Timothy S. Morton
An epiphany is generally described as an event or revelation that brings a new truth, fact, or understanding to a person. Webster states it as, "a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something." A true epiphany is such a remarkable revelation that it often affects one's basic understanding of reality. We have all had them, especially when we were children. Whether it is when a child first learns he is an individual like "mommy and daddy" by recognizing himself in a mirror, or when a grade-schooler discovers we live on a planet in the middle of a vast "space," or when a teenage boy get his first taste of "love," we all have experienced them.
Epiphanies are not all from positive situations, sometimes the most enduring stem from negative events, such as when one realizes a trusted spouse, relative, or friend has betrayed you or when a person truly realizes that he is a sinner before God.
One of the most notable epiphanies in the Scriptures is when the young man's "eyes" were opened and he saw a heavenly army surrounding Elisha (2Ki 6:17). That experience definitely left an indelible mark in that young man's heart and mind, but as remarkable as that event was there probably has never been any epiphanies more remarkable and far ranging than those experienced in a garden by the world's first couple around six millennia ago. These epiphanies not only "awed" and enlightened them, they should us as well.
Being created as a mature adult, Adam's days were filled with epiphanies. Imagine what it was like when he first opened his eyes fresh from creation and saw the world around him. With every turn of his head he was seeing something completely new. It could be that the first thing he saw was the face of his creator looking down at him. What an epiphany that would be! When Adam saw the animals, plants, sky, sun, moon, stars, and most definitely his new wife Eve, each was a revelation of the goodness, power, and wisdom of his God which he was unaware of before.
However, Adam soon learns that not all epiphanies are desirable. When he ate of the forbidden tree at the request of his "help meet," Eve, they both had an epiphany of a different sort. They instantly acquired a convicting conscience and gained the knowledge of evil. This knowledge so much affected their perception of righteousness and reality that they quickly tried to cover their guilty conscience with fig leaves (Gen 3:7).
Afterwards, when the Lord confronted them over their actions they most certainly had more negative epiphanies when the Lord pronounced his curses and judgments. If there was any doubt as to the seriousness of their actions before, all should be clear now. But in your author's mind the greatest epiphanies, a whole collection of them, occurred after the dust of judgment settled and the Lord did this,
Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. (Gen 3:21)
What a profound action of care and compassion from the Lord. Instead of turning His back on the sinning couple, he seeks to aid them; even comfort them, but when we read a little "between the lines" of the few words in verse 21 we understand the Lord was doing much more than just giving his human creation physical comfort; He was giving them, and us, one of the greatest object lessons in all of history, which should be an epiphany to us all.
Imagine the scene, after all that had befallen them with the curses, judgments, and newfound guilt, Adam and Eve were dumbfounded. As the Lord walked away from them deeper into the garden after pronouncing His judgments, all the couple could do was stand there inside their fig leaves and look at each other with disillusionment. After giving the couple some time to contemplate their plight, the Lord again appears from among the trees walking towards them with two sheep following Him. These are the same sheep that Adam and Eve watched for hours every day feeding and playing among all the other animals in their paradise.
Once the Lord came near to the fearful couple, He stopped and without
saying a word touched one of the innocent sheep and took out of
its body the breath of life he had previously given and it
collapsed dead at His feet. He did the same with the other sheep. Adam
and Eve were stunned and petrified. Never had they seen or even
comprehended such a thing as death. Adam immediately thinks back to
the words the Lord told him previously "...for in the day that
thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" and then begins to
understand what death is; the cessation of life (epiphany). And right
before Adam was about to ask the Lord "Are you going to do that to me,
too, Lord," the Lord picks up a sharp flint stone and begins slicing
open the belly of the first sheep revealing blood to all creation for
the first time.
Not only did Adam and Eve not know what blood was or what was inside a physical body, most likely neither did the "sons of God" who witnessed creation (Job 38:7). These heavenly creatures may have been just as shocked and mystified as their earthly counterparts, "What is the Lord doing...?" "He is killing what He created...."
With the skill only the Creator could have the Lord peeled the skin
from the two sheep's lifeless bodies with their white billowing wool
still attached. He meticulously and perfectly cut and sewed the skins
with sinew He extracted and formed warm and comfortable coats for them
both. He motions for Eve to come towards Him and has her discard her
patchwork of fig leaves. Then He picks up a newly formed coat and
drapes it around her body. Eve can still feel the remaining warmth
from the life of the sheep against HER naked skin. The Lord does the
same for Adam, and then without saying a word turns walking back
toward the trees...never to be seen by either again.
What a revelation! What a host of epiphanies! With the profound action of making the skins, the Lord showed all creation key attributes of his character that could not be otherwise seen. The Lord manifested His mercy, grace, compassion, and provision with the coats. Not only did God design and make the covering for their sin, He personally clothed them with it! He provided the source material (living animal), the labor (His OWN), and the application. The angels in heaven (as well as the serpent) may have been astonished at the provision the Lord had made for these rebellious humans, but they "hadn't seen nothin' yet." This act was only a shadow of the redemption He would personally accomplish later, Himself, on the cross.
Among other things, the coats were a constant reminder of the cost of sin to Adam and Eve. Every time they would put them on they would remember what it took to provide them. Later, when the skins eventually wore out and they needed new ones, Adam knew what he had to do to get them. This knowledge was passed on to their offspring and when Abel went to make an offering to the Lord, he knew what to bring. (Cain did, too, but refused.)
In the centuries since the Lord many other times reiterated the substitutionary death principle with Abraham (Gen 22), Moses, the whole Levitical sacrifice system, and culminating with the substitutionary death of Himself in the person of His son Jesus Christ. Since Adam had no covering for his shame, the Lord (and the sheep) provided a temporary one (Rev 16:15).
The epiphanies of that fateful day include,
Adam now understands the concept of death and of a substitute taking another's place. As we mentioned, he well remembers that the Lord told him "in the day" he eats of the tree he will "surely die," but he didn't physically die. What died was a healthy, innocent sheep in his place. The same Lord who proclaimed Adam's death must occur also provided a substitute to fulfill that demand, and this is one of the key truths the Lord wants to convey throughout the rest of the Bible.
Your author anticipates that there will be objections to what he has postulated above. One will be he has taken too many liberties with the text and added details that are not there. The author will agree that minor details have been added to advance the illustration, but he is convinced the major premises of sin, judgment, death, justice, mercy, compassion, and substitutionary covering and atonement are present.
It is very true that the animals may have not been sheep. They may have been goats or a completely different animal. The Lord may not have killed them by touch or skinned them with a flint, but they were killed and skinned in some manner. Some may insist that the Lord created the skins outright without the death of an animal, but this is counter to every principal and concept of life, death, atonement, and salvation found in the Scriptures.
Every instance of "skin(s)" found in the Bible refers to the skin of a living or once living creature. God does not create separate elements of a body, whether it be blood, organs, head, or skin, independent of that living body. To do so would be a misrepresentation. A stand-alone created skin "out of thin air" could not represent or manifest life or death. It could only represent deceit. That would imply God could merely decree salvation to sinners without having to actually purchase it with death (from life) or blood. That is not the case at all.
In recent years there has been a trend to dispute the penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) of Christ by claiming Christ merely died as an example of piety for us to admire, not to redeem us, but this is simply nonsense.
To your author the message of the "coats of skins" is clear. The Lord was beginning a salvation process in the garden that would take another 4000 years to come to culmination with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and will take another 3000+ years to come to full completion with the restitution of all things. The few and simple words of Genesis 3:21 starts it all, and show the kind and compassionate nature of the God of all creation.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)