Meredith Kline, in Images of the Spirit, has a wonderful exposition of the post-fall encounter of Adam and Eve with God. They had eaten of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; their eyes were opened and they sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness. The KJV (most other English versions are similar) renders the next verse: And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. The mental picture is often that of God in human form, perhaps the pre-incarnate Christ, strolling through the garden, taking in the fresh air. The discovery and judgment of Adam and Eve’s disobedience is cast as merely coincidental to this evening walk. Kline proposes another picture.
They heard the voice of the LORD God. This word voice (qol in Hebrew) isn’t limited to vocal sound. It can mean a cry, call, proclamation, and also a noise, thunder, or sound in general. In manifestations of God’s presence, it is prominent, usually an overwhelming sound as of thunder, a multitude, an army, or many waters. In the descent on Mount Sinai the voice came in thunder and the sound of a trumpet that grew so loud it shook the mountain and the people begged that no further word be spoken (Ex. 20:18-19, see also Heb 12:18-21). Before they entered the land, Moses reminded the people that when God had spoken to them out of the fire, they heard the voice only; there was no image—the sound was the primary or focal element of the experience (Deut. 4:12). The presence of God came to David as the sound of an army advancing above (2 Sam. 5:24). David highlights the powerful and awe-inspiring qol of the Lord in Psalm 29:
The qol of the LORD is upon the waters:
the God of glory thundereth:
the LORD is upon many waters.
The qol of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The qol of the LORD breaketh the cedars;
yea, the LORD breaketh the cedars of Lebanon…
The qol of the LORD divideth the flames of fire.
The qol of the LORD shaketh the wilderness;
the LORD shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.
The qol of the LORD maketh the hinds to calve,
and discovereth the forests:
and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.
Isaiah is given a vision of God coming in judgment against the city of David with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire (Isa. 29:6, see also Jer. 25:29-31). But when God fights for mount Zion, he roars like a young lion (Isa. 31:4). When Ezekiel is brought into the presence of God, the sound of God’s coming in his living throne-chariot is like great waters, like the voice of the Almighty, the sound of an army (Ez. 1:24). The first thing John encounters in the Revelation of Jesus Christ is a great voice like a trumpet behind him (Rev. 1:10). The sound of God’s coming in the garden should be understood along these lines, a great and thunderous sound, the approach of the living God.
Walking in the garden in the cool of the day. The Hebrew verb halak is most often translated go or walk, both of which are good and appropriate. The main idea is the act of moving from one place to another, or through or over a place. This broader idea, rather than the more specific walking fits better here, as should be evident when the whole is taken together.
It is cool of the day that is the primary problem spot in most English renderings. The Hebrew is ruach ha yom, an odd and unique phrase in scripture. Ruach has the same basic range of meaning as the Latin anima (where we get animated, inanimate): breath, spirit, life, wind. A few English translations have breeze, which gets a little closer to the idea. Even better would be to link it with the ruach elohim already seen in 1:2 moving upon the face of the waters. But how would that be better? What would it mean that God was moving through the garden in the spirit of the day?
It was God the Spirit who brought forth the light of day at the beginning of creation. It was not the light of the sun, moon, and stars—they were formed later to correspond to the light that proceeded forth from God, the same fiery light that is seen in the glory cloud in later manifestations throughout scripture. By that light he evaluated his work at the end of each day, pronouncing judgment: He saw that it was good; in other words, the work had been accomplished according to his decree. Often the Spirit empowers human agents to carry out his judgment in the world. The Spirit comes upon the judges of Israel so that they are able to execute the judgment of God on the oppressors (3:10; see also 6:34, 11:29, 14:19, 15:14, 20; 1 Sam. 11:6, 16:13). Likewise in Isaiah, under the glory-cloud as a “spirit of judgment” and a “spirit of burning”, Jerusalem is purged of her blood and filth (Isa. 4:4-6). The Spirit of God rests upon the branch, the son of Jesse, to judge rightly the poor, the meek, and the wicked (11:1ff). In chapter 28, Isaiah talks of a day coming when God will be “a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment” against the rulers, priests, and prophets who have stumbled out of the way by wine and strong drink. God puts his Spirit on his Servant to bring judgment to the nations, judgment unto truth to the whole earth (42:1ff). The passage in Isaiah that Jesus finds and reads in the synagogue carries the same theme, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me…” The first part, Jesus said, was fulfilled in their hearing. He stopped before “and the day of vengeance of our God.” That was not his mission in the flesh, but was to come.
It is not explicit in the Genesis account how long after creation man transgressed, but there is no indication of time passing (the fact that Adam did not know his wife until after they left the garden is a clue that the fall happened almost immediately). In the first chapter, the narrative shows that man is made on the sixth day, and next day, the seventh, is blessed by God and made holy; it is the day of rest. This is the Sabbath day, the Lord’s Day. In the second chapter, more detail is given about the sixth day and the creation of man and formation of woman. Then follows God’s coming into the garden to evaluate man’s work and bring judgment, for good or bad. This is judgment day, the Day of the Lord. The two phrases in English are only one phrase in both Hebrew and Greek; the Lord’s Day is the Day of the Lord. The blessed and holy day, the day when God takes his rest is the day he evaluates all the work done in creation. This is exactly what is happening here. The man and his wife have eaten from the forbidden tree and God has come to evaluate their work and pass judgment on them and the serpent. It is no wonder they fled from his presence and tried to hide themselves when they heard him coming. It wasn’t guilt or shame only. They heard the thunderous, terrifying sound of God moving through the garden as the Spirit of the Day.