So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. Genesis 3:23 NIV
Banished – Most of us develop our theology from visual imagery like this. We think of the Garden as an idyllic place and the expulsion from the Garden as something utterly tragic. Notice in this painting, outside the Garden is a world of destruction as if bombs had fallen on the earth. But there is no biblical justification for such imagery. Where do you suppose all of this comes from?
We imagine the emotional trauma and mourning that accompanied this event in scenes like this.
But when the Hebrew is translated with words like “banished,” we miss much of the underlying implications that could paint a different picture. The Hebrew verb here is shalah. Notice the range of its derivatives: weapon (shelah), sending away (shilluhim), shoot or branch (sheluha), undertaking (mishlah), pasture land (mishlah), outstretching (mishloah) and discharge or deputation (mishlahat). In fact, in addition to the action of expulsion, this verb also means “to send on an official mission,” “to send a Savior,” “to let loose, set free,” and “to spread or stretch out.” The idea of “banishing” is derived from the context, especially the next verse that uses the verb garash (to drive out or away).
There is no doubt that something tragic is happening in this event. But the entire situation is very, very strange. What are we to make of the preceding verse that suggests the man and the woman might eat of the Tree of Life and live eternally? What in the world can that mean? And what if the overtones of shalah suggest that God sends the couple from the Garden in order to also accomplish the prime directive – to take dominion over the earth? Did we imagine that Adam and Havvah were intended to stay in the Garden forever? How would that work if they are to be fruitful and multiply and rule? And doesn’t God clothe them as priest and priestess (v. 21)? What does this imply for their roles after the Fall?
Finally, let’s add one more complication. Did you notice that the paintings (and our usual assumption) portray both Adam and Havvah being expelled? But the text doesn’t actually say this. Read it again. It says that God sent out the man! The entire scene from verse 22 to 24 involves God and Adam (the man). There is not a single mention of the woman. Do you find that odd? Did you recognize that anomaly before? How would your theology change if Adam is the only one sent out?
What word would you choose to translate all of these nuances present in this text?
Topical Index: banished, send out, shalah, Garden, Genesis 3:23