The Problem with Fig Leaves

In the beginning, God created the world and its inhabitants, and all was spectacularly perfect. And God created two special beings in His own image and placed them in a beautiful garden, filled with trees that were pleasant to the sight and good for food. Along with the trees that provided regular sustenance, there was also a tree of life and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And God gave man a very simple, clear command: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.

One day a shining serpent appeared and began to prey on the woman’s inner desire for that one forbidden thing, subtly twisting God’s words and craftily mixing truth with error. The woman did not stop to seek her husband’s advice or remember God’s actual words, but quickly gave into her desire for that forbidden fruit. She ate some and shared it with her husband, in clear disobedience to God’s command.

As they ate, they indeed gained the “knowledge of good and evil,” as the tree was so aptly named. Their bodies, and the world itself, immediately felt the presence of sin and started to die. They lost a glorious sense of moral innocence and spiritual purity, suddenly becoming aware of physical imperfection which had not previously existed. In an attempt to cover their loss and hide their shame, they gathered together fig leaves and sewed them into apron-like garments.

When the Spirit of God came to fellowship with them, the man and his wife shamefully hid themselves from His presence. They knew they had sinned. They were ashamed. They were guilty. They could not bear to be seen in the glorious light of a holy presence. They hid their bodies, and hid their presence… or at least they tried to.

God called to them and they finally answered, eventually acknowledging their disobedience. It’s important to note that they did not repent of their transgression — they admitted their actions in embarrassment, but showed no remorse for rebelling against their Creator.

In God’s righteousness, He banished the man and woman from the Garden and condemned them — along with all mankind — to a life of suffering and death as a result of that act of rebellion. He rejected their attempts to cover their sin, and instead shed the blood of an animal to provide garments of skin for their bodies. In His justice, He cursed the form of the serpent and condemned the devil to a future total destruction. But in His mercy, He promised a future Redeemer who would triumph over the devil and provide mankind with a way of eternal deliverance.

Genesis 3 is a pivotal chapter in both the history and hope of mankind. Not only do we see the first instance of sin in the world, we also receive the first promise of future redemption!

But in the middle of that chapter lies a very interesting detail that we often overlook:

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.
And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Genesis 3:7

Let’s talk about those fig leaves for a moment.

What’s the significance of that little part of the story?

When Adam and Eve realized their state of nakedness, their first instinct was to cover up. Yet we know that they were not truly repentant for their rebellion: they were merely ashamed and embarrassed. So they sewed coverings, not because they saw themselves as sinful, but to assuage their sense of guilt and shame.

They probably had no idea they should use anything other than leaves. They had never seen death. They didn’t understand the function of blood. The idea of slaughtering animals to sew coverings of skin would never have occurred to them.

How like us, in our sinful state. 

We choose our way instead of God’s way because it sounds easy and looks appealing. But when we willfully transgress the law, we experience guilt. We often feel embarrassed or ashamed.

I love how Martyn Lloyd-Jones expounds on this in The Gospel in Genesis:

Has it ever occurred to you that in that one phrase you have a complete summation of the whole history of civilization? What have men and women been doing in this supposed civilization? They have simply been sewing together fig leaves to hide their own nakedness–that is precisely the meaning of what we call ‘civilization.'”

He goes on to suggest various thing ways mankind has tried to regain what we’ve lost — things like immersion in culture, pursuit of knowledge, pure philosophy, political legislation, even religious experiences and rituals — everything but “the God from whom they have departed.” But all these things fall short:

They are trying somehow or other, by their own efforts, to make up the deficiency, the sense of something lost, something they still need and cannot find.”

Even once we’ve trusted in Christ’s perfect sacrifice for our eternal salvation, how often do we still try to cover our sins with flimsy fig leaves? We talk ourselves into transgressing God’s law then scramble to cover it up by putting on a good front, or immersing ourselves in distraction, or rejecting the idea of sin altogether. Yet by doing so, we’re only showing our guilt more spectacularly!

For instance:

  • We ignore the Word that speaks truth to us, and refuse to communicate with God through prayer.
  • We avoid fellowship with those who are walking with God, and refuse to participate in times of corporate worship.
  • We assume a false sense of piety, doing more and more good works to make up for the bad things we’ve done.
  • We engross ourselves in work or pleasure to ignore the guilt, or distract ourselves with entertainment (television, video games, novels).
  • We try to blend in with the world so we don’t feel so bad about our failure, or simply immerse ourselves altogether in sinful living.

These evasions and excuses are flimsy and inadequate. They do nothing to erase our rebellion, and they don’t even come close to assuaging our guilty consciences! Our efforts to make ourselves look and feel better all fall short of what is required to regain our lost sense of purity.

That’s what Adam and Eve did. They chose to rebel, then made a mess of trying to cover up that rebellion. But their fig leaves didn’t fool anyone, least of all God Himself. 

God rejected those coverings, shedding the blood of an innocent animal to make new coverings for their sin — a startling introduction to His plan of redemption, in which an eternally perfect God-Man would shed His perfect blood upon Calvary, taking on the sins of the world and offering eternal redemption for those who repent and trust in His provision.

The Problem with Fig Leaves

We cannot hide from God’s holiness. Our fig-leaf coverings of evasions and excuses are worthless. At best, they give us a false sense of security. At worst, they preach a false gospel to those around us.

As the Apostle Peter stated: “And there is salvation in no one else: for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.” For Christians and non-Christians alike, “There is nothing and no one under heaven today able to meet your need except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones).

Only Jesus can save us from eternal damnation.
Only Jesus can satisfy our need for hope and healing, covering and cleansing.
Only Jesus can free us from guilt and provide us with a new robe of righteousness.


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2 thoughts on “The Problem with Fig Leaves

  1. I LOVE this! SO beautiful! All of it 🙂 I just read parts of Genesis 3 with my kids as we were studying Adam and Eve and we talked about their coverings but I didn’t go into detail about the fig leaves. Think I’ll read parts of your blog post to them this week 🙂 A lot here to think about and ponder and be thankful for!

    1. So I actually wrote this post back in October, but was waiting until the “right time” to publish it. Love that God prompted to share it this week, so you could use it to teach your kids. I hope it’s helpful! 🙂

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