Dr. Miles Van Pelt preaches a chapel sermon on Genesis 2 and 3 at RTS Jackson. The message is entitled “And He Clothed Them.”
Before I read, let me preface what we’re about today. Today’s chapel is about nakedness and clothing. In a couple of courses here, Biblical Theology of Mission and Introduction to Biblical Theology, we are pursuing biblical themes and biblical methodology for understanding the Bible, trying to let the Bible speak on its own terms. One of the great things the Bible speaks to us about is our nakedness and our need to be clothed. So that’s what we going to talk about today and that’s how I want to preface the reading of this text so that you can highlight those themes for yourself in the text as we read. Let’s begin. Genesis 2:25:
Both the man and his wife were naked, but they were not ashamed.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree of the garden?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat from the fruit of the trees in the garden. But God said, ‘You must not eat from the fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman, “for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be open and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. And she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. So they sewed together a fig leaf and made underwear for themselves.
After this, the man and his wife heard the thundering voice of the Lord God approaching in the garden in the wind of the day. And the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God behind the tree in the middle of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man and said, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard your thundering voice in the garden. I was afraid because I am naked, and so I hid myself.” And he said, “Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? The man said, “The woman you put me here with, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.”
So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and all the wild animals. You will crawl on your belly and you will eat the dust all of the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed. He will crush you on the head, but you will crush him on the heel.” To the woman, he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you.” To Adam, he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken. For you are dust and to dust you will return.”
After this, Adam named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. Then the Lord God made garments of skin for the man and his wife, and he clothed them.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Mark Twain has famously observed, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Now I don’t necessarily think that Mark Twain was writing a commentary on Genesis 3, but he does provide for us a helpful point of connection: the issue between clothing and nakedness here. Ever since the fall in this world of ours, clothing has been a significant marker of culture both across time and throughout the different regions of the world.
Think even now about functional clothing. We have different clothes for what we do in the day. I have a different set of clothes for working out. I have a different set of clothes for coming to work. I have a different set of clothes when I go home and play with my kids and then even a different set of clothes for when I go to sleep. Clothing is functionally significant.
It is not inaccurate to characterize the history of the world and of culture as mankind’s pathetic attempt to cover its own shame.Clothing is vocationally significant even. Go to McAlister’s any day this week and eat lunch and look around and you can tell simply by the way people are dressed what general area of work they do. The construction worker or the energy worker is dressed differently from the businessman, who’s dressed differently from the student, who’s dressed differently than the single mom with kids crawling all over her and throw up everywhere. You can tell what people do by what they wear. Clothing is also representative of status. It’s not just what you wear, but who you wear. You buy your clothes at Wal-Mart or Abercrombie & Fitch.
The second part of Twain’s observation is also correct. Ever since the fall, with rare exception, naked people have little or no influence on society. Now, of course, the second statement is kind of a humorous antithesis of the first part, but his observation is significant. It connects first the major themes of our text, clothing and nakedness. In fact, it is not inaccurate to characterize the history of the world and of culture as mankind’s pathetic attempt to cover its own shame in an attempt to hide from God’s wrath.
God is in hot pursuit of his people, to clothe them and to solve the problem of their nakedness.Let me say it another way, from a redemptive historical perspective. One writer has said it this way: “It is no exaggeration to say that one can trace the whole outline of biblical theology and salvation history through the motif of clothing.” That is to say that God is in hot pursuit of his people, to clothe them and to solve the problem of their nakedness. He is in hot pursuit. It’s almost like we were little two-year-olds. Have you ever tried to dress a two-year-old in the morning that doesn’t want to get dressed? It’s like calf roping. You’ve got to run around the house, pin the thing down, wrestle its pajamas off, and then finally wrestle to get the new clothes on. God is in hot pursuit of us to clothe us, and that’s what this text begins to teach us.
Perfection Before the Fall Is Expressed in Nakedness Without Shame
So let’s begin just by making some general observations on the text. It’s really amazing, I think, to consider the grand scheme of Genesis 2 and all that was done there: the planting of a garden, the creation of man and all of the wild animals, the creation of the woman as the perfect helper in the perfect garden, in the perfect world, in perfect fellowship with God. And to conclude it all, to sum it all up, this great theological statement is made: “They were naked but not ashamed.”
Ever since the fall, there is that deep-seated need in each of us to cover ourselves, to hide and conceal ourselves, lest others see what we know to be true: there is something wrong with me.Now let’s let that soak in a little bit. In fact, if I were to ask all of you to get naked right now, to take off your clothes, you would immediately feel that the reality at the end of Genesis 2 no longer exists. It wouldn’t take but a few articles of clothing for you to begin to feel blushed and red and embarrassed. In fact, even for us to walk around in the midst of each other in our underwear would be quite uncomfortable, at least for me it would be.
The state of Genesis 2 is really a remarkable commentary on the perfection of that order in such a way as for us to now know that something is terribly, horribly wrong. Ever since the fall, there is that deep-seated need in each of us to cover ourselves, to hide and conceal ourselves, lest others see what we know to be true: there is something wrong with me. I am broken and I cannot fix it. The best we can do is cover it up until someone else can fix what is wrong.
Before the fall, there was no shame. The moral condition of humanity was in a state such that nakedness would not cause shame, embarrassment, or even lust. We know now that this condition does not exist, does it? Sin has entered the world, and this once perfect state is lost. I love how the Bible sets this forth. It does not say that Adam and his wife became morally bankrupt as total depravity infected the cosmos. It simply states once again that the man was naked, but this time full of shame and fear.
In a Fallen World, Nakedness Constitutes Shame
And so ensues the first great cover up, both literally and figuratively. The man and his wife now endeavor to cover the shame of their moral nakedness with what amounts to really fig leaf underwear. They sew together a fig leaf as a loincloth. We don’t use the word loincloth anymore. We’re not talking about Tarzan. We’re talking about something in our day and age that would amount to and constitute underwear. It’s a beginning. In fact, this text teaches us something even more significant than that. The oldest profession is not prostitution. The oldest profession, according to biblical testimony, is underwear manufacturing. Fruit of the Loom and their employees work in the oldest profession of the world.
So the question is, in light of that, what is the significance of being naked and why does Fruit of the Loom flourish? Why is nakedness used to describe this state that we now live in? It’s pretty clear from the text that nakedness constitutes shame. On four different occasions in this Genesis narrative, the naked state of the man and the woman is highlighted. First, the man and his wife were naked, but not ashamed. So the two are set up now to be reversed in chapter 3. It says in 3:7, “The eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” Once the eyes of them had been opened and God questioned them about this reality, he said, “I was afraid because I am naked” in 3:10. And God said, “Who told you that you are naked?” It’s relatively clear from the context that nakedness and shame are closely related. In Genesis 2 the man and his wife are naked and not ashamed, and in Genesis 3, they’re naked and ashamed and even more so, afraid.
Now it’s not as if they didn’t know they were naked in chapter 2. I think that would have been fairly self-evident. It’s not the fact that their status as naked had changed, but their status as moral individuals had changed. Their nakedness was now not an object of radiating God’s image and glory, but it was now an object of moral shame. This moral nakedness caused them to try and cover it up. They tried to cover it up, and they even tried to hide behind a tree. Now, what’s interesting, if you read the narrative carefully, is this: when God comes, and he addresses the man, he says, “Where are you and why are you hiding?” Adam says this, interestingly enough, “I hid from you because I am naked.” That is Adam himself realizing that his new fig leaf underwear, as uncomfortable as it may be, hasn’t solved his problem. It hasn’t taken away his shame or his fear.
The connection between nakedness and shame here continues in the Old Testament. It just flourishes, this whole idea of nakedness as a metaphor for shame. It becomes especially useful to the prophets who describe Israel as naked and full of shame because they, like Adam and Eve, were unfaithful to the covenant of Yahweh, and because of their unfaithfulness, they too are described in the same state of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Isaiah loves this metaphor: “For your nakedness will be exposed and your shame uncovered. I will take vengeance; I will spare no one” (Isa. 47:3). To emphasize this reality, God commands him to walk about naked for three years. Nahum 3:5: “I am against you, declares the Lord Almighty, I will lift your skirts over your face and I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame.” The reality of this nakedness and shame connection continues all the way to the end of the canon. “Behold, I come like a thief,” in the apocalypse. “Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed” (Rev. 16:15). So the conclusion to this matter quickly is that after the fall, nakedness constitutes a metaphor for shame.
Clothing Represents Our Inheritance as Christians
Now if nakedness represents our shame and our moral state before God, it is not altogether shocking that the man and the woman want to cover themselves. It’s misguided and inadequate, but it’s pointing in the right direction. In other words, if nakedness represents our shame, what does clothing represent and why in this great and grand narrative of Genesis 3, where so much important stuff is going on: the protoeuangelion, the curses and the blessings, the reversal of the created order, the undoing of it all, and the climax to the issue at the end of the day is that this naked state of the man and the woman has changed by a new set of leather tunics or leather shirts.
The significance of clothing comes up two times, first in 3:7, of course, when Adam and Eve try to clothe themselves, and then again at the end where I’ve just mentioned. What in the world are they doing and why is God doing what he’s doing? What are these metaphors and these images supposed to teach us, to place in our mind that we may never forget them? The short answer to this question is that clothing becomes a metaphor for our inheritance. This basic idea of inheritance covers kind of a broader scheme, the diverse scheme of what it is to be clothed in terms of your functional status, your vocational status, your status in society, all kinds of things. In other words, clothing here is symbolic, I believe, and that’s how we’re supposed to take this clothing issue. Clothing here is symbolic.
Even today, clothing has symbolic significance for us, doesn’t it? Let’s think about our own lives here in this institution and academic regalia and the bestowal of hoods, noting that the moment you leave this institution, there will be something different about you in terms of your status, and that is symbolized by the robe and the hood that you wear. The white wedding dress, the priestly collar, and my favorite one, the high priestly athletic uniform, which itself is a whole sermon, but that one will be saved for idolatry.
In the Old Testament, the imagery of clothing carried with it the significance of inheritance as an identifier of one’s status. Now think with me in the Old Testament about a few great scenes and issues where clothing figures prominently: Joseph and his technicolor dream coat or long sleeved coat or coat of many colors, however you want to render that difficult word. His unique clothing was a symbol of his status in the family as the primary heir. His brothers did not hate him because he had a better jacket, warmer during the inclement weather, cooler during the hot months. Nor that it was long sleeved or decorative. They hated him because of what that jacket represented. He was favored and they were not. Of course, clothing gets Joseph in trouble later, with Potiphar’s wife. But it’s interesting, isn’t it, that when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers later on, and it’s remarkable that they’re not going to jail, beheaded, anything like that, he accepts.
Note: The rest of this transcript is missing due to an incomplete recording. To see other chapel messages and resources on the power and effects of sin, click here.