Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 3:23–24

Genesis 3:23–24
23 So the LORD God expelled him from the orchard in Eden to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken.  24 When he drove the man out, he placed on the eastern side of the orchard in Eden angelic sentries who used the flame of a whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life.
 (NET Bible)

Point of No Return

Placing limits on humanity is something God has done in many ways through the ages. In the Garden of Eden he used words, but humanity did not listen.

What will it take to curb humankind’s penchant for rebellion? What do the steps God takes tell us about his character and his choices? If there is a final limit, what might God do upon reaching it?

A play on words is notable in this section. When the man might send out his hand and eat of the tree of life (Gen. 3:22), God sends out the man (“expelled him” Gen. 3:23) beyond the boundary of the garden. Gordon Wenham says, “God forestalls man’s next step towards self-divinization [i.e. making oneself like God] by his own preemptive first strike (cf. 11:7–9).”[1]

The verbs describing humanity’s expulsion are dramatic. Victor Hamilton says: “Man does not leave the garden of his own will. Nor is he gently escorted to the garden’s edge. In fact, he is thrown out!”[2] The same verbs are used to describe the expulsion of the Canaanites during the conquest under Joshua.

Just as the man had been given a set of duties in the garden (Gen. 2:15), he now receives the new duty “to cultivate the ground” (Gen. 3:23). This is Adam’s new life, and his eldest son Cain later follows in his steps (Gen. 4:2). Work for man has always been part of the created order, but it was not so difficult in Eden.

We have already seen that a person determined to have something, such as the woman desiring to be wise, may take measures to get it, no matter what the consequences. Adam is outside the garden, but what is to keep him from going back in to eat from the tree of life?

God had originally charged Adam to guard the garden (Gen. 2:15), including the tree of life, but Adam failed to do so. God now takes measures to seal the entry by stationing “angelic sentries” with a flaming sword that whirls to block all paths to the tree of life. Hamilton says, “So then, man leaves the garden, and the opening behind him is barred. Paradise has been lost and forfeited. Christian theologians traditionally refer to this event as ‘the Fall.’”[3]

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 85.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 210.

[3] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 210.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!