Right from the Beginning #6

(Please read Genesis 3:1-6 in your Bible. I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

We spent last month observing all the wonderful aspects of creation.  God made a home and then He made people to live in it.  Our parents, Adam and Eve, lived in paradise.

We don’t have any notion of the amount of time that passed between Genesis 2 and 3.  We don’t know how long our parents enjoyed their home.  But it clearly did not last.  How did we get from the creation God Himself said was GOOD to the world as we know it?

The first part of that answer is given in Genesis 3.  In what theologians call “The Fall from Grace” or simply “The Fall,” all creation goes from blessed to cursed.  Because of the sin of the first family, creation is compromised; humanity is banished from its home and worst of all, loses its close relationship with its Creator.

This Fall is staggering; hard to imagine.  What’s worse, it happened so easily, so swiftly.  The Fall is no great drama of struggle, only the disgusting and discouraging account of how our folks literally ate us out of house and home.  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie (RMS 1:25) and found out too late the terrible cost of the bargain they struck.  It was too easy.

In fact, I would say that the account of the Fall is a tale very suited for our modern age.  At the center of Genesis 3 is a search for knowledge.  The SERPENT enticed the WOMAN with the possibility that she could gain knowledge without learning or experience.  Further, that such knowledge would make her “LIKE GOD.”

The search for knowledge apart from God is one of the driving motivations of secular society in our time.  In the last three centuries science has been hijacked and misused to be the means of seeking knowledge apart from knowing God.

We hardly pause to consider whether the knowledge we find is for good or evil, whether it helps or hurts or both; we plunge ahead greedily, unencumbered by a moral point of view that we inherit from our Creator.

In the process, our knowledge has created as many problems as it has solved.  What has not changed is human nature and our tendency to misuse what we know to our own self-destruction.  Consider: we learn the secret of how to release energy from the atom and what’s the first thing we do with it?  Weaponize it. Wage war with it.

It’s clear that the story of the Fall is our personal story, it is our racial character writ small in the lives of the first family.  Let us begin our study of the Fall by owning it.  Let us learn the terrible price of sin so we will not repeat our parents’ mistake.

  1. Who/what is THE SERPENT?

The author of Genesis does not characterize or describe the MAN or WOMAN in any way other than NAKED, but he has some things to tell us about the SERPENT.  For that reason alone we should pay attention to what we learn from Genesis about the SERPENT.

It was MORE CRAFTY than the other WILD ANIMALS.  We’ll take a look at the two salient points of this description.

First, MORE CRAFTY.  The word CRAFTY can also be translated as “shrewd.”  This is an ambiguous word.  Depending on the end to which it is used, it can be a virtue or a vice.  Proverbs 12:16 & 13:16 say it is a quality wise people will cultivate, and in MTW 10:16 Jesus urged His disciples to be AS WISE AS SERPENTS, BUT AS HARMLESS AS DOVES.  When it is harnessed to do evil, shrewdness can also be a vice (Exodus 21:14; Joshua 9:4; Job 5:12; 15:5).  It is so shrewd it not only knew how to speak, but it knew how to manipulate Eve with its words.  In the Hebrew language this is a play on words: “Eve thought the fruit would make her shrewd, but she found out she was nude.”

Second, WILD ANIMALS.  We learned in 1:24 the phrase WILD ANIMALS was one of the three kinds of land animals, the group of predators.  So the SERPENT was shrewder than all the other predatory animals.  But in 3:14, God cursed the SERPENT ABOVE ALL LIVESTOCK & ALL WILD ANIMALS (including both prey animals and predatory animals), so it was also the most cursed.          Elsewhere in the Bible we learn Eve was deceived by the serpent’s CUNNING (2 Corinthians 11:3).  Revelation 12:9 refers to Satan as THAT ANCIENT SERPENT, one example of other verses where a serpent is a metaphor for Satan.

Is this a literal serpent or a symbol?  On the “symbol side,” the fact that an animal is speaking is a detail some use as evidence that the SERPENT of Genesis 3 is symbolic.  The Bible uses the SERPENT as a symbol of evil, an enemy of life, & a force of chaos (see Isaiah 30:6).  Serpents are also a biblical symbol of craftiness.  Psalm 58:4-5 goes so far as to say that a cobra may outwit the snake charmer.

God declared serpents to be “unclean” animals; not suitable as food or as a sacrifice.  More than that, they became a symbol of the MOST unclean animal; something at the bad end of creation.

However, on the literal side, in Genesis 3, the SERPENT is not identified as Satan.  The text in question should be our primary source of information to answer the question of literal intent.

Can we put all this information together to form a theory that makes sense?  Yes.  Since we have no good reason to take GNS 3 as being anything other than literally, historically true, we begin by saying that an actual animal was involved.  This animal is unlike the snakes of our own time in that it had the powers of speech and thought but did not bear the IMAGE OF GOD.  It’s horrifying to imagine a thinking, strategizing, shrewd predator, but relax: it no longer exists.  And since the rest of the Bible attributes this work of deception to Satan and calls him a SERPENT, we can assume Satan possessed the form of this extinct animal.

This begs the question, why would God create such an animal?   For the simple fact that if people really have free will, then they have an actual choice to make.  Had God put our parents in the Garden where there were no other voices, no temptations, then they did not truly have a choice, did they?

  1. What was THE SERPENT’s deception (3:1-6)?

Tactic #1 = It went to THE WOMAN as Gods commands were given to ADAM.  The command was given in 2:16-17, the WOMAN was created in 2:21-22.  This implies that the WOMAN knew the command only second-hand; Adam told her about it.  The WOMAN’s replies to the SERPENT are not precisely correct; this may indicate she didn’t fully understand the commandment.  It makes sense in a crafty way to approach the person who got the command secondhand.  They will usually know less and feel less strongly about it.

Tactic #2 = It questioned the commandment to cause diversion.  In verse one, the SERPENT deliberately misquoted God.  This is a tactic to couch the commandment in its own terms, diverting the WOMAN from the truth.  It is phrased as a question in a typically passive-aggressive way of misleading people as questions don’t usually excite opposition as much as statements.  The SERPENT was being indirect.  The diversion worked, because the WOMAN misquoted God; He did NOT prohibit touching the TREE, only eating the fruit of the tree.

Notice how this slanders God, diminishing His generosity.  God gave them access to all the other trees in the garden, but the SERPENT’s question diverted the WOMAN’s attention away from those and focused on the one forbidden tree and made God seem stingy to forbid them that one.

Tactic #3 = It contradicted the commandment; caused doubt.  In verses four and five, the SERPENT takes a more direct approach, using half-truths to deceive.

The first half-truth was the definition of death. God did warn they WOULD CERTAINLY DIE, but He did not say it would be a physical death or that it would be immediate death.  The SERPENT was half-right to say they would NOT DIE, for they did not die immediately.  As a matter of biblical record, Adam lived to be 930 (see Genesis 5:5)!

The second half-truth was the SERPENT’s promise to the WOMAN that her eyes would be OPENED.  In verse seven the text says that both their eyes were opened, but what they saw wasn’t god-like or even good; they saw they were NAKED and knew shame for the first time.

The third half-truth was the SERPENT’s promise they would be like God.  That did happen, but it was not a good thing.  In v. 22, God explained that the first family had to be banished from the GARDEN because they had NOW BECOME LIKE ONE OF US, KNOWING GOOD AND EVIL.  The irony is that they were already “like God” in the sense that they were endowed with the IMAGE OF GOD.

The fourth half-truth was the SERPENT’s promise that the fruit held knowledge.  How symptomatic it is of human nature to hunger for knowledge without having to work for it or consider the consequences of what we learn.  The problem here is what they learned.  Before they disobeyed God, Adam and the WOMAN knew only good, by disobeying, they knew both good and evil, but that knowledge was about the only thing they shared with God.

These are examples the misuse of shrewdness to twist words to imply a meaning they were not intended to convey.  One more thing: notice the SERPENT never directly tells them to eat the fruit, nor even implies it.  It directs attention away from the command of God to the fruit itself.  This is a way temptation often works; indirectly and subtly.

Tactic #4 = It made the fruit out to be more than it was.  Note that two of the three things the WOMAN saw in the fruit were already stated in 2:9 about ALL THE TREES.  Everything God offered them was GOOD FOR FOOD and PLEASING TO THE EYE!  She added the bit about DESIRABLE FOR WISDOM under the influence of the SERPENT’s crafty lies and manipulation.

The phrase GOOD FOR FOOD sounds like a rationalization.  This is the tendency of human/sin nature to make excuses.  For the WOMAN to say it was PLEASING TO THE EYE is an example of materialism.  This is the tendency of human/sin nature to think selfishly and short-term.  The part the woman added, DESIRABLE FOR WISDOM is a falsehood.  This is the tendency of human/sin nature to prefer comfortable lies to discomforting truths.

Even though the Fall is no laughing matter, our first parents have rightly been the object of many jokes.  Here are a few a preacher can share in church:

How did Adam and Eve feel when expelled from the Garden of Eden?

They were definitely put out.

What is one of the first things Adam and Eve did after they were kicked out?  They raised a little Cain.

It has been said that Adam and Eve had the perfect marriage. That was because he didn’t have to hear about all the men she could have married;

and she didn’t have to hear about the way his mother cooked!

A Brit, a Frenchman and a Russian are in a museum viewing a painting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

“Look at their reserve, their calm,” muses the Brit. “They must be British.”

“Nonsense,” the Frenchman disagrees.   “They’re naked, and so beautiful.  Clearly, they are French.”

“No clothes, no shelter,” the Russian points out, “they have only an apple to eat, and they’re being told this is paradise. They are certainly

Russian.”

Adam and Eve had their first fight and Adam got the last word for the last time.  He said, “I’ll wear the plants in this family!”

<Let the user beware: not all the jokes at this website are as clean as these.  Retrieved from http://www.yuksrus.com/religion_adam_and_eve.html on 11/4/16.>

What can be said about our two parents?  They literally had it all, but after two deceptive comments from a SERPENT under the influence of Satan, they chucked it all away!  They were deceived, but chose of their own free will to be “like” God rather than love God.

Would any of us have done any better?  Is it possible the account of the Fall is more personally applicable than we’d feel comfortable admitting?

Here at the end of an election cycle, the application of what we’ve learned today should be obvious and relevant: don’t believe everything you hear.  Instead, do as the Bible commands and compare all claims of truth to the Word of God.  Do not be deceived by the enemy’s lies and do not surrender any of God’s gifts to temptation.

(To see the video version of this message, please look up “EBCSF” on YouTube.)

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