God is really good as asking “rhetorical” questions. He already knows the answers to these, but wants to see how the guilty party will answer. In Numbers 22 we’ll see God ask Balaam, “what do these people want from you?” He already knows the answer. He does this with Cain when he asks him where his brother Abel is. When Moses hesitated to accept God’s call to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, God asks Moses, “What is that you have in your hand?” God knows it’s a staff!  Also in Genesis 18 we’ll see God ask Abraham “where is your wife Sarah?” All the while, he knew that she was in the tent. In Genesis 3:9 we see the first of such questions when we read, “But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘where are you?’” God knows that Adam is hiding from him. He was calling out to bring to our attention that the couple had never hid from him before. It might be understood as a question regarding “why” they are hiding. Well, that’s the way Adam will answer the question.

Back in Genesis chapter two, God had given Adam the instructions about all the food in the Garden. Only Adam heard the restriction against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So, when God came to confront them, he called out to Adam alone. In the Hebrew text, the expression ‘the man’ and the pronouns ‘him’ and ‘you’ are all singular. Although it’s being heavily criticized today most commentators still see Adam as the responsible party. Dennis Rainey, in his family ministry says, “Even though Eve had sinned first, God first summoned Adam to give account for what had happened. This suggests that Adam was the one primarily accountable for what had happened in his family. …By contrast, the serpent spoke to Eve first (Gen. 3:1), trying to get her to take responsibility for leading the family into sin, thus inverting the order that God had established at creation.”[1]

Many see the question itself as an accusation. But I think it has a different overtone. God is calling out to man with Grief. In Genesis six we read that God looked down upon the world of mankind and saw the wickedness and “it grieved him to his heart.” Gowan argues, “If the story is to have its proper effect on us, we ought to see ourselves there among the trees. That is, we ought to recognize our own pitiful defenses thrown up to attempt to justify ourselves against a God of whom … the relationship has not been broken off completely, for it is maintained by a sorrowing God.”[2] In Hebrew the name “Adam” can refer to the entire human race. Neusner says to the question that God asks Adam, all “…human beings must render an answer. Any person can answer that question, and in that answer each one defines himself or herself as religious, atheistic, agnostic, or pantheistic.”[3] Today, we can hear God calling to us in the universal invitation of Jesus. Wallmark writes, “Thus God’s call ‘Where are you?’ to the first Adam, becomes universalized in Jesus, the second Adam, through whom his redemptive pursuit of the entire race is consummated. That salvific mission is also revealed in the name Yeshua/Joshua/Jesus—’Jehovah is salvation’ (Matt. 1:21).”[4]

[1] Rainey, Dennis, ed. 2002. Building Strong Families. Foundations for the Family Series. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Gowan, Donald E. 1988. From Eden to Babel: A Commentary on the Book of Genesis 1–11. International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

[3] Neusner, Jacob, Alan J. Avery-Peck, and William Scott Green, eds. 2000. In The Encyclopedia of Judaism, 2:1020. Leiden; Boston; Köln: Brill.

[4] Wallmark, Leonard S. 1996. “Name.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic ed., 551. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.