Grace in the Old Testament:
God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden… and He wasn’t punishing them?
I know most Believers are not lining up around the block to read many books of the Old Testament. But, to be honest, they should be. It is interesting to note that so many Christians are very familiar with many books of the New Testament but seem only to have a few “pet” books from the Old Testament. Among the familiar Old Testament books we are drawn to are Genesis, Ruth, Job, Esther, and parts of books like Isaiah, Exodus, Psalms, Proverbs, and maybe a few verses in Daniel. I think many folks do this because they mistakenly believe that the New Testament more promotes God’s grace, while the Old Testament more promotes God’s judgment. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Even the most judgment-related act in the Old Testament was rooted not in judgment but in grace. After Adam and Eve sinned and ushered in a heritage of sin for everyone who would come after, God did remove them from the Garden of Eden. And He did go to great lengths to ensure that they could not re-enter. In fact, He placed an angel with a flaming sword to keep Adam and Eve out (Gen. 3:24). And if you ask the average Believer why God expelled them from the Garden, I’ll bet the most common answer will be “as punishment for their sin”. That’s probably what you would say as well. The problem is… that’s not what God said.
Expulsion from the Garden was certainly a consequence for their sin (because there is always a consequence for sin in some way), but this act from God was not punitive, nor was it rooted in judgment for that sin. I know this seems contrary to what is normally thought about the act that’s come to be known as “original sin”, but you absolutely do not need to take my word for it. Instead, let’s take God’s Word for it. Because, as so often is the case, God makes it crystal clear as to His motives regarding His actions.
After Adam and Eve’s disastrous snack, God says something extremely interesting. He begins by telling us the state that, not only were Adam and Eve now in but, by extension, all of humanity from that point forward would find itself in. “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil”(Genesis 3:22a, ESV). This is it. This is the point in which sin entered the human race and would henceforth infect every single person forevermore. The prophet Jeremiah writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it”(Jer. 17:9, ESV). The Fall is where the heart is inexorably infected with this sickness. After declaring the devastating state in which humanity finds itself, God says something even more interesting.
“Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”(Gen. 3:22b, ESV). What is God saying here? First, we must ask about His mention of a second tree- the tree of life. This tree is only mentioned a handful of times throughout the Bible. Interestingly, these references are only found in Genesis and Revelation, the bookend letters of the entire Bible. The tree is found in only two places: The Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:9; 3:22b) and in Heaven (Rev. 22:2; 2:7; 22:14). The purpose of the tree? To impart eternal life. That is the implication in Genesis 3:22b and why it would make sense for it to be in Heaven, where Believers will spend eternity. So then, why did God mention the tree of life while expelling Adam and Eve?
It is fascinating that if you ask any Believer about the Garden and a tree, it is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that immediately leaps into our frontal lobe. Why? Are we not aware of the tree of life? Do we even know that such a tree existed in the Garden? Most of us do not. And that is where we miss God’s grace in the midst of supposed judgment. In Genesis 3, God gives us the clear reason why He expels Adam and Eve, and it is the tree of life He mentions explicitly. Simply put, He does not want Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of life and live forever. He clearly tells us this (Gen. 3:22b). Why? Because they had been infected with sin. Had they eaten from the tree of life after their sin infection, then they would live eternally as sinners with no hope of redemption or salvation.
Their only hope and our only hope was that they would not be allowed to live eternally in sin. The only way to guarantee a hope of salvation was to keep them from infecting us eternally as well. Adam and Eve sinned, and God had already planned for the crucifixion and resurrection. How cool is that? He knew that the only way He could show His grace and His mercy was to remove them from the only location that would ensure their (and our) eternal damnation. That puts the whole angel with a flaming sword in a much different light, does it not? That puts the whole idea of God expelling Adam and Eve as punishment in a different light, does it not?
God does not say in any way, shape, or form that He was using this as a form of punishment. Was their expulsion a consequence of sin? Of course. Sin always has a consequence (Gen. 3:14-19). But God removed them because He loved them (and us). He removed them because He wanted to save them (and us). He removed them because He wanted to show them (and us) grace and mercy. God’s grace is seen all throughout the Old Testament. As Believers, we must be as interested in reading Habakkuk as we are in reading the Gospel of John. We must get as excited about engaging Ecclesiastes as we are the Book of Romans. Based on the number of books, the Old Testament makes up nearly 60% of the entire Bible. That is a lot of grace we are missing out on when we decide to pass on so many of these amazing letters. So let’s take a fresh, new look at the OT- shall we?
Dr. Purvis started Growth Project after spending 20 years on active duty as a Chaplain in the United States Navy. After many moves and multiple deployments, he settled in St. Cloud, Florida to do God’s will. A glutton for educational punishment Danny has a BA in English from Carson-Newman College, an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; a ThM from Princeton Theological Seminary; and a PhD in Organizational Leadership from Regent University. He has been married to his wife Kimberly (whom he met when they were 6 years old) for nearly 30 years and they have four wonderful children.