‘I am deeply grateful,’ said Frodo; ‘but I wish you would tell me plainly what the Black Riders are…’
‘Is it not enough to know that they are servants of the Enemy?’ Answered Gildor. ‘Flee them! Speak no words to them! They are deadly.’
– The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring – Tolkein
One of the questions that kept coming up in the various commentaries I was using was ‘where did the snake come from?’. In the first chapter of Genesis, we are told that everything was good, so who invited the evil serpent?
However, this question was not answered. Not by the commentators and not by Genesis 3. We know, when looking at this passage with New Testament eyes, that the serpent does represent the devil (Revelation 20:9, 12:9). But knowing where evil came from, is not the point of the story here. It is one of the mysteries of the Bible. That is why I have included the quote from Lord of the Rings above. Is it not enough to know, that the snake was a servant of the enemy, and the proper response was to flee, fight, resist and subdue it.
However, there are a few things we can learn about the snake from Genesis – it is not a complete mystery. And that is the subject of this post:
The Snake is not Eternal
We know that the snake/evil is not eternal, because it was not there in the beginning. In fact, in the beginning God declared all His work as very good (Gen 1:31).
The Snake is not (entirely) to blame
Interestingly, despite Adam and Eve’s attempt to blame the snake, the failure was on them. “The snake does not feature in this story as the cause of human failure, but as that which faces human beings with the reality of their trust in God.” (Atkinson) In other words, the snake provides an opportunity for mankind’s faith in the goodness of God to be tested.
See a previous post of mine to review the anatomy of temptation (as found in Genesis 3).
Nevertheless, the fact that the snake is cursed, does imply that it was guilty, hence: ‘because you have done this…’ (v14)
The Snake is not our friend
In the beginning of this chapter, Eve and the snake are talking like friends. Back and forth. Forming an alliance, a conspiracy.
But no matter how fine an allegiance against God (and His ways) may seem, the message of Genesis 3 is that: those who unite in wickedness will not be united for long. We see this as Eve quickly seeks to blame the snake for her “mistake”. We see this as God places enmity between the snake and Eve’s offspring.
We also see parallels in the Psalms, why do ‘the rulers band together against the LORD?…The One enthroned in heave laughs; the Lord scoffs at them’ (2:2&4).
Therefore we should be wary about sinning with others, thinking it will join us closer. I find that gossip is very sneaky like this. We engage in gossip, because deep-down we think it will “unite” us with someone we admire (or who’s approval we seek). However, gossip quickly turns against us and causes division. A wise saying is: ‘there is no honour among thieves’.
The Snake was supposed to be ‘ruled over’
In Genesis 1, God decides to make mankind ‘so that they may rule over…all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’ (1:26). Notice how Genesis 3 begins, ‘now the snake was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made’ (3:1).
There is no moral judgement in the word ‘crafty’, it is neither good nor bad, it is simply what the snake is like. However, by calling the snake a ‘wild animal’, the author of Genesis is hinting that this was one of the creatures that Mankind was supposed to rule over.
But this is not what happens. Instead of taking charge of the animal, and handling it with authority, Adam and Eve kowtow to the wishes of this crafty animal. They give it permission and space to question God’s goodness.
May we, as Christians, as co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8) as people invited to sit on God’s throne (Rev 3:21), not abdicate our authority anymore! If the snake, if the tempter must sit at the party or crouch at the door, may it be as our enemy – not our friend.
May we declare to God, like the Psalmist – ‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies’ (Psalm 23). But let us not invite the snake to take charge.
On Monday we looked at the role isolation can play in our battles with sin. We also explored how God has provided Church as a means to counter this. In today’s post we’re going to consider the other elements at work in mankind’s battle with temptation.
Temptation is complicated, as is most human behaviour. There are often many factors at work, many reasons behind the things that we do. Motivations both good and ugly. Physiologists Freud and Jung would probably blame our parents, Sociologists would blame our communities, the Left blaming the Right and the Right blaming the Left. Adam blames Eve, Eve blamed the snake, and both of them blamed God.
So how does temptation work, how does it get us to a point where we willingly conspire against God, seeking to disobey His law, to hurting each other and ourselves? Genesis 3 has some answers:
(I understand this is a longer post than usual, hopefully the sub-headings will allow quick transit between ideas.)
Temptation Twists Truth
The first thing the snake asks is, ‘did God really say, “you must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ (V1). In fact, God had said they could eat from any tree, except one! Temptation twists truth. It adds from God’s words, takes from them and can even distort them. We see Satan follow this pattern when he attempts to trip Jesus in Matthew 4.
Since temptation twists truth, holding onto truth, knowing it and believing it is essential for the Christian. Perhaps this is why Jesus promises to his disciples, those who listen to his teaching, would know the truth and the truth would set them free (John 8:31-32)
Temptation Begins with Trivia
How can it be that so great a fall can begin with so small an incident: eating fruit? Surely the whole world will not fall apart for such a trivial thing? Yet, this is where the snake goes on… ‘surely, you will not certainly die’ (V4). We must surrender to God everything in our lives even the most seemingly trivial. One commentator put it like this:
“Some habit, some possession, some secret sin, some bitter resentment – in the context of our whole life, it seems so small, and yet it is at that one point that our trust in God is tested. If we will not let God be God at this one small, trivial, yet so crucial a point then we really do not trust him where it matters at all.” – David Atkinson (The Message of Genesis 1-11).
Since temptation starts with trivia, it is so important that we ‘nip it in the bud’. Perhaps this is why the Lord’s Prayer includes ‘lead us not into temptation’. Let us not play with fire.
Temptation Drives a Wedge Between Faith and Reason
Temptation oozes into the crevices between faith and reason, it erodes their oneness. The snake attempts to cause Eve to doubt the goodness of God’s word. Where God had said ‘don’t eat’, the snake implies ‘why would God say that?’. And so Eve begins to doubt her reason for believing God’s words.
Reasoning faith acknowledges that in the space between heaven and earth, there are secret things which belong to the Lord. Reasoning faith causes gratitude, rather than doubt. Reasoning faith knows God by trusting Him, by experiencing His loving-faithfulness. Reasoning faith can say: ‘This is a trustworthy saying…if we are faithless, He remains faithful’ (2 Tim 2:11&13).
Temptation seeks to come between reason and faith.
Temptation Suggests Benefits to Us
Once the snake has disarmed/trivialised the cost of disobedience, (‘surely you won’t die’) he promises benefits. It is important to note that the Hebrew word for ‘die’ in verse 4 is ‘Muwth’ and according to one count it appears in the OT 835 times. ‘Surely you won’t die’, surely?
Obviously, we are tempted because we think we will gain through sin. In this passage the snake promises that they will be like God, their eyes will be opened, they will gain knowledge about good and evil (V5). After lying about the cost (‘surely you won’t die!’) the snake seeks to promise blessings for disobedience.
And is this not the case with our temptation and sin? We lie because we think it will be easier than telling the truth. We steal because we will get what we want without working for it. We lust and covet because we think we will be satisfied or empowered. We are tempted by the apparent gains we hope to make.
Temptation (seeks to) Insult God and Us
Perhaps most significant is that temptation attempts to insult, and offend! It seeks to reproach God’s goodness, by questioning whether a good God would really deny us eye-opening, knowledge-giving fruit. “Surely God cannot be good if He is denying you these things”.
We see that the snake drops the intimate name of ‘LORD God’ (aka: Jehovah) and Eve follows suits, referring to God as ‘God’. But notice how many times, after this conversation, that Genesis 3 refers to the ‘LORD God’ – over and over again! It becomes so obvious that the tempter is seeking to insult God’s relational-goodness.
But it’s not just God who is insulted by temptation, it is also us! You see when God first made human beings, He made them in His image and likeness (1:26,27). When the snake tempts Eve and promises that by eating the fruit she will become like God, he is saying “look, you’re not like God enough, you are not significant enough etc”.
Perhaps this is one reason why we sin, because we want to fight back against this insult. We want to prove we are strong, powerful, able to make ourselves god-like and hence we rebel against God. Perhaps we need to turn to the promises and truth that God offers about our value and importance. That we are made in His image, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, that He has got good plans for us, that we are His workmanship created in Christ for good works. That He does already take great delight in us. That we are His beloved Children. That He died for us, because He loved us. That we are new creations, kings, priests and prophets of a Kingdom about to come!
And whilst this isn’t exactly the message of Genesis 3, it is related. What we learn about temptation in this chapter of Genesis, and what is later reinforced throughout scripture, is that temptation often occurs in the midst of isolation. When we are alone.
There was a little disagreement in the commentaries about whether Adam was there & present in the moment Eve was talking to the snake (see v6) or if he was at a distance hence the dialogue between two not three. Either way, it is clear the enemy is talking his lies to Eve alone. It is a 2 “person” conversation.
A common theme of temptation is isolation.
Perhaps this is why: Cain, Moses, Saul, David and Peter all experienced significant moral failures when they were on their own! Even Jesus was tempted severely when He was in the wilderness (Matthew 4).
We’ve all been there, it is easier to sin when no one is watching. And it is easier to opt for righteousness when others are around. (Maybe Tom Hanks had a point?!)
So, what is the solution?
Is the solution, then, to always be around people?! Or as Emma Watson decides, to have 24/7 surveillance present in our lives? Do we need 100% accountability with everyone we meet? No. Obviously not.
Whilst isolation is often the battle ground for temptation, it is also the crucible in which God develops and grows us. It is the place that He meets us. This is why Jesus withdrew to quiet places, this is why Joshua would stay behind in the tent of meeting when Moses had finished with God, and this is where David learned to trust God’s hand to deliver him as a youth. In the secret, hidden, quiet and lonely places. The Psalmist encourages us to ‘be still and know’ that He is God.
So, what is the solution?
Introducing: the Church. The body of Christ. Regularly meeting, to consider ways in which spur one another on to love and good deeds. To encourage one another, support one another, comforting, rejoicing and mourning with one another. To model a pursuit after God’s heart, declaring to each other ‘follow me as I follow Christ’.
Over and over again the New Testament invites us to live out our faith in the context of community. To fight our temptations together and to strive to obey God’s commands together.
“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with Psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” – Ephesians 5:18-20.
If we want to see significant breakthrough in our addictions, ongoing battles with private sin, let us disarm the enemy early and bring others alongside us.
Do not let the enemy isolate you further with lies that you are alone. See how 1 John 1:7 connects walking in the light, fellowship with other Christians and being purified from all sin.
Caveat: Church Community does not make you immune to Sin
It is obvious from history, that just because we are in a collective does not make us immune to sin. The letters to the Churches, in Revelation, remind us of this. Sometimes we can be collectively “lukewarm”. Oftentimes, it is because everyone else is sinning, that we feel justified. “It’s okay, everyone else does it”, is not a good enough excuse to disobey God.
Finally, on Discipleship
The Greek nerds among us, will know that when Jesus delivers the Great Commission in Matthew 28 He is speaking to a group of disciples. When He promises that ‘I will be with you’ , He is using ‘you’ in a plural form.
If we want to be able to resist temptation it helps to be part of community. Likewise, if we want to obey Jesus’ commands, (specifically, to make disciples of all nations) we should likewise go as a Church together.
Now I have read the Bible through more times than I can count. I have read the first three chapters in Genesis probably double that amount. And I have NEVER noticed this before!
God plants a garden in Eden (v8), but did you know that the Garden wasn’t actually Eden. It was the garden of Eden! Let me show you, verse 10 reads: ‘A river watering the garden flowed from Eden’! So Eden is this place, and from it flows a river which waters the Garden of Eden!
My goodness, when I first noticed this, I was so excited! Why? What difference does it make, whether the Garden of Eden was Eden or part of Eden?!
Several reasons. Firstly, it parallels the vision of Ezekiel in Ezekiel 47. Which talks about the temple and how a river flowed out from a temple and wherever the ‘river flows everything will live’ (Ez 47:1 & 9). If Eden is a temple, then we know that God must have been present! Secondly, it explains why God is walking around the garden and visiting it. He dwells in Eden, in the “temple” and goes wandering around in the garden to spend time with Adam and Eve.
Other clues that suggest Eden is a “temple” with a “garden” are the facts that the adjoining rivers lead to lands with gold, onyx and aromatic resin (all materials relating to the temple). We also read that God tells Adam to ‘work’ and ‘keep’ the garden, in Hebrew, these words are Abad and Shamar. Words used to describe duties of priests in the Temple.
So why am I getting all excited about this? Aside from the fact that I’ve learnt something new, and now my picture of Eden is very different! What actual difference does it make to my faith?
1) I am reminded that we have a hands on God. We know this from the way in which He creates mankind, with His hands, breathing breath into our nostrils. His hands touching Adam’s body removing a rib and creating Eve. Moving us into the garden, preparing a pleasant place for us. God wants to draw us close to Him. This is significant when you consider the multitude of other religions popular at the time, who believed in distant gods that didn’t want to “get their hands dirty”. Our God delights to dwell in us, to tabernacle with us, to be the ‘Immanuel’ – God with us.
See Jesus walking our streets, talking our languages, touching the sick, holding His disciples.
2) We have a God who delights to be Present.
3) We have a God who reveals Himself to us. This chapter of Genesis see’s the introduction of God’s name: The LORD God. Before we’d only encountered God – Elohim, now we meet God as He reveals Himself to us. Imagine the alternative, God could have easily created us and moved on to another universe/project leaving us behind!
4) The fact that Christians are called a Kingdom of Priests, really does mean that what Jesus has done, has reversed the affects of Sin. We are restored to our full-humanity, under ‘Second Adam’.
5) Finally, and most importantly, we have a choice. In the moments of temptation, we can run to Paradise, run into the river and experience fullness of life. Or we can plough on into regret, sin, shame and defeat. The good news that God’s presence is near, means that we don’t have to choose sin, we can simply swim in the river of life. The river that flows from His temple, from His presence and experience life!
Adam and Eve forgot that God’s “temple” was adjacent to their garden. They forgot His presence was there, they forgot the life He offered, the freedom they knew, the goodness of it all. And they exchanged it all for sin. Did they forget, or did they choose to ignore? Either way, we don’t have to make the same fatal mistake.
Just as with Adam and Eve, if we have accepted Jesus, the Bible says His presence dwells in us! He ‘tabernacles’ in US! Such good news. Let us choose His presence, in the face of temptation. It is only “round the corner”.