Jehovah’s pleasure and purposes touching his servant Job are deter­mined before any assault of Satan is permitted to take place (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). The judgment in respect to the first transgressors is that they must not continue at the tree of life. The broken law had said, “Thou shalt surely die,” but the woman has already received the new name Eve, and her seed is destined to bruise Satan under his feet (Rom. 16:20). The great conflict between the ser­pent’s and the woman’s seed cannot be fought out in the garden of Eden, nor in conditions of immediate command of the tree of life. The rapidity with which the judgment is executed is intensified in our thought by the striking aposiopesis at the close of verse 22. The sentence is left unfinished, and the act of expulsion from the garden is immediately recorded. This speedy execution of divine judgment is in keeping with all subsequent apocalypses of impend­ing woes. When a prophet declares, as a divine revelation, that the day of Jehovah is near, or that he cometh quickly, we may be sure that his word is no delusion. The language of such oracles is treated with violence when expounded as consistent with centuries of delay. Such perversion of most explicit declarations of imme­diate judgment partakes too much of the serpent’s comment, “Ye shall not surely die.”

    8. This Edenic apocalypse concludes with the placing at the east of the garden, toward the sunrise, two symbolic figures, cherubim and flaming sword (verse 24). As Moses lifted up the brazen ser­pent in the sight of the penitent Israelites, so were these signs “caused to dwell” (____) in the vision of fallen man, and to “guard the way of the tree of life.” How much such a vision may have signified when first seen or recorded we cannot tell, but with the fullness of New Testament revelation it has rich suggestions. A flame of fire in the shape of a sword is an appropriate symbol, of divine justice, such justice and judgment as demanded the expul­sion from the garden of Eden. At the gate of paradise it proclaims that he who promises a future triumph over Satan must himself be just. The redemption of man must be accomplished in perfect har­mony with the righteousness of God. The cherubim, on the other hand, would seem most naturally to symbolize another thought. Here they are simply mentioned, as if well known. They are described in the visions of Ezekiel (chap. 1) as living creatures, com­bining in complex form the four highest types of animal life, namely, man, lion, ox, and eagle. Over their heads the prophet saw enthroned “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah” (Ezek. 1:26, 28). In Rev. 4:6-8, they also appear as living creatures at the throne of God. In the Mosaic tabernacle two cherubim of gold were placed in the holy of holies, one at each end of the mercy seat, with their faces toward each other (Exod. 25:18, 20). Hence Jehovah is often spoken of as dwelling with cherubim (1st Sam. 4:4; 2nd Sam. 6:2; Psalm 80:1; 99:1; Isa. 37:16). In a vision of Isaiah the seraphim appear as holding in the heavenly temple the same relation to the divine glory which the cherubim held in the Mosaic tabernacle (Isa. 6:1-3). In all these scriptures they are to be understood as symbols, not as real crea­tures or personal beings. They always appear in most intimate relation to God, and filled with intensity of life.

    As now the fiery sword represents the righteous judgment of God, the cherubim may best be regarded as symbols of the love which secures eternal life and heavenly glory through the mystery of redemption in Christ. They image forth an incarnation of divine life in creature form, by means of which all that was lost in Eden might be restored to heavenly places. Fallen man, redeemed and filled with the Holy Spirit, shall again have power to come to the tree of life which is in the paradise of God (Rev. 2:7; 22:14). It is significant that these impressive symbols were set to guard the passage to the tree of life.[3] That “way” was not to be closed up forever (comp. John 14:4, 6). It was and is guarded both by jus­tice and love, and shall be during all the conflict between the ser­pent’s and the woman’s seed, and until “there shall be no more curse” (Rev. 22:3). Then the redeemed of Adam’s race, having washed their robes, shall obtain “authority over the tree of life,” and shall “enter through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14). Thus the New Testament vision of new heavens, new earth, and new Jerusalem is but a fuller apocalypse of what was foreshadowed by this ancient revelation. The whole earth is to become a blessed Eden (comp. Micah 4:1-5), and the holy city out of heaven is, like the Edenic, garden, to be a holy of holies, into which all who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14) shall freely enter. Then, in highest reality, God’s tabernacle shall be with men, and he will dwell with them, and wipe away every tear, and death shall be no more (Rev. 21:3, 4).

    It is to be observed that, in the apocalypse of the heavenly Jeru­salem, no cherubim appear about the throne of God and of the Lamb. In their places, beholding the face of God and having his name on their foreheads, are the multitude in white robes (Rev. 22:3, 4; comp. Rev. 7:9-17). From them the curse of sin has been removed, and, radiant in eternal life, they are the reality of what the Edenic cherubim are but symbols.

    We have ventured thus to anticipate the light of New Testament revelations in order to enhance the significance of the apocalyptic elements in the early chapters of Genesis. It is true that we thus read into the ancient records ideas of a later age, but it is like all other cases where the light of the Gospel revelation enables us to see a profound suggestiveness in the events, the types, and the sym­bols of the Hebrew Scriptures. So, too, the coming of Christ, and that alone, has made manifest the deep, full import of many Messianic prophecies. The Edenic apocalypse is clearly seen to set forth an age-long conflict in the moral world, and to foreshadow what the end shall be. Other and later revelations show many details and crises of this wonderful conflict, but this ancient oracle contains the germ and substance of them all. It is a most remarkable revelation to stand at the beginning of the Holy Scriptures, and it is well for us, at this early stage of our apocalyptic studies, to point out the fact that the last prophetic book of the canon makes conspicuous use of the symbols and suggestions of the first three chapters of Genesis, and seems divinely adapted to stand as its final counter­part.

End Notes

  1. The Bible: Its meaning and Supremacy, pp. 242, 243. New York, 1897.

  2. In this picture the serpent appears as one of the creatures of God, but “more subtile than any beast of the field which Jehovah God bad made.” In Amos 9:3, allusion is made to the serpent that is in the bottom of the sea, and Psalm 74:13, speaks of breaking the heads of the dragons or monsters of the waters. As the ser­pent became the symbol of the evil one, so the mythological monsters of the sea and sky would naturally in time be conceived as archenemies of God and man. In Rev. 12:3, 9, the “great red dragon” is identified with “that old serpent called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world.” Whence the apocalyptic writers derived these symbols, how far they appropriated them from current traditions, and how far they modified them to suit their own purposes, are questions which do not now admit of certain solution.

  3. The reader may be interested in the following note of Dillmann on the cherubim: “The cherubim cannot be used as a proof that the Paradise legend was borrowed from the Babylonians. It is still very doubtful whether the winged bulls with men’s heads, which, among the Babylonians and Assyrians, like the sphinxes of the Egyp­tians, guard the approaches to the temples and palaces, bore the name Kirubi, in ad­dition to their usual names. But the old Hebrew conception of the cherubim, as it expresses itself in Psalm 18:10, cannot have been taken from these colossal bulls, or else in the old Babylonian time bulls must have been capable of flying. The cher­ubim, considered only as keepers of Paradise, by their connection with the sword of flame, clearly betray their origin as a representation of the clouds of the thunderstorm… The cherubim, elsewhere the bearers and attendants of descending Deity, have here the function of being guardians of the unapproachable dwelling of God, and of the divine blessings and treasures; and the garden is characterized as a real dwelling­-place of God just by the fact that the cherubim guard it.”—Commentary on Genesis, in loco, English translation by Stevenson. Edinb., 1897.