After the judgments were pronounced on Eve with “hard labor” in child bearing and on Adam with “hard labor” in working the fields, God, in his wonderful grace, made provision for them. He replaced the flimsy leaf covering that they made for themselves with a covering made of skin. Genesis 3:21 says, “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” In ancient Jewish tradition there are some weird commentaries regarding this verse. Rashi says, “Some midrashim say that garments as smoother as one’s fingernails were attached to their own skin. Rashbam says that the text simply means that God made clothes that were to cover their “skin.” Ibn Ezra suggests that man consisted of just flesh and bone, but now God covered them with skin. Kimhi says that some think God made their garments from the skin of the serpent. One argued it was the soft, smooth skin of rabbits. Although he acknowledges that the clothes were indeed garments of “skin”, Ephrem (An ancient Syrian commentator) suggests, “The garments of skin were probably created by God, and no animal was killed in the presence of Adam and Eve to provide them with clothes.”[1] Gregory of Nyssa thinks that the practice of circumcision is related to this idea of “skin.” He says, “Circumcision means the casting off of the dead skins which we put on when we had been stripped of the supernatural life after the transgression.”[2] I believe God killed an animal. The whole sacrificial system which Moses will introduce involves animal being sacrificed to make “atonement” for sin. That word “atonement” means “covering.” Regardless of what animal was used, we must remember that Adam had named them all. He knew the animal by name that God slaughtered, skinned, tanned, and clothed them with. This, in itself, must have been traumatic. Death, for the first time, has come to paradise! It came just as God said it would!

The text doesn’t tell us specifically what animal or animals were used to make clothes for them, but traditionally it has been believed that it was a lamb according to Christian history. John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and called him the “Lamb of God” which will make atonement for the sins of the whole world. Niehaus affirms this in his commentary. He writes, “The church has long understood the skins to anticipate the Mosaic sacrificial system and, ultimately, the sacrifice of Christ, because ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins,’ and blood had to be shed for the skin garments to be prepared. Surely, this understanding has merit.”[3]

We try to “cover” our sins with fig leaves. We think that we can make up for our weaknesses, sins and failures by making some kind of sacrifice ourselves or by doing some kind of good work. We revert to some religious observation thinking that God will forgive us based on our actions. But Kissling has this right: “The material used to meet that desire, fig leaves, is pitifully inadequate. When we as men and women try to fix our problems by ourselves which our sins against God have brought upon us, our remedies are just as pitiful. Fig leaves will serve as clothing no better than our own self-help strategies. [4] Boice explains this well. He writes, “But the glory of the gospel is that God deals with the guilt. He deals with it in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, which is what the killing of the animals and the clothing of the man and the woman with their skins anticipate. Sin is real. But the atonement is also real. There has been a true restitution. The penalty accruing to sin has been paid. Now God clothes those who believe in Christ with Christ’s righteousness.”[5]

[1] Louth, Andrew, and Marco Conti, eds. 2001. Genesis 1–11. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] Gregory of Nyssa. 1978. Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses. Edited by Richard J. Payne. Translated by Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson. The Classics of Western Spirituality. New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

[3] Niehaus, Jeffrey J. 2014. Biblical Theology: The Common Grace Covenants. Vol. 1. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[4] Kissling, Paul J. 2004–. Genesis. The College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.

[5] Boice, James Montgomery. 1998. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.