The believer’s most fundamental understanding of his God is that the Lord is gracious. Repeatedly the Scripture explicitly declares that the LORD is gracious and compassionate; slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. In fact, this may be the most repeated phrase in the entire Bible. In story after story and prophecy after prophecy; in parable and psalm and proverb and poetry; in gospel and epistle and apocalypse, the God of the Bible proves Himself to be gracious and merciful, forgiving those who call upon Him and granting His undeserved favor to those who deserve only His displeasure and wrath. God is gracious and He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 32). God is gracious and does not wish for any to perish, but desires that all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The Bible is crystal clear that the one true and living God is gracious toward undeserving men and women. But the point that I want to make in this study is that the LORD God begins to exhibit His grace toward sinful man in the very first part of the Bible. What we will see here is that, even in the fall of man, when man is driven out of the garden and the earth is cursed, God is merciful and gracious and acts with tremendous kindness toward Adam and Eve after they sinned.
To see how God is gracious in the Fall, we need to go back to the first and only law that the LORD God gave Adam. In Genesis 2:16-17 the Scripture reads, “The LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely (Note that, from Genesis 2:9, this included “every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food.”), but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.’”
Observe first of all that the LORD God gave Adam everything he needed to live and to live well. From any tree of the garden Adam could eat freely. From every tree that was pleasing to the sight and that was good for food Adam could eat until he was satisfied. How many trees were there? I do not know, but there had to have been many trees, and Adam could eat freely from any one of them. God was extremely generous and gave the man more food than he could eat in ten lifetimes. “Adam, eat freely and enjoy the delicious food that I have provided for you.” Adam was free even to eat from the tree of life. Why did Adam not eat from that tree first? God was gracious to Adam and showed the man how much He loved him. The only restriction that Adam had was that he could not eat from the one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The LORD God gave Adam only one law, only one restriction on his complete freedom, and that was to not eat the forbidden fruit. God was generous and gracious in the extreme.
Observe next what the penalty was for disobedience. If Adam chose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” The LORD God is crystal clear about the warning and about the costs of disobedience. There was no ambiguity and no small print. Everything was out on the table. If you eat from the one tree in the entire garden that is forbidden, then you will surely die. Adam could not have been confused or uncertain about this one command. Eating equals “you will surely die that day.”
Despite God’s abundantly generous provision of delightful trees from which Adam could eat, and despite the clear and terrible warning that the LORD God had given Adam for disobedience, Adam despised and disregarded God’s word and His warning and ate from the forbidden tree.
Now observe very carefully what happens to the man when the LORD God discovers that he has eaten of the forbidden fruit. In Genesis 3:17, the Scripture says: Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’ . . .” Now what should follow this phrase? By all rights, the next thing that the LORD God should say to Adam is, “this day you shall surely die.” That is what the law that God had established required. “The day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” Those are the next words we expect to hear, and those words may have been the next words that Adam expected to hear. But observe that those are not the next words that he hears. “Cursed is the ground because of you . . .” The LORD God goes on to tell Adam that he will have to sweat and toil and that the earth will not produce very much, and then concludes by saying, “for you are dust, and to dust you will return.” But where is the fulfillment of the warning? Where is the punishment of surely dying this day? O, here is God’s grace in abundant display! The law was clear and Adam had clearly violated the law, yet Adam does not physically die. Adam is not destroyed in his sin, but is allowed to live, so that he might one day come to repentance. This is God’s grace, to allow time for repentance. Now it is important also to understand that the LORD God did exact the punishment that He had promised for disobedience. But notice the grace of God in how He exacted the punishment. Adam and Eve did die that day, but they died spiritually, not physically. The day Adam ate of the forbidden fruit he died spiritually, and thus the LORD God was true to His warning. Man lost fellowship with God that day, and that is spiritual death. From the time that man sinned and disobeyed the LORD God they lost their fellowship with God, but God in His grace has allowed us time to find our way back to Him and to recover our fellowship with Him. The point here is that, when Adam deserved to physically die, he was given grace and allowed to live.
But God’s grace goes even beyond that, because in the rest of Genesis 3 the LORD God does even more for Adam and for Adam’s now-fallen race. Notice that after the LORD God has decreed Adam’s punishment for his sin (3:17-19), He makes “garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them” (3:21). Here again is God’s grace, in that He has compassion on His fallen creatures and covers the shame of their nakedness (Revelation 3:18; etc.). They are ashamed and so He makes garments of skin so that they will not be ashamed in His presence. He takes the initiative and does what only He can do.
Now as an aside there are many possible themes that could spring from this simple verse. Where did the skins come from? It seems that the LORD God killed one of the animals to obtain the skins. If this is the case, then the LORD Himself was the first one to shed blood in order to cover sin and shame. Later Isaiah will tell us how the LORD “has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). While I do not think that there is anything salvific in the garments the LORD God made for Adam and his wife, I do think that this is the first foreshadowing that we have of what will be accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. There on Calvary God will sacrifice His Son in order to clothe sinners with their own robes of righteousness so that they will not be ashamed of their nakedness in His presence. Already in Genesis 3 God is picturing what He will accomplish in the death of the Lord Jesus.
There is still one final act of God’s grace in this third chapter of Genesis. After the man has fallen into sin and has lost his fellowship with God, he is still in the garden and still has access to the tree of life. If Adam were to eat of the tree of life now, he would forever be in a lost state and would forever be excluded from the life of God (Ephesians 4:18). To prevent Adam from being forever lost, the LORD God drives the man out of the garden and drives the man away from the tree of life. The LORD God also stations a cherubim and a flaming sword which turned in every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. Although disguised, this is an extreme act of God’s grace, for by preventing Adam from getting to the tree of life in his fallen state, God makes it possible for man to get to the tree of life by another way, which God will make known as He unfolds His plan to redeem man from his miserable and fallen state.
As a final note, at this point in the story it appears that there is no longer any access to the tree of life for any of Adam’s race. The man and his wife have been driven away from the garden and the tree is guarded by the cherubim and the flaming sword which turns in every direction. How can any man make his way back to the tree of life? But herein is the highest expression of God’s grace, in that, what Adam lost by his failure and his sin, the Lord Jesus gained by His perfect obedience and His atoning death. Through Adam’s sin the way to the tree of life was forever blocked and man could never again earn life with God through his own obedience. Man’s way was forever blocked by his sin. But God in His grace provided another way to eternal life. God sent His Son into the world to be “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus Christ is the door for the sheep (John 10:7, 9). He is the one who can bring us to God, the righteous dying for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18). Through the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), God will crush Satan and will bring man back into fellowship with God. In the end, those who find the Savior and who worship the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, will have access to the tree of life in the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 22:2, 14) and will glorify the Lamb forever. In Genesis 3 we have a foretaste of the grace of God that will culminate in our being in the presence of God glorifying the Lamb forever.