Skin or Fig Leaves
The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
We have already seen that there are no unrelated thoughts in the Word of God, only in our own understanding of those thoughts, and we have looked at Genesis 3:20 as an example. At first glance, the naming of Eve by Adam seems to be entirely unconnected with what has gone before; it does not seem to follow on God’s judgment of the serpent, Eve, and Adam. Yet it is related, as we have seen, and so is the verse to which we come now. In fact, taken together these verses contain the first example in the Bible of what has come to be called in theology the ordo salutis or “steps of salvation.”
In its full form the ordo salutis has many parts, for the steps by which a man or woman is brought to faith and is sustained in faith are many. The beginning point is election. Verses like John 1:13 and James 1:18 put the determination of God to save a particular individual before the person’s rebirth. John 3:3, 5 speak of “seeing” and “entering” the kingdom of God and show that these are not possible until one is born again. They correspond to conviction of sin and quickening of faith in Christ. In 1 John 3:9 we read of sanctification. Romans 8:28–30 add justification and glorification, and these verses say, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” If these various steps are put together, the sequence is: foreknowledge, predestination, effectual calling, rebirth, faith and repentance, justification, sanctification, and glorification.
Not all these steps are present in Genesis 3, of course. But the suggestion of a sequence is there, as I have indicated. The sequence is: conviction of sin, following on the pronouncement of judgment by God; faith, expressed in the naming of Eve by Adam; and now, finally, justification, symbolized by the clothing of Adam and Eve with the skins of animals. It is because of the faith of Adam, disclosed in verse 20, that God does what verse 21 records.
Need for Clothing
There are four points to be made about God’s clothing of Adam and his wife in skins. First, a covering of some sort was needed. We hear people speak of prostitution as the oldest human profession, but they are wrong when they say this. Their view throws light on the guilt with which our contemporaries view many sexual relations, but it is misleading. The oldest of all professions is not prostitution but the clothing industry. Later, sin showed itself in sexual sins among others. But we are told in Genesis that the first effect of sin was the opening of the eyes of Adam and Eve to perceive their nakedness, in response to which “they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Gen. 3:7). God confirmed this need when he made garments from the skins of animals.
I do not need to repeat the details of this principle, which we considered earlier in our treatment of Genesis 2:25 (“Camelot, O Camelot”) and Genesis 3:7 (“Carnal Knowledge”), except to say that the nakedness of Adam and Eve, which required clothing, was psychological as well as physical. That is, it was related to sin and the fact that as a result of sin the man and woman now stood in a wrong relationship to God, one another, and themselves. They felt exposed. The psychological exposure was intolerable. So they tried to cover themselves up. In the beginning they used fig leaves. Later, when God appeared in the garden to confront them with their sin, they used evasions, excuses, and at last tried to put the blame on God.
People do the same today. They use clothes and other means, but the underlying desire is to appear as something they are not. They want to hide their shame and put on a front before others.
The second point to be made about this verse is that the coverings we are capable of making for ourselves are inadequate. This is seen in the case of Adam and Eve, but it is evident of us all.
The most common covering is good works. We have many people coming to God like the moralist described by Paul in the second chapter of Romans (vv. 1–16). He is one who would readily agree with Paul’s description of the need of the pagan world. He would agree that it is indeed corrupt, in need of renewal. But he would exclude himself from Paul’s description, claiming that he is better by virtue of his moral attainments. “I am not corrupt,” he would maintain. “I want to be accepted by God on the basis of my good works.”
God’s judgment is that a man’s good works are fig leaves (Eph. 2:8–9).
It is not that good works are without value from a human point of view. It is just that they are no good from God’s point of view, and that is because they do not deal with the basic sin problem. Good works are a bit like Monopoly© money. It is good for the game of Monopoly©, but it is no good in the real world. Suppose your family has a good Monopoly© player and that every time you play the game this person tends to accumulate all the property and collect all the money. Suppose further that after one of these games he takes his Monopoly© money and goes down to the First National Bank to open an account. He steps up to the teller and says, “I’d like to open an account in your bank.”
“Very good,” says the teller. “How much would you like to deposit?”
“$472,984!” He pushes the Monopoly© money across the counter. If that ever happened, I am sure the teller would quickly call someone to come and take this person away. Monopoly© money serves well in the game of Monopoly©, but it has no value in the real world. In the same way, although good works are sufficient to make ourselves acceptable before other men and women, they are not sufficient to gain an acceptable standing before God.
There is another type of person, which Paul also discusses (Rom. 2:17–29). He is a religious person. His confidence is in the careful performance of his religious duties. “I keep the law,” he would say. “I have been baptized, confirmed. I teach in Sunday school; I serve on the church boards; I pay my tithe.”
God says that these are fig leaves too, no less than the pagan’s good works.
“But why?” someone asks. “Aren’t the sacraments, Christian education, tithing, and service good things?” Yes, they are. Later in Romans Paul is going to say, using the most eminently religious person of his day, the Jew, as an example, “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised” (Rom. 9:4–5). Paul means that there are great advantages in the outward forms of true religion, primarily because they are intended to lead us to Christ. But they are useless so far as our standing before God is concerned, because they do nothing about the state of our heart. (“A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit,” Rom. 2:28–29.)
Years ago, when I lived in Switzerland, I got an illustration of this principle from the Salvation Army. Each year at Fashnacht, the Swiss equivalent of the Mardi Gras, the citizens of Basel (where I lived) donned masks and costumes and presumably did things, covered by their masks, that they would not normally do at other times of the year. I say “presumably” because the Swiss themselves presumed so and made many jokes about it. They would joke about how many illegitimate babies would be born nine months after Fashnacht, to give just one example. Each year at this time the Salvation Army would advertise on billboards throughout the city. The advertisements would display the Salvation Army seal, a number where it could be reached, and then in large letters this inscription: Gott sieht hinter deine Maske. That means “God sees behind your mask.” And it is true. He does. Therefore, the outward acts of religion without Christ are just fig leaves.
“But,” says someone, “I have worked hard at self-reformation. I used to be a drunkard, and I shook the habit of drink and now have a good job and …”
“Fig leaves,” says God.
“But I read my Bible every day and I go to church twice on Sunday and I always try to say hello to the person sitting next to me in the pew and …”
“Fig leaves,” says God.
“But I give to the United Fund.”
“I give blood.”
“I … I …”
“Fig leaves,” says God. “These are all fig leaves. None of them deal adequately with sin.”
Covering of Skins
The third and main point of our text is that God must provide the covering, for only God is adequate to deal with the sin problem. The text says, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (v. 21).
It does not say here what animals God killed to get the skins with which he then clothed Adam and Eve. But I tend to think, though this is a guess and may well be wrong, that the animals were probably lambs and that the skins were lambskins. This incident is meant to point to Jesus as our only sufficient Savior and to his righteousness as our covering. Jesus is pictured as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). During those long ages before the coming of Jesus, when the promises of his coming were passed on from generation to generation among those who waited for it, the promises in the words of Scripture were preserved upon skins, generally lambskins, which were carefully prepared and sewn together to make large rolls of writing known as scrolls. With this imagery and practical matter to go on, it is reasonable to suppose that God killed lambs to clothe our first parents. But whatever the case, we are to know that God killed animals, made garments from their skins, and then clothed Adam and Eve after taking their inadequate fig-leaf clothes from them.
Death for Life
This brings us to the fourth and final point: in order for Adam and Eve to be clothed in the skins of animals the animals had to die. In a similar way, in order for us to be clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is what the skins symbolize, Jesus had to die. The Bible says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). It was necessary for the innocent One to die in order that the guilty might live.
This truth must have appeared quite wonderful when it was first revealed to Eve and Adam. They had been warned that they were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil upon penalty of death. God had said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16–17). Yet up to this point no one had died. Adam and Eve had sinned. They must have expected death as the immediate penalty for their sin. When God came to them in the garden they must have shivered at the prospect of this judgment. But they did not die (though their spirits died, which they showed by attempting to run away from God when he called them). In fact, not even the serpent died. Up to this point there had been no death at all. And now, the death that occurs is not their death, though they richly deserved it, but the death of innocent animals—lambs. And the One who killed those animals was God.
Two thoughts must have gone through Adam’s and Eve’s minds. First, an instinctive horror of death. “So this is what death is,” they must have exclaimed as they looked down in horror at the bodies of the slain animals. “How horrible!” In that instant it must have dawned on them that if death is the result of sin (“the wages of sin is death”), then sin is far worse than they could possibly have imagined it to be. And they must have determined, so far as possible, to refuse to sin and to be obedient to God.
The second thought, mingling with their awareness of sin’s horror, must have been a deep and growing wonder at the mercy of God who, though he had every right to take their lives in forfeit of his broken commandment and had said that death must follow sin, was nevertheless showing that it was possible for an innocent victim to die instead.
We know as we look back on this event from the perspective of later revelation that it was not the blood of the slain animals that actually took away the sin of Eve and Adam. It was not the death of animals that permitted God to forgive sin and proclaim sinners just. The only death that could possibly do that was the death of Jesus, and the only blood that could cleanse was his blood. On the other hand, we understand that the death of the animals pointed to his death.
On this occasion, God was showing that it was possible for one animal, an innocent substitute, to die for one sinning individual—one animal for Eve, one animal for Adam. Later in Jewish history, at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, God commanded each Jewish family to take a lamb into the house, examine it for the space of three days, kill it, and then spread its blood on the doorposts and lintel of the house as a sign to the angel of death, who that night would pass through the entire land and slay the firstborn of every household that was not so covered. This was the Passover, and the symbolism was now broadened to show how one animal could die for one family. A little later, when God gave the law, he also gave instructions for the Day of Atonement, on which day the high priest was to kill an animal on behalf of the nation and then sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant within the Holy of Holies of the Jewish tabernacle. Now it is one animal for one nation. At last the day came when John the Baptist was standing beside the Jordan and, seeing Jesus, pointed him out for the benefit of his disciples, saying, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
One substitute for one individual, one substitute for one family, one substitute for one nation, one substitute for the world!
That is God’s religion. It is the only religion by which anyone is ever going to get to heaven. In the last analysis there really are only two religions, whatever nation, tribe, place, or period of history you consider. There is the religion of fig leaves, the religion of works. Or there is the religion of skins, the religion of God’s perfect provision through the death of Christ.
Most people come to God with fig leaves. They may not be much; but they are something they have done for themselves, and they want God to recognize them. They will acknowledge his grace, they will accept his help—so long as there is that little bit of their own good works mixed with it. But this is precisely what God will not accept. Good works may please other men and women; fig leaves may look beautiful. But they will not please God because there has been no death, and “the wages of sin is death.” If you have been coming to God with fig leaves—if you are coming with fig leaves now—I urge you to throw them aside, admit they are useless, and accept the clothing God offers. Then the nakedness of your sin will be covered, and you will be able to sing with the redeemed from every place and century:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
And especially the last verse:
When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found,
Dressed in his righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
Do not delay! The Lord told a story about a man who came to a king’s feast without a wedding garment. He said, “When the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:11–14). Actually, all are invited. The question is: Are you among the chosen? Are you clothed with the righteousness of Christ?
21 In striking contrast to God’s rest in ch. 2, after God’s judgment of the man and woman, the narrative returns to God at work: “The Lord God made [wayyaʿaś] garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” After—and because of—the fall, there is still work to be done. The specification of the type of clothing that God makes—“garments of skin [ʿôr],” i.e., tunics—recalls the nakedness of the man and woman before the fall: they “were both naked [ʿarûmmîm], and they felt no shame” (2:25). There may also be some hint of the sacrificial slaying of the animals in making these garments of skin.
In the laws of the Pentateuch the people are instructed to make tunics for the priests who enter God’s presence at the tabernacle. The tunics are to cover the priests’ nakedness (ʿerwâ) lest they incur guilt and die (Ex 28:42). The author may be anticipating this “lasting ordinance” (28:43) in drawing attention to the importance of covering the nakedness of the man and the woman. The role of the priests as developed in the Pentateuch is thus foreshadowed in God’s past work—his work of restoring to man the blessing of his presence and fellowship.
3:21 / God graciously gave the couple garments of skin to replace the flimsy coverings they had made from fig leaves. These new garments clothed them, providing warmth and protection. God was preparing them for the harsher environment outside the garden as well as providing them sufficient covering to be in the divine presence. With this gift God, acting as their sustainer, expressed his intention to continue to support and fellowship with humans.
 Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (pp. 234–240). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Sailhamer, J. H. (2008). Genesis. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis–Leviticus (Revised Edition) (Vol. 1, p. 94). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Hartley, J. E. (2012). Genesis. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (p. 72). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.