Genesis 1 narrates the creation week in which God created the heavens and the earth and filled them with creatures that would fulfill His plan and purpose. Genesis 2 zooms in to focus on His creation of the first man and woman, and the concluding statement of all this creative activity is, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25, ESV). Adam and Eve were innocent, having no sin or guilt, and thus had no shame. What happens in Genesis 3 helps us understand how valuable that condition of innocence really was.
In Genesis 2:16–17 God had warned Adam that, while Adam had freedom to eat from nearly any tree, he was not allowed to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequence of eating from that tree would be death. In Genesis 3:1 the serpent tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, and she ate, and Adam ate with her. After they had both eaten, their eyes were opened in a way they had not been before—now for the first time they recognized that they were naked (Genesis 3:7a). Adam and Eve had no guilt before. They hadn’t sinned against God, so there was no reason for any shame. Now that they had violated His word, they realized they had guilt. They had sinned against their Creator, and they sensed that guilt and were ashamed of their nakedness.
As long as they had no sin, they sensed no need for any covering. There was no judgment or scrutiny for them. Now that they had sinned, they were keenly aware, in their guilt and shame, that they were exposed. So they fashioned from fig leaves clothes to cover their loins, or their genital areas (Genesis 3:7b). They tried to cover up their guilt and shame with the product of their own efforts. This was the remarkable first attempt at works salvation—they sought to be free from guilt by covering up their nakedness on their own. When God called out to Adam, at first Adam hid because he knew he was naked and he was afraid (Genesis 3:10).
Ever since Adam’s sin, nakedness has been associated with shame (see 2 Samuel 10:4–5; Isaiah 47:3; Ezekiel 16:39; 23:29; Hosea 2:3; Nahum 3:5; Revelation 16:15). The fall has affected all of us. We all have an inborn sense that we need a covering. Being exposed to other eyes makes us feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, and afraid.
As the Genesis narrative continues, it becomes evident that our own efforts to cover ourselves can’t redeem or save us from our guilt and shame. Adam and Eve were under the penalty promised in Genesis 2:16–17. On that day they had died—they were no longer able to live with God, but they were separated from Him and the relationship was severed. What’s more, their bodies would also die (from the additional consequence introduced in Genesis 3:19) one day in the future.
But God revealed the solution to Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3:15 God announced that one day the seed of Eve would crush the head of the serpent. Later, God is even more specific about a coming Savior who would not just cover guilt and shame, but through His own blood, by the loss of His life, He would fully pay the penalty required so that those who had been guilty could become righteous before God. The blood of this Savior would cover once and for all the guilt and the shame of humanity. While this plan of salvation was not revealed in great detail in the pages of Genesis, by the time of Cain and Abel (Adam and Eve’s first children), there was an understanding that without the shedding of blood there is no covering for sin. Abel offered to God a sacrifice of a slain lamb, and God accepted it (Genesis 4:4).
Later, in the time of the Mosaic Law, God prescribed animal sacrifices so that the people would understand the awfulness of sin and the incredibly high price that had to be paid to deal with it: life itself, illustrated in the pouring out of the blood of the sacrifice. While we all were separated from God because of sin, the Savior took on our guilt and paid the price with His own blood (Isaiah 53:6). By His blood we can come near to Him and enjoy the fellowship with God that we were designed to have from the beginning (Ephesians 2:13). By His grace God frees us from our guilt and shame, simply asking us to believe in Him, or put our trust in Him, rather than in our own efforts.
Just as in Genesis 3 God provided a covering for Adam and Eve, God in His mercy provides a covering for all those who come to Him in repentance and faith: “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10; cf. Ezekiel 16:8). In heaven the shame of our nakedness and the disgrace of our sin will be covered with “fine linen, bright and clean” (Revelation 19:8).