by ProfDave, ©2021
(Jan. 18, 2021) — From Holiness in 12 Steps by the author, Xulon Press, 2020
“A talking snake? Give me a break!” was my ex-son-in-law’s response to this story. Well, if you encounter a talking snake, run, don’t listen!
We have already noted in Genesis 2 that the Garden of Eden contained all the best of nature plus two super-natural, or at least other-natural trees. Now we see a supernatural or other-natural animal. There is a tree of obedience and life and a tree of knowledge of good and evil (disobedience) and death. Now we see a tempter.
We have also noted that the Eden account would be profoundly true even if it weren’t history, but it is represented as history – and is not at all impossible. Seals from Nineveh 3000 BC show a man, a woman, an erect snake, and a tree. The Gilgamesh Epic of Babylon has the same elements, though the account is different. [Haines 36]
This is no ordinary snake. The Hebrew is nachash, an obscure and non-specific word for a snake, sea monster, or crocodile. Adam Clarke labors to prove that it was an orangutan, but I think the Septuagint Rabbis knew their Hebrew when they rendered it into the Greek for serpent. From this story, nachash and snakes in general gained the connotation of something occult, lewd, deceptive or sneaky. It strikes me that perhaps nachash is just Moses’ word for Satan(?).
But this was no ordinary snake. It was the most intelligent of all animals, it walked (and lost its legs later in the chapter), it spoke, it was rational, and none of this surprised Eve at all. Further, it had the moral freedom to resist God! Finally, though Moses calls it the wisest of Eden’s animals, New Testament writers identify it as Satan – and in Revelation, Satan is called “the dragon, the old serpent.” Well, is it a dragon or an evil spirit? Yes.
Moses addresses the origin of evil, so far as mankind and nature (at least on earth) is concerned. In their delegated autonomy, mankind had the option to cooperate with God in the governance of the planet or to rebel against Him, to love or to resist, to trust or to distrust. C. S. Lewis, in his Problem of Pain, explains how love could not be love unless a choice was made. Given the ideal conditions of the garden and the close relationship with God, a catalyst was necessary to make the choice real. There had to be a test. Hence the tree of knowledge and the nachash. How evil entered into that creature’s heart, Moses does not tell us.
[Satan is not a major character in the Hebrew Scriptures, except in Job, where he appears as a disgruntled servant of God. In the New Testament we are told that he led a third of the angels in rebellion against God and was banished to earth, but we are not told when this happened or will happen or how it was made possible for them to rebel against the Almighty in the first place. It is none of our business what crimes of which an angel is capable. We get a lot of our ideas from Milton.]
Moses does not speculate. He does not explain. He just tells the story and we do the rest. What would it be like to be perfectly innocent? To love and trust God completely, to take Him at His word? For mankind to work with and for Him freely and gladly, without hint of self-will? We are told that Adam was given the naming of the animals without any limitations. “You like the sound of cat? A cat it is!” They were companions of God and in harmony with nature. His glory was the only clothing they needed. I can’t remember such a state of innocence, can you?
The serpent was necessary for the opening wedge: doubt. “Has God said?” The correct answer would be, “of course.” Only the serpent could think it odd, but Eve fell for it. While she tries to explain, the serpent sets the example of unbelief: to doubt the truth of the one who is Truth. This doubt was not intellectual (“did we hear Him right?”) but bold treason. The implication is that God is deceiving mankind, that His interest in them is not honest.
Such suspicion is pretty absurd, when you think about it – that the Creator’s purpose is not good for mankind. If God is not good, He is not God. You can’t trust him. If Eve goes there, the companionship is finished, the harmony broken, and the innocence is gone. God is still who He is, but not for Eve. The Sovereignty of God over the cosmos does not run in Eve’s heart. Checkmate. The cosmos shorts out. The government of space and time unravels. God, who is Lord over every atom in her brain, is forced to a) participate in rebellion against himself, b) revoke her freedom or her existence on the spot, or c) die on a cross to heal the breach of love and justice. The angels hold their breath!
The ultimate temptation is, “you will be like God.” They already were like God – made in his image, knowing/experiencing only good, walking with Him in perfect and free agreement. Why would you ever want to know/experience evil? Only the fallen (masochists) would be deluded enough to seek their own good by pushing The Good off the throne – of their own heart, let alone of the universe. Yet this is exactly the choice Eve made! And we make it on a daily basis. Shirley MacLaine is just a little more outspoken about it than most.
If Eve had said, “God said it, I believe it. That settles it” she would have passed the test. She would have been just as free. Obedience is as much a choice as disobedience. In fact she would have been more free – in the companionship of God and Adam. And the fabric of creation would have been intact. But it still is – in eternity. God knew what would happen and healed the breach. The Word of God cannot be broken – crucified, perhaps, but not broken. When God is smitten, He bleeds love. For us the story is not over, but for Him it is. Somehow, in eternal alchemy, the bond of redemption is far richer than that of mere innocence.
Once we admit the absurdity that the character of God might not be good (or good for us – the self-centered corollary), then all kinds of irrationality is possible. We start thinking we are smarter and stronger than God -that evil is better than good. We think that we can get a better deal for ourselves than what He offers. We can “get it all and not get hooked.” Not to mention the blooper of all time: you can hide from Him in the bushes! Voila! Denial is invented!
Adam, Eve, Where Are You?
By the time Eve reached for the fruit, she was already fallen. When she looked her goose was cooked. She died instantly, although she continued to lurch on like a spiritual zombie for decades (centuries?) to come. Something within was dead: the happy innocence, the joyful harmony, the at-one-ness with God and with Adam. Perhaps a measure of the grace of forgiveness would be given and a relationship with her Creator would begin again, but it would never be quite the same for her or for her children after her.
Then comes the hand-off to Adam. He was there. The Apostle Paul, aka Saul of Tarsus, says Eve was deceived, but Adam wasn’t. So much the worse for Adam, making a rational (?) decision to choose evil! Sometimes we feel like we were deceived into making the wrong turn, other times it is a conscious choice. But it is never completely innocent because we are disconnected from the source of good.
And what is the first knowledge of evil that they experience? “Hey! We’re naked!” Exposed to each other and to God. It never was an issue before. They were adorned with the skin God gave them, like the fish or the robin or the little green bug and needed no shelter but the sky above. Now they urgently required barriers and places to hide. They must hide their intimate selves from each other and from God.
Why? Our fallen minds jump to sexual conclusions and retrofit Freudian imagery to the “apple” itself. But they were married already, in a wedding performed by God, and encouraged to reproduce. If they had needed “the talk,” God had given it – and it was all good. The fruit cannot mean sex. No, even in marriage there are intimacies we cannot partake (and some we would rather not).
Truth is, not trusting God, they could no longer trust each other. Fig-leaves were just the beginning, the first expression of the profound alienation we experience from one another – even in a nudist colony. Adam became a potential predator and so did Eve. Fear entered the garden for the first time. God was dreaded. Human society is far from what it was meant to be. We can never go back, even if we cannot see the angel with the flaming sword guarding the garden.
Here comes God, walking in the garden in the cool of the day. He was/is there (here) when it was hot and in the middle of the night, too. He is everywhere. All times are now and all places here to Him. But his habit (for how many days?) had been to walk with and converse with mankind audibly (and probably visibly) in the evenings. Adam and Eve had looked forward to those times, but now they feared the presence of the Holy. They hid. How we long for those special times. But we also fear them. We don’t want to get too close – because we too are naked.
“Adam, where are you?” God knew where he was and what he had done – had known before it happened. Pretty stupid, isn’t it, thinking that we can hide from God in a bush or in the dark or in the crowd or in “the closet?” He is looking over your shoulder as you read this. But the Omniscient wanted Adam (and Eve – and us) to admit where he (she and we) was (are) – to come out of denial. It was for them, not for God. If He had wanted to blast them, he never would have made them. But the sentence of death was already hanging over them: a spiritual death in alienation from God and a physical death beginning on the cellular level, separated from the tree of life.
But they are not condemned without a trial. Will they come clean and repent? Will you? Is there any hope for humanity?
Adam? Eve? Where are you?
What Have You Done?
From Holiness in 12 Steps, Xulon Press, 2020
Eve didn’t just steal a green apple. Adam didn’t just run a stop sign. She doubted the goodness of Goodness and the truthfulness of Truth. He set himself against the government of the cosmos. We don’t actually break the law of gravity, you know, we are broken by it. Here was revolution against the Authority that wrote the law of gravity. Something was broken, and it wasn’t God – to this day.
We know that Adam was fully human, nothing animal and nothing angelic about him, because he reacts just like us! Confronted by his guilt, his hand in the cookie jar and crumbs all over his face, he tries to pass the buck. But it is even worse. He has the temerity to blame God for his sin: “the woman you gave me . . . !” Calvin agrees with him, but I do not. Knowing Adam’s choice (even from eternity) does not make his choice for him, although freedom to choose is unquestionably a gift of God.1 Incidentally, Adam was far freer than we are: he could choose to remain innocent, we, apparently, cannot.
So Adam blamed Eve (and God) and Eve blamed the snake, and the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on when God’s righteous sentence was handed down. Adam and Eve were caught and had no choice but to admit their crime. But they were not sorry enough to abandon denial. What might have been had Adam and Eve truly and fully repented?
But notice that God held all three responsible. John Wesley notes that all creation – including the snake – had been blessed of God. Everything was good. But now evil had been introduced and the blessing becomes a curse. The nature of the creature is to find its fulfillment in the Creator’s purpose. Subordination to man had been the purpose of all flora and fauna, but now the serpent – and all similar creatures – are subjected to special humiliation and loathing by mankind. Now that fear and distrust came between God and mankind, it also came between mankind and beast. The harmony of nature was broken.
But the nachash, we have seen, is also a super- or other-natural being. That, according to Christian interpreters, would explain the cryptic promise that the “seed [singular] of the woman” will “crush his head.” Is this just that mankind will eventually triumph over evil or that a virgin-born Messiah – not the seed of man but of woman –will crush Satan? See Apostle Paul, aka Rabbi Saul of Tarsus, Romans 16:20.
God had blessed the union of man and woman to be complementary and fruitful, so as to fill the earth with their children. Now that evil has broken the trust between Eve and God, marriage is ruined by male domination, mutual misunderstanding and deception. Children would bring women pain (and men, less literally) as well as pleasure. The day has now come when children are a burden and an inconvenience. And because we have lost our harmony with nature, we think that filling the earth with them is actually a bad thing! We have Eve to thank for that?
God had blessed the soil and the work of the garden. Man’s (and women’s, too) alienation from God alienated him from the soil, too. Nature resists our dominion, even as we resist God’s. Every gardener knows that weeds grow better than crops. It was not always so. Work became dangerous, uncomfortable, difficult, tedious. Chances are, if you have an easy and satisfying job, it doesn’t pay enough to feed you! Alternatively, jobs that pay well are unpleasant, stressful, and/or require long years of arduous preparation. We have Adam to thank for that?
And finally, mankind is cut off from the Tree of Eternal Life. God is the source of life and shalom (well-being). The Tree was the other-natural source of whatever it was (an enzyme perhaps?) that would have kept the human body going indefinitely. Alienated from God, they began to die. This was a mercy in disguise. What kind of misery could we get into if we lived indefinitely in wickedness? We have the Serpent to thank for that?
We are broken people living in a broken world. Every part of our existence is broken. Our bodies get sick and die. Our DNA generates mutations. Our brains malfunction. Our wiring is loose and our emotions corrupt our reason. Things are not as they should be and we know it.
1 There are endless philosophical and theological arguments over freedom and determinism, free will and predestination. Wiser and holier men and women than I have been on both sides. The naturalist argues that everything is determined by physical and chemical processes – but he has to say that. The moralist argues that “we can make our lives sublime / and departing leave behind us / footprints in the sands of time” (Longfellow) – but fails. Our consciences tell us we are responsible, but our experience shows us, sadly, we are not fully in control of ourselves. The Biblical Christian must keep both human responsibility and Divine sovereignty in balance. In this story, God made everything good, but mankind chose to open the door to evil. That God chose to allow this (even prepared the test) – as Genesis 3 demonstrates – but does not cease to be good or to be sovereign. Just how this works is tantalizingly beyond human understanding.
It Is Us!
Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us!”
What does the story of “The Fall” have to do with us? It is us! We all know that things are not the way they are supposed to be. We are born complaining in the delivery room. The weeds should not grow better than the crops. Marriage should be happy, equal, and secure. Natural childbirth should not hurt so much. Why should what the body is designed to do be so difficult? Work should be rewarding. There should be world peace. The hungry should be fed. There should be harmony, not war, in the cosmos; symbiosis between God, man, and the earth. And death is unnatural, obscene, “uncanny” (C.S. Lewis) – at least for mankind. We should not end our days in weakness and pain, in a hospital bed with tubes stuck in us all over. Why do we feel this way? Why do we expect better? Is it because human life began in the garden of God, not a jungle? We hunger for serenity. Eden and eternity are hard-wired in our hearts.
It is us! Theologians grapple with just how “original sin” has been transmitted down the generations. Moses does not. He just tells a real story about us. Infants do not have to be taught selfishness and rebellion – they resist authority from birth. To us, freedom and independence almost always means rebellion or resistance of some kind, rarely the achievement of harmony. There is a reserve, a wariness, a sense of not being entirely safe in our most intimate relationships. God is a rival, a potential predator, so is man, so is woman, so is the snake (nature?). Tell me it isn’t so. Eventually something gets us. Being naked frightens us. We sew fig leaves. Fig leaves of rules and ceremonies, denial and hypocrisy. Fig leaves of games we play. We cannot hear or see God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day. Even the greatest saints and mystics report seasons of doubt and distance. He is there but hidden. We long for his embrace, yet He frightens us. We cling to our chains in order to be free.
It is us! Temptation – like the “wet paint” sign – is so alluring. We make jokes. Teacher: “Why did you knock Billy down . . .“ Johnny: “The devil made me do it!” Teacher: “. . . and kick him?” Johnny: “Kicking him was my own idea.” [Flip Wilson] We don’t really need the snake anymore: the venom is internalized. Our basic instincts are perverted just enough so that we naturally prey upon each other – for sustenance, for sex, for security, for power and significance. We are barely restrained by fear of retribution and sanctions.
Here in the story of the Garden we have the classic model of temptation. Whether it is a chocolate brownie or your neighbor’s wife, it is all the same. There are five benches in the park. Some authority has placed a “wet paint” sign on one of them. Guess which one draws our attention. 1) Question authority. Has God said? Was the doctor kidding? No one will know. Who says it’s wet? 2) Question consequences. You will not die. Just one bite. Just one look. Just one touch. 3) Engage appetite. The train is on the wrong track. The fruit looked good, pleasing, and desirable. Mouth waters. Arousal hormones kick in. There is only one bench in the park for you. 4) Justify yourself. You’ll be God. Tomorrow you diet. You decide what’s right for yourself in this moment. You decide if the paint is wet or not. 5) Make excuses – rationalize. “The woman you gave me. . . .” Someone left it right out on the counter. Your wife doesn’t understand your needs. You thought it was dry. 6) Guilt. There is no hiding your nakedness from reality. You are out of the Garden. The scales don’t lie. Your marriage, your family, and your life are ruined. There is paint on your finger, if not your pants! Tragic or trivial, that’s the way temptation works.
It is us! Don’t know about you, but I can resist anything but temptation. Is there any hope for me? For you? For mankind? What about that cryptic promise, the seed of the woman? The serpent will indeed bruise “his” heel, but “he” will crush its head. The final triumph is not that of temptation, but of atonement. How do I look in goat skin?
We must read on to find out the rest of the story, but through the whole Bible runs the scarlet thread of sacrifice and forgiveness. A scarlet thread? Yes. There is a price paid. God took the life of an animal to make a covering for the nakedness of Adam and Eve, leaving a bloody mess in the Garden. Does animal sacrifice make it all better? No. The original carcass and the blood sacrifices that followed, from Abel to Moses to the Temple in Jerusalem, simply acknowledged that the breach had taken place. Every atonement from Abel to Jesus, every Yom Kippur, every Ash Wednesday is a crowbar to pry us out of our denial. To remind us that it is not OK to be broken. It is not normal to be separated from God.
Adam’s sin had to be covered by someone else. God is just. Every mortal’s life is forfeit. God gives life and he takes it away. That’s what mortality is. God is good and must execute the sentence on evil, but he is also love and provides forgiveness – if mankind, if Israel, if you and I will only repent and return to our Maker. You see, the fruit is not the real problem, it’s the relationship. It is us!
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.