The later Homer Hoeksema was professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

Vain Coverings: Aprons of Fig Leaves

We next consider the events which followed immediately upon the Fall and which lead up to the first announcement of the promise of the gospel by the Lord God.

We must bear in mind that at this point sin had become an accomplished fact, and that, too, for the entire world of mankind. This was not accomplished merely through the fall of Eve, but certainly when she had given of the fruit of the forbidden tree to Adam and when he had also eaten with her – in whatever manner her temptation of him may have taken place. For it was through Adam, not through Eve, that sin entered into the world. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and also death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). In Adam’s guilt lies the guilt of all. In his corruption lies the corruption of all. In his first sin is the sin of all as a root.*

It is not so easy to construe a somewhat intelligible picture in our mind of Adam’s spiritual condition at this time. On the one hand, it is evident that he died. This was, according to the Word of God, connected with the tree of knowledge of good and evil, a word which could not fail to be carried out. Death worked in Adam and Eve. Man had lost all his excellent gifts: his knowledge, his righteousness, and his holiness. He had lost the image of God. Not only did he lose that image, but it was perverted into its very opposite. Through his sin man brought upon himself corruption, darkness, misery, enmity of God. As the Canons of Dordrecht put it: “… revolting from God by the instigation of the devil, and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and on the contrary entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections” (III, IV/l). Gone were man’s integrity and happiness. Of the sharp and radical contrast between his fallen estate and his former integrity and happiness, Adam must have been painfully conscious.

On the other hand, there must have been an immediate operation of grace also. This was not an operation of so-called common grace. For the grace of God is never common, any more than God is common. Nor does the fact of this immediate operation of grace imply that Adam did not die, for die he did. Nor do we speak of an immediate operation of grace because of the fact that Adam did not change into a beast or into a devil, or become the Antichrist, or any such thing. All these suggestions – which have sometimes been made – reveal an incorrect understanding both of the nature of man and of his fall into sin and death, as well as an incorrect view of the grace of God. The rational, moral creature, man, remains a man; he cannot possibly become a beast or a devil, whether in the state of original righteousness or in the fallen condition or the saved state. Sin and death did not change essentially the nature of man, nor the individual human nature of Adam. Man remains man, and Adam remained Adam. Through the Fall Adam became exactly the sinner which he could become in his own place and circumstances at the dawn of history.

But grace, just grace – forgiving, everlasting, sovereign lovingkindness, longing to save the creature in himself lost and dead – that grace spread over Adam and Eve, operating in them as a spiritual power, and serving to maintain God’s covenant.

Indeed, the devil must have had the surprise, the first surprise, of his life when he saw what took place after the temptation. Things certainly did not go at all according to the devil’s plan after he had succeeded in tempting first Eve and then Adam.

This was because, as we have repeatedly emphasized, God had His eternal counsel. According to that counsel He eternally willed to save His own. Christ, as it were, stood behind Adam to catch him when he fell. It is as our Confession of Faith puts it in Article 17: “We believe that our most gracious God, in His admirable wisdom and goodness, seeing that man had thus thrown himself into temporal and eternal death, and made himself wholly miserable, was pleased to seek and comfort him, when he trembling fled from His presence, promising him that He would give His Son, who should be made of a woman, to bruise the head of the serpent, and would make him happy.”

Both of these elements, that of the reality of sin and yet that of the reality of grace breaking through, must be remembered if we are to understand the narrative here in Genesis 3. Hence, God, not man, is on the foreground in this narrative. The chief thought of this narrative is that of the Lord coming to seek and to save His own. The various elements in the record of this passage must all be seen in this light.

Scripture calls attention, first of all, to the vain attempt of Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness with aprons of fig leaves. Thus we read in Genesis 3:7: “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”

This does not mean, as the evolutionary theory would have it, that originally their eyes were closed to their nakedness and that they lived in a condition of a kind of childish innocence and naivete, but that now they passed from this state of childlike ignorance and developed into moral maturity and moral self-consciousness. Or this means as they developed from this state of semi-animal savagery they attained to a state of primitive civilization in which they also began to make and to use clothing to cover their nakedness, sewing aprons of fig leaves for themselves. Thus, this has sometimes been explained. But this is not true, in the light of Scripture. In their original state they also knew that they were naked; but they were not ashamed because there was no sin, because they were conscious of being wholly pure before one another and before the Lord.

But now, after they have sinned, their eyes were opened in the sense that, they realized their sinful condition. They became conscious of the fact that their bodies were the instruments of sin and lust, and they sought to cover their nakedness before one another and before God with their self-made aprons of fig leaves. Originally they were holy. In that state also they were naked. But their bodies were the instruments of holiness, and there was no need for shame either before one another or beforeGod. Through sin their bodies became subject to sin and death; their bodies became the instruments of corruption and lust. Spiritually their eyes became closed, closed to righteousness and holiness, both with respect to God and with respect to one another. As moral, rational creatures, possessing a knowledge of the difference between good and evil and a knowledge of the shamefulness of sin, they became conscious now of this fact that their bodies were the instruments of sin and corruption. They looked upon one another with sinful, lustful eyes. .Each was aware that the other thus looked upon him.

Moreover, as Scripture makes plain in Genesis 3:10, they were above all aware of the nakedness of their sin before God. This was, after all, the chief element. Adam himself expresses it when the Lord calls to him: “And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And the Lord in His question to Adam very pointedly connects this consciousness of his nakedness on Adam’s part with his eating of the tree whereof God had commanded him not to eat. They became aware, therefore, in their inmost soul that they were exposed before .the eyes of the Lord in their sin and shame.

But this was also true in their relation to one another. Adam and Eve became polluted in their very bodies by the ugliness of sin and death, and they were aware of it. Adam and Eve mutually were aware that their bodies, corrupted as they were by the spiritual ugliness of sin, were the instruments of sin over against one another. We must remember that, as they were now by nature, Adam and Eve did not love one another any longer. They were filled with hatred, not only against God but against one another. As such, Adam looked upon Eve not in love, but in hatred. He could see in her only an object of his lust, and could only be aware that she saw him in the same manner.

We must remember, however, that this so-called natural shame is not the expression of any remnant of good that is left in man after the Fall. It can hardly be said that in these first reactions of Adam and Eve, in their attempt to cover themselves and to hide from the presence of the Lord, there were signs of the operation of God’s grace. There was fear, not sorrow and repentance, in these actions. It is perfectly true that this fear and this natural shame presuppose a knowledge of the wrongness and the shamefulness of sin. This is a matter of mere natural light, however, not of grace. There is no godly sorrow, no sorrow after God, in it.

Fact is that unless the power of God’s grace takes hold of sin, the natural man subverts even that natural light and holds it under in unrighteousness. When, however, the power of God’s grace takes hold of that same knowledge of the difference between good and evil and changes the spiritual direction of the mind and will, then a man no longer subverts it in unrighteousness, but he is led to true sorrow after God, to repentance, to contrition, to confession.

And we must remember that this was the direction in which the Lord God, through all these events, was leading Adam and Eve, even though at this point they were not aware of God’s grace and did not evince any spiritual knowledge of sin and any hearty confession. First, they must learn to know by experience the vanity of their own foolish coverings of fig leaves.

For sinful and foolish those aprons of fig leaves certainly were, and utterly vain.

Even though the principle of grace was already present in their hearts, and even though they fell on Christ, so that they did not perish immediately, nevertheless the operation of this principle of grace did not become manifest and was not yet a matter of their consciousness; rather, the power of their sinful nature dominated their actions. Those fig leaves represented the desire and the attempt on the part of Adam and Eve to cover up sin’s pollution and death’s ugliness by a covering of their own making. This is always foolish and vain. How could fig leaves or any other homemade cloak ever conceal them and make them any less naked before the Lord? Their real problem did not lie in the body, but in their heart. The solution was not the superficiality of an outward covering of clothing for their physical bodies. But the solution was the removal of their inner, spiritual guilt and pollution before the eyes of God who knows the heart and sees the inward parts of a man. This is possible only through the blood of atonement, which man can never provide, but which God provides for those whom He seeks and saves.

But that foolish and vain attempt of Adam and Eve is nevertheless always the foolishness of the natural man. He realizes that something is wrong with him; this, he can never escape. But he attempts of himself to cover up the nakedness of his own sin. He may employ fig-leaf aprons of Pharisaistic self-righteousness and work-righteousness. He may fast, and he may pay tithes, and he may make sacrifices, and he may do many mighty works. He may engage in philanthropy and in humanistic charity, bequeathing the millions that are the fruit of his covetousness in exercising the tender mercies of the wicked, which are cruel. But all his works of righteousness are so many fig leaves. He may employ fig-leaf aprons of his humanistic civilization and his programs of social reform and improvement. ‘He may fight poverty and crime. He may strive to raise the standard of living and improve his environment. He may educate himself and his fellow man. He may expend mighty efforts for world peace. But in all these he fails. He does not get at the root of his problem, the nakedness of his sin, his guilt and his corruption in which he stands exposed before a holy Lord God. He remains in the vain circle of sin and death. You cannot cleanse and purify a well by washing the pump handle. You cannot deceive the Holy One by covering up the spots of the leopard. You cannot hide the sinner by a nice suit of clothes.

Adam and Eve, according to the purpose of God’s grace, must first be made to learn that their own aprons of fig leaves cannot prevent them from being afraid in the presence of the Lord, because they cannot of themselves cover the ugliness of the guilt and corruption of their sin before the eyes of Him with whom they have to do. Their aprons of fig leaves are utterly vain because they are transparent before the eyes of God. The Lord purposes to lead them ultimately along this way to the knowledge that they must be clothed with, robes, spiritual robes, of righteousness through the power of His promise and through the blood of atonement. 

* Professor Hoeksema’s extended treatment of the relation between Adam’s sin and the human race will follow this explanation of the Fall of man as an appendix, “Adam and the Race.” – E d .