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The LORD God Walking in the Cool of the Judgment Scene: Genesis 3:8

Adam and Eve in gardenIn my series, 101 Most Misunderstood Passages, there are different sorts of texts that I tackle. Some I am adamant about. Others are reasonable curiosities. The rest fill out the range between them.

It reminds me of my “Historical Geography Course” at Jerusalem University College (Yes, that Jerusalem) when our archaeologist profs escorted our sorry carcasses all over Israel and Jordan linking the land and its features to the texts that involve them. When it came to important sites they always ranked their viability on the level of certainty from 1 [merely a potential look alike site… like the garden tomb] to a 10 [absolutely no doubts that this event took place right here… like the birth place of Jesus and Gethsemane.]

Let’s rank this series’ passage a stable 6… in truth, in my mind, it’s a 10, but I recognize that there are many solid scholars who will not exactly see things my way. It will probably freak you out as well.

Genesis 8:3 is a curious text to be sure. After Adam and Eve have transgressed God’s command and eaten of the forbidden tree (The text does not say that the problem was an apple tree by the way… and for you uber-fundie types, it wasn’t the pair in the bush either.) God shows up and judges them for their sin. This is an important point. This is a judgment scene. God is not taken by surprise. His questions are accusational not points of wonder.

The texts reads in English translations something akin to, “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.”

The LXX (i.e. main Greek text) runs about the same, saying “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the afternoon; and both Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God in the midst of the trees of the garden.”

In the common sermon rendition, we frequently find pictures of divine human relations in which God, after a hard day’s work running the universe elsewhere, comes home at night to his new creatures, Adam and Eve, to go for their customary evening walk in the cool of the day. (Because we are just certain that the meteorological conditions of Eden were exactly what they are in modern Palestine.) Unfortunately, God is shocked to discover that something is amiss… “What have those two rascals gotten up to?” He calls out, looking for them everywhere, almost panicked in his cries, “Where are you?” [Channel Don Fransisco’s song when you read this line.]

“Oh, golly gee willikers,” they say, “We’re just so modest; we didn’t want you to see us naked.”

Is this, however, a fair portrait of either God or the nature of judgment scenes in general? Where do we get the idea that this “evening stroll” was a tradition? Might a consideration of the nature of other judgment scenes add something to our sense of this judgment scene? Might a consideration of the grammatical and lexical (i.e. word meaning) possibilities add something to our sense as well?

They most assuredly should.

Today, a few interesting facts about the Hebrew of Genesis 3:8.

  1. The word translated “Voice” or “Sound” can also mean “thunder” or “clamor” or “cry.” It ain’t no creaking floor board or uncertain scrape of foot in a distant space. This is loud.
  2. The word translated “walking” is not the normal form for walking.
    1. Hebrew verbs have what is called stem. Stem takes a basic notion of an action represented in one spelling of a verb, and turns it this way and that to create special senses of that action through changed spellings of the same verb.
    2. So in one stem we might find “Kill” which in other stems with slightly altered spellings might turn to “slaughter” or “have executed” or even “suicide.”
    3. Halak “he walked” is one form of the word, but, we also find in other stems, “disappear” or “ship” or “bring”
    4. In our text, we have מִתְהַלֵּ֥ךְ mithhalāk This word has two senses to it depending on the timetable involved in the action.
    5. If the time-span for this action is over along period of time it can mean “to walk about” “to wander to and fro” “to come and go.” This is used of Enoch’s life of walking with God, and of Abraham going throughout the land, and of priests who do their duty coming and going from before YHWH in the Temple.
    6. If, however, the time-span for this action is short, describing the nature of one’s movement in a moment, it has a sense of erratic aggressive action. David does this on the roof of his house, not walking but pacing agitatedly. It speaks of the flashing of arrows in Psalm 77:18, water pouring off a roof in Psalm 58:8.
    7. In our text f is concerned. They sinned; YHWH showed up. He is not strolling, but moving aggressively and agitatedly. The exact translation will need to wait for a digestion of the whole scene, however.
  3. The phrase commonly translated “in the cool of the day” is tricksy. In Hebrew it is לְר֣וּחַ הַיּ֑וֹם.
    1. The first word (Hebrew goes from right to left) is ruach. This word has a wide range of meanings. In this context it could be “spirit” or “wind.”
    2. Most take it as God coming “to the windy part of the day” which in Israel is evening because of the winds off the Mediterranean.
    3. Others, recognizing the general “judgment scene” nature of the story take it as “In the spirit of the day” intending “the day” to mean “in the spirit of the day of the LORD… a spirit of judgment.”
    4. One other interesting thing remains, however. The word translated day הַיּ֑וֹם has another meaning… a less used meaning, but an alternate meaning nonetheless. YOM Typically translated “Day” has a cognate in Akkadian—“Storm.”
    5. It likely shows up this way in another judgment text, Zephaniah 2:1-2 “Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired; Before the decree bring forth, (Before the storm sweeps on as chaff[1]) before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of the LORD’S anger come upon you.

gen 3 8 chartIs it possible then that a legitimate rendering of Genesis 3:8 might be “And they heard the thunder of the LORD God moving about in the garden in the wind of the storm, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”

Let’s ask this question again soon in light of the rest of the judgment scenes in Scripture.

[1] Some still stick with “day” here—(before the day pass as the chaff,)—but the alternate fits better.

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