Fig Leaves or Animal Skins

Time to read: 4 mins

Read through Genesis 3.

This well-known chapter describes the tragic fall of Adam and Eve (and with them the whole human race). As the chapter starts, they are living innocently in the Garden of Eden, enjoying a close relationship with God. Just 24 verses later they have lost their innocence, ruined their relationship with God, and been thrown out of the beautiful garden that was their home.

It’s a passage that while full of sadness and even despair, is at the same time full of hope. A thread runs right through the Bible, the story of God’s great plan of redemption to rescue fallen humanity. The chapter we’re studying explains why we need rescuing, hints at what God’s plan is and illustrates several fundamental Christian doctrines.

Strange as it may seem, the illustration is focused on clothing.


In verses 1-6 we read how the Devil through the serpent deceived Adam and Eve, first persuading them to doubt what God had told them and then to openly disobey him. Satan is the father of lies, and he uses this same strategy to great effect today, mainly by convincing people that God does not exist.

Verse 7 then tells us something interesting, ‘And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked‘. Doesn’t it seem strange that following their sin, the first thing Adam and Eve realised is that they were naked? They had been naked since they were first created and obviously would have been aware of this. But now it becomes a problem for them. Why? Adam and Eve’s nakedness was symbolic of their guilt before God. They were no longer innocent and felt that to be naked was unseemly. They realised that they had sinned, and begun to understand what that would cost them. They had lost their righteousness and remembered God’s promise that if they ate the forbidden fruit they would die (Genesis 2:7). In a futile attempt to fix things, Adam and Eve made themselves clothes out of fig leaves to cover up their nakedness.

Hiding from a Holy God

In verses 8-11, God comes into the garden to speak with Adam and Eve. When they hear God, they are afraid of what he will do because of their sin, and they hide from him. However, no one can hide from God. Adam and Eve had to confess what they had done, and interestingly, admit to God that they hid because they were naked. They were ashamed of their nakedness in front of each other, but even more so before a holy God. This is always true; when we realise that we are sinners and understand that God is holy, we too want to hide and will try to find ways to cover up our guilt.

Hope in Despair

In verses 12-19, Adam blames Eve for his sin, and Eve blames the serpent. God then pronounces different curses on each of them. Adam and Eve are told that they will from now on suffer pain and hardship; life will be tough and one day they will die. However, let’s focus on what God tells the serpent in verses 14 and 15. God cursed him as a literal animal. Throughout history snakes have been feared, hated and attacked by humans, the reason is in these verses. Figuratively though, the snake represented the Devil, and to a greater extent, the curse applied to him – one day the woman’s descendant would ‘bruise his head’. So, there is great hope in this passage, which in verse 15 contains the first prophecy of the Messiah. It is where God initially outlines that he has a plan for defeating the devil and redeeming his people. He is telling Adam and Eve (and us) that there will be a way to escape his deserved anger against sin.

Animal Skins

Remember the fig leaves back in verse 7; while these had partially covered Adam and Eve’s physical nakedness, symbolically they hadn’t been able to cover up their guilt before God. In verse 21 God does something about this. ‘Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.‘ God himself provided them with clothes, but this time made from animal skins. There is a lot to learn from this.

  1. Nothing we can do can ever fix the problem of our sin. Fig leaves represented Adam and Eve’s own attempts at covering their guilt and making themselves righteous. Anything we do like this will be as doomed to failure, when we come into the presence of God, as Adam and Eve’s leaves. Trying to make ourselves good, or thinking that we’re not too bad, will be fatal. We need God to provide a way of salvation for us.
  2. God’s solution for sin involves the shedding of blood. To make clothes of animal skins, the lives of those animals had to be sacrificed. We’re told in Hebrews 9:22 that ‘without shedding of blood there is no remission [of sin],’ something that links very closely with the gospel prophecy in Genesis 3:15 and the bruising of the promised Messiah’s heel. This was fulfilled both on the cross when Jesus suffered and died to make atonement for his people’s sins, then in the empty tomb when he rose from the dead. Jesus’ heel was bruised, but through this the devil had his head crushed and his final defeat confirmed (Hebrews 2:14).
  3. Not only do we need be forgiven for our sins, but we also need to be made righteous. Jesus lived a sinless life, and his perfect righteousness is imputed to his people. In the Garden of Eden, the animal skins represented this. How much better they were than fig leaves. How infinitely better Jesus’s righteousness is than our own.


The doctrines of the atonement through the shedding of blood, and imputed righteousness, are vital elements in the doctrine of justification. It’s incredibly encouraging to see how these threads weave together right from the beginning of the Bible. To paraphrase Saint Augustine, ‘The New is in the Old concealed. The Old is in the New revealed.’

[A00091 – 24/10/2019]

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