#5 — Snakes, Selfishness, and Low-Hanging Fruit

In this post, I want to talk about the first part of a passage that, in my opinion, is one of the more misunderstood passages in all of scripture, Genesis 3:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

There’s so much to say!

Let’s begin with where we left off in Genesis 2. Work is an act of worship, and Adam and Eve in the garden work together in marriage as one because they are “naked and unashamed,” which is much bigger than simply clothing. They have no other agenda. There is only God’s voice — no other.

And then, the snake.

As we begin this part of the story, we see that the snake is “more crafty” than all the other wild animals, which raises some questions. How do we measure animal craftiness? Not to mention, we see a walking, talking snake that doesn’t raise any eyebrows from the woman (she doesn’t have a name yet — and that matters). And for centuries, we have tried to make sense out of this. What is it with the walking, talking snake? And why does he care so much about the woman and Adam and deception?

One response to this question in the past has been that the snake is Satan. That is a good option. This is an opinion typically held by those who also hold to a more literal interpretation of Genesis 1–11. There’s nothing wrong with this — except if we are going to hold to a more literal interpretation of the Text here, we have a major problem.

The Text doesn’t say it was Satan. The text says it was a snake. And that matters. At the surface level, we have to let the Text say what it says. Now, is there a conversation to have about this walking, talking snake and its connection to Satan? Absolutely! But the notion that it is irrefutably Satan may not be as strong as one might like it to be.

So, let’s try something here and just let the Text say what it says. What can we learn through this approach to the Text?

Let’s assume for a minute that it is a snake and that is all it is. This opens an important dialogue for us about why this whole conversation between the snake and the woman is even taking place.

  1. What makes the snake want to deceive the woman in the first place?
  2. Why does the snake come to the woman first? (This will be the big idea for the next post.)
  3. What is it that separates people and animals?
  4. How consistent is her response to the snake with what God actually said?

There are probably many more questions, but I want to tackle these few as we work through the first part of Genesis 3.

What makes the snake want to deceive the woman in the first place?

As we begin this thought, I want to make clear that we are going off of the grid a little. The Text doesn’t explicitly say why the snake wanted to deceive the woman. So any conclusion we come to will have some level of speculation attached to it. However, I do believe we can make some educated guesses about what we are reading and why it plays out the way it does.

In the order of creation (remember the poem), we are seeing a progression. There are several layers to it and I don’t have time to pull them all apart. Sandra Richter, in her awesome book The Epic of Eden, has a couple of great chapters that really attack this idea. But I want to draw a couple of conclusions that will look like assumptions because of the lack of validating material here. Please know that there is much more research on this, but I am writing a blog, not a book, so conclusions are necessary to conserve space.

One layer of the progression we see is a linear movement toward the total union of soil and spirit. Mankind becomes the culmination of this creative movement — the union of soil and spirit. God places His own image in man and distinguishes man (and woman) as unique among all of creation by giving them the task of stewardship.

Here is a premise that I will refer back to: In order to properly steward creation, we must have the capacity to lay down our own self-interest in order to function in the best interest of that which we steward.

This ability is squarely given to us as image-bearers of God. This capacity is the price and the blessing of leadership. It is the call of parents, of husband and wife, of bosses, of anyone who at any level is determined to be the influencer, not the influenced. And I would also submit it is in the laying aside of our own agendas that we look most like God to those we lead and serve.

And this one attribute distinguishes humanity from the animals.

Right before this perfect union of soil and spirit is expressed through mankind, animals are made. And this understanding of how the image of God in us affects our ability to steward has a huge implication into why the snake tried to deceive the woman.

He wants what she has.

As an animal, he can only serve his impulse. Call it intuition or instincts or self-preservation. It does not matter what label you put on it — this is what separates mankind and animals. We are not only animals functioning in the world. Humans have a unique capacity in creation to set aside personal agendas for the good of those around them.

Part of the “naked and unashamed” reality of the garden is that there is no question of whether or not this is going to happen. There is only God’s voice helping govern the management of creation. And therefore, there is no other agenda.

Now we need a bit of a review. God is not mad. He is good and loving and puts in creation all it needs to succeed. He gives mankind good things and tremendous potential to partner with Him in the proper stewarding of creation.

That matters — a lot! Because if there is not going to be another voice, then we have to decide what kind of voice we are listening to. Is God holding out on us? Or is He giving us everything that we need to succeed? And what does His version of success look like? And is it good or is He controlling us?

All of the big conversation we have had so far about the nature of God is really critical here. Because if God is good and loving and kind, then we can trust that His voice is good and loving and kind. But if He is not, then who knows how harsh He could be? And it wouldn’t matter because His voice is the only one.

But then, the snake…

The snake doesn’t see it this way. He does not have the capacity to let go of his impulse. He can only think about his desire and how he would do things.

Enter the second voice:

“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Well, no. He didn’t say that. But it is an interesting manipulation for the woman. Because she has to give her version of what she knows of God’s command. And it isn’t accurate.

“We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

That is NOT what God said.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

You can touch it all you want. Make fruit bowl centerpieces with it. Play baseball with it. Learn to juggle with it. Whatever you want! Just don’t eat it.

Where would the woman have gotten such a crazy idea? Why would she make that up? Why paint God into an inaccurate box?

Well, the good news for the Church of today is that this isn’t a new problem, but we have been doing this in our world for years. And it doesn’t work.

In the 1950s and 1960s it was dancing, cards, and movies. In the 1980s it was choruses. The cultural battles today are just as real as they ever were. And by cultural battles I mean those things that culture places a certain taboo or value on that we deem as God’s truth. It is tremendously destructive to label what is ultimately a debatable position with the “Thus saith the Lord” mentality. And the world plays with that and distorts it into confusion for followers of Jesus.

As an aside, I think the Church must fight to bring clarity to following God, not confusion. We must pull for the truth, not tradition. I am not “anti” tradition. But tradition is just that — tradition. Tradition is an idea or expression of my faith that gives my heart a voice at this particular point in history. Once that voice is divorced from my heart and it is just action without meaning, me must be able to give our traditions a proper funeral, and we must celebrate all the good it did without making it a direct command of the Lord.

Now, back to the snake.

The snake never lies. The snake isn’t a liar. Please read the text. There is no “untruth” in what he says. Read carefully:

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Everything the snake says is absolutely true. Think about it.

“You will not certainly die.” Well, that is right. They didn’t, at least not right away. However, this truth is limited. And furthermore, on a purely surface level, God is the bigger liar here, because they in fact don’t die right away.

“God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God knowing good from evil.” Again, that is right. Their eyes were opened and they were like God IN KNOWING GOOD FROM EVIL. This is also true, but limited.

And in this reality we see a very profound truth. When the voice of our desires, impulses, and instincts is the voice we listen to, we lose that piece of us that so profoundly makes us who we truly are — image-bearers of God. We become only human. But God’s promise to you is that we are not merely human. We also have a piece of God in us that allows us to lay down our desires, impulses, and instincts to better redeem and restore creation in all its facets.

All of a sudden, the woman is allowing the voice of immediate gratification to enter the picture. And in this, we see the great warrior that fights against “naked and unashamed” — self. Will I chase the immediate fix or lay aside my comfort for the bettering of the reality that I am supposed to be properly stewarding?

This is true in my job. This is true in my marriage. This is true with my kids. In fact, I can’t think of a place where this reality doesn’t become foundational truth.

Here is the big idea in the first part of Genesis 3: The deception that leads to all the chaos in the world does not begin with lies. It doesn’t begin with cheating. It begins with a decision to pursue immediate self-gratification. As soon as I decide to make myself happy before I properly steward creation, I am falling into the same trap that the woman did. And it is always costly.

What we will cover eventually is that our purpose in partnering with God in the redemption of all things is to bring the Kingdom of God crashing into earth. We will never do that when we choose immediate self-gratification. Never.

Think about the food we eat. Why do we eat it? Think about the entertainment we watch. Why do we watch it? Think about the house we live in or the car we drive or… The list goes on and on.

We live in a world that invites us to immediate gains in self-gratification. Maybe the voice of the snake isn’t so far from our ears, either. And maybe the restoration we are called to be a part of isn’t going to be found there. Rather, it will be found finding “naked and unashamed” again. Maybe it will be found in tuning into the one voice.

So, may you passionately chase God’s redemptive agenda. May you resist the temptation to sell God’s agenda short by chasing immediate self-gratification. And may you find in yourself more than your instincts, impulses, and desires. You are an image-bearer of the one true God!

Questions for discussion:

  1. Where do you settle for immediate gratification?
  2. Where do you distort the commands of God?
  3. How does the Church prey on others by distorting the commands of God?

Question for next time:

Why does the snake come to the woman first?