Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., writer for Foundations by ICM
Rider on the Storm
Genesis 3 introduces us to a recurring image associated with divine judgment in Scripture—Storm Theophany.1 Unfortunately, the confrontation of Adam and Eve is typically presented in terms that undermine the seriousness and violence of the scene.
In Genesis 3:1-7, the first humans have rebelled against their maker because the Serpent has convinced them that God’s rules have the express purpose of robbing them of a profound blessing—equality with God.
Genesis 3 Out of Context
After they sin, we typically read something like:
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. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.
The original language of this passage—especially when reading in its Ancient Near Eastern and biblical context—lends itself to the description of an explosive and terrifying conflict between Holy Yahweh, rebellious humans, and what Revelation 20:2 calls, “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan.” Even so, common translations like the one above from the ESV tend to underplay the drama and misrepresent the nature of the event.
According to a typical rendition, God shows up unawares to finish out His day with His usual stroll, sharing the cool breezes of the evening with His newly minted favs—the first couple. When He arrives, however, He can’t find them. What could have happened to them? Like any panicked parent, He rushes about calling out for them. But alas, when He finds them, something is amiss. They have tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves, and are hiding from Him. He confronts them; they confess; He judges them, bringing the whole world under a curse.
This is one of the most significant judgment scenes in the Bible, second, perhaps, only to the final judgment in Revelation 20. Even so, the usual telling leaves one a bit flat compared to dozens of such scenes elsewhere. Where is divine wrath? Where is the energy of doom? It comes off so dispassionate and hum drum. “Well that’s unfortunate… now the whole world is cursed… what’s for dinner?” It feels more “Disappointed Papa” than “Offended Holy Creator.”
What we are missing is the true nature of God’s arrival in Genesis 3:8 as depicted in the Hebrew text, and properly honed expectations from the story’s ancient Near Eastern and biblical context. God is manifesting His presence… that is theophany… a god-appearing. God is not ignorant of what Adam and Eve have done at the bidding of the Serpent. He comes manifesting Himself for Judgment. In context, one should expect a terrifying revelation in the storm that strikes terror in the heart of rebellious humanity.
The Many Appearances of Storm Theophany
For honing our expectations, let’s consider just a few of the many manifestations of the divine in storm.
One popular storm theophany appears if you’ll pardon the pun, in Exodus 19:16-25, where God comes with “thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud,” and “a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.” The mountain “was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire,” and “the mountain trembled greatly.” A few chapters later in Exodus 24:17, we read that in addition to heavy cloud, “the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain...”
The call of Ezekiel begins in chapter 1, saying, “As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal.”
In Isaiah 30:27ff, we read, “Burning is His anger and dense is His smoke; His lips are filled with indignation And His tongue is like a consuming fire; His breath is like an overflowing torrent, Which reaches to the neck, To shake the nations back and forth in a sieve…” Its picks up later saying, “And the Lord will cause His voice of authority to be heard, And the descending of His arm to be seen in fierce anger, And in the flame of a consuming fire In cloudburst, downpour and hailstones. For at the voice of the Lord Assyria will be terrified.”
In Habakkuk 3:3-6, Yahweh comes in judgment and, “His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels.” The prophet is paralyzed with fear, writing in verses 15-16, “You trampled the sea with your horses, the surging of mighty waters. I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me.”
The New Testament is certainly not devoid of this imagery. To name only two, we find John saying in Revelation 11:19, “There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.” Revelation 16:18 describes God’s judgment as, “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake.”
Genesis 3 In Context
So… what happened to Genesis 3?
The answer… Nothing happened to Genesis 3. It has all the components an Ancient Near Eastern person might expect. BUT… translators struggled during the early stages of the gentile church to fully grasp the text and the import of the eastern imagery.
The traditional translation runs into trouble in four places when it says, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.
First, the word translated “sound” (Hebrew QOL) is a common term in judgment scenes representing the thunder of Yahweh, His earth-shaking voice blasting trumpet-like as He comes on.
Second, the word translated “walking” is a special verb form that intends here agitated or violent movement—Thrashing about.
Third, there is no “in the cool of the day” in the Hebrew text. Rather it says, “in the RUACH of the YOM.” RUACH can mean among other things, wind, breath, or spirit.
Fourth, this wind/breath/or spirit is associated with the YOM, which has two meanings. YOM can mean either day or storm.
So, given the standing Hebrew text and the biblical context of judgment scenes, what we have in Genesis 3 is the first of many storm theophanies, as God comes in terrifying glory to judge our first parents for their rebellion against Him.
“And they heard the thunder of the LORD God thrashing through the garden in the wind of the storm, and the man and his wife hid themselves.”
It is a bad news/good news situation, however. For there is hope. In the midst of judgment, Yahweh declares His plan for redemption through the seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent, and reverse the curse over creation.
1The term “theophany” will be explained below in further detail…a simple working definition, for now, is the appearance of God.