Previously, we looked at the story of creation and the fall of humanity. You may remember that the description of Adam and Eve at the end of Genesis 2 reads like this, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” The language in this verse is likely metaphorical. Naked” implies that they were vulnerable before one another and before the rest of creation. “No shame” indicates that they were, in some ways, unaware of any possibility of evil, unaware that anything could go wrong. However, they were at risk, and there was someone who wanted to do them harm.
Human Rebellion and God’s Response
The story unfolds very quickly in Genesis 3. The serpent’s temptation for Adam and Eve was to find something better than they already had in the garden, something that God was holding back from them. With their choice to follow this temptation, what God had created in His perfection was changed in an instant. Their rebellion, their disobedience, their willingness to believe that there was something better than what God had created for them changed everything. Their innocence was shattered. Their awareness of good and evil led to a sense of guilt and shame. Not only did they know the difference between good and evil, they knew that they had chosen evil.
What happens now? How will God respond to their disobedience? He has already stated in Genesis 2:16-17, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” He has said that they will die. They must pay the penalty incurred by their rebellion. Is God just going to be done with them?
God’s initial response to their rebellion is found in Genesis 3:8, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day. And they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” This verse seems to indicate that God’s response is rather passive. Is the LORD just out for a leisurely stroll in the garden on a cool afternoon? Would the one who created Adam and Eve, who gave them the command to obey, just respond to their rebellion by going through His normal daily routine? That does not seem like the God revealed in the rest of Scripture who always judges sin because He is always just.
So look at this passage more carefully. The beginning of Genesis 3:8 says, “The man and the woman heard the sound of the LORD God.” This reminds us of the scene when the LORD gave Moses the Ten Commandments. (Deut. 5:22-33) In this passage, the Hebrew word for sound is translated voice. If you recall, when Israel was gathered at Mt. Sinai and they heard the voice of the LORD, they trembled in fear. In fact, the author of Hebrews reminds his readers that the LORD’S voice shook the earth and made them tremble in fear (Hebrews 12:14-25). So the sound of the LORD does not necessarily have to be the sound of footsteps on a pathway. In fact, the sound of the LORD God in other places in Scripture often brings a sense of terror and the fear of judgment.
Let’s also look at the word walking. Genesis 3:8 is frequently translated, “He was walking in the garden.” The word walking can be used in a more general sense to imply movement. If translated as walking, the passage describes a theophany: God appearing in some kind of physical presence. But this occurs nowhere else in Genesis 1—3. If the verb is taken in its more general sense, “movement,” then it might read, “they heard the sound of the LORD God moving into the garden.” The additional phrase in verse 8, “in the cool of the day,” is a translation built around the Hebrew word ruach, which often means “wind.”
Think about the difference between the image created by most English translations of verse 8 of God casually walking in the garden and what could possibly be translated, “and the LORD God moved into the garden in the sound of the wind.” We see similar language in Psalm 29 and Job 38 that describes the LORD moving in the roar of the wind. Maybe this sound of the LORD was more than just the rustling of leaves. Perhaps what we have here is a holy God confronting human rebellion in a powerful howling wind of judgment. Maybe Adam and Eve hide when they hear God’s entrance into the garden in the rush of wind because, knowing they have rebelled, they realize He has come to judge them?
So the tension in the narrative builds. What is God going to do? If He has come in judgment, then clearly, the next thing we expect is a pronouncement of punishment upon rebellious Adam and Eve. That would be the normal thing to do if God is judging their sin and demonstrating His displeasure. Instead, we read in verse 9, “But the LORD God called to the man, where are you?” Did God know where the man was? Of course He knew. When He poses the question, “Where are you?” God is inviting Adam to step back toward Him. In other words, God doesn’t roar into the garden, pronounce judgment, and execute the sinner. God comes into the garden in judgment because of their sin and invites them to step back toward Him as an act of His mercy.
The same scenario plays out as Adam steps back toward God. Adam responds in Genesis 3:10, “I heard you in the Garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” God replies in verse 11, “Who told you that you were naked?” Did God know who told him that he was naked? Again, of course He knew. The questions in God’s interaction with Adam are designed to bring Adam back toward God and, because of His mercy, to even bring about confession.
Judgment and Grace
So God has shown His mercy. He has invited Adam and Eve to admit their rebellion and come back into relationship with Him. Yet judgment still remains. There are consequences for their sin which we see in Genesis 3:14-19. The land and the serpent are cursed. The serpent’s fate at the end of his battle with humanity is that he will be crushed.
In relationship to the man and the woman, it is clear that the initial mandate in Genesis 1, to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and rule over it, is now going to be much more difficult. The judgment against the woman is that with increasing pain, increasing toil, she will bear a child. The hearer of this text in the ancient world would have known that childbirth was the most frequent cause of death among women. It was a terrifying experience. For the man, with painful toil (the same language used to describe the woman’s experience of childbearing), he will strive for the earth to bring forth good things. So what has changed for the man and woman from God’s original plan? Before their rebellion the privilege of fulfilling the creation mandate to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and rule over it, in other words bearing children and causing the earth to bring forth its bounty for them, would have contained no uncertainty as to whether or not it would actually happen. It was the promise God gave them. However, now being separated from God because of their sin, that certainty is gone. Their judgment was real; with fear and toil they will fulfill their mandate. God’s judgment was as real as His mercy in not wiping them off the face of the earth when they sinned against Him.
As the narrative unfolds, we see another dimension of God’s response to rebellious humanity: His grace. In Genesis 3:20, God clothes Adam and Eve in order to cover their nakedness, to demonstrate that He will intervene on their behalf. He protects them from eating from the Tree of Life and living forever in a state of rebellion by placing an angelic guard at the gate of the garden. And then, in one of the most promising verses in all of Scripture, Genesis 4:1 tells us that Eve gives birth to a son. She says, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a human.” That is God’s grace. He provides for them in ways they did not deserve: by clothing them, by protecting them with the angelic guard, and, ultimately, by giving them a child to demonstrate that they will fulfill the mandate to be fruitful and multiply.
Looking at the story in Genesis 3, do you see the pattern and foundation of God’s redemption? He displays judgment, mercy, and grace. These are the distinguishing factors in God’s character that bring about redemption. God always judges sin because He is just. God treats sinners with mercy by not destroying them in the moment of their sin. God demonstrates grace with unmerited favor given to the sinner: unmerited in that they deserve nothing. God’s response to human rebellion - judgment, mercy, and grace - is the theological foundation of redemption. Redemption is God’s act of rescue and restoration. Later in the biblical narrative, we will see that it also involves ransom.
Redemption stories are prominent in the literature of many cultures and they all unfold in basically the same way. The opening scene presents an almost idyllic world. All is well. Then something bad happens. The characters are in peril and someone must intervene to rescue them from danger and restore them to the life known before. How many movies have that basic plot structure? Hundreds? Thousands? How many novels are similar, whether the author is Tom Clancy, David Balducci, or Nicholas Sparks? They all have the same basic structure: something was good, evil came in, people are in peril, rescue is needed. Could it be that this basic pattern of literature is the same story of redemption written on the hearts of humanity by God Himself?
God’s redemption story is this: He will step into our fallenness, rescue us from the peril of our rebellion, and restore us to His original design and plan. Redemption itself is the dominant picture defining God’s relationship to humanity after the fall. The main event in the Old Testament that defined redemption for the people of Israel was the Exodus - when God brought His people out of slavery in Egypt. It fits the basic structure of a redemption story perfectly. The people of God are enslaved, being oppressed in Egypt. They are suffering from an evil ruler and not experiencing the blessing of God. What does God do? He steps into their difficulty, acts to rescue them from oppression, and ultimately restores them to the land He promised their forefather Abraham.
Exodus 6:2-8 reveals God’s heart for His people, “So God said to Moses, ‘I am the LORD, I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself fully known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. Therefore, say to the Israelites, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, and to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession, I am the LORD.’”
Notice the language of redemption in this passage: “I am going to free you, redeem you, bring you out and bring you into the land I promised.” This great act of God becomes the defining event in how the people of Israel understood their God. One author has written it this way, “To know the LORD for who He is means knowing Him as redeemer. Israel never knew the LORD as anyone other than the LORD her God who brought her out of Egypt. In other words, whatever else Israel may have known about God, she knew Him first as her savior and redeemer and did not know Him otherwise.”1 That is a powerful statement, a bold statement. After the nation was formed, Israel’s first point of understanding their God was through His redeeming act of bringing them out of Egypt.
We, too, worship the God who redeems, the God who rescues, the God who brings out, the God who sets free, the God who restores. Time and again, He demonstrates His character as the redeemer of His people, starting from the fall of humanity in Genesis to the consummation of the biblical story in Revelation. Take time to look at these verses for your own personal study:
Isaiah 43:1, “But now, this is what the LORD says—He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’”
Isaiah 44:23, “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
Isaiah 48:20, “Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians! Announce this with shouts of joy and proclaim it. Send it out to the ends of the earth; say, ‘The LORD has redeemed His servant Jacob.’”
Isaiah 52:9, “Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted His people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.”
Exodus 15:13, “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” (Interestingly enough, the same word translated redeemed from Hebrew is also used to describe God’s rescue of someone from death or someone who is close to death.)
Psalm 103:2-4, “Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.”
Lamentations 3:54-58, “The waters closed over my head, and I thought I was about to perish. I called on your name, LORD, from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.’ You came near when I called you, and you said, ‘Do not fear.’ You, LORD, took up my case; you redeemed my life.”
Jesus as Redeemer
For Jews during the time of the New Testament, redemption was central to their understanding and expectation of God. Their God had rescued and restored His people from Egypt, so He could rescue and restore them from the Romans. The promise of Messiah was the promise that God would once again step into the lives of His people, rescue them from their oppressors, and restore them to the glorious kingdom that they had read about under the reigns of Solomon and David. He had done this before. The hope for redemption, the longing for redemption, was fundamental to how the Jews viewed God at the time Jesus was born.
When Jesus is announced as the Messiah of Israel, He is proclaimed as the redeemer. Therefore, in the minds of the Jews, Jesus must be the one who will reverse everything that keeps them oppressed. In Luke 4, the word redemption is not explicitly used, but there is a clear picture of the redeeming act of Messiah. Luke 4:16-18 tells us, “He went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the LORD is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor.’” These verses are direct quotes from Isaiah 58 and Isaiah 62. Do you hear the language of redemption: freedom, recovery and restoration? Woven into Isaiah’s prophecy is the idea that the One who comes in the name of the LORD will rescue and restore.
Notice what happens next in this scene. In Luke 4:21, Jesus then says to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus never backs away from His messianic identity of redeemer. The ultimate act of redemption in all of Scripture is that of Christ paying the ransom for humanity’s sin, his very life, to rescue them from oppression and sin, from evil and death. Jesus says of himself in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”