Genesis 3:8 says, “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.” We know that God is spirit (John 4:24), so how exactly could He be “walking” in the garden?
First, it is clear from Genesis 3:8 that God’s approach in the garden was heralded by a “sound” or a “voice.” The verse begins by stating, “They heard the sound” of the Lord God. Whatever form God took, it certainly allowed for the physical production of sound. His walk was audible; He was making noise.
The verse also mentions the “presence” of God “among the trees” of the garden. It was a presence that Adam and Eve acknowledged and thought they could hide from. So, God’s garden walk included both sound and some sort of presence among the trees.
Even given these two statements, interpretations differ greatly. Some emphasize the fact that God the Father is invisible and cannot be seen by humans. According to this view, God did not appear in the flesh; rather, He took on a symbolic, incorporeal appearance, such as a cloud, much like He did with the Israelites in the desert with Moses (Deuteronomy 31:15).
Others suggest that the idea of God “walking” refers to a theophany—an appearance of God in a tangible, human form. Theologians who hold this view point to a parallel in Genesis 18, where God appears as one of three (seemingly human) visitors to Abraham.
Another theory is based on the Hebrew phrase translated “the cool of the day.” This could be literally translated “the wind of that day.” Some think this might refer to a strong wind. If so, Adam and Eve’s reaction makes more sense. They heard God’s approach as a terrible wind that lashed the trees of the garden, and they took cover. God called (using a Hebrew word that also means “to summon”) Adam to face judgment. Acts 2 records an interesting parallel: the coming of the Holy Spirit was accompanied by “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind” (verse 2). Also, God spoke to Job “out of the whirlwind” (Job 38:1).
Regardless of whether God appeared in human form or in a cloud, or whether He made His presence known by a windstorm, it is clear God Himself confronted the sinners and issued judgment. To the praise of His grace, this judgment also included the promise of a future Redeemer (Genesis 3:15). Thus began a great saga that ultimately led to Jesus Christ, the perfect sacrifice for sin and substitute for sin’s judgment. Through Christ, those who believe are forgiven of sin and receive eternal life (John 3:16).