Adam and Eve in the Hands of an Angry God: A Fresh Look at Genesis 3:8

The first human sin is immediately followed by God’s juridicial inquest. When Yahweh-Elohim begins his inquest in 3:8, the humans respond immediately with fear and attempt to hide among the trees of the Garden. The divine inquest is clearly theophanic, though recent interpreters question the traditional rendering of the text that portrays Yahweh on a peaceful routine stroll through the Garden “in the cool of the day.” The wording in the Hebrew suggests the possibility of a different reading – one more awe-inspiring and dreadful.

Here Comes the Judge!

The text in Genesis 3:8 reads,

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden (ESV).

The word “sound” translates the Hebrew קול (qol), which can refer to noise in general or to audible speech in particular. If the former, Moses would be alluding presumably to the sound of God’s “footsteps” as he’s walking about the Garden. If the latter, he’s specifying God’s voice, calling out to Adam. In either case, God’s pursuit of the humans in the Garden is said to take place “in the cool of the day.”

A Quiet Stroll in the Garden?

Traditionally, the phrase translated “cool of the day” (לרוח היום) has given translators and interpreters some difficulty. Translated literally, it reads “wind [or spirit] of the day.” Most commentators have understood this as a time reference. The phrase, as it stands, would seem to suggest, in the context and climate of the Middle East, some time in the early morning or late afternoon/early evening. Some suggest, the “wind of the day” refers to sometime in the late afternoon when the breeze blows. The LXX seems to interpret the phrase this way by using the Greek word for “afternoon” (το δειλινον). Umberto Cassuto suggests that the noun רוח be understood as a verb related to Arabic and Ugaritic cognate verbs signifying “to be in the period after midday.” In this case, the added היום (“the day”) would hark back to God’s warning in 2:17. Thus, the point of 3:8 would be to underscore the fact that God did not let the day of Adam’s transgression pass before carrying out His judgment.1

A Thunderous Storm Theophany?

More recently, some commentators have suggested Genesis 3:8 is actually depicting a terrifying storm-theophany comparable to Yahweh’s manifestation at Sinai. Jeffrey Niehaus, for example, argues on the basis of comparative philology that the Hebrew יום (yom) corresponds to the Akkadian ùmu, which means “storm.” In this case, the phrase would be translated “in the wind of the storm” and would suggest theophanic judgment.2 Yahweh’s קול (“voice”/”sound”) is often associated with “thunder” in poetic texts (Pss 18:14 [13]; 46:7 [6]; 77:17) and with God’s theophanic manifestation at Sinai (Exod 20:18; Deut 5:25). The prophet Jeremiah employs קול and רוח (“wind”) in Jeremiah to refer to Yahweh speaking (metaphorically) in a thunderstorm (10:13; 51:16).3

Meredith Kline offers a different reading but agrees with Niehaus in interpreting the scene as a judgment theophany. First, Kline argues that רום (ruach) in 3:8 should be translated “Spirit” and understood in light of Genesis 1:2, which he interprets as a reference to the “Spirit of God,” that is, a theophany, not merely a primordial wind. Kline then suggests that the lamed preposition indicates “in the capacity of” and cites several passages that appear to use the preposition in this way (Num 22:22, 32; 2 Chr 18:21; Isa 4:6; 11:10). Thus, argues Kline, one should read the first part of the verse as, “They heard the sound of Yahweh God traversing the garden as the Spirit of the Day.”4 Kline then connects “Spirit” and “day” with God’s special creative activity in Genesis 1:2 as well as God’s eschatological judgment activity, which is developed later in the Old and New Testaments as “the Day of Yahweh.”5

A Judicial Summons

After making his awesome presence known, Yahweh formally summons the man to a judicial hearing. The verb “to call” (קרא) when used with the preposition “unto” (אל) often bears the sense of “summons” (Gen 28:1; Exod 10:24; 24:16; 34:31; etc.; cf. קרא and ל. in Gen 12:18; 20:9; Deut 25:8). The meaning would place God’s inquiry in the category of lawsuit.

It is also significant that Yahweh addresses the man rather than the woman. Cassuto argues that the “man was the first to be tried, because the primary responsibility rested upon him, and he was the first to receive the Divine command.”6 Indeed, the earlier context suggests that God addresses Adam first because God had originally addressed the prohibition to him and not Eve (2:16). This fact would seem to highlight Adam’s representative role as covenant head. God first addresses the man because he holds a special and representative role in fulfilling the covenant stipulations. Eve’s failure is ultimately his failure. And Adam’s failure will have implications for his descendants to follow, as the subsequent context of Genesis will make clear.7

Adam correctly interprets God’s query “Where are you?” (3:9) as carrying the sense of “What has happened to you? Give an explanation.”8 He admits that the sense of Yahweh’s special presence and his newfound discomfort with nakedness have caused him to hide (3:10). Yahweh then replies with two more questions (3:11) designed not to solicit information otherwise unknown to God but (1) to link Adam’s perceived nakedness to the act of eating from the tree of knowledge, and (2) to elicit from his prodigal son a penitent confession of wrongdoing. Hence, Yahweh’s inquiry carries both a juridical and redemptive design.

In the same fashion and to the same end, he interrogates the woman. “What is this that you have done?” (3:13) does not function primarily a quest for information. The phraseology is used elsewhere in Genesis and carries the sense of a formal accusation of wrongdoing (Gen 4:10; 12:18; 20:9; 26:10; 29:25; 31:26; 44:15). Eve’s response to their holy Suzerain is virtually identical in form to Adam’s (3:12, 13b). Both consist of two parts: an explanation of the circumstantial factors that gave rise to the crime and a confession of wrongdoing.

Shifting the Blame or Confessing Sin?

Most scholars interpret the explanation as a form of blameshifting and therefore discount the confession. Concerning Adam’s explanation, Victor Hamilton remarks,

He points the finger of blame both at his spouse–she … gave me–and at God–the woman whom you placed by me. Through rationalization the criminal becomes the victim, and it is God and the woman who emerge as the real instigators in this scenario. Adam plays up their contribution in his demise and downplays his own part. By postponing his own involvement until the last word in this verse, Adam attempts to minimize his part in this sin.9

With respect to the woman’s testimony, Hamilton similarly avers, “The woman’s answer to God’s question is similar to the man’s. She too must exculpate herself. Neither of them exhibits any sign of contrition.”10

The reader must concede that the charge of blameshifting is grammatically and syntactically justifiable.11 Nevertheless, he should also note that Adam’s and Eve’s respective explanations are factual: the events are retold as they actually transpired.12 The reader should not miss the fact that Yahweh accepts these explanations as true and responds accordingly. He queries the woman in response to Adam’s testimony. He curses the Serpent in response to Eve’s testimony. Therefore, Yahweh accepts their testimony as formally true even though the couple may have framed their testimonies in such a way so as to partially mitigate the degree of their guilt. Also noteworthy is the fact that the apostle Paul treats Eve’s explanation as factual (1 Tim 2:14).

So both Adam and Eve admit guilt in violating the prohibition. Elements in the ensuing narrative seem to indicate that Yahweh, at least in part, accepted their confession of guilt. Allen Ross notes, “Eventually, they did confess, and it was sufficient.”13 In the next installment, we’ll examine Yahweh’s Penal/Remedial Curse.


Note: the entry above is excerpted and adapted from my recently published monograph Where Sin Abounds (a theological commentary on Genesis). Used by permission of Wipf & Stock Publishers.

  1. From Adam to Noah, 153-54.
  2. God At Sinai, 155-59.
  3. Some interpreters have been reluctant to adopt Niehaus’ rendering because of the lack of lexical support for יום as “storm” (though HALOT does list Song 2:17; 4:6 and Zeph 2:2 as possible instances). See Grundtke, “A Tempest in a Teapot? Genesis iii 8 Again,” 548-51.
  4. Emphasis added; Images of the Spirit, 106.
  5. Ibid., 106-31; See also Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 128-31.
  6. From Adam to Noah, 155.
  7. C. John Collins highlights several other ways in which the narrator underscores the man’s covenant headship. Genesis 1-4, 173-74.
  8. Likewise, God’s question to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” (4:9) actually means something like, “What have you done to your brother Abel? Explain to me.”
  9. Genesis 1-17, 194.
  10. Ibid. For similar assessments, see Aalders, Genesis, 1:104; Calvin, Genesis, 1:164-65; Cassuto, From Adam to Noah, 157-58; Currid, A Study Commentary on Genesis, 1:125-26; Hartley, Genesis, 68; Keil and Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, 1:98; Kidner, Genesis, 70; Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 1:177ff.; Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, 241-42; von Rad, Genesis, 91; Sailhamer, “Genesis,” 54; Sarna, Genesis, 26; Waltke, Genesis, 93; Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 77-78. Westermann concedes that the man and woman are attempting to defend themselves, but he justifies their responses as “legitimate freedom to defend themselves.” Genesis 1-11, 255.
  11. Adam’s testimony begins with a nominative absolute or casus pendens (“the woman whom you placed by me”; האדם האשה אשר נתתה עמדי), which often serves to highlight an element in the main clause (GKC § 135c; GBH § 156e; IBHS § 4.7; 8.3a; see also Gen 15:4; 24:7), and he adds the resumptive pronoun (“she gave to me”; הוא נתנה לי). Hence, Adam’s points to Yahweh’s gift of the woman who herself had offered him the fruit as the catalyst for his crime. Similarly, Eve’s testimony places “the serpent” first in the clause (הנחש השיאני), which is often done for emphasis (HS § 573). Like Adam, she seems to shift the emphasis to another party as the catalyst for her crime.
  12. Adam explains, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree” (3:12a); Eve tells Yahweh, “The serpent deceived me” (3:13b).
  13. Creation & Blessing, 144.

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