It is difficult for our minds to capture the pristine beauty, glory, majesty and perfection that marked the earliest period in man’s history. An all-seeing God, with all-knowing wisdom, surveyed everything as it existed in that blissful estate and pronounced it “very good” (Gen 1:31). How long this era of perfection endured we do not know – but we do know that it ended in incalculable tragedy!
This first of the seven distinct dispensations (or administrations) that span the panorama of God’s dealings with humanity serves, in many ways, as a microcosm of what will unfold in each successive era. It establishes the cycle that will repeat in all the subsequent eras: a fresh revelation from God, a corresponding responsibility placed upon man, man’s rebellion against God and disobedience to His instruction, and finally God’s retribution or judgment on man for his failure.
Romans 15:4 tells us that the things “written aforetime were written for our learning.” A similar note is struck (albeit with reference to those under the dispensation of law) in 1 Corinthians 10:11: “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (ESV). As we consider each dispensation we should recognize that, while we did not live in those eras, and the instructions given and responsibilities conferred do not necessarily directly apply to us, they are still recorded for our learning, and there are vital lessons for us to learn from them.
Genesis 2:16-17 describes God’s direct communication to His crowning creature man when He gave him dominion over His newly-formed creation. Notice how clearly, plainly, simply and unmistakably God communicates His mind and will. There is nothing ambiguous or uncertain about His intent or His instruction. Note also the authority of His words. The text tells us that the Lord “commanded” the man. This was not a suggestion nor a recommendation – it was a clear, authoritative command. “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
Prior to giving the above-referenced instruction, God had outlined to man His particular privilege and responsibility relative to the creation over which he was the crowning jewel. “Have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen 1:28). Man had a unique stewardship from God – to exercise dominion and authority over all that had come from God’s hand and to lead this pristine creation into its unlimited potential and promise. The critical ingredient to the fulfilment of this responsibility outlined in chapter 1 would be obedience to the simple instructions given in chapter 2. Obedience is the only legitimate response of man to God’s instruction – and it has been required by God in every age.
Notice that the obedience demanded was not to hurt man nor to deprive him. God’s revelation was enabling and provided freedom – everything that man needed had been provided by God. Not only so, but far beyond his basic needs, God had also provided bountifully for everything man could legitimately desire. The very best possible life for man would be a life of obedience to God’s instruction, an acceptance of divine purpose, and an unreserved commitment to the Lord’s plans. This has never changed in any dispensation, and is absolutely true for us today. His commands are never for our detriment – but always for our ultimate good.
Sadly, though, this would not be the path chosen by our ancient forefather. The narrative moves quickly from the blissful, innocent setting at the end of chapter 2 into the sordid, incalculable tragedy of chapter 3, and it is not hyperbole to say that things would never be the same again! Satan’s temptation, Eve’s deception and Adam’s disobedience are somewhat prototypical and show us the tragic ingredients of sin and disobedience that became the hallmark of the fallen humanity that ensued.
Notice the devil’s twisting of the word of God. God’s original instruction was positive and enabling – “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat” (Gen 2:16) – but the devil deliberately misrepresented this by saying, “Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Gen 3:1). What he said was close to what God said, but not precisely what God said. We need to be vigilant in learning this lesson. Allow God’s Word to mean what it plainly says. His instructions are not generally mysterious or allegorical – they are normally simple and direct.
The devil then immediately moved to question God’s character. He essentially said, “God doesn’t want what’s best for you – He is trying to deprive you – He knows that if you eat of this tree it will bring wonderful freedom and an expanded life experience for you.” This arch-enemy has never changed his tactics. He poisons minds today with the same lies.
Eve’s response, while not deliberately misquoting God’s word, betrays sloppy recollection and application of it. She is “close” when she quotes God as saying, “Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die” (3:3), but she is not accurate. The devil seized on this misquotation to immediately say, “Ye shall not surely die” (3:4). We need to be very careful in reading, understanding, memorizing and quoting God’s Word accurately. Paul exhorted Timothy to be diligent in “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2Ti 2:15).
Following tragically behind the devil’s temptation and Eve’s deception is Adam’s disobedience. We are not privy to the specific reasonings of his mind, but “with his eyes open” he directly disobeyed God and transgressed the plain instruction he had been given (Rom 5:19).
Along with God’s original instruction, He had warned that disobedience would bring certain judgment. As always, God was perfectly true to His word. This original rebellion brought heart-breaking consequences, with specific judgments pronounced on the serpent, the woman and the man, and far-reaching results that stained and cursed the entire creation. Sin always has consequences. We should never forget that while the price of obedience may seem, at times, to be high, the price of disobedience is always much, much higher.
Encouragingly, though, right in the midst of judgment we have the first mention of God’s ultimate work of salvation and victory. The promise of the woman’s Seed that would bruise the enemy’s head would stand unfulfilled for millennia, but eventually, in the fullness of the times, God would send forth His son, “born of a woman,” and this saviour, through His death, would destroy the one who had so successfully spoiled Eden’s beauty, splendour, innocence and promise.
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.