THE BEGINNING: GENESIS, CHAPTERS 1-3
The Seven Days of Creation, Genesis 1:1-2:3
The first section of the creation account describes the events in chronological order. Here we are given the big picture, a broad overview of the creation of the universe. In this account we can see God's awesome power, in that He actually spoke the universe into existence (1:3, 6-7, 9, etc.; Psalm 33:6; Hebrews 11:3). We see God's wisdom, in that He is the designer of the entire physical universe. We see God's orderliness in the methodical way He proceeded. We also see the three Persons of God alluded to in 1:1-3 and 26-27 (see also Matthew 28:19: John 1:1-5, 14:26 & 15:26; etc.). And of course, we see that everything God made was good: 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31. God is not the source of any of the evil in the world. Only good comes from God, James 1:13-18.
The second section of the creation account focuses on the creature who is at the center of it all, the one creature who was made in the very image of the Creator (1:26-27). Rather than giving the account in chronological order, this account is designed to emphasize the place of human beings in God's order of things. We see God breathing life into the first man (2:7). We see the man naming the birds and the beasts of the field (2:19-20). We see God planting a beautiful and abundant garden just for the man and placing him there (2:8-15). We see God creating woman from the man's side, a special act of creation indicating God's order for marriage, which is the most fundamental of all human relations (2:21-23). We even see God making a special ordinance regarding human marriage (2:24). Over and over again it is emphasized that humans are God's most important creatures in the physical universe, the ones for whom all else was made (compare 1:26-28).
It is here that we see how God intended for humans to live - in complete happiness and innocence, and therefore no need for shame (2:25). It is here we must turn to see the fundamental principles upon which all true morals are based: we see God's love for man in the remarkable care He took, and the abundant provision He made (2:8-16, 21-24); we likewise see that all God asks of man is that we love Him in return - and that love for God is expressed in absolute trust and obedience (2:16-17). He gives them a rule in order to give them opportunity to love Him: do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The Introduction of Sin, Genesis 3
This is a tragic chapter. Here is where the picture of absolute goodness and happiness ends. Here is where evil, pain, suffering, and all ugliness begin. The serpent (who is the subject of the next essay - second button on the timeline), approaches the first woman with a question about God's command, 3:1. When the woman answers, the serpent lies to her, telling her that she will not die if she eats the fruit, verse 4. He lies further by telling her that the reason God doesn't want her to eat it, is that He doesn't want her to be like Him, verse 5. Because the woman finds the fruit attractive, she decides to believe the lie, rather than believing the God who made her and provided her with everything she could possibly need. She eats the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and she gives some to her husband, and he eats it as well.
Immediately their beautiful world is horribly changed. They feel shame - something that had previously been unnecessary (compare 3:7 and 2:25). They also feel fear. They fear the One who gave them life and every good thing. They fear the One who loves them more than anyone else ever could. They hide from God, in whose image they had been made, and from whose image they have now fallen (2:8-10; see also Isaiah 59:2; I John 1:5-6). Rather than making them like God in the way the serpent had implied, it had made them into something very different from Him. As noted before, God only does good. Here, the creatures originally made in His image have turned to evil.
God, in His goodness and mercy, does not annihilate the guilty couple. He has the right to do so, and they are deserving of it, but He instead gives them the opportunity to learn and to love Him. He assigns consequences, but consequences that are at least as educational as they are punitive.
The woman is to suffer pain in bearing children, verse 16. This consequence, applied to a function that is uniquely and exclusively hers as woman, is designed to teach her the folly of obeying her desires, and of misusing her influence over her husband. It can serve as a reminder to every woman of all time that God is the source of all truth, and that we must be guided by His word if we wish to find genuine fulfillment - and everlasting life.
The man is to suffer difficulties and setbacks in his work, verses 17-19. Rather than tending the beautiful and abundant garden planted by God, he will have to work the soil, and fight the thorns and thistles it yields him. This provides a lesson for all men of all time. It teaches us, if we are willing to learn, that all blessings flow from God, and we need to appreciate what He gives us, and put our whole confidence in Him. When the difficulties and setbacks come, it is a reminder that God is not obligated to provide the good and easy times. The good and easy times happen because God loves us; we are powerless to create them on our own, just as surely as we are powerless to create something out of nothing.
Interestingly, God confirms their sense of shame. Before they sinned, there was no place for shame, nothing of which to be ashamed. Now, however, God acknowledges the need for shame. God provides them with clothing of skin to cover their naked bodies, 3:21. Woe to us when we can sin and feel no shame.
Finally, God ordains that they will not have access to the tree of life, verse 22-23. They could not be allowed to live forever now. However, God does not remove the tree from the garden. Rather, He places cherubim (powerful angels, Ezekiel 10) to guard the way to it, verse 24. Thus, God does not rule out the possibility that the man might still have an opportunity for eternal life. However, He makes it clear that they will never get back to the tree of life without His help.
Of course, the physical tree of life would have been destroyed in the Flood, at the latest. However, what the tree represents - everlasting life - has been made available to mankind through Jesus Christ, Revelation 22:1-5.
Summary of Genesis 1-3
God's all-good world becomes horribly altered because of the introduction of sin. The central problem of the Bible, and the central problem of all human existence, is sin. Unless we strive to get sin out of our lives, and teach others to do likewise, all of our efforts to do good in this life are in vain. Moreover, unless we face the fact that sin is the fundamental problem, we will never be able to grasp the Bible's message. If we do face it, and face the ugliness of our own sins, and repent of them and turn to God with humble and contrite hearts, and love Him by obeying Him, then the scripture is open to us. Moreover, we have hope of everlasting life!