God hears Adam and Eve’s prayers, which were themselves inspired by his grace. The Son intercedes on the pair’s behalf and asks God to have mercy on them. Again the Son volunteers to die for humanity’s sake. God agrees, but he says that Adam and Eve can no longer live in Paradise, as they are now impure and Eden is still perfect. God then summons his angels and tells them about the Fall of Man, but also that Adam and Eve have been repenting. He sends Michael to lead Adam and Eve out of Paradise, in case they should eat the fruit of the Tree of Life and live forever.
God gives more of an explanation here for his sometimes inscrutable punishment of the Fall. Paradise is still pure and innocent, and for the impure couple to remain there would be improper and against God’s order. Milton barely mentions God’s fear that Adam and Eve will eat the Tree of Life and live forever, as this seems like the fear of a less than omnipotent Old Testament God.
God commands Michael to be firm with Adam and Eve, but also kind, and to show Adam a vision of what will occur in humanity’s future so as to lessen his despair. God also says to set up a Cherubic guard at Eden’s gates so that no human or spirit can enter again. Michael immediately descends to Earth with some four-faced Cherubim.
Milton sets up the visions of the future that Michael will show to Adam. These are Milton’s invention, and will allow him to include the whole sweep of (Christian) human history in his poem. God wants to preserve Adam from Satan’s despair, so he decides to show him the hopeful future.
Adam and Eve finish their prayers, and Adam anticipates that God will hear them and be merciful. Again he reminds Eve of the prophecy about bruising the serpent’s head, saying that she will have revenge on Satan by being the “Mother of all things living,” and so the ancestor of the one who will defeat Satan. Eve feels she doesn’t deserve this illustrious role, and she still feels ashamed for bringing Death into the world. But she resolves to never leave Adam’s side again, and to try and obey him and God from now on, that they might live peacefully in Paradise.
Adam seems to already sense that God’s anger is lessening and he will be merciful, even though nothing concrete has happened yet. Though they are fallen now, the couple still acts in a loving, worshipful way compared to most of their offspring. By rejecting their despair and avoiding suicide, Adam and Eve hope to have revenge on Satan and give birth to the one who will someday defeat him.
Adam sees an omen of a hawk chasing two brightly-colored birds, and then he sees Michael descending in the west. He warns Eve to expect new laws or decrees, but that she should “retire” as the approaching angel is a “great Potentate / Or of the Thrones above,” more powerful and majestic than Raphael was. Eve obeys and then Michael arrives, dressed in heavenly armor.
Adam’s language vaguely echoes Satan’s as Satan prepared for rebellion, scorning the Son’s “new decrees.” Adam, however, is resolved to submit to whatever judgment God will hand down. Michael is much higher-ranked, brighter, and more fearsome than Raphael, showing how the relationship between men and angels has changed and grown distant.
Michael tells Adam that he will be allowed to live many years before Death takes him, but that he and Eve must leave Paradise immediately. Adam is upset, and Eve overhears this and laments the loss of their beautiful home. Michael comforts them, but Adam knows he must obey God’s command.
Adam laments that he will never be able to speak with God again, and that if he had been allowed to remain in Paradise he would have erected altars at all the places he had heard God’s voice. Michael warns him about giving too much value to location in worship, as God is everywhere. He says that Adam will be able to speak to God wherever he is, not just in Eden.
Michael warns Adam with Milton’s voice, as part of the ritual and tradition Milton criticized among many Christians was their devotion to a place of worship. Milton felt that personal, individual worship of God was more important than gathering together in ornate churches and cathedrals.
Michael then puts Eve into an enchanted sleep and leads Adam up to a high hill to show him a vision of his descendants’ future. This is the highest hill in Paradise, and from it Adam can see almost a whole hemisphere of the Earth – Milton compares it to the hill where Satan will tempt Jesus by offering him all of Earth’s kingdoms. Michael drops water from the Well of Life into Adam’s eyes, and then shows him the vision of the future, and the results of his crime.
This scene echoes one from the New Testament, where Satan will tempt Jesus to give up his divine mission and instead accept dominion of all the kingdoms of humanity. Michael does not lead Adam to this mountain to tempt him, but the visions will be a test of Adam’s courage, despair, and hope. Milton begins to expand his epic into the future.
First Adam sees two men offering sacrifices to God, and when one is accepted by God and the other not, the second man kills the first with a stone. Adam is horrified by this, and Michael explains that the two men are brothers, Cain and Abel, the first sons Eve will give birth to. Adam is shocked by his first sight of death, and Michael explains all the other ways death will come to humans – disease, natural disaster, war, and old age. He then shows Adam a vision of a hospital filled with people dying of various horrible diseases.
This sequence of visions will oscillate between despair at humanity’s sin and hope in its potential for goodness. Adam is first shocked by all the horrors of the world, which indeed seem to unfairly outweigh the sin being punished. Milton “justifies” God by blaming death on Death himself, instead of God’s specific punishment. Cain’s murder of Abel is the first time Death takes a man.
Adam weeps at this sight and wonders why people do not immediately kill themselves so as to avoid such suffering. Michael reminds Adam that this is all punishment for his sin, and Adam asks if there is any alternative to death. Michael says that by living temperately and virtuously people might avoid disease and live a long time, so that they die peacefully of old age. Adam then resolves to live well until Heaven decrees that he should die.
In these visions Milton is able to touch on wide and various subjects, such as the best way a Christian should live in terms of eating and drinking. Michael mixes the depressing visions with hopeful advice and encouragement so Adam does not despair.
Michael shows Adam a vision of men playing music and forging tools, and then some finely dressed women appear and tempt the men from their work. They begin to feast, dance, and have sex. Adam assumes this is a vision of happiness, but Michael warns him that these people are just as sinful as the murderers earlier. They have forgotten God and live only for pleasure, the women forgetting their domestic duties and the men allowing themselves to give in to the lustful women. They too will die, Michael warns, and Adam laments again.
The misogyny that began after the Fall continues here, as women are portrayed as agents of sin and temptation – the men are trying to be virtuous and godly until they are corrupted by the lustful women. In portraying the world after the Fall Milton can now ascribe to more traditional Puritan values, which consider idleness, sex, and vain riches as sinful.
Michael then shows Adam visions of towns and cities, and of great armies doing battle, killing thousands of men and destroying cities. There is one man who speaks out against all this violence, and a cloud lifts him up to Heaven before the other angry men can attack him. Adam weeps again and asks Michael why all this violence should happen, multiplying the original murder he saw.
This one man is Enoch, one of the few people in history to never die but instead to be taken directly up to Heaven (according to the Old Testament). The pattern of history as Milton portrays it arranges human history by its sins and its righteous prophets, instead of by civilization or technological advancement.
Michael says that these armies are the product of the lustful unions Adam saw in the last vision, and that violent, terrible conquerors will arise who praise war and fame. The man who spoke out against them was Enoch, the only righteous man left in the world, and God took him up to Heaven as a reward. The next vision shows more scenes of dancing and sex, and one man preaching against this evil way of life. The man is ignored, and then he goes off alone and builds an enormous boat.
Enoch is the first of the “one righteous man” motifs that Milton emphasizes throughout Biblical history. In all the stages of history and sinfulness, there is always one righteous man who condemns the sins of the rest of society. He is scorned or even killed by the world, but protected by God. All these figures foreshadow Jesus.
Adam watches as pairs of every animal on earth come to the man’s boat and enter it. The man and his family go inside and he shuts the boat, and then a great storm begins and floods the earth. All the other animals and the sinful humans are drowned, until only those in the boat remain. Adam grieves at this vision, seeing the destruction of all his offspring, and he tells Michael that he wished he had remained ignorant of the evil future.
Noah becomes the “one righteous man” of the next generation, and is even more of a Christ-figure than Enoch – Noah is a solitary man whose virtue keeps the human race alive. The pairs of animals reflect the pairs of animals that came to Adam to be named.
Michael describes all the sins of the humans God destroyed in the flood, and tells how God instructed the one righteous man (Noah) to build the ark and preserve mankind. God then flooded the earth and wiped out all other humans. Continuing the vision, Adam sees the waters recede and Noah send out a dove to look for dry land. The ark then settles on a high mountain and a rainbow appears in the sky. Adam rejoices at this sight and the fact that humans will continue through Noah’s family. Michael explains that the rainbow is a sign of God’s promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood.
Milton doesn’t comment on God’s extreme justice in destroying the Earth, but the Flood seems to be another example of sin causing physical changes in the world. Adam forgets his horror at the death of almost all living things when he sees the comforting sign of the rainbow. In the same way he (and Milton) will accept the immeasurable suffering caused by the Fall when given the promise of the Son’s redemption and victory.